- B.S., computer science, Carnegie Mellon University, 2003
Amazon.com is the world’s largest online retailer, but being there can feel a little bit like working for a startup, says software development engineer Jason Weill, who joined the company in May 2006.
Small, “scrappy” teams of five to 10 people, with frugal budgets, do the initial work on new products, and each member of the team performs several different roles. By the time the new feature is ready to make its debut, the team is already working on expanding and enhancing it. “Any good startup is a story of survival, then growth,” Weill says.
He knows a bit about startup culture. After his CMU graduation in 2002, he went to work for CombineNet, a Pittsburgh-based company that was developing purchasing software for a wide variety of industries, including retailers, electronic manufacturers and restaurants. When he first interviewed at CombineNet, they were crammed into a small office on South Craig Street, not far from campus. By the time he left in May 2006, the company (which has since been acquired by SciQuest) had 120 employees in three countries.
“We had to work hard, deliver quickly, and think big,” Weill says.
His first programming experience was with the family’s IBM PCjr. Though already outdated when his parents bought it, “it came with about a thousand pages of manuals, and they went everywhere with me,” he says. “I must have written hundreds of programs for the PCjr, most of them little experiments to make colorful graphics or annoying noises.”
Growing up in the early ’90s, he caught both the tail end of the BBS craze and the beginning of the World Wide Web, and the seemingly endless possibilities of the Internet made him even more excited about pursuing a career in computing. “Even before I entered high school, I knew I’d find myself working in some computer-related job,” Weill says. His guidance counselor suggested that he apply to CMU.
At SCS, former professor Bruce Maggs, now at Duke, was a big influence on Weill. From Maggs, a co-founder of Akamai, “I gained a lot of knowledge of how computers work, and how to debug software at a low level,” Weill says. Outside of the classroom, Weill was involved with a few clubs, notably College Bowl, for which he wrote a software package, Livestat, to track and publish scores.
Weill keeps in touch with many CMU classmates, which isn’t hard—he regularly sees them at Amazon.com and other Seattle-area tech companies. CMU’s academic network “provides benefits long after graduation,” he says.
In his spare time, Weill’s hobbies include visiting major league baseball parks around the country, as well as trivia. He’s tried, unsuccessfully, to get onto a game show such as “Jeopardy!” Asked for his most obscure trivial fact, he doesn’t hesitate: “Vanna White claps 720 times in every episode of Wheel of Fortune according to the Guinness Book of World Records, which I read religiously before there was Wikipedia. I’ve stunned a room on two different occasions by reciting that fact.”
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