On The Big Rewrite

Content disappears from time to time on the web. This post is my own mirror of John Rauser’s Twitter thread that I frequently reference.

Inspired by this HN comment https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11554288, I offer a story about software rewrites and Bezos as a technical leader.

I was once in an annual planning meeting at Amazon. In attendance was Jeff, every SVP at amazon, my VP and all the directors in my org.

One of the things we were proposing was a rip-and-replace rewrite of a relatively minor internal system.

As we were discussing other things, Jeff quietly got up and left the room.

This, in and of itself, was not a big deal. We all probably thought he just had to go to the bathroom.

He came back and rejoined the discussion. A few minutes later, an assistant came in and handed Jeff a small stack of papers.

Jeff brought up the proposed rewrite as he handed out the papers. They were copies of this http://ecolo.org/documents/documents_in_english/Rickover.pdf

We all read silently. Go ahead and read it now. http://ecolo.org/documents/documents_in_english/Rickover.pdf

No really, read it. It’s the entire point of the story: http://ecolo.org/documents/documents_in_english/Rickover.pdf

When we were done he said (paraphrased): “If you drop this rewrite we need never talk about this again.”

“If you press on,” he continued, “you need to come back to me with a more complete justification and plan.”

We did not proceed with the rewrite.