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Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos
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Jeff Bezos Interview (page: 2 / 6)

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  Jeff Bezos

What about teachers? Were there any teachers you remember that had an influence on you?

Jeff Bezos Interview Photo
Jeff Bezos: Oh, tons of teachers! My math teacher in fourth or fifth grade, Mrs. McInerney, she had a big influence on me. My calculus teacher in high school, Mr. Bohr, he had a big influence on me, Ms. Del Champs, who taught chemistry in high school, Ms. Ruehl, who taught physics. I really have been blessed with conscientious, hard-working, super smart teachers. I only got to go through school once so I don't know, but I have a feeling I was lucky. I know there are a lot of hard-working teachers out there but I seem to have had more than my fair share.

Is it possible to say what these teachers did for you?

Jeff Bezos: I always wanted to please. Teachers, who are really good create that environment where you can be very satisfied by the process of learning. If you do something and you find it a very satisfying experience then you want to do more of it. The great teachers somehow convey in their very attitude and their words and their actions and everything they do that this is an important thing you're learning. You end up wanting to do more of it and more of it and more of it. That's a real talent some people have to convey the importance of that and to reflect it back to the students.

When you weren't studying, what kinds of things did you like to do?

Jeff Bezos: I was very difficult to punish for my parents because they would send me to my room, and I was always happy to go to my room because I would just read. "You're grounded and you have to stay in your room." That was always fine with me. I was a big reader. I remember playing lots of games in elementary school like kick-the-can, tag, all the outdoor games. I did all those things. I had a very normal childhood -- except for my ranch experience, which I think is a very unusual experience, and a great one to have had -- I think my experience as a kid was a very normal one.

How did you get along with your siblings?

Jeff Bezos: Pretty well. I was five and six years older than them. Now that I'm 37 years old, it's like we're the same generation. When I was 15, and they were 10 and 9, I had no time for them whatsoever. They were the pesky younger siblings that I was trying to shake off and keep out of my room.

We've read about your inventiveness as a kid with your Radio Shack electronics kit and an alarm that you set up in your room.

Jeff Bezos: I was constantly booby-trapping the house with various kinds of alarms and some of them were not just audible sounds, but actually like physical booby-traps. I think I occasionally worried my parents that they were going to open the door one day and have 30 pounds of nails drop on their head or something. Our garage was basically science fair central, and my mom is a saint, because she would drive me to Radio Shack multiple times a day to the point where she would finally say, "Okay. Look. Will you please get your parts list straight before we go? I can't handle more than one trip to Radio Shack per day." So, there was a lot of that kind of stuff going on in our house.

All of this eventually led you to Princeton?

Jeff Bezos: Yeah. So, I went to Princeton primarily because I wanted to study physics, and it's such a fantastic place to study physics. Things went fairly well until I got to quantum mechanics and there were about 30 people in the class by that point and it was so hard for me. I just remember there was a point in this where I realized I'm never going to be a great physicist. There were three or four people in the class whose brains were so clearly wired differently to process these highly abstract concepts, so much more. I was doing well in terms of the grades I was getting, but for me it was laborious, hard work. And, for some of these truly gifted folks -- it was awe-inspiring for me to watch them because in a very easy, almost casual way, they could absorb concepts and solve problems that I would work 12 hours on, and it was a wonderful thing to behold. At the same time, I had been studying computer science, and was really finding that that was something I was drawn toward. I was drawn to that more and more and that turned out to be a great thing. So I found -- one of the great things Princeton taught me is that I'm not smart enough to be a physicist.

What drew you to computer science? What was it about computer science?

Jeff Bezos: I was very, very lucky because in fourth grade -- which for me would have been around 1974 -- I had access to a mainframe computer. There were no personal computers in 1974, and there was a company in Houston that had loaned excess mainframe computer time to this little elementary school. And we had a teletype that was connected by an old acoustic modem. You literally dialed a regular phone and picked up the handset and put it in this little cradle. And nobody -- none of the teachers knew how to operate this computer, nobody did. But, there was a stack of manuals and me and a couple of other kids stayed after class and learned how to program this thing, and that worked well for maybe about a week. And then, we learned that the mainframe programmers in some central location somewhere in Houston had already programmed this computer to play Star Trek. And, from that day forward all we did was play Star Trek.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

That is actually something I should have mentioned.

I used a large portion of my elementary school free time hours not only watching Star Trek -- the original of course -- but also playing Star Trek. And everybody wanted to be -- all of my friends -- we all wanted to be Spock, and if you couldn't be Spock then you would be Captain Kirk. And, if you couldn't be Captain Kirk, then it started to separate. People wanted to be different. Some people wanted to be Bones. I never wanted to be Bones. I would take as my third choice -- if I couldn't get Spock or Kirk -- I would take the computer. The computer was fun to play, because people would ask you questions, and they'd say, "Computer?" And you'd say, "Working."

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This page last revised on Nov 26, 2013 01:54 EDT
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