The Little Script That Could

Almost 10 years ago, I walked into a little two-story startup company called bookings.nl to help some out with some Perl hacking on a project basis. There were two or three dedicated perl developers working on the website, and a couple of hybrid sysadmin-developers. The company didn't look like anything special to me until two weeks in, we got together and had champagne in the cafeteria because we hit a thousand reservations in one day for the first time. I remember thinking "That's a lot of people using this service!".

I caught the bug (heh), and a couple of months later I went from freelancer to regular employee. My personnel number was (and is) 33 and I knew the other 2^5 by name. Some from the work-floor, most from the bar across the street.

Fast-forward (without diverging) almost a decade and we're well over 4500 employees, closing in rapidly on opening our 100th office, and we never drop below selling 425.000 roomnights per day. The best part is: I don't have the feeling we're slowing down yet.

Things are different; we're no longer bookings.nl, but Booking.com - a part of the Priceline Group of Companies. We no longer run on debian and PostgreSQL, but on CentOS and MySQL. We no longer deploy by scp'ing our CGI-script to three webservers, but telling our homemade but Open Source git-deploy tool to work its magic on hundreds of front-end servers.

But for me, the feeling on the IT-floor (which is now close to 300 people) is remarkably like it was back in the day. Sure, I don't know everyone by name anymore, but I know most. We still gather at the same bar, it's just that we don't fit in anymore. People are still smiling, hacking, coming up with creative and sometimes elegant solutions and constantly learning.

Ten years ago we were pioneers and cowboys, not experienced at all with large-scale systems and barely keeping up with the load the business was pushing towards our systems. Now we have some of the best people in the world, our volume is so large that our kit fills data centers, and growth is not subsiding. Our back-end teams still have to come up with solutions to scalability issues on a daily basis, and our front-end teams keep on coming up with features for our customers that push our requirements even further.

We might not be an actual start-up anymore, but to me the feeling is the same. We do cool stuff that needs doing, and we celebrate the success it brings us. Also with our more recent hires, I see the 'booking-blue' attitude becoming part of their system and even though we relocate them from all over the world, I see them adopting Amsterdam as their home, and their new colleagues as their friends.

Sure I've seen people leave, some because they felt the company had changed. How can it not have? But some things, the things I like so much, are still here. Thus so am I.

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