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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos reveals how a Sri Lankan friend helped him realise physics isn’t his calling

The smallest of events have often triggered the greatest of developments in human history.

SNS | New Delhi |

Jeff Bezos – founder of Amazon, the wealthiest person in modern history, world’s first centi-billionaire, founder of Blue Origin, owner of Washington Post. In short, 54-year-old Bezos has achieved everything a man dreams of.

In just one lifetime, or shall we say just 24 years since he founded Amazon, Bezos went from a nerdy Princeton graduate to the zenith of the corporate galaxy.

Bezos graduated from Princeton with Bachelor of Science degrees in electrical engineering and computer science with a 4.2 grade point average. But that skyrocketing rise probably would not have been possible had Bezos decided to pursue a career in pure sciences.

So what made Bezos realise he was not exactly the guy who would spend nights working to solve an equation?

The Amazon CEO himself gave the answer at The Economic Club of Washington. He said that all credit goes to his friend from Princeton, a Sri Lankan by the name of Yasantha.

You can watch this video where Bezos reveals how the epiphany that he would never make a good theoretical physicist dawned on him when Yasantha cracked a maths problem.

 

This is what Bezos said:

“I can’t solve this partial differential equation. It is really, really hard. (I was) studying with my roommate Joe, who is really good at maths. The two of us worked on this homework for three hours. And we got nowhere.”

“We finally said ‘Yasantha’, because he was the smartest guy at Princeton. And we went to Yasantha’s room. And he was Sri Lankan. And in the Facebook, which was an actual paperbook at the time, his name was three lines long. He was the most humble, wonderful guy. And we show him this problem.”

“He looks at it, stares at it for a while and says ‘Cosine’. We are like ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘That’s the answer’.”

“He brings us into his room and writes out three pages of detailed algebra. Everything crosses out and the answer is cosine. I said ‘Listen Yasantha. Did you just do that in your head?’ He said, ‘No that would be impossible. Three years ago I solved a very similar problem and I was able to map this problem onto that problem and it was immediately obvious that the answer was cosine’.

“That was an important moment for me because that very moment I realised I was never going to be a great theoretical physicist.”

Reacting to Bezo’s revelation, Yasantha tweeted praising the Amazon CEO’s memory because he had been able to recall every detail from an incident 34 years ago.

“Wow! Jeff is talking about me. Amazingly he remembers interacting with me 34 years ago.  What a memory!  Also no Amazon if it weren’t for this, since he decided not to pursue physics!” he wrote.

 

Yasantha, whose full name is Yasantha Rajakarunanayake, is a senior director, Technology, at Taiwanese semiconductor giant MediaTek.

Indeed, the smallest of events, some that can be seen as insignificant, have triggered the greatest of developments in human history. Yasantha’s brilliant problem-solving mind made Bezos realise that he was cut for something else. And the world would thank Yasantha for that.