Category Archives: Microsoft

This category includes posts containing general information about life as a Microsoft employee.

Taking on New Challenges: Joining the IE Team

How I Started

I’ve been into computers since I was a kid. The story is long, but I essentially started writing software in the 5th grade at North Elementary School in East Liverpool, Ohio. We had a quick introduction to computers. Our teacher discussed high-level and low-level languages and then introduced us to BASIC programming. I wrote my first program:

20GOTO 10

(Aside: For those that don’t know, I begrudgingly admit I went by “Toby” back in those days).

800xl[1]My eyes filled with wonder as my name scrolled down the screen. I immediately looked at the next instructions, and the next, and the next, and the next. My dad picked up an ATARI 800XL for the house. I spent many a full day at home working on that computer — painstakingly putting Microsoft ATARI BASIC and ATARI Assembler instructions from programming books and watching with wonder as the screen flashed exactly what I told it to do and the four voice, 3.5 octave sound screamed at me. I’ll spare you the details, but those were the beginnings of my fascination with computers. Some years later I had, for a number of reasons, stopped programming on the ATARI. When it was time to go to college, my parents got me a Packard Bell 486 DX2 66 computer. I went to college for Graphic Design – not computer science. However, when I found BASIC on the computer, I suddenly found myself hanging out with the C.S. folks more than my own classmates.

The Wonder of the Web

packardbell[1]After three semesters of college, I ran out of cash and my choice of Graphic Design over computer science made it hard for me to want to go back to college. I moved to Greenville, SC in 1994 and started playing with my Packard Bell. I mostly used it to talk on BBS’s and occasionally AOL when I could afford the time (for those of you that don’t know/remember back that far, you used to get charged by the minute for AOL use). I spent a bit of time writing small desktop applications with my copy of Visual Basic 3, patching software to get it to do what I wanted, or adding photos of myself inside my favorite games to my friends amazement. But I also started playing with HTML – something that had not yet standardized, but that I wanted to be a part of. I’ll never forget my first webpage. It had a picture of Alicia Silverstone on it – the “chick from that Aerosmith video”. The thing I liked about the web is that it combined my love for graphic design with my need for technical understanding.

I’ll again spare you the details and skip forward a few years. I was working for a consulting company called Metro Information Services as a contractor for AIMCO – at the time it was the largest property management REIT in the country. I worked on several web-based intranet applications in the 1999-2000 timeframe getting use something new called XML Data Islands, DHTML behaviors and something new called XMLHttpRequest. This allowed me to create applications that appeared more responsive and did work behind the scenes on users behalf. I fell in love with this technology with Internet Explorer and probably overused it. With just HTML and JavaScript, I felt back then that eventually most applications would become web-based with very little need for ActiveX or Java fillers. I knew that the server was still an important part too so I continued to work on enterprise middleware and database development. But I knew that the web – both server and client — was where I was meant to work.

Moving to Microsoft

Skipping forward to 2006, I had worked contract after contract, making a lot of money but starting to get bored and burned out. I was going to take a year off work and “play” with the technologies I loved most. Then Microsoft called. They had an opportunity to work with the teams that built ASP.NET and IIS. This seemed like the best opportunity so I took it. I joined as a Programming Writer for IIS. You could summarize this as simply a “documentation writer” position if you didn’t know any better. That said, I came to realize that this job required skills as both a great communicator and a great programmer. You needed to learn how to analyze API code that was written, and describe how to use it without any help. I loved my job when I first started it. However, the continued pressure to document every exposed method no matter how trivial it was also began to weigh heavily on me. I loved the web and this position seemed like the perfect position for me – till you find yourself writing documentation such as “The IAppHostSectionDefinition::Name Property Gets the name of the current configuration section definition.”

loginI had a growing desire to fix MSDN. As a developer, there were so many things that I felt I could help MSDN with, I thought I couldn’t go wrong. I loved working with the MSDN and TechNet teams. I helped redesign the home page based off of customer feedback, metrics we collected and the overall direction the company was heading. I started the MSDN News program which allowed us to aggregate content from various places inside and outside of the company and disseminate it across multiple locations. I designed and MSDN Insiders program. At every turn, however, I just felt like I was building someone else’s vision rather than making the impact I wanted to. I also, strangely enough, wasn’t getting to use the latest, greatest technology to build MSDN. I had a heavy desire to build HTML5 sites, mobile sites, and incorporate features like pinning. It’s not that I didn’t believe in what was being built, but my passions for it were not there.

Introduction to IE

UntitledI started diving into HTML5, CSS and JavaScript pretty heavily again. Inspired by the type of work that Rey Bango was doing, I wanted to reestablish my passion for the web. I began talking to people about this passion and paying more attention to what the community was saying about standards, development challenges, and of course, browsers. As I read more books I noticed that IE was rarely mentioned and if it was, it was in a bad light. Some of this was perception but some of it was reputation earned long-ago on the backs of still-lingering down-level versions of the product. I became angry when I saw a cartoon being passed around twitter. The cartoon, which many of you may have seen, was of three boys dressed in browser costumes. A Chrome-costumed boy had a Firefox-costumed boy in a headlock and they were clearly battling it out – each shouting the name of their product while holding a determined look on their face. In the corner was a baby-blue pajamad boy with a baby-blue helmet on. The helmet, of course, had an “e” on it to indicate Internet Explorer. This boy wasn’t battling at all. He was eating paste! This made me mad because I knew that the IE team was actually listening for feedback and had made considerable investment in battling back since IE6. I knew we still had our problems in IE, but certainly they didn’t deserve the “touched boy eating paste” image.

I sent a well-thought out email to the VP of IE and expressed my frustration with not only the cartoon, but the idea that we weren’t even considered a player for many people. I expected to get a pink slip for this “career-limiting email”. How often have you heard about someone telling a VP that their product needed work to be rewarded for it? Not often, in my experience. However, I was surprised to see an email come back from the VP fairly quickly. At the end of my email I asked “what can we, as employees, do to help with these problems?” The answer for this VP was pretty simple – “come and fix it.” At the VP’s request, I met with a man from IE. He listened to me and what I was passionate about and what I felt needed fixed. He asked me if I had worked with HTML5 canvas yet to which I told him I did not. He asked me to go play with it for a couple weeks or a month and let me know if I liked it and what I thought about working with it for a while. I wrote a few quick[1] demos[2] in a few days with HTML5 and shot them over to him. They weren’t great so I expected him to hate them. I hadn’t optimized my code. I wasn’t using standards. I wasn’t doing all the things someone interested in performance should do.

darkbookWe met again for coffee and he listed some of these things on the board as we chatted. At the end of the conversation he said “these could be your commitments.” Long story short, after a few more discussions I was given an offer to come join the IE performance team. I’ve got my work cut out for me. The people I met with in IE are top notch guys. They know their stuff inside and out. They know not only the code base and how it works, but how it should work. I’m told it’s going to take me about a year just to ramp up and be slightly effective. These guys have been working on the product for several years on average. I’m humbled to be able to work with them. I doubt I’ll ever be as smart as them, but I’m hoping to make my small impact on the product.

I was thankful to work with amazing people in MSDN. I’m thankful for this opportunity to work with great people again in IE. I’m excited about this move and the work ahead – something I desperately need to feel again about the work that I do. I’m excited about not only making IE better, but making the web better along the way for all of us.

My Request to Each of You

I’m going to be looking for feedback on IE. I don’t mind brutally honest feedback. If you’ve got it, I can take it. I really don’t know what work will look like in IE entirely or exactly what I’ll be able to do with most of the feedback – particularly so soon after joining the team. However, I’ll always be looking for feedback and will do my best to feed that back into the appropriate people inside the team.

Thanks for indulging me as I reminisced.

[Update] Just for clarity sake, I’m not sure how transparent I can be about what I’m doing or what the team is doing. You’ll never hear a new announcement about features or release dates or anything else coming from this blog. That’s really up to the team to communicate on official blogs. Just want to set expectations correctly.

PMing my Technical Skills: a guide to ramping back up technically speaking

I’ve been transitioning away from a solely technical skillset to a PM skillset at Microsoft for a while now. That said, I have found that personally, I prefer to still keep my technical chops. Why should I have to sacrifice one for the other? My love for the technical world should drive my passion for the PM role. In fact, I’ve now found that I’m using my PM skills to compliment my technical skills as well.  I don’t mean to say that I’ve applied all of the PM principals to my technical studying. However, I have realized that I inadvertently used those things I’ve learned in my PM career in a very lose way to help my technical skills.

Competitive Analysis

I like to see what other people are doing. Not just from a purely social standpoint, but also to understand what skills other’s find valuable and easy to use, and what skills are most common among everyone. I often also cruise the job boards (Microsoft Career Site,,,, etc). I tend to look in various places around the country just so I know if certain skills are hot in one area, but not in another. So, I composed a spreadsheet of available positions, skills required (soft and technical), optional skills, pay, benefits, region, etc. I don’t do this because I’m looking for work, I do this because by gathering enough information, I can find that jobs that require iPhone app development skills pay more than say, Silverlight development skills. Once I had this data, I could see what skills were most valued. This serves as a rudimentary competitive analysis or “potential performance” and represents part one of a good gap analysis.

Skill Inventory Assessment (actual performance)

Part two of creating a good gap analysis, involves determining your actual performance to compare against your potential performance. To do this, I find it useful to also look at what skills I have in my inventory, see where they intersect with my “potential performance” from above, and see if I somehow missed your other skills as potentially valuable in the market. So, I made another sheet in my spreadsheet to list skills that I had and the self-assessment level at which I rank myself. For any skills that I added which were not in my “competitive analysis”, I did further research to see if those skills were found in the job boards or on friends blogs, or anywhere that I could assign some value to the skill. I use this as a secondary sanity check for skills that I might need to beef up on. Once I had this done, I moved on to the actual gap analysis.

Gap Analysis

I compared the competitive analysis against the skill inventory assessment and came up with a reasonable gap analysis of skills that I either needed to improve or acquire, and a list of other skills that I had which I needed to deemphasize in my studies for the next year. This list represents the gap that I have between where I want to be and where I am – otherwise known as the gap.

Action Plan

Once I had a my gap analysis complete, I had to create a plan to get from point a to point b. I looked first at books. While many people don’t learn well from books and prefer other methods, I still prefer a good solid technical book at least to start, and then I move on to other resources. So, for each skill, I set out to collect a list of books for each skill area on amazon. To assess each book, I looked at the number of ratings, amazon ranking, average rating, release date, and a number of other factors (including glancing through the table of contents to see if I felt those skills would be adequately covered in the book. Once I had the list of books, I didn’t stop there. I created a new sheet in my Excel file for each book that I intended to purchase. I listed each chapter and it’s length so that I could determine how fast I could read each book – giving myself milestones to complete by certain dates for each book. I made sure to account for downtime, upcoming vacations, goofing off (all work and no play…), and various other factors to give me a reasonable burn down rate on my learning plan.

Prioritizing the Plan

This is one area I thought about for a while. I could simply make this all about money and learn the most valuable skills first. However, I like to have fun, and I have specific projects in mind where some of these skills could be put to good use. That said, I opted away from prioritizing in any way that would be meaningful to anyone else. I am my own customer and I think it’s fair to let me set my own priorities in this instance. For others, however, you might want to prioritize based on projects you have at your job, getting a specific job, or just for pure fun. The option is yours.

Metrics / Performance Analysis

I’ve set clear goals for what I want to accomplish and set a timeline for completion. I have milestones that can help me determine my progress and help me assess risks. I have a project calendar and a burn down chart. I stopped short of creating a project file or creating work items in TFS. I’ll just use my spreadsheet to keep me in check for now.


This obviously doesn’t represent solid PM work, but I realized after the fact that I had just done a great deal of the same type of work I would do when I start a real project. It’s easy to say that you need to pick either PM or Development, but I’m finding that skills from both disciplines can compliment themselves quite well.

Ups and Downs of the past month

It’s sometimes hard to hold a completely technical blog, particularly when you have long absences from one post to the next. You feel you have to explain yourself to your readership each time you take more than a week or two between posts. This is no different. Despite having a ton of stuff to blog about, I haven’t posted since December. Much of this has to do with regular holiday planning, but much more has happened. For me, this past month has had some major ups and downs for me emotionally and I’m still a little mixed up.

This post will have a great deal of personal information in it, and much of it has nothing to do with IIS, but it should give you some insight into Microsoft if you are interested in that sort of thing.

If you’ve been paying attention to the weather in the Pacific Northwest, you know that on December 14th, we had a major windstorm that knocked out power to over 1 million customers. The bad news is that on December 15th, I had a flight scheduled to go visit my family on the west coast. United Airlines cancelled several flights, which put their check-in line in complete disarray. My flight wasn’t cancelled, but no thanks to United Airlines, I was not able to board my flight, and no other flights could be found for me along with my two cats. My trip was cancelled.

Since I was still in town, I helped put the finishing touches on a “Think Week” paper I had been writing along with two other employees here at Microsoft. Despite the power outages, we were able to make it into one of the buildings at Microsoft and submit our paper by the deadline. It was an interesting experience to submit a paper that every full time employee of the company can read and comment on, including Bill Gates.

I also took the opportunity to work on writing a UI module for IIS in that time. The module was actually finished, but after consulting with one of the developers, I decided to modify the sample and I haven’t had time to clean it up and submit it yet. More on that later.

On December 28th, I got a phone call saying that my grandfather had passed away. My family has always been important to me. My grandparents hold a special place in my heart because they gave me a lot of my determination. My grandfather was a tail-gunner in World War II, had seen more inventions and re-inventions in his lifetime than I could fathom. He always chuckled when I came home to visit and told him about this great “new” thing in technology that would change the world unlike anything else ever had. I didn’t get the joke then, but I do now. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of technology. When putting it in perspective, we are not the first people to change the world and we will certainly not be the last. I’ll miss my grandfather terribly and there are no words to describe how this has changed my world.

It was good, however, to go back home for my grandfather’s funeral. I got to help my dad clean up and set up his workshop. I also got to see one my best friend since I was 8 years old. I haven’t seen him in 10 months since I moved out west to work for Microsoft. I returned from my grandfather’s funeral on the 8th and have tried to get 100% back into the swing of things. I really hadn’t been able to focus on work the way that I usually do until Thursday. I was finally making some headway on a few projects at work.

Before I continue, I need to give some of you some background on me. 20 years ago, when I was in 5th grade, I taught myself Microsoft BASIC and Atari Assembler. I remember telling my parents back then that I was going to work for Microsoft one day. My mom told me to finish my homework first. Of course, I have finished my homework and 20 years later, here I am working for Microsoft and submitting a paper to the very man that started the company. A few weeks had gone by and we received a LOT of feedback about our paper, but none of that feedback is from Mr Gates. We sort of expected that. Bill doesn’t respond to many papers in a year.

However, the other day I got a barely coherent message on my cell phone. It was from one of the co-authors of the think week paper. He was an excited statement about Bill Gates reading our paper. I tried to connect to the VPN to go read the feedback but had some issues because my home network was, shall we say, “in flux”. It drove me nuts that there was feedback from the very man that we addressed the paper to, but I couldn’t read it. I jumped in the shower and then rushed into work to read it personally. During the entire ride to work, I was forcing myself to watch my speed carefully. However, my heart was racing so fast that I think it pushed 10 extra pounds of blood into my right foot. I got to work and quickly opened up the Think Week site and scrolled to our paper. When I read the comment, I couldn’t help but become giddy. The feedback was favorable and verbose — about a page and a half. I was elated and sitting here today, I’m still in shock about the entire thing.

I have to say that I’m extremely thankful for the opportunities we have inside our company. Inside the company, you can tackle any problem that you want. You simply need to apply your efforts in an area, and you’ll likely get the support of your managers, team, and friends. I know there are many people out there who like to point out some negative issues inside Microsoft. Some anonymous blogs out there take a rather candid look at company issues and seem to err on the side of complaining. My experience inside the company so far has been spectacular. It helps that I knew people inside the company before I moved out here. That said, there are many opportunities inside the company to make recommendations and get involved. I can’t be happy enough with that.

So, while this was not a technical post, I felt I owed it to you all to explain where I have been and why I haven’t been blogging (again). Thanks for putting up with me.

Steve Wozniak … at Microsoft?

I know it may sound very strange coming from a Microsoft employee, but last Friday I found myself in awe while I sat directly in front of Steve Wozniak while he gave a presentation … on Microsoft campus. 

I hung on the man’s every word as he tried to fit a story into the short time he had here. The same spirit that drove me into this industry at the ripe old age of 9 is what drove him into the engineering field very early in life. For those of you that don’t know, Mr. Wozniak is largely known for co-founding Apple Computer with Steve Jobs. It is amazing that Steve came on Microsoft campus to talk to us and even better that he didn’t pull any punches in his talks. He had a few nicely phrased jabs about Microsoft that were, in my opinion, probably deserved. I won’t repeat them, but you can get a general sense of what Steve thinks about Microsoft by looking at his blog. He’s a very gracious guy though, and it was so very cool to meet him. What was even more amazing was how many people from Microsoft crammed themselves into this small room to listen to him. There wasn’t a single piece of carpet left to stand or sit on.

I’ve run into several celebrities and “big names” in my life, but I am never really been star-struck until I meet a geek with a well-deserved reputation. This was definitely one of those times. I took some pictures of the event and once I get a chance to pull them off of my camera, I’ll post them here.

Thanks for stopping by Microsoft, Mr Wozniak. It was an honor to meet you.

Back in business…

I haven’t blogged for some time now.  This in large part has been due to heavy workload, close deadlines, and the fact that I was alone in my workload.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve been able to get my head above water.  While our open position on the team is still “open”, we’ve filled our contractor position. Not only have we “filled” it, we’ve actually brought in one of our old contractors who is more than capable.  He is definitely helping to alieviate my workload already.  I’ve finished my Vista RTM handoffs and that has taken off some more pressure.  I’ve also completed my first review at Microsoft and, while I definitely see much room for improvement in the process, I was pretty pleased with the outcome.

All three of these events have helped me free up time to start blogging again.  In fact, this new found freedom has given me some time to start taking some classes at Microsoft. As we speak, I’m typing this blog post up during a break of a class on managed code threading.  Those of you that know me may be saying, “Didn’t you write books on threading? Why would you sit in a class on that very topic?”  Well, I’m attending for two reasons. The first of these reasons is that the class is being taught by Jeffrey Richter.  No matter how much you think you know about anything, I guarantee you that Jeffrey Richter can make you feel like a “n00b”. OK, there may be a small percentage of you out there that know more about obscure printer driver hacks, but even there, I’d defer to Mr Richter.  If you ever get a chance to sit in on one of Wintellect‘s classes, I recommend you take advantage of that opportunity.  If you can’t afford it, I’d recommend you read the many books published by Wintellect employees.  The second reason I’m sitting in this class is because I think threading is increasingly important. When I co-authored my first book on this topic, I believed that the multi-core and multi-processor industry would be growing by leaps and bounds making threading knowledge extremely valuable.  This is proving true as Intel has just announced that they will have 80 core processors by 2011.  If you don’t know how to use multi-threading techniques PROPERLY, I highly suggest you start learning.  Despite my involvement in three books on the topic of threading, Richter’s class, in my opinion, is one of the best means to get solid, current multi-threading advice today.

I hope you’ll forgive the silence on my blog from the past few months.  I also hope you’ll come back often and trust me to provide you with some relevant articles on a more regular basis.

Why am I smiling?

I moved to Redmond just over four months ago.  In the time I have been here, my rental car was side-swiped, my truck was broken into, my headlight and bumper were damaged by someone in our own parking garage, someone stole my copy of “Professional Visual C++/CLI” from my office today (clearly someone missed the “corporate values” talk at New Employee Orientation), and my relocation to the great Pacific Northwest has been less than smooth or swift — waiting for the insurance company to assess and pay my claim for the furniture damaged by the movers.   I’m the only PW in my group and we’ve been unable to find anyone else that can fill the shoes for our open position. I have deadlines looming with tons of work to do and not enough time to do it all by myself.  Bill Gates has announced he is reducing his role here, both Windows and Office have announced schedule changes and Microsoft’s stock has dropped over four dollars since I arrived on campus.

So why am I smiling?

In four month’s time I’ve learned so much.  I’ve been able to look at the technologies we will implement in the future before most people even know they are in the pipeline. I sit in on meetings and get to give real feedback that can influence products used by more people than I could have ever imagined.  I have taken over ownership of an internal tool our team uses and have written a few of my own.  I’ve gathered customer feedback and helped several customers personally or got them in touch with others who could help them. The amount of responsibility piled on me is less of a burdon and more of a compliment, in my opinion.  Who puts that amount of pressure on someone if they feel they can’t handle it?

Apart from all the benefits provided by Microsoft there are other reasons I’m happy to be working here. I’m in a technological heaven.  The people are brilliant and open-minded (except when it comes to “Red State” ideas, but give me time — I’m still working on it).  I pass those same brilliant people in the halls every day.  If I have a question about something, I can go hit our Global Address Book and track down the person who owns the feature to discuss the matter with them personally. 

I also get to see the company make huge changes in the way it delivers software.  With the industry changing so quickly, its awesome to see a company of this size roll with the punches and adapt. 

It’s hard to explain why I’m so happy to work here. The only thing I can say is that you can tell that the majority of people working here love working here and finding new ways to make customers happy.  That reason alone is enough to make me love working at Microsoft.

Enjoy the weekend!

Looking left and turning right: management style

Today, I was returning from my manager’s office to my own when I nearly collided with another manager-type in the hall.  As I was approaching a hallway intersection, a manager emerged in a bit of a hurry looking to the left while she was turning to the right.  She prolonged her view to the left for so long that her path was diverging directly into mine.  In motorcycle safety course several years ago we were taught while taking a corner that we should look in the direction of the curve. Looking to the opposing direction could often cause us to veer off course toward the direction of our gaze. Referring back to my manager-turned-missile, of course, I scrambled to get out of her way before she hit me. This was rather awkward to do and by the time the manager looked back at me shuffling around, she look at me like I was the stupid one and didn’t as much as say “oops, sorry”.

Nothing in this world enrages me more than managers with an inflated view of their own self-importance.  But this is rather indicative of the problem I think we face in our company.  We know where we want to go, and if we just focused on our own goals, we would get there in spectacular fashion.  This isn’t the case, however. We fixate on what other companies are doing and what else we could be doing instead of directing our gaze at what we are working on until it is completed.  Couple these misguiding glances with all of our team meetings, morale events, office sharing and quarterly group/org/company ra-ra meetings that do nothing more than tell us what we already know — or tell us more than we care to know — and it’s no wonder we cannot get anything done.

I encourage Microsoft to start training our managers — and our non-management employees for that matter — to stay focused on the direction of our company. Stop worrying about what every other company out there is doing and start worrying about what we are NOT getting done on time.  Our customers depend on us.  You want to drive up customer satisfaction rates?  How about delivering a product for them to be satisfied with!  You want to drive up revenue?  How about filling some warehouses with some freshly minted retail bits!

Obsessing over our career options at myMicrosoft and worrying about work-life balance cannot continue to be our main focus.  Putting our focus in that direction will only take us off course from our real goals. Trust me, when we deliver quality products to our customers on time and under budget, our career options will open up for themselves. And nothing makes work-life balance easier than getting performance bonuses that we can spend on our nights, weekends and vacations or put toward our children’s college education fund.

I should clarify that I am also guilty of this very same problem.  While re-reading my annual review, my commitments are filled with goals that aren’t in my direct line of responsibility.  This is as much of a criticism of myself as it is of anyone else.  Furthermore, my managers up my direct line have been pretty wonderful, supportive and have kept me fairly focused on my tasks.

Internal spam affects productivity

When I interviewed with Microsoft, I was asked, “What is one thing we can count on you to do at Microsoft?” 

My reply was brief: “You can count on me to complain.” 

My interviewer suddenly took on the puzzled look that an interviewee would normally take when presented with an unfamiliar scenario.  The facial expression of my inquisitor demanded an explanation.  I decided to end the torment by presenting further detail;  “When something is wrong, I’m going to bring it up and someone will hear me.  I’m not going to just complain, but I’m going to offer at least one alternative solution.”  Apparently, my explanation cured the torment of my initial declaration. I was hired and here I sit; typing my 23rd Microsoft blog post to an audience that has graced me with tens of thousands of views.  This particular post is a follow-up on my promise to complain and provide an alternative solution.

As many have said in the past, email is the life-blood of our company. We communicate everything in email.  That’s why our anti-spam measures that counteract external tormenters are so critical to our business.  But what are we doing about the measures to counteract internal spammers?  Adam Barr made light of the need for Microsoft Outlook rules in his short story, “The Microsoft Code”, but the premise is 100% genuine.  Internally, we have people who just LOVE to toot their own horns and, as you might guess, these horn-tooters are typically the management way up the line.  They do this horn-tooting in a barrage of email that cripples productivity.  This is fine, I suppose, but it comes from the internal culture that supports working toward better reviews each year rather than making meaningful contributions to their teams, organizations, the company and (hopefully) the customers.  When a director sends you a “professional” email that contains exclamation points and smiley faces, you can almost assuredly delete the email – can anyone make an Outlook rule for that?
I’ve been at Microsoft for less than 4 months now and I’ve been swamped with work since I came to Redmond.   I am the only worker of my particular discipline in my particular group.  I have deadlines; big ones; looming ones. I sincerely mean no offense here, but I don’t have time to listen to everybody in our company talk about what they did and what they are going to do.  To take that one step further, I don’t care to know everything that’s going on. I lose my focus as I try to decipher the email and understand how that particular communication affects my day-to-day work.  If our upper management stopped to think about the opportunity cost of each email they sent out, we might actually have time to stop reading email and start getting products shipped on time.  Seriously, I wonder how many people send out these emails to distribution lists that “appear” correct (apparently based on the name of the group) without actually looking to see who is involved in the distribution.  Those distribution lists in the GAL can be nested so many levels deep, I venture to say that no one knows who is going to receive a particular email with any degree of specificity.
If upper management is going to send email to everyone, what is intermediate management meant to do?  I personally prefer a military style approach where one level talks directly to the level above them and the level below them with rare communications in between.  If those particular levels above or below think the information is important to the next level up or down, they can forward that communication accordingly.  Dissemination of information in this particular manner assures that the appropriate people get the data, and everyone else doesn’t suffer from information overload.  Each management level can also summarize the information and parse out the pieces that they feel are important for their group – a human Outlook rule, if you will.  That’s obviously not the culture we have here at Microsoft. 
One idea I tossed about in my head was the idea that everyone internally should have their own RSS feed or VLOG.  When someone wants to toot their own horn, they can do so on their blog; their managers can see those accolades, their team can see it, and the people who really care about it can see it.  If that particular employee keeps blogging about stuff that doesn’t affect me, I can unsubscribe and stop wasting my time reading/watching that feed – providing incentive for everyone to keep their topics relevant or risk humiliation with low agg-view participation.  In this approach, new employees or employees who transfer to groups could then subscribe to manager-recommended OPMLs that generally contain information that you will want so you can be effective in your new role.   Furthermore, RSS feeds can be much more easily tagged than email can.  I can subscribe to “John Doe’s IIS posts” but filter out “John Doe’s Accomplishments” (much like my own blog that will allow some of you to ignore this particular “Microsoft Culture” post if you so desire).  Sure, this is not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.
I have tons of important data to keep track of.  Communication is very important to the company – too important to gum up with internal spam.  We need to find a solution or we will forever find ourselves bogged down in self-congratulatory expression and no real work getting done.

Work-life balance; Robert Scoble

Since coming to Microsoft, I have heard a LOT about our policy on “work-life balance”.   If you aren’t familiar with what work-life balance is, a simple search on the web should satisfy your curiosity.  Essentially, we believe that people work best when they are satisified with their accomplishments at work as well as their lives at home.  Microsoft will often say that their greatest asset is their employees.  However, Microsoft doesn’t actually believe that last statement.  Now if you are a manager or an HR rep at Microsoft, and you just read that last statement, you probably just spewed your soda (“pop” for some of you) all over your flat-screen and keyboard.  Never fear.  Let me explain that.  If Microsoft actually believed that employees were an asset, they would treat them like they owned them.  This is NOT the case.  In fact, Microsoft treats us more like a guest that they don’t want to leave.  I’m sure this week will be particularly hard for Microsoft as one of our more prominent guests have announced they are leaving.  I’m glad that Robert has seen fit to shut down the critics who opened their mouths before getting the facts straight

I often hear about how Microsoft doesn’t pay enough or treat their employees right.  While that may or may not be true (depending on who you talk to), Microsoft has proved with their benefits that they do care deeply about their employees.  From day one at Microsoft, you are given a package of benefits so thick that it takes two days of new employee orientation to help you get familiar with them — and even then, you are left bewildered with all of the benefits and resources at your disposal.  One such benefit that is actually a “requirement” at Microsoft is work-life balance.  In the past three months since my arrival, I’ve been pressured to make sure I have been enjoying life while getting my work done at the same time. 

However, here I sit at work on the weekend, trying to pound out some of my work while there are less distractions and no meetings to attend.  This is by choice, obviously, and if anyone from my team knew I was here, I’m sure I would get reminded that my “life” is just as important as work.  Of course, at the moment I decide to take a quick break, a member of my team walks in and “catches” me with a pocket full of ping pong balls on my way from the ping pong table. See, I’ve got work-life balance! (Thank goodness they didn’t catch me working instead).

This post was prompted by the news of Scoble’s departure and the folks that immediately took that opportunity to bash Microsoft over “letting him go”. And that they didn’t “do everything they could to make sure he stayed put”.  I’m sure that everything was done to encourage him to stay — but remember — he is just guest and not an asset.  Therefor he is entitled to leave any time that he wants for whatever reason he wants.

I’m very sorry to hear Robert Scoble is leaving Microsoft, but very happy that he cleared the air about life at Microsoft before it got out of hand. 

Good luck, Robert!

What does it take to get a Microsoft MVP?

As many of you know, I received a Microsoft MVP award this year for C#. I’ve been asked a few times what makes an MVP — despite there being several pieces of information available to answer that question, I thought I’d answer it quickly myself.

There is no set formula for gaining an MVP. Some do it by participating in online communities such as forums, newsgroups, and other such public stomping grounds for technological communication. Some people do it by writing books, printed magazine articles, blog posts, or online articles. Some folks have obtained their MVP by simply participating in local community events, helping out in whatever way is necessary to make user groups, code camps, MSDN events, and the like go off without a hitch.

By participating in communities, I mean that you answer questions clearly, honestly, and completely — not simply respond to every post hoping to get a post count high enough to get noticed. You have to actually earn some respect in the community for having answers — not for posting useless information.

The same can go for blogs. Simply pointing to other sites or blog posts from yours — effectively becoming a technology aggregator — doesn’t work either. Have some original content. One method that is quite useful is to combine your community participation with your blogging. Instead of simply answering a question in a forum, try to write a coherent blog post about the issue, and then point the user in the forum to your blog post. Now, the question and the answer are made available to everyone in the forums as well as on your blog!

Another good idea is to take that same topic, and then use your solution as the topic for a user group meeting. Many user group meetings in smaller towns are in great need of speakers — either at the meetings themselves, or at Code Camps. Help them out by sharing what you’ve learned with the local community. Furthermore, find out who the Microsoft Developer Evangelists are in your area and see if there is anything they need help with at upcoming events. Being valuable to Microsoft is the whole point of the “V” in MVP. Helping your developer evangelists definitely adds value and will help get you on the radar screen if you persist for a good deal of time.

As you can see, you can solidify yourself as a subject matter expert quickly by studying one area and using that same information in blogs, forums, and user groups. It wouldn’t hurt to expand on those topics by contacting online article sites or even printed mags to see if they have an interest in your topic. As you can guess, a little effort can go a long way.

I don’t really know how I received mine other than some of the ways that I described. I wrote four books on .NET topics, participated in local and regional events, communicated with regional directors, developer evangelists, and community champions to find out what was needed to drive participation locally. I blogged, answered a few forum posts, and worked with Microsoft Learning to develop the new generation of certification exams and supporting eLearning workshops. Find your own mix and figure out what works for you, and what doesn’t. Don’t rely on the company you work for to get you there. MVP is an individual award and it depends on YOUR commitment and reputation , not the reputation or commitment of the company you work for — in many instances, that’s a plus for you!

This posting is provided “AS IS” with no warranties, and confers no rights. The content of this site are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view in anyway. In addition, my thoughts and opinions often change, and as a weblog is intended to provide a semi-permanent point in time snapshot you should not consider out of date posts to reflect my current thoughts and opinions.

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