Tag Archives: Microsoft

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.

Edit:
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.

ADO.NET 2.0 Boot Camp

Sahil Malik, a prolific speaker, Microsoft MVP and author of “Professional ADO.NET 2.0” is holding a one-day ADO.NET boot camp in Charlotte next month.  If you are in the area, I think this class will definitely give you your money’s worth.  Sahil has a very unique way of teaching that is easy to follow and highly effective.  If you are going to be in the area on July 21st, and want to master ADO.NET, I would encourage you to take a look at this great opportunity in the Charlotte, NC.

Bill Gates affect on my mood

Being a new employee at Microsoft leaves me at a bit of a disadvantage in weeks like this.  First, we hear that our “chief blogging officer”, Robert Scoble is leaving the company.  Today, it’s been announced that BillG will be stepping back his responsibilities at the companies once again.  It is not like this wasn’t expected, but it is a bit disheartening, none-the-less. 

Bill Gates has had a profound affect on my life.  I grew up in a poor town with family that worked VERY hard to provide for us, but by no means were we wealthy.  However, when I was writing code on my Atari 800XL in fifth grade, I told my mom that I would be working for Microsoft one day.  Since then, Bill Gates’ drive has inspired this poor kid from East Liverpool, OH to succeed.  No matter what life throws at you, who makes fun of you or attacks you with pies you can always come out on top.  Like BillG, I didn’t finish college — but unlike Mr. Gates, I quit because I ran out of money.  None-the-less, in my mind, I said “If Bill can succeed without a degree, so can I!”  Over the years, my life has thrown one curve ball after another at me.  I’ve had good times and bad. The one common factor in all those years has been Microsoft software;  I’ve made my career of it; I’ve based my life on it;  My house and my belt clip are embedded with it;  I’ve tied my success (if I can call it that) to it.  So with all of this said, it’s a deeply saddening experience to see the man who is responsible for getting it all started is now slowly backing out of his role here.

However…

If you talk to the larger percentage of Microsoft employees, most of us have had little to no interaction with Bill. Our software goes in and out the door much without his micro-management or interference.  How much of the Microsoft Office 2007 feature set was designed or coded by Mr. Gates? What drivers for Windows Vista do you think Bill had a part in creating?  My guess is, very little of our software is directly controlled by Bill.  Instead, he delegates those responsibilities as he sees fit.

I think it’s great that Bill gets to follow this path with his life. There is such an emphasis on giving at Microsoft. I’m proud to be part of a company that thinks about more than what goes on inside its own walls.  I, too, intend to do charity work full time at some point in my life. I think, one again, Bill is setting an example for my own life.  I obviously will not likely be able to do this to the same degree that Bill Gates is, but the example has been set and I admire the man.

Microsoft will go on making great software on and off the desktop for years to come and Bill is responsible for the spark that started this software industry off in such spectacular fashion. It’s time for someone else to take the torch and move on while Bill starts a new spark in charitable giving. If it’s possible for someone 11 levels under Mr Gates to say this, I’m proud of him for doing this and I can’t wait to see what he accomplishes with The Gates Foundation when he goes full time with it in 2008.

Good luck, Mr. Gates, and God Bless.

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!

Mort, Elvis and Einstein don’t exist

Much has been said about the Mort, Elvis and Einstein controversy over the past few years (yes, years).  The past few days have been no exception.  One of our MVPs is apparently upset about them, and apparently some employees are not too happy about it either.  I’ve waited several days to comment until the screaming stopped.  Now that it has, it’s my turn to weigh in.  Most of this content about this topic is completely off-base and unfounded.  “Why?”, you might ask.  That’s because Mort, Elvis, and Einstein don’t exist.  That’s right, there is no one person on this planet that is meant to be exhibited by these personas.  The names depicted here are meant to represent behaviors – not people.  Trying to pigeon-hole people into one of these areas is just a misrepresentation of what the persona was meant to portray. 

Mort is not a VB developer, Elvis is not a C# developer, and Einstein is not a C++ developer.  Sure, the personas use these analogies because they do fairly closely resemble a large stereotypical audience, but it doesn’t “fit” to anyone. Then again, no description fits more than one developer.  These personas don’t drive features and they don’t do anything but serve as reminders that we have different types of developers who need different types of features, documentation, and applications.  Don’t think this is true?  Ask the average VB developer what a thread is and they may get the “word for word” answer, but a large part of that audience never has wanted to understand the intricate details of thread local storage, differences between the stack and the heap and why those are important in the context of application development.  Does that mean that all VB developers don’t care about threading? NO. Once again, there is plenty of evidence that einsteins exist in the VB community as well  — “Einsteins” meaning people who want detail!  Mort behaviors exist in the C++ community as well. I’m one of the people have have a mort mentality with C++. I know so little about C++ I’m amazed I’m allowed to breath the same air as the folks here at Microsoft.  That, indeed, is the Mort side of me.

Several people have asked “Why are there no definitions for these from Microsoft.” And they are hopping mad about it!  Quite frankly, its because the personas were not meant to be public information.  They were used to help mold and categorize functionality internally, and nothing more.  Because of that, the actual documents for these personas are not available externally.   If they were, they would also likely be taken out of context.

That said, this won’t be the last discussion about these fictional characters.  I imagine we’ll be hearing about them for some time.  Just remember to take everything you hear with a grain of salt, and if you think the way we construct software is wrong, by all means RESPOND!  Speak up, tell us how you would approach it. Better yet, apply to the team that interests you most and come implement those changes yourself! 

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