Sunday, April 30, 2006

What I do at work and stuff..

This past week has been incredibly huge for my team at Microsoft.

After much time spent researching, planning, designing, and beginning to build our new product, we finally announced its existence to analysts, partners, and most importantly to many of our greatest customers at the 2006 Microsoft Management Summit in San Diego.

I won't talk too much about it here in the future. I've actually started a Service Desk blog with my team at work where we plan to announce and discuss information as it becomes available.

That said, I figure now's a good time to share some information about what I've been spending most of the past year of my life working on.

Organizationally, I'm a part of the System Center suite of products, which is a part of the larger Windows Server System. System Center is all about empowering IT Pros with the best software available to manage their IT environments. Before coming to Microsoft, I worked a hodgepodge of IT-related jobs for about 10 years (yep - starting at about age 13). I've had the opportunity to do everything ranging from IT office support to helpdesk support to systems administration to network engineering to IT tool development to IT professional services consulting - in environments ranging from small-medium sized businesses to Fortune 500 companies to educational instutions (1000 person high schools to 40,000+ person universities). I guess you could say I sort of "grew up" around IT. So landing on the System Center team at Microsoft turned out to be a pretty good fit.

The way I explain what I do to my Mom goes something like this...

Let's say you buy a desktop computer from Dell. On average, let's say *something* will go wrong with that new computer every few months (if you're lucky?). Hardware will fail, it will get a virus, its connection to the Internet will go down, it will need software updates, you'll forget your password(s), and so on and so forth.

Now, imagine you're a business with 340,000 desktop computers (that's about how many Microsoft has - not including any internal or external facing servers). Things are going wrong all day every day. Even when things aren't going "wrong", things need attention - users need new versions of software, new access to various systems, etc. How do you manage such an environment? How do you install a new operating system on over 300,000 computers? How do you find out when the security of systems are compromised and disable their physical network port (or can a system do this for you without you ever even finding out)? How do you measure not only whether or not your email servers are up, but how many of your 300,000 computers can actually send/receive email through them? How do you know which services and users could be affected by a change you're about to make to a network device, and when problems do occur, how do you know if they were caused by such a change?

These are the kinds of IT challenges that every organization faces on some level. Many orgs use a hodgepodge of random tools that don't work too well together. Others spend their time and money hacking together their own custom tools. You might've seen/heard some mumbojumbo about "are your people ready?", "your potential, our passion", and "helping people/businesses realize their full potentials". Building the best software so that our customers don't have to waste time/resources building it themselves, don't have to waste time/resources getting software pieces to work well together, and don't have to waste time/resources doing the same routine tasks day in and day out.. is what it's all about.

As for my individual role.. I've talked about and linked to quite a bit of information about what it's like to be a Program Manager. The coolest thing about being a Program Manager on this team is the scope I've been able to take on and the impact I've been able to have. Probably shouldn't talk about individual features yet, but being able to own and drive 4 feature areas across the product on a relatively small team has been an amazing experience so far. We sometimes joke about college new-hires in big groups like Windows or Office owning features like "the recycling bin icon" or "the tools->options menu". Totally hasn't been the case here. So far, nothing beats working on a brand new product in "startup mode" with no old code, no old bugs, no old poor design decisions. Perhaps the most difficult part of my job has been having to bite my tongue every time over the past year when a customer has emailed us and asked why we aren't building and selling them this product. And that's a problem any team in any company would love to have.

Anyhow, it's a beautiful sunny day in Los Angeles, and I'd better get out and enjoy it before heading back up to Seattle later tonight.

I guess the last thing I'll say is that if you're also interested in building software to solve these kinds of challenges, my team is hiring often for lots of different positions. Drop me an email with your resume, and I'd be happy to forward it on.

Xboxen 360


I can already feel my productivity beginning to slip away...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Bye Russell :-(

Just a few days after adding an email subscription option to his kickass blog, Russell Beattie has announced that he's putting his weblog to bed.

Reading this actually made me feel sad. :-(

Russell's blog has been one of my favorites to read for quite some time. Where I work, I'm sometimes predisposed to "tunnel vision" when it comes to Microsoft products. Russell has been one of my best sources over the last year or so for new and cool stuff built on non-Microsoft technology.

He's been a great source for everything mobile, and recently, everything Yahoo too. It's truly a bummer that he won't be writing anymore. I'm surprised too, because his blog must have tens of thousands of subscribers (there are over 3,000 listed in Bloglines alone). But I suppose there's nothing wrong with ending on a high note!

Anyhow, Russell, I hope our paths cross again in the future, and I also hope that your break from blogging allows you take some of the time you've been spending as a "reviewer" and put it towards being a "producer", cranking out kick-ass products - this is something I struggle with constantly, and imagine you might too (not to mention the whole notion of having a life ;-).

Best of luck.

Geek Art

I'm drooling over the I Am 8 Bit Art Opening.

Definitely have to stop by the gallery on Melrose next weekend. I hope there's something left for me when I get there!


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Work Only

Another week flew by, and I've realized that since last Sunday, I've accomplished nothing outside of work. I've gone from going to the gym 3 times a week to not having gone to the gym once in 3 weeks. And to make matters worse, my unread blog posts count is at 666 (no joke), there's an unread stack of magazines on my coffee table, and who knows how much email is waiting to be answered.

This is a bummer.

Not sure what to do. I really don't want to work less, but I think I may need to start managing my time at work better. One strategy I've employed recently is to block off 2 days of every week on my calendar, and decline to attend any meeting scheduled on those days. I already try to keep meetings to 30 minutes and have brief phone discussions when in-person meeting wouldn't be beneficial, but this additional strategy has allowed me longer periods of time to focus on producing work product without regularly being interrupted.

On Monday, I'll be heading down to San Diego for the week for the Microsoft Management Summit. We'll be announcing some very cool stuff at MMS - stuff near and dear to my heart that I've been working on for quite some time. It'll also be a great opportunity for me to meet and bond with some of my division's most valuable customers and partners, and I'm really looking forward to it!

I'm only bringing one laptop down to MMS, and it's running the latest daily build of Windows Vista. If the build works, I'll try to blog from the conference (and Vista will get points). Otherwise, I might be forced into a little blogging vacation until next weekend, when I'll be making a quick stop in LA to visit family on the way home to Seattle.

The only other thing I wanted to mention was that I noticed the Where 2.0 conference is coming up in June. I'm soo passionate about location aware software, and yet this conference looks really really lame. So I'm not gonna go, even though it's only 2 days and wouldn't be too difficult to swing.

I think it looks lame because it's too focused on mapping and mash-ups. I think maps are boring, and mash-ups are played out. For all the talk about delivering location platforms, very few have delivered much of anything. And the "promise" of location based services has been around for about a decade, and is still very little more than a promise with some neat proof of concept apps with insignificant adoption rates.

So, having tried a gazillion mapping apps and mash-ups, having read a ton of really great research papers, and having played around with quite a few proof of concept apps and most of the location-oriented "platforms" out there, more talk about what's out there already and more promises about what the future holds just aren't worth my time this year. Maybe next year though.

Off to hang at the park with my friend Mike and eat dinner. Hope everyone's having a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Vista, Vista, Vista :-(

Paul Thurrott loves Microsoft. He runs the truly awesome SuperSite for Windows, which I read from time to time.

Today, I came across his review of the latest test builds of Windows Vista. Paul is clued, and if he's biased in any way, it'd be towards Microsoft. When Paul says great things about Microsoft products (including Vista), his reviews get floated around by Microsoft executives themselves.

So, it was a bummer to read his thoughts on the latest test builds of Vista.

What really piqued my interest was the section on User Account Protection. This morning, I echoed the same sentiments to my officemate, rather loudly, in fact loudly enough to catch a friend's attention who was walking down the hall nearby. I would repeat my exact words here, but would rather not be quoted out of context as "even Microsoft employees think UAP's a <explative> <explative> <explative>".

I don't want to be a "no bird", but I do want to be self-critical. Before Clippy shipped, how many Microsoft employees stood up and said "HEY! THIS IS GOING TO ANNOY USERS! THIS IS A REALLY REALLY BAD IMPLEMENTATION!"?

So don't get me wrong. I totally buy into the vision of UAP. But the execution in the latest builds is totally jank. Clicking on Windows Update disables the entire Windows UI and brings up a popup asking if Windows Update can run. Deleting a shortcut off the desktop does the same thing. How long will it be before users just turn the feature off like Clippy, or they just always click "Yes" like in IE? And what happens in corporate environments where IT departments force this feature on users? Users become less productive, more agitated, and Microsoft-averse.

In an attempt to be constructive here, I'd first concede that there's no silver bullet solution here yielding both security and usability. But in this case, I think the balance is tilted so far on the security side that Windows becomes unusable to the extent that users will disable the security feature altogether, and then where does that leave us? So my suggestion would be to ease up a bit. If a user explicitly takes action (i.e. drags a shortcut into the recycling bin), suppress the confirmation dialog (and don't make it so modal!). If I do a similar action twice in a row within a short time period, don't prompt me each time. Don't prompt me for common operations performed by signed software that ships with Windows (i.e. Windows Firewall).

IDEA: Do a study on some average users living with Vista (we have these users and studies set up already). Gather data on when they click Allow/Deny. Put some harmless malware-simulation software on their systems that finds creative ways to perform operations (i.e. after a user clicks something that performs a file op, the malware performs a "bad" op of its own, etc). See if the users click Allow for their own operations, and Deny for the malware operations.

(I'd also like to see their stress levels monitored, and a measure of their focus on a task they're trying to perform when these dialogs repeatedly pop up, but that is neither here nor there.)

Anyway, there's lots of room for improvement here. I hope it happens before Vista ships. I expect Microsoft customers to LOVE Vista as much as Apple customers LOVE OS X. If not, then we failed.

As with every other success and failure.. time will tell.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sunday Night Catch-Up

Most Sunday evenings I spend a little bit of time going through my Bloglines clippings and catching up on things that looked interesting but that I didn't originally take time to read.

First up is a great post over on the Presentation Zen blog on "Slideuments". To sum it up:
The presenter must say to herself: "Do I design visuals that clearly support my live talk or do I create slides that more resemble a document to be read later?" Most presenters compromise and shoot for the middle, resulting in poor supporting visuals for the live talk and a series of document-like slides filled with text and other data that do not read well (and are therefore often not read). These pseudo-documents do not read well because a series of small boxes with text and images on sheets of paper do not a document make. What results from trying to kill two birds with one stone is the "slideument." The slideument isn't effective and it isn't efficient...and it isn't pretty. Based on my trips to the US recently, the slideument appears to be a great burden on corporate America.

I couldn't have said it better! And sadly, I've succumbed to this temptation many many times. Recently, I've gathered the courage to break the mold and stop producing Slideumentation, and it has worked out pretty well. Two pieces of advice I have are to 1) use the Notes section of the Powerpoint slides if you intend to circulate a deck after your presentation and 2) in the year 2006, recording a presentation (audio and/or video) isn't incredibly difficult and solves this problem rather well.

It's really easy to justify Slideumentation - "Oh, but it's just an informal presentation to an internal group of people" or "The audience is very professional and most presentations they see are packed full of bullet points and complex charts". To any of you out there who work in a corporate environment like I do... I strongly challenge you to challenge the status quo here.

Next up, and on a slightly related note (but only coincidentally), check out Seth Godin's talk at Google. I walked away from it with a big list of newly inspired thoughts. The top two were that Godin has nice slides and that the consumer's impressions of a company and/or product brand is more important now than ever before.

If you use Google products, how does Google make you feel? If you use Apple products, how does Apple make you feel? If you use Microsoft products, how does Microsoft make you feel?

I think Microsoft comes out way on the bottom here, and it's one of the biggest challenges facing the company. Now, I could also ask you "How does Walmart make you feel?", and despite all the people in the world who hate Walmart (and still shop there), they still have a pretty successful business, and their success seems rather detached from the way people feel (although it's quite clear that consumer perception is their #1 target in their ad campaigns). My point being that perception is not the only factor that influences success, though certainly highly important. And at the end of the day, who wants to work forbe the company that people don't love?

Third up was a quick little article written by the man BillG himself for Fortune Magazine called How I Work. I think it's cool that BillG watches the blogs. He's said in the past that he reads Engadget. How cool is that. (Notice how all pictures of Bill in his office either don't have windows in the background or have the blinds down? Perhaps it's to protect him from anyone out there who doesn't get the warm fuzzies when they're asked how Microsoft makes them feel. Hmm.)

Fourth, there's what I call Attack of the Design Blogs! Lately, I've added quite a few design blogs to my daily reading list. At the top of my list are, Apartment Therapy (and it's LA cousin), and Better Living Through Design. Scrolling through new posts is totally pleasurable. It's just looking at pretty pictures of "what's cool". Definitely gotta check these out.

And finally, just today I came across The site is full of images released under Creative Commons licenses (for example, the Attribution license), which more or less gives you access to use photos for free as long as you attribute the work to its source. Very cool.

That's all - hope you enjoyed the round-up! I'm always interested in hearing about things you've found to be cool recently too in the comments. Cheers.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Loving my T-Mobile SDA

I'm in love with my new T-Mobile SDA phone!

Moving from the larger Pocket PC Phone form factor to the smaller Smartphone form factor is definitely a change, but definitely one for the better.

If you're looking for a really slick, compact Smartphone with a high speed Internet connection and email, IM, audio/video, and more right at your fingertips, I highly recommend picking one of these babies up.

In addition to T-Mobile SDA, it's also branded as the i-Mate SP5m, Orange C600, and Qtek 8300. If you're on Cingular, there's a similar Cingular 8125 device with pretty much the same features (no WiFi - but how often do you really need it if you have Edge?)

And if you're looking for more of a Treo/Crackberry-like form factor, I also highly recommend the HTC Wizard/Apache models. These are branded here in the US as the T-Mobile MDA, Cingular 8125, Sprint PPC-6700, and Verizon XV6700. Everyone I know with one of these devices (including my Dad) absolutely loves it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Boycott STITA Taxi Cab

A while back I wrote about The Great Seattle Taxi Scandal and STITA Taxi.

Last time I was on the way to SEATAC airport in an Orange Cab, I chatted about it further with the really friendly Orange Cab driver. He also agreed that the system was absolutely ridiculous. He said that not only does STITA have an exclusive contract to pick passengers up at the SEATAC taxi line, but that if any other taxi cab attempts to pick up a passenger at the departure or arrival area, they are slapped with an expensive ticket and can lose their license.

But, he noted, there's an exception!

If the passenger explicitly calls a cab company other than STITA, they can pick the passenger up in the arrival area.

I tried this the last time I arrived at SEATAC. I simply dialed Orange Cab when I walked off the plane, and they had one of their drivers pick me up. Since every cab company in Seattle can drive passengers TO the airport, there are bound to be a few nearby at any given time.

So, if you want to avoid the government enforced monopoly that favors shady STITA Taxi and results in excessive wait times, fare amounts, pollution, and traffic, next time you touch down at SEATAC, give a company like Orange Cab a ring [206-522-8800 - you can put it in your phone today!].