Monthly Archives: November 2012

Anselo’s Poetry – A Story, Part 1

The first time I died, I was five.

My grandparents 1965 black Rambler Classic station wagon flew down the Edmonds ferry pier with me in the back seat, crashed through the red- and white-striped crossing gates, and then cannonballed down into the murk of Puget Sound, mere yards away from where George Brackett landed his canoe during a windstorm in 1876 and then promptly set about selling the land out from underneath the resident Snohomish tribe, to their eventual dismay.

Five year-olds have little fear, as everything is new and exciting, so the facts that there was no braking, the crashing of the painted plywood as it skittered across the hood and ricoched off the windshield with a smack, the butterfiles-in-the-stomach drop as the sea embraced one and a half tons of machine folded steel, rubber, chrome and leather, and the fast envelopment by the chill waters patrolled by killer whales, were greeted by me with laughter.

The laughter changed to startled terror as a Pacific octopus erupted from between the seat and back, and enveloped me in its rubbery, spider-like grip. I blacked out, or maybe it was the ink clouding the water, but my last memory was of my grandparents sitting in the front seat, my grandmother admonishing my sedate grandfather, “Douglas, you’ve left the turn signal on again!” and of him flashing that sheepish grin of his that served him so well in comfortably avoiding true hardship and reality through the The Great War, The Depression, World War II, and the disintegration of his progeny.

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Board – A Photograph

What It’s Like to Work at Microsoft – A Field Guide, Part 2

(View Part 1 of this series.)

Right! Back from lunch? Good!

It’s great to see facilities on top of replacing that pesky doorstop that kept getting knocked off the wall,

Now back to your office – if you’re in a group that still has offices instead of the open plan spaces that are popping up everywhere.

The single person office used to be a nice perk at Microsoft, but due to continued headcount growth over the years most new hires will spend years doubled, tripled, or more in offices. These tight quarters can foster a very collegial atmosphere.

It’s very collegial in the sense that you can make some great friends with the right officemates or be reminded why you wanted to become a hermit and not see humanity any more when they microwave leftover fish for lunch and stink up the whole floor. Or they walk into the bathroom in bare feet with their overgrown toenails clacking on the floor. Or they leave the remains of their snacks on conference room tables and chairs right before your big presentation. Or they brush their teeth at the kitchen sink. Or, Never. Stop. Talking. When. You’re. Trying. To. Get. Work. Done.

The two shortest routes to a private office are either tenure,

or management. (There’ll be much, much more about management at Microsoft in a future post…)

Until either of those events occur, try to liven up your windowless office,

Some people try to make their isolation spaces as personal as possible, ranging from shrines to Star Wars,

to model railroads,

to more externally-facing accoutrements,

So you shut yourself in your office, ignore the email, and you work, and work some more. And more. And more again. And…

Well, then, a miracle occurs! You actually get something done from vision to completion and through some crazy lobbying, you produce a physical artifact destined for distribution,

then the budget gets cut, and it is distributed as a PDF only. Oh well! On the upside, most editors don’t check hex codes, so you were able to sneak 4B696C626F onto page 97.

While you’ve been working, other groups ship,

and then suddenly, they play their last pink note and are disappeared down the memory-hole,

(Where does a pink piano go to live, anyway? Elton John’s house?)

Then through much harder work by others, the product you’re working on ships!

To celebrate, you get to participate in what turns out to be an infamous parade,

and you drink so much vodka at 10 AM,

that by 2 PM you’re not quite sure where the pink flamingo came from,

The post-ship period is a bit of a lull, so some people take the opportunity to change jobs and even companies,

But if you hang around, you eventually get your ship gift,

Then, it’s lather, rinse, repeat time to ship again,

and party,

Then you change groups and offices, and ask facilities for a 12 gallon garbage can for your office, and this is what they deliver,

(Those pesky decimal point errors crop up everywhere!)

And you lather, rinse, and repeat again,

and since you know the folks in Marketing, you luck out and get the first voiceover slot for the ship party video, and the ship gift even turns out to be something useful. A zipper pull! (Attached to a nice jacket,)

Then it’s time to get all fired up again for another run and,

You  have time to think about when you turned down a job at Microsoft in 1995 to start your own company (page 33), and wonder if it isn’t time to put the work grind on pause and attend to family for a bit before deciding what to do next.

Microsoft will always take your call if you know the proper extension to dial,

So relax a bit and let the warm fuzzy memories seep in as you cozy up for the winter,

and as you drift off, you enter that half-awake dream fugue state where time is elastic, and your subconscious feeds up images that flow like water, and this one floats by,

and then you’re suddenly shocked back wide awake, and you remember the other parts of working there.

(To be continued…)

The End of the Sinofsky Era at Microsoft – Opinions on Leadership

So Mr. Sinofsky is gone from Microsoft. I’m not all that surprised given Microsoft’s shift to devices and services.

A friend and I were once having lunch at Kidd Valley and we spotted him sitting in the back with only a tablet computer keeping him company. As a fellow introvert, I understood the allure of getting away from all the people and demands to claim some quiet space and time to think over a meal.

Months later, I spotted him across the lobby of building 37. I watched him take the long route around to avoid someone he obviously didn’t want to talk to, but it was to no avail. Called out on his avoidance and hailed by name, heads swiveled to focus on him and the emotion this stirred in him was plain to see but hard to name. He was at the least clearly unhappy and annoyed, and made a throwaway comment in response while he placed his mask back in place and continued on to his destination without stopping.

I had the opportunity to meet and work with several people in the Windows division, and provide some input here and there around the developer documentation, website, and store. Great people, hard-working, cognizant of the scale and scope of the product they were working on. But many were uneasy about their leader, and the uneasiness mostly derived from fearing the wrath of their often inscrutable leader.

Leadership is hard, but in my opinion, there are some things that leaders should do:

  • Leaders should be clear in their direction and vision.
  • Leaders should spend as much time as possible with all levels of their team in order to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team.
  • Leaders should boldly meet all comers.
  • Leaders should show the full range of their emotions.
  • Leaders should recognize when their leadership methodology hinders team execution.
  • Leaders should listen to negative feedback and address it clearly and directly.
  • Leaders should care and talk about more than just what they are leading.

If Mr. Sinofsky were to address these areas, I think he’d be an even more formidable technical leader.

Komodo Dragon – A Photograph

Komodo Dragon – Woodland Park Zoo – Seattle, WA – May 22, 2009