Tag Archives: Microsoft

Goodbye IMDb, hello…

kilbo-logo…independent consulting practice & stealth startup!

I’m incredibly excited to announce that I am now a freelance consultant specializing in customer & user experience analysis, and information & content architecture for mobile applications and the web.

For the past eleven years, I’ve had the privilege of working at two of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies in the world, Amazon (IMDb) and Microsoft. Combined, the products I’ve worked on have over 100MM downloads for Android and iOS, and over 300MM website visitors a month. It’s been exhilarating and humbling to work on properties at that scale with some wicked smart people.

But for a few years now I’ve been wanting to get back to working for myself and have the flexibility to be around more for my kids. After a year working with my IMDb colleagues to set a new information architecture, apply a new Material design, and get the wheels turning on development, (launching soon-ish!) it’s now time to strike out on my own.

So, if you know anyone that needs help tuning up or launching an app or website, I’d really appreciate a referral! The best way to contact me is through my LinkedIn profile at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kilbo.

And, because I also miss my startup roots, I’m also incubating a new company. Over the winter I’ll be working on the business plan and expect to be ready to scale and launch the new idea in the first quarter of 2017.

Stay tuned!

Goodbye Microsoft, hello…

…IMDb*!

I am very pleased to announce that I was extended and have accepted an offer to work at IMDb (Internet Movie Database) as a Senior Product Manager. I’ll be doing product manager-y stuff like helping to align the mobile and website user experiences and information architecture for the quarter of a billion people who visit every month.

It is very much a dream job for me and I am both humbled and elated that I’ll be able to practice my craft on an Internet property with such a tremendous history and reach. Feel free to start sending me your suggestions now. 🙂

To all my Microsoft colleagues: Thank you for the last nine years! I’m going to miss your passion and your brains. We did some great work together and I look forward to seeing what you do next.

(* A wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc.)

The Office Developer Center Redesign

My team, in conjunction with partners across Microsoft, shipped a new Office Developer Center experience at http://dev.office.com this morning.

The New Office Developer Center

The New Office Developer Center

I’m incredibly proud of the work we all did. This was a hugely complex project that saw us combine six different developer centers into one, consolidate a little over 200 pages down to 24, re-write every single page, and simultaneously reset the global experience across 11 languages.

This was arguably the most challenging project I’ve worked on here at Microsoft and presented the thorniest information architecture problem I’ve ever encountered.

The Office family of products spans multiple products with their own hierarchies of brands and tasks for developers. At the top level, there is Office, SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync. Within Office alone there is Access, Excel, InfoPath, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Project, Publisher, Visio, and Word. Microsoft is also asking developers to write apps for Office and for SharePoint, and the development details are a bit different between Office and SharePoint. Add in Office 365 service content, and you have many different pivots you could apply.

Then we had to consider that we’re always balancing between the past, present, and future when we’re talking about development. There is a huge audience of developers who have written code to older versions of Office, a smaller set that’s targeting the current version, and then Microsoft is trying to guide developers to be set up for the future evolution of the platform.

The challenge here boiled down to: what information architecture would expose the breadth and depth of the product offerings, feature current and future development options, and not alienate developers targeting previous versions?

We had many, long discussions around the right pivots here, and in the end we decided to stick with the top-level product names as the main pivots for the navigation, and placed app development messaging on pages where it was product-relevant.

How’d we do?

Disneyland – A Short Story

It’s 1983.

I’m riding my Mongoose BMX bike through dirt trails with friends less than a mile from my house and I’m taking jumps off of mounded dirt around Western redcedar and Douglas fir stumps. My backpack contains M-80 firecrackers and matches.

We proceed to “blow shit up” for the afternoon and have tons of fun.

Eighty Acres echoes with our booms and I hear others in the distance, muffled by the understory.

I turn my bike towards home, and the hem of my jeans gets caught in the chain and I wipe out into the dirt.

I have scratches and I’m bruised. I pedal home slowly and wipe the dirt and tears from my face.

It’s 1985.

“This place, it’s like Disneyland. It’s not real.”

I’m in Munich being driven around on a tour bus, and our guide is providing us some local color. We drive past large, grassy mounds that we are told conceal heaps of brick and debris from World War II that were pushed to the edge of town to make way for the seemingly perfect Bavarian village-city we’ve been viewing.

“It may look hundreds of years old, but it’s less than forty. The city you see today is a fantasy compared to what it used to be.”

It’s 1997.

I’m walking through second growth forest about to become a housing development in Thrasher’s Corner with a woman I’ll divorce in a few years.

Trees are tagged with bright surveyors tape. I don’t know which are keep and which are cut down. It’s forest quiet, except for the passing traffic. We lament how this will become another subdivision. A man passes us, walking his dog. We say hello and my future ex-wife pets the dog.

A few months later, it’s tract homes cheek by jowl, and almost all the trees are gone.

It’s 2005.

I report for work at Microsoft as a contractor. I park my car underneath what used to be a forest. I don’t know where to go. I’m lost for days.

It’s 2013.

Taking a break from work, I walk a nature trail around the Microsoft campus. There are native alder, Western redcedar, vine maple and invasive Himalayan blackberries, Scotch broom, and English ivy along the trail. Emergency kiosks with cameras stand as bright red sentinels every quarter mile or less, watching and waiting for someone to push their emergency buttons.

I’m in Disneyland.

My New Job

Color-BlockI left Microsoft last October to spend more time with my family, and when family life was about as sorted as it was going to be (and they were sick of me kicking around the house) in January, I started to look for a new job.

I’m incredibly fortunate and happy to announce that I report for new employee orientation March 11, 2013 at 8 AM, at…

Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.

My roots are as a founder of a startup, and the desire to climb back on that roller coaster was very strong. As I talked to startups and later-stage companies around town, I realized something: I liked working at large Internet scale and startups by definition don’t have much of that.

The intersection of the top Internet companies and the Seattle area is a relatively small set, so this really focused my job search.

As has happened to me a few times in the past, a gig opened up at just the right time that offered what I was seeking. (Did I mention how fortunate I think I am?) And after interviewing last Monday, I was offered the job and happily accepted Microsoft’s offer. 🙂

I’m joining the Microsoft Office Division, where I will be leading the team of people who publish and maintain the Office TechCenter and Office Dev Center websites, and the related IT Pro and developer communities.

As to scale, Microsoft Office is used by over a billion people worldwide. The IT Pros and developers that visit those websites have hundreds of millions of people behind them that they support and write solutions for. Now that gets me out of bed in the morning. Even better, it won’t take me months to learn the corporate culture and I know many of the people I’ll be working with on a regular basis.

Finally, if you’re a customer that uses the Office Tech or Dev Center, please feel free to drop me a line – I’m listening and would love to have your input as we plan for the future.

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.