Banff_Rail

World Photo Day 2014

Happy World Photo Day!

I recently went on a trip to Banff, AB, a place I can only describe as possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to, in my life. The weather didn’t fully cooperate over the 3.5 days I was there, but the last day was a beauty, and as I paused by the side of the road at one of the countless ad hoc viewpoints, a freight train went rumbling by.

Those engineers had a wonderful journey through the Rockies ahead of them.

Mercedes C300 Engine Vibration or Shutdown

PSA: I had some mysterious engine shutdowns during the startup process with my Mercedes-Benz C300 4MATIC (2013MY) over the past year. Symptoms were:

  • Typically on a warm start (e.g. the car had been running just a short while before, engine oil temperatures had not yet fallen to ambient)
  • On start, engine would cause severe enough vibrations to shake the car (feels unbalanced)
  • Or shortly after start, engine would spontaneously shut down (while still in Park)

This, to me, was seriously troubling. When I sent my car in for servicing, I noted the issue to the technician. An ECU update was applied and, since then, I’ve not experienced either symptom (severe vibrations nor engine shut-down). If you’re seeing these issues, take it into the shop and have them check for updated ECU software.

Competitive Pricing

It’s been a very long time coming, but it appears that Windows-based products are finally coming within striking range of Chrome and Android-powered devices across the spectrum, from phones to tablets to notebooks. Particularly in phones and small tablets, Android sales have exploded (obviously), while, at the same time, encroaching into the heart of the value notebook segment, with value-priced Chromebooks.

A week ago, while perusing the Laptop Best Sellers list at Amazon, I noticed an influx of Bay Trail-M powered 15.6″ notebooks in the $249 segment. A bit more digging showed that multiple 8″ tablets were also being offered at the ~$200 price point. What’ll be interesting is to see what price point the Toshiba Encore 7″ will reach, given it’s a doppelganger for the $109 Android version (Toshiba Excite Go). On the smartphone front, the Lumia 520/521, the first Windows Phone to be somewhat successful (in terms of sales volume), continues to sit in the top 3 Amazon pre-paid phone best sellers. Soon, it’ll be followed by the price-wise competitive (in developed markets) 530 and 630/635 devices.

It isn’t a homerun by any means. There are still cheaper or better spec’d Android and Chrome devices everywhere you look, but these Windows devices are now at least in the realm of consideration, as it pertains to the price segments a significant portion of the market does their business in. I will also admit to having some pride in helping this become reality, with work on various OS SKUs and Bay Trail-Entry (the SoC that powers the Toshiba Encore 2 lineup).

$220-250 notebooks (apparently popular enough that many go in and out of stock at various retailers)

  • Acer Aspire ES1-511-C59V
  • ASUS X551MA
  • Dell Inspiron i3531
  • HP 15z/15t
  • Toshiba Satellite C55-B5298

~$199 small tablets

  • Acer Iconia W4
  • ASUS VivoTab Note M80TA
  • Dell Venue Pro 8
  • Toshiba Encore (v1 and v2) 8″

4

Yesterday was my 4 year anniversary of starting at Microsoft. I can’t believe how quickly the years have gone by (I’m one year from getting my first tenure crystal at year 5!); it’s not infrequently that I feel I’m a fresh-out-of-university new hire or forget that I’m officially in the latter half of my twenties. But, occasionally, I get a chance to interact with the new hires or interns that are streaming through campus at this time of year, and I realize, despite the barely detectable growth, day after day, 4 years of it has resulted in a level of maturity and experience that is starkly different from where I was, immediately after university. Of course, there’s a humbling, infinite amount left to learn, as I look around myself.

The average tenure with a single employer is somewhere around 4.6 years (and 3.2 years, for those between 25-34 years of age). While my 4 years have all been spent at Microsoft, the type of work I’ve had the opportunity to experience over those years has spanned a huge range. All this was possible under the Program Management umbrella. In briefly reviewing my posting history, here, I noticed I haven’t really written about what it is I’ve done. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we typically work on confidential projects, but part of it is also that writing things down in the moment may be personally sensitive. With several years to look back on, here’s a brief summary of my time.

It all started with Office SharePoint. I was a feature Program Manager, working with a couple developers on multi-tenant SharePoint Online administration features. It was a far cry from what I’d originally wished for (UI design). SharePoint was the natural progression from my co-op, in the InfoPath team, which upon my return from graduating, had been folded into the SharePoint organization. And, I (think I) only found myself on the InfoPath team in the first place, because when asked to talk about a Microsoft user experience, I brought up the Ribbon. InfoPath hadn’t had the Ribbon menu facelift at the time, so I tell myself the recruiters were a bit too literal, when placing me. My attempts to get an after-graduation placement into the Windows Phone team was rebuffed by both my team management as well as my recruiter. I certainly understand the aura of safety and known-quantity in staying with the same team, but isn’t the point of a co-op/internship to discover what you want (and don’t want) to do?

It also didn’t help that in my last semester at university, I realized my passion was more for hardware (or at least low-level software) than anything else. So, it was with great fortunes that my co-op interviewer was suddenly the group manager for the Windows Ecosystem team, responsible for working with our key hardware partners. So, in mid-2011, I became a partner Program Manager in Windows, working with Texas Instruments on some of the first Windows on ARM (WoA) hardware projects. I had an opportunity to work on both the hardware bring up of development systems, as well as directly with Toshiba on two hardware designs (they were slick). Unfortunately, those projects weren’t meant to be, and we concluded the OMAP work and the 2012 Windows 8/RT launch with nary a piece of released hardware.

Texas Instruments exited the majority of the consumer AP business, towards the end of 2012. With the post-Windows 8 reorg, I was given the opportunity to work with Intel, and particularly on their new breed of low-power SoC platforms: Haswell and Bay Trail-T. This assignment was the hockey-stick growth point of my nascent career. With the mentorship of my management chain and exposure to an amazing amount of corporate strategy and personnel at both Microsoft and Intel (the intersection of Microsoft and Intel is an incredibly exciting place, even today :)), I was forced to grow rapidly in technical and business acumen. Frankly, at my junior level, it was an incredible, fortunate opportunity, one which I’m grateful my team had enough faith to give me. It’s also incredibly exciting to look back after only 1.5 years of that, to see direct and indirect impacts to the ecosystem: the popular Dell Venue Pro 8 and ASUS T100 (Bay Trail-T) tablets and 2-in-1s, Windows with Bing-based products, Connected Standby Surface Pro 3 (Haswell), and just reaching the market, Bay Trail-CR Windows systems, at much more competitive price points (Toshiba Encore 2).

After 2.5 years in the Windows Ecosystem team, I began to long for direct product work, with a deeper engineering focus. Throughout my time on these SoC projects, I worked with a number of excellent teams, so started poking around for opportunities, after the Windows 8.1 wave concluded. One in particular, the Windows kernel team, rose to the top of my list. As it happened, by the time the post-launch reorgs closed, the PM lead I’d been in contact with had moved to a new team, a new team with PM openings. In that new team, I would be able to build on both my technical experience in working on low-power systems, but in a product-focused role, and my leadership and relationship skills, with internal and external organizations. With much secrecy around the project itself (I signed on without really knowing what I’d be working on), I decided to join the team, because I trusted my new group manager and I could tell by the caliber of folks, already on the team and about to join, that it was something special.

And 5 months into the new role and 4 years at the company, I look back at the projects I’ve had a chance to be a part of and the opportunities I was given, and I don’t know how events could have transpired any better to give me the breadth and depth that I have today. Plus, 4 years is a mere blink of an eye in the overall epic of one’s career and life. Certainly, a high bar has been set for the rest of it.

Commuting

A series of events conspired to lead me to purchase a bicycle, in the hopes of commuting to work with it.

  • I’m surrounded by hundreds of miles of bike trails
  • I’ve recently moved closer to work, now approximately 4 miles away
  • The path to work is almost exclusively along a nicely maintained bike trail, reducing the concern of riding with traffic
  • Microsoft generously provides reimbursement for a good chunk of fitness/exercise-related purchases each year (I never took advantage of the ProClub membership)

So a week ago, I test rode a couple bikes at REI and picked up a Novara Express road-ish bike. I’ve never had any experience with road bikes, with my childhood riding all done on mountain bikes (I remember wanting a bike with ever longer-travel shocks, for the raucous rides through the forest near the family home on PEI). My first go on one was a shock (pun intended) of a firm ride and very squirrely handling. With thin and full tires, the experience was very different.

It’ll take a while to get used to it, but I could already feel how (relatively) effortless it was to get up to speed. Perhaps too much speed for not having ridden in 10+ years.

So, before I try to ride into work on a real workday, I’m going to try to beat the heat tomorrow morning, get up early and take the proposed path to work. There’s a steep hill, ~350ft ascent on the way, which I’m a bit intimidated by. Fellow co-workers have retold their walk of shame: getting off the bike and walking it up that steep slope. It’s going to be a challenge, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to bike!