Taking Charge of Personal Growth

I ramble. Looking back at this blog, it’s particularly evident I can say a lot but communicate little. It’s especially easy to get caught up in written word, but I’ve noticed that I do it verbally, as well.

To counteract this, I’ve begun an effort to be more precise, using fewer words, fewer embellishments. At work, this means asking precise questions and giving precise answers. In fact, there was a training course called “Precision Questioning and Answering”, detailing what a precise question/answer is and how, why and when to employ them. I’ve gotten the summary from a co-worker who has taken the course (they don’t offer it anymore; strange).

This is all part of a wider personal effort. I’ve resolved to learn in a more conscious manner. One skill I’m most thankful for is my ability to learn quickly through osmosis. But, it has meant my learning, since graduating from university, has taken on more of a meandering, whatever-is-convenient path. Many of us go through the 12-16 years (sometimes more!) of our lives in a structured learning environment. We don’t have much need to think about learning – it is, for better or worse, forced absorption. At work, I’ve been put into a number of fortunate roles and environments, where that kind of absorption, to date, has been enough to help me succeed, progress, and be satisfied.

However, to first, understand, and second, reach my potential more quickly, I need to take control of my learning. No one will force it upon me, again. Currently, I’m blessed to work on a team of superstars. It was no accident; it was one of the primary reasons I joined the team. I wanted to see these guys, whom I respect deeply, in action. I wanted to learn from their skills and experience. It’s happened, but only as the result of incidental interactions. Due to the scope and expectations of the team, working on separate swaths of the project is the norm, and the amount of time I spend interacting with my team is limited. So, I’m going to make an explicit effort.

I want to grow in three scalable areas: precision communications, developing clarity out of ambiguity, and leadership, motivation of others. In the type of work I enjoy, these will become more and more important, as my career progresses. They’re also areas with significant room for growth.

If you have books, readings, or courses to recommend, please give me a shout!

Anand

Anand is leaving AnandTech and tech publishing, as of today. It’s a great loss to the industry, as more than ever, tech media trends towards diminishing quality, higher quantity, sensationalist reporting of the latest fad and gossip coming out of the community. AnandTech has largely remained a shining North star of depth and quality in face of this.

To me, it’s also personal. AnandTech played a significant part in cultivating my early interest in computers, particularly DIY builds and overclocking. In fact, one of the first technology articles I ever read was the AnandTech review of the ATi All-in-Wonder Radeon, as I did research for my first piece of unassembled computer, ever. That was almost exactly 14 years ago, to the day, as an early teenager. I’ve been on the bandwagon, ever since.

While Anand, himself, has published a smaller proportion of the content at AnandTech, the level of investigatory due diligence and technical excellence he expected his team to uphold has made it my favorite technology discussion and review site on the web.

I’m excited to see what Anand applies himself to, next. It was an honour to have bumped into him (and Brian Klug) at IDF2013 in San Francisco. I distinctly recall our conversation on his view of consolidation in the silicon space, discussing Samsung, MediaTek, and, obviously, Intel’s future. Anand, I hope you remain in technology, and I get a chance to pick your brain, again!

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.

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!