It's been about a year now since I first got the phone call from Frank Arrigo giving me the thumbs up on a new role here at Microsoft.
Given Christmas break is approaching, I decided to pause for a bit and reflect on how my year's been and the lessons I've learnt along the way.
The first week I started, I remember the feeling of excitement and yet I was scared out of my wit. As you see I've never really paid attention to Microsoft all that much prior to joining, as at the time I spent the previous year migrating away from Adobe Flex work towards pushing myself to learn .NET overall.
I'd walk into some meetings with customers, they'd turn and ask for a status report or information around a product and for some reason I assumed it was my job to know, so I'd fumble an answer or two but usually end with a promise to get back to them. (I hope i kept as many of those I gave heh)
I remember thinking at the time, at how the Adobe camp did their evangelistic roles, as well that's the world I lived in so I'd look to see what they would do and so on. I must admit, I learnt a lot from watching guys like Ben Forta (legend), Mike Downey, Mike Chambers, Tim Buntel and Sean Corfield as to me at the time, they were probably the main evangelists I used to interact with over the years.
I also looked internally for other levels of guidance, especially from my local mentor - Charles Sterling (Chuck). Chuck is by far the best person when it comes to interacting with community, he can walk into a room, tell a story about probably the most boring topic we'd have and people would walk out smiling. He also has given me a lot of wise guidance around how to navigate Microsoft and it's an amazing beast at times (like any big company really).
At this level in the software game, you're encouraged not to debate with a competitor online. This isn't shy away from the debate, but more to underline a simple principal - no good comes from it.
I in part believe in this, but I also reflect back over the years when I was (ie pre-Microsoft) deeply involved in the Adobe/Macromedia community (still am in parts). In that, I didn't realise this but I was kind of caught up in what I call the "fish bowl syndrome". I would look at my friends in this space and they also where caught up in this?
It's not all that rare either, as when you typically immerse yourself into a technology you essentially become part of many tribe(s). In that you'll sign up to various mailing lists, haunt at various blogs & aggregators etc. This is how you get your information, this is how you garnish what you can in a way that doesn't impact your busy schedules (let others do the hunting, whilst you feast on their findings).
Thinking about this and knowing this was my world, I basically decided early in the piece that should anyone misquote or produce incorrect information around what we at Microsoft deliver, I'd make a point of simply ensuring our voice was heard. Regardless if it was popular or not.
It's not the easiest route at the best of times (both sides each have some hidden stories to tell heh), as it can be a case of one guy staring at an angry mob and trying to convince them to listen to your thoughts, ideas and experiences - Yet, I've had more successes than failures so It has worked out in the end (Tip: keep metrics and goals associated to it that you can report on). I am thankful that Microsoft believe in their staff and allow you enough liberties to set your course the way you feel is right.
Yes, sometimes it can get personal between certain Adobe staffers and myself, but I bare no grudges as when I think back on it all it's simply case of two passions colliding. I think our points each were made and in the end, I hope the audiences got two perspectives on the matter to which they can make an informed choice on.
That all being said? this all isn't a Zero Sum Game, I think there is many sides to a story and I'll only disagree if I think it's to heavily unbalanced.
I first started out as a Web Developer Evangelist, but the more I interacted with our products, my workload and so on, it became apparent that RIA was my focus. Thus I put forward the case and now, I'm blessed as being a RIA Evangelist (First to use that title in Microsoft).
Now to tell the world about RIA? well I not long ago decided to drop the word "Internet" for "Interactive" (deliberately) and yet I watched as both internally and externally the discussion took place. It was mixed and whilst I'd love to disclose some things I learnt about how RIA came about (it has an amazing history/story but also extremely political), suffice to say I achieved one goal - People were discussing RIA as an idea, not so much which technology was better than the other (p.s I'm really disappointed that bloggers at time still play that game?... more work to do me thinks..)
That for me was the secret win, because it provoked what I'd regard as a healthy conversation and to this day I still receive comments about various "geek-celebs" stating "they used Interactive!!" or "they used Internet" in some public appearance etc. (Personally, RIA for me is always been RIA not Rich Internet/Interactive Application..just RIA).
Overall, It was my first real attempt to shake things up around the RIA space and I was happy about the outcome.I still have bruises though, but as my old Marketing mentor once said "..In Marketing you fail 90% and succeed 10%... the trick is to learn 100% from your 90% failures.."
I'm a passionate person, and this role has given me a lot of exposure and ability to interact with some brilliant minds form around the world. In the past year, I've challenged beliefs, argued, debated, discussed and celebrated various topics around RIA. Internally, I found out at MIX07 that my name was something a one or two people knew. It occurred to me that this could either be really good or very dangerous.
eg: I'd be sitting down at the time talking to Ryan Stewart & Mike Harsh about random industry stuff, Mike would stop someone to ask them something etc, he'd introduce Ryan & Me and then they'd respond with "oh..you're Scott Barnes.." (which Mike & Ryan chuckled at whilst I had this expression of fear cast over my face)
Like i said, either really good or very dangerous! :)
I get nervous when people know me, as I think about why they do and I hope it's positive rather than negative as to why. I'm a passionate person about the space I occupy and as my wife at time says "..Scott, you're so bloody arrogant when you know you're right about something..sometimes you need to learn to be wrong, even though you are right.." (hey I'm human, back off ..).
Probably the best advice I will walk into 2008, in that humility is something I need to work on more (feel free to remind me of that when you see me lose sight of it).
When you hear the overall story of how Microsoft started, the 2002 Department of Justice Case and where we are heading tomorrow. I can't but help think that majority of the time, those whom call us a "monopoly" or call us "M$" probably should spend some time putting the emotions aside and simply look at what we have achieved as a company and the impact we've had world-wide. (Note: I'm using We now more often.. yes, I'm proud to work for the company, *shrug* it's a fun company!)
A lot of the discussions I've been invited into have been usually about balance, in that picking the lesser of two evils at times is a burden that Microsoft would undertake. It wasn't always the popular but a decision had to be made and you roll with it. The other is what I like the most, watching an idea spark within and then not only take hold, but then become a product, feature or change thrust upon the customer(s) in a positive way. (I wonder at times how I'll measure my impact on Microsoft, in that ..did i make one? did I help someone whom then made one or am I just some random weird Aussie blogger whom rants far too much.. either way, i'll ponder on that one day).
Overall, the culture within Microsoft is a lot more healthy than I anticipated and it can be both exciting and at times deflating (you get one or two cynical entities whom over-run good ideas or approaches to things, but name a company that doesn't have this and I'd be shocked)
Simply put, I at times forget that I'm Microsoft or that "..but I'm off duty right?.." but in reality you are Microsoft 24/7 and this can be a blessing whilst also can be a burden. As at times I'd like to weigh in on a discussion or topic of interest, but to do so means that Microsoft is also weighing in?
It's hard at times to balance as initially it's easy to discount this as being unfair and "..why let the company own you!!..sell out!" but on the flip side, it's not fair to say to customers etc that "oh..when I said that I wasn't Microsoft..but when I say this.. I am..."
How are they able to differentiate and if they can't, then how can the press etc. It's part of the job and I'll never truly get comfortable with it, but I do my best and hopefully I won't impact the share price ;) heh (well I hope it goes up heaps more, as I have stocks now).
Lastly, we at times are perceived as the Goliath, and simply put you may be right but you just have to exercise patience and let others say their piece, even though it may be wrong! - yet - proving yourself right at times can have a worse impact than being wrong.
Harmony is probably the best word to describe the lessons I learnt for the year. In that it took recently working with both Adobe & Microsoft products together before it hit me - I need to get back to basics and illustrate the power of how Microsoft products when used with brand politics cast aside, can be quite a fulfilling & enjoying thing.
It can be hard balance to make as Adobe and Microsoft do have competing technology sets, and when you deal with a mixed audience it's a fine balance to take. As on one hand some folks would welcome the "..we play well with others.." whilst others will use it as talking point "..see Microsoft are weak in this space, as they are using Adobe and therefore that is why you should by Adobe.."
Sadly, the later at times get the most amplification as well, it makes for juicy reading doesn't it?
It's important to remember, that no company is ever one thing, they are a mixed hybrid breed usually comprising of an array of technologies that are somehow brought together for whatever reason(s). Microsoft has such a vast amount of brands that to simply isolate us as being a one-trick pony, in the end is unrealistic and does customers little favours (ie it could be a short-term sale, but long-term loss).
Harmony is the key, look towards how Microsoft Silverlight can play well with others as in the end most folks I interact with honestly don't care as to which of the two has the best, fairest and prettiest of them all. They generally are more focused on choosing one to deliver an outcome for their respective clients.
Help inspire these folks and show them various routes forward is something I can offer via my role and also talk about it more with them.
Harmony was definitely the lesson learnt for 2007 and why not use both my Adobe & Microsoft skills to tell such a story? (fingers in both barrels I say).
2007 had it's positives and negatives, no matter which of the two, I kept "Moving forward" in that try not to dwell on a success or failure, simply learn as much as you can from either and then try moving the ball to the next yard line (for those of you whom love NFL). Put it behind you and focus on the next goal.
2008 I have enormous amount of ideas, approaches and things left to do and my first year as Microsoft Evangelist has been the best time of my entire life when it comes to career.
I honestly think our Technology has the seeds of success and any parts of success we have achieved today is simply a bonus at this point (I'm a harsh grader, i think our best years are still ahead). In that, the product teams I interact with weekly are such a diverse bunch coming from a lot of competing technologies, they are passionate about their job and mostly they are very determined to succeed in them.
This in turn keeps me focused :) (as cheesy as that sounds)
I admit, that internally if a product team drops the ball in anyway or even hints at dropping it, they get pinned for it and whilst some folks external to Microsoft can be hard on the brand, they have nothing compared to the discussions internally (we don't throw coffee cups at them ...although.. heheh).This is a great thing, as you see for me it ensures that a product can't stumble it's way forward, that 70,000+ pairs of eyeballs are looking to ensure it meets a standard, quality that we can all log in each day and agree with.
We aren't perfect, but we still chase perfection.
My first year of Microsoft has been a roller coaster of a ride, something I'll not likely ever forget and I especially had a blast at MIX07 and MGX07 (Internal end of fiscal year conference where we basically spend a week in Orlando, learn, celebrate and party hard!)
I've gone from 0 hits to having this blog in the top 5% of Microsoft, I've also been invited to join the folks over at Redmond, but my overall thoughts going forward are simple.
Celebrate, but also Ignore all of the above and just relax, have fun and let the journey continue only it's anyone's guess what the next year will look like.
(Note: I'll be spending the next few weeks in a more idle fashion, with the passing of my grandfather, I decided to devote more time than usual to my family).
Lastly, my grandfather once said:
"..Spend time with your family, work can always wait until tomorrow, enjoy life as there's no future in dying young.." - Albert George Barnes (1925-2007)
p.s I grew up in an Australian Outback town called "Cunnamulla", where basically shearing sheep was the average job expectation. To somehow trace my steps to working for Microsoft is quite a story to be told one day heh.