Mike Swanson

August, 2004

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    Interviewing at Microsoft


    I am frequently asked about the interview process at Microsoft, and although I’m usually more than happy to relate my individual story and provide some general tips, I can’t provide nearly the insight that two of our recruiters, Gretchen Ledgard, and Zoë Goldring (both responsible for the JobsBlog) provide in this 20 minute Channel 9 video. You’ll hear them talk about dress code, pre-interview tips, the actual interview day, logic questions, coding questions, what we’re looking for in people, whether or not you need a degree, etc. This is the first of at least two video segments to be published, so expect a second part sometime soon. On a related note, Chris Sells maintains a page about Interviewing at Microsoft that is worth reading. And for those who haven’t heard my Microsoft interview story, read on…

    I always thought that I would either work for myself or for Microsoft. After being an independent consultant for many years, creating the industry’s first uninstall application, the first nationwide movie showtime web site, working at Donnelly Corporation for exactly a year (to the minute), and lots of other mildly interesting things, I decided that it was time to send in a resume. I knew that Microsoft received thousands of resumes each day (according to Gretchen, we now receive around 6,000 per day), so I knew that I had to do something that would show my passion for the company, my “out of the box” thinking, and grab their attention.

    You know those life sized celebrity cardboard cutouts that adorn the occasional geek office? I decided to build a cardboard cutout of me and send it along with my resume as the “model Microsoft employee.” To figure out how large it could be, I visited the FedEx office and asked for the maximum dimensions for something shipped next-day air. Although I don’t recall the exact numbers, it was something like 170 inches for combined length and girth. Not only did I want it to be as close to actual size as possible, but I wanted it to make a splash when it was delivered to the HR department in Redmond. After all, how many next-day air packages have you received that were much bigger than a standard letter?

    So, I had some professional photographs taken of me holding a mouse and keyboard and had it professionally printed and mounted on foam core. Using a cardboard celebrity cutout that I purchased as a template, I proceeded to remove the extra foam core and create the folding flaps that would allow it to stand on its own. Then, I created an advertising slick sheet that would accompany my package that explained the model Microsoft employee and how I was obviously a perfect fit.

    Of course, I still spent a lot of time polishing my resume, and it served as the “meat” of my job application. The cardboard cutout was simply a way to get noticed among the thousands of resumes that are received by the company each day. After sandwiching everything between two sides of a cardboard refrigerator box and carefully taping around the edges, I managed to squeeze it in my car and take it down to the local FedEx office. The FedEx employee that helped me was fascinated by the story behind the contents of my package and proceeded to measure the length and girth with a small chain he kept behind the counter. Boy, was it close. I had neglected to consider the thickness that all of that foam core and cardboard would add to the measurement, and I barely squeezed by. Whew!

    About two weeks of stomach churning passed before I finally received a letter from Microsoft in my mailbox. It was a personal note from the Vice President of Human Resources, and he was writing to say that in all of his years at Microsoft, he had never seen a resume quite like mine. He was impressed that I was able to make my job application stand out (no pun intended), and apparently, it was the talk of the whole department (he had it standing outside of his office). He went on to say that my resume would be added to the database and considered for all open positions (I hadn’t applied for a specific job code). He wished me the best of luck and hoped to see me as a future employee.

    I never heard anything else from Microsoft about that resume, and it didn’t end up getting me a job (surprise, surprise). However, I was proud of the fact that I had tried, and I cherished the letter that I received as a response. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find that letter, or I’d post a copy of it right here. If I do manage to dig it up, I’ll be sure to update this post.

    So, there must be another interview story, right? I mean, I do work for Microsoft, so there has to be more! Of course there is, but it’s not quite as interesting as this one, and it has a much better outcome. The funny thing is, a lot of people have confused this story with the fact that I work for the company, so I often hear that “you’re the guy who sent the cardboard cutout to get the job, right?” That’s when I smile and proceed to tell my story.

    Update: I was able to find the photo I used to produce the cutout...I look pretty silly. I haven't found the letter yet, but I think I know where it is.

    Update #2: I found the letter! I'll scan it and add it to this post later tonight.

    Update #3: I've added the scanned letter below.

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    Windows XP Service Pack 2 RTM Available to MSDN Subscribers


    The release to manufacturing (RTM) version of Windows XP Service Pack 2 is now available for download via MSDN Subscriber Downloads. The CD ISO image weighs in at 475.35MB.

    If you’d rather let Windows Update automatically install it, visit this page to ensure that your Internet Connection Firewall and Automatic Update settings are configured correctly. I don’t think it’s available through Windows Update quite yet, but enabling these features will allow your computer to download it as soon as it’s posted.

    This is a fantastic release with a lot of new security features. I’ve been running various builds of SP2 over the past few months, and I’ve loved every minute of it. The pop-up blocker is a very welcome addition, the much improved firewall is easy to configure, and I find that I don’t have nearly as much spyware finding its way onto my computer. Some of the areas that have been improved are: network protection, memory protection, safer e-mail handling, enhanced browsing security, and improved computer maintenance.

    From a customer-ready e-mail that is being sent out:

    I am pleased to inform you that Windows XP Service Pack 2 released to manufacturing on Friday August 6, 2004. Windows XP Service Pack 2 contains major security improvements designed to provide better protection against hackers, viruses, and worms.  Windows XP Service Pack 2 also improves the manageability of the security features in Windows XP and provides more and better information to help users make decisions that may potentially affect their security and privacy. 

    On Monday, August 9, 2004, the full network installation package for Windows XP Server Pack 2 will be posted on the Windows XP Service Pack 2 site on Microsoft TechNet (http://www.microsoft.com/technet/winxpsp2).  This site is also the best resource for accessing the most up-to-date technical information regarding Windows XP Service Pack 2. 

    On-line distribution will be the primary distribution vehicle for Windows XP Service Pack 2 and below is a summary of the key milestones of the distribution plan:

    8/6  Release to manufacturing
    8/9  Release to Microsoft Download Center (network installation package)
    8/9  Release to MSDN subscription site (CD ISO image)
    8/10  Release to Automatic Updates (for machines running pre-release versions of Windows XP Service Pack 2 only)
    8/16  Release to Automatic Updates (for machines NOT running pre-releases versions of Windows XP Service Pack 2)
    8/16  Release to Software Update Services
    Later in August Release to Windows Update for interactive user installations

    Because of the significant security improvements outlined above, Microsoft views Windows XP Service Pack 2 as an essential security update and is therefore distributing it as a “critical update” via Windows Update (WU) and the Automatic Updates (AU) delivery mechanism in Windows. Microsoft is strongly urging customers with Windows XP and Windows XP Service Pack 1-based systems to upgrade to Windows XP Service Pack 2 as soon as possible.

    Update: I've posted another blog entry with More Windows XP Service Pack 2 Information.

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    Visual Studio 2005 Beta 1 Refresh with Team System


    According to Rick LaPlante’s blog entry, we’ve started the release process for the next Community Technology Preview of Visual Studio 2005. It is based on the Beta 1 bits, and the exciting news is that it includes the Team Foundation server for the Visual Studio 2005 Team System. The download is supposed to be available on MSDN sometime this week, and if you’re attending VSLive! in Orlando, you’ll be able to pick up a DVD there.

    I use Visual Studio 2005 for all of my development activities, and I shudder when I have to open up 2003. The productivity gains I get with 2005 are just too significant to ignore, and Team System makes the experience even better. I’d strongly encourage serious developers to get a head start and download this release when it become available.

    Update: Rick blogs that the bits should be available sometime tonight (8/31/2004).

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    Doom 3 is Fantastic


    I’ve been both a game developer and a game player for a long time now, and like the rest of the world, I’ve been looking forward to the release of Doom 3. It went on sale today in the United States, and I picked up my copy at Best Buy.

    I’ve needed a new computer for about six months now, and I had decided to make my purchase contingent on one of two triggers: either the release of Doom 3 or Half-Life 2…whichever came first. Well, although I’ve looked and looked, I can’t find that sweet machine that marries all of the technologies I’m ready to invest in. Specifically, I think it’s worth waiting another couple of weeks for PCI Express, but none of the manufacturers have the PCI Express video cards in stock, so I’m forced to wait. In the meantime, I decided to install Doom 3 on my current computer, an older P4 1.8GHz Dell Dimension 8100 with 512MB of memory and a NVIDIA GeForce 3 AGP 4x graphics card. I didn’t expect much, but I’ve found the game to be surprisingly playable. I’m only running at 800 x 600 at the lower quality settings, but it still looks and plays extremely well. There’s hope for those of you who don’t have cutting-edge machines.

    Regarding the game, it is very dark. The flashlight that you carry will become your friend (although switching it back and forth with your weapon can get old). If you’re used to fighting an army of monsters, Doom 3 will be a change of pace. It’s very rare that you ever have more than a couple monsters attacking at the same time. Creatures like to jump out of the shadows or drop from the ceiling. It’s a very moody environment, and the production quality of the graphics, textures, voice acting, and machinery do a great job of bringing you into the story. Expect to be surprised more than a few times (even though you’re expecting it). I’ve really enjoyed watching the little promotional videos that show on the monitors throughout the base on Mars. It just goes to show you the attention to detail that id Software has put into this game.

    I’ve only played for about four or five hours, but so far, I’d say that it was definitely worth the purchase, and I’m happy to be able to play it on my existing hardware. If you’re a fan of first-person shooters, this is a title you should check out.


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    Announcement: Windows "Longhorn" Client in 2006 and Avalon and Indigo on XP and 2003


    We announced today that we’re targeting Windows “Longhorn” client for broad release in 2006. Perhaps even more exciting is that key WinFX technologies, specifically Avalon and Indigo, will be made available for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. The last announcement is that WinFS will be delivered after Longhorn is released. All of this is in direct response to feedback indicating that customers want earlier access to these important technologies and across a wider set of operating systems. Personally, I think this is great news for everyone.

    Update: Channel 9 has a short 3-minute video with Jim Allchin, Vice President of Platforms, explaining the announcement.

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