With the annoucement of Microsoft's new Train Simulator project it seems likely that many more new people will be visiting this site (or am I just hoping? <g>) so it probably makes sense to re-introduce myself to this new group. Here goes:
My name is Mike Gilbert and I'm the Lead Program Manager for Train Simulator. Before taking this role last summer I'd worked on Flight Simulator, first as Program Manager for Scenery and then as Lead Program Manager, since May 2001. That makes for 3 versions that I contributed to so the time seemed right for a change. I'm a private pilot but don't consider myself a "flight-simmer", although I did use Flight Simulator 2000 while practicing for my pilot's license. What I really enjoy is building software and I find working on Microsoft simulations very rewarding because of the technical challenges (and because the end result is--you have to admit--pretty cool).
My background is a bit varied. Before Flight Sim I worked in two different groups at Microsoft, one as a Program Manager and one as a Product Manager (a.k.a. "marketing guy"). This September I'll celebrate 10 years with the company. Going back a bit futher I was an IT consultant/programmer for a bunch of years and spent a good deal of time training other programmers, speaking at conferences and writing books about programming. I consider this "Phase 2" of my professional life. "Phase 1"--9 years worth--was spent in the hospitality industry. My undergraduate degree is in hotel resturant management from UMass and I spent many years as a professional chef. I also have an MBA (including a few PhD credits) from the University of Rochester. I'm married and have a young daughter.
My interest in trains started, like many, in my youth. I remember sending away to a cereal company for a bicentennial HO train set when I was a kid. (Strangely, the locomotive from that set showed up on the bookcase of our terrain developer, Adam Szofran, not too long ago--wierd.) Money and space were issues when I was young so I swicthed to N-scale shortly thereafter and built a few modest layouts as a pre-teen. I got an Atlas layout book that showed a simple 4x8 setup and my stepdad helped me with the woodwork. My interest in model railroading waned in my late teens and surfaced again only briefly during my MBA program when I discovered that one of my friends was heavy into N-scale--and he apparently still is! I never really lost interest, though, and I still have much of my collection.
I was also influenced by real trains while growing up in Maine. One of my mom's co-workers had a vacation home in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire and knew some of the engineers on the Maine Central Railroad, that operated in the area. One night, while we were staying at their cabin, mom's co-worker drove me up to an access road near the apex of the route's climb through the notch. As the train slowed we jumped on one of the locomotives (#253, an EMD GP38--I'll never forget) and rode it down the other side to its next stop. It was both thrilling and a bit disorienting (not to mention dark!) for an impressionable youth. I'll never forget the experience, though. Today you just pay to ride the route. When I was 12 we moved to South Portland, not too far from MCRR's Rigby Yard. As it was on the route to my high school (you can see the road bridge at the left here) I'd occasionally see #253 on the yard tracks.
Lastly, as I begin interacting with the Train Simulator community I should point out I'm not a train expert by any stretch of the imagination. I leave that honor for Rick. So, forgive me if I ask dumb questions. Also, if you've never seen me post on the Flight Simulator web sites you might be off-put by my composition style which can often be described as playful and somewhat sarcastic. (Of course, some people would describe my style as arrogant, condescending, infuriating, etc.) The fact that I can rarely answer direct questions about a product under development doesn't help. Hopefully, though, we'll get comfortable with one another over time. I hope so.