Monday, September 25, 2006

Taking the Blue Pill, RTM

So here I sit, 35000 feet above the earth, trying to figure out how to summarize my experience at the TAP Hands-On event.

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: The Microsoft employees were great. They were genuinely interested in what we had to say and took our criticisms and comments seriously. They certainly went out of their way to make us feel welcome and wanted. The specialist that was assigned to us even showed up at the hotel this morning, to make sure we did not want to go to the Microsoft Store like we had discussed previously.

The last day of the event happened to be the same day as the big Microsoft yearly meeting, so all of the employees involved with the TAP gave that up to get our input and finish out the week. Maybe they'd all seen Bill speak before.

We did manage to see some sunshine yesterday, but the rain was still coming down. It's no wonder the pines and the moss and the rhododendrons thrive out here.

Now the true work is coming down the line, when we have to ramp up and test Beta 1, then 2, then pre – RTM, and finally the RTM. I'm looking forward to click on setup.exe with confidence, and turning the techs loose on the interface.

There were rumors of another get together as part of the TAP, but nothing definite. It would be nice to fly back in and have the same input into a later stage of the product, say after Beta-1. I'm thinking most of us in the states that were there would go back. I'm not too sure about the folks that were from overseas. I thought I had a long flight, but it couldn't even come close to the guy from Germany.

The entire experience has energized my thoughts about the product we're looking at and where it could help take us. I must admit it has also softened me a bit to Mictosoft in general. I'll always bleed red, but I'm no longer baised against the blue just because it's blue.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Taking the Blue Pill, RC3

Last day of the TAP hands-on testing. Customers from all over the world - Germany, Slovinia, etc - came to participate in this program.
Listening to the feedback from the other participants is an intersting window into the IT world of other companies. The off-line sessions have been valuable, gleaning info on how larger companies operate in their IT environment. Processes and utilities differ wildly. The common thread among everyone there, though, is the desire to make things better, to conform to standars, and to improve things like time to resolution and customer satisfaction. We might complain, but in the end we really do want to make things better for the end user.
It's been a long, brain-draining three days, and I'll be glad to get home. I'll also be glad to have my little list of inside contacts at Microsoft that are developing this product.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Taking the Blue Pill, RC2

Today was filled with more meetings, more debriefing, more hands on. I can't say enough about having the opportunity to sit side by side with Microsoft technical people while we go through the product, giving input and learning about why things were put together the way they were. Just having that input, being able to ask why this button is where it is, why this dialogue box is the way it is, has been the most rewarding part of the whole experience.

There are many issues to discuss, as we are looking at pre-Alpha code. Most of what we see is not fully baked, with entire sections that may get dumped, may get pushed to different products, etc. That really shows when I try to go 'off-lab', and poke around at different things and customize things to the way we might actually utilize them in our environment. Today I managed to find a bug that crashes the UI consistently, so that was kind of cool. And some would say, not atypical for any M$oft product.

One of the things that impresses me about the Microsoft campus is the ethic diversity. I don't know if it's a reflection of the area, of intentional Microsoft hiring practices, or perhaps a bit of everything. Perhaps most of all it's a reflection of my insular Midwest upbringing, where seeing families from other countries is unusual.

Lastly, the stereotypical 'rains every day' in Seattle has held true for us. Every day has been overcast, with drizzle off and on. It's a wet climate, with large trees and lots of moss around.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Taking the Blue Pill, RC1

So here I am after my first day with the Microsoft TAP program for a new product I'm probably not supposed to talk about. So while I won't talk specifics, I will talk about the experience.

I can't get used to all of the pine trees and buildings on hills. In the land of tall corn, all you see is maple, oak, and the occasional walnut. To see all of the conifers out here, still gloriously green, is somewhat breathtaking. And to look out and up to see not the sky but hills, with houses and buildings, will take some getting used to. Seattle is a beautiful place, but crowded.

The Microsoft campus gives the term gargantuan new meaning. I can't get a handle on all of the buildings involved yet, but it dwarfs everything around my home with the exception of perhaps the local college campus. It was the first cafeteria I've seen that had a food court style arrangement, with different goodies available from different locations.

But most of all I was impressed with the Microsoft staff. They genuinely cared about what we had to say, the needs we had to meet, and what we thought of their product. They took notes with eagerness, whether we said we loved a feature or thought something was stupid, or too complex, or not complex enough. They really took the time to make us feel like we had a say in where the product was going, both from a look and feel standpoint and from a roadmap overview.

The actual hands-on portion was less than thrilling. It was the kind of high level overview I experienced with the SMS / MOM training a while back. It was MUCH more interesting and informative only because we had a product engineer sitting with us, to answer questions and give input. So while we sometimes strayed wildly off topic of the task at hand, we still managed to get them completed and provide the feedback that they were looking for.

At the end of the day they crammed everyone into busses and we went to the Columbia Winery, which would be a great place to go if you're a drinker.

Hopefully tomorrow we'll hit the Microsoft Employee store, where I can get Xbox games for the kids cheap.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I Will Be Assimilated

Like Captain Picard beaming down to the Borg ship, next week I will be flying to Redmond, home of the main Microsoft Campus.
I'm a long time CNE, so I make the trip with much trepidation. We're involved in the TAP program for a new product, and I'm excited about the possibilities of having actual input into how this thing comes together. It has the potential to fundamentally change the way we do IT here.
I thought about Microsoft, oddly enough, when I was in Colorado last week. (And, BTW, now I know what John Denver was all worked up about. I'll post later on the Cornbelt Kid's first veiw of mountains.) We were looking at merging in another, much smaller company. I was playing the Corporate Cheerleader, listing all the benefits we could bring them from an IT standpoint just by sheer budget and staff numbers. And that brought M$oft to mind. They surpassed Novell because they new how to market, not because thier product was any better. Now they have the power to throw hundreds if not thousands of coders at a project, and millions of dollars. It's finally starting to pay off in terms of usability and stability. I'm even willing to say that thier Directory Services is finally up to the task of handling larger corporations. If they can just get past the Feature Bloat that they think has to come with every new version, I'll be happy.
I'll try to blog at least a couple of times from Redmond to give an outsiders veiw of the inside. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Must See TV

Does it get any better the Keith Olbermann? I mean, really?


From my comment on a Brian Noonan's blog:

I remember being at work that day and my wife calling from home again and again, and me not thinking it was that big a deal... until the towers fell. I remember waiting in line at a gas station gone crazy with other folks whose main fear was that gas was going to go through the roof. I remember our Representatives standing together and singing God Bless America. I remember Freedom Fries. I remember being furious at Sadaam for trying to get aluminum tubes to make nukes. I remember being furious at being duped.
I hope the lessons learned from 9/11 are more than patriotism, God and country. I hope for optimism, and caution, and faith that is not blind.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Labor Day

I gladly take advantage of any Federal holiday. In fact, I think there should be more of them. Ben Franklin doesn't have a holiday, nor does John Hancock or any number of other founding fathers. They all deserve one. Each.

But on Labor Day I admit to a bit of guilt as I whiled away a beautiful day at our very nice state park.

While the kids were on the slides and I was pitching horseshoes (three ringers, thank you very much), I was thinking about my Dad.

My Dad retired from a local manufacturing company after 35+ years of service. Among other things in his career there, he was mainly a grinder. He'd grab a tray of little metal things to be worked on, sit down at his stool in front of a bench and belt grinder, and start in. He'd grind a bit, feel a bit, grind a bit, take a measurement, grind a bit, put the metal piece into a fixture to measure it, grind a bit, and eventually he'd decide that it was ready to go. He'd set it to the side, grab another metal piece, and repeat.

The parts that he made helped fly thousands of people through the air, helped countless military missions.

For a time I had a job that took me into the local GM plant. It has since gone the way of most Midwest manufacturing plants, to Mexico. There were guys in there who would start out the day with a ten-foot bin of brake calipers piled next to them. They'd spend the day in front of the grinder, caliper after caliper, cleaning them up and setting them in the done pile.

I spent a summer working as “summer help” at the plant where my Dad worked. We did grunt work : washed lights, cleared brush, swept, etc. I watched my Dad work for the first time, saw how he made a living, and wondered how he could have done it for so long. Day after day, year after year. I gained a new respect for the man who had seen me through childhood, paid for useless things like toy cars and bikes and bats and uniforms and marching band and... well, everything through his labor, his sweat and his mangled fingers.

And here I sit, literally, making my living by clicking a mouse and wiggling my ten fingers on a keyboard. Occasionally I have to lift a computer or blow the dust off of my official Compaq (tm) screwdriver and mount something in a rack.

It was that summer of work that made me vow to finish my education. I was thinking of other things, like travel and maybe car repair or a journeyman in a local trade. But my father, saying nothing, convinced me of the path I should travel. And showed me what being a father and a man was really all about.


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