How to make your cell phone last all day at a festival

Unfortunately, all day music festivals tend to take place in locations which do not have cell phone towers nearby. When there are towers, they are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who are all equipped with cell phones in the vicinity. When your phone cannot successfully reach a tower, it often consumes more power by repeatedly attempting to connect to a tower. Having been to numerous festivals such as Coachella, Outside Lands, Treasure Island Music Festival and the like, I have put together a guide to help others who want to stay connected without running out of battery.

To prevent draining of your battery early in the day, take the following steps to maximize your battery life:

  1. Close any background apps that may be running
  2. Turn off wi-fi
  3. Turn off bluetooth
  4. Turn off automatic email syncing and notifications if your device offers that option
  5. Turn off cellular data (or just 3G / LTE if your phone gives you that option and you still want to do online stuff without going to settings)
  6. Turn down your screen brightness as much as possible. Finding shade is your friend.

Some phones, such as my Nokia Lumia 900 running Windows Phone 7 OS, have a battery saver option which accomplishes several of the steps above and is a good shortcut.

By making these changes, your phone will still be able to send and receive calls and text messages since text messages aren’t actually done over the data connection of your phone, contrary to cell phone companies’ 4G marketing claims. You can also still post to Twitter and Facebook via their text/SMS posting options. Be sure to set these up before the event since they need a bit of setup and you don’t want to be fiddling with that from the festival where you might not have a good data connection.

If your phone is on its last bit of power, you can just turn it off completely. You will obviously have to rely on voicemail for calls but any text messages that were sent to you will queue up on the network and get delivered within minutes of turning your phone back on.

Of course, you can also get an external USB power charger or extended battery case to keep your phone running late into the night. If your phone has a removable battery (sorry iPhone), you can also buy a second battery, charge it up the night before and bring it along with your phone – eBay has great deals on these.

Got any other tips? Drop me a comment and I’ll keep this post updated.

I am hiring

Come work with me at eBay! We’ve got some job openings on my product management team and also on the software development and QA / Test teams that I work with.  My current two open product management positions are below:

Quality Engineering:

Software Development:

Extra credit for those who can laugh at this BBC video.

New beginnings at eBay

My work is an important part of my life – after all, like many people I spend more time working than doing anything else.  When I started thinking about what I wanted to work on after TV software for cable/telco carriers at Microsoft, I established a set of criteria that I would use to measure the opportunities:

  1. A consumer product or service that ships directly to customers
  2. Something that I use (or if not yet shipped, would use) and that my friends and family can use
  3. A move entailing risk outside of my comfort zone
  4. Something that makes the world a better place
  5. Ability to make a measurable impact fairly quickly after we roll out
  6. Fairly short ship cycles with plenty of opportunity for iteration
  7. Ability to move quickly to seize opportunities or disrupt things
  8. Easily reachable by walking, biking or public transit

Over time I considered a set of internal and external opportunities and through a well-timed text message from a former teammate of mine I started to consider eBay.

The more I looked into eBay the better it looked.  I was really impressed by the people I met during the interview process.  During that process I got to know more about the eBay business and how well it measured against my criteria.  eBay is certainly not a new company but it is in the midst of a great deal of change — organizationally as well as technologically. In that change I saw opportunity for my career growth and for being a part of the reinvention of eBay.  On top of that, I get to work on something that I’m personally passionate about so work doesn’t feel like “work” so much.

Shortly after starting, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about our transformation in progress and it featured my manager – a nice surprise! Then while visiting my family over Thanksgiving, Nightline re-ran the piece they did for our 15th anniversary.

The first few weeks have been exciting and it feels good to be exercising some new muscles once again.  I can’t wait to build up my team and ship some great new stuff.

My farewell to Microsoft

Leaving Microsoft was a tough decision but it was time for a change for me after my final attempt to get traction on my new product idea I had been pitching internally was unsuccessful.  I had spent a good portion of the year leading up to this decision considering what would be the right next big thing for me.  Perhaps it was a mistake pitching one of my best ideas internally instead of starting my own company to launch it but I am still resolved that it would have been a far stronger offering done internally with Microsoft’s search, advertising and desktop and mobile OS assets (all part of the product vision) than as a standalone company.  Time will tell if the competition I predicted from Google and Apple in this nascent space will materialize.  That said, it was a great learning experience and I suspect that I’ll flex those new product pitch muscles again more than once in the future.

After sitting on this for a while, I decided it would be okay to post a mildly edited (mainly for privacy and confidentiality) version of my farewell email to my Microsoft colleagues.  To those colleagues of mine who left Microsoft before me and asked to see the email after my Facebook and Twitter updates, this is for you:

From: Shannon Vosseller
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 8:11 PM
To:
(redacted)
Subject: Farewell

Friends and Colleagues,

For almost 9 of my 10 1/2 years here at Microsoft I have been in the TV technology space and during that time I have worked in a number of orgs in the company shipping a wide range of releases spanning client, applications and services.  During that time I also learned a great deal and grew from an entry level PM who was a Mac guy to a Principal level GPM who watches TV with Windows Media Center on my Xbox.  It has been an incredible ride but it’s time for me to expand my horizons and move to a new position outside of Microsoft. I am excited about my next opportunity but I am also saddened by the prospect of leaving Mediaroom and Microsoft where I have so many fond memories.

When I sat down to write this mail I started by listing all of the people who I wanted to thank for playing a role, no matter how small, in making my 10 1/2 years at Microsoft always engaging and rewarding.  That list grew to be far far too long and I soon realized I would be writing through the night with no end in sight.  Most of you probably know who you are though I’m sure there are many who never realized the gratitude I have for those short conversations in the kitchen, one of the late night preparations for a big customer demo, that breakthrough moment showing me something that just started working in your office, a great dinner or just the pleasantries exchanged in the hallway.

I savor the shared victories here over the years including:

  • Learning how to execute the end game of a release from Dick Craddock, John Tafoya, Marianne Guntow and the team on Mac IE 5.  Boxes of espresso brownies were critical and it was a rush watching the download numbers and reviews come in after RTM.  Many of my closest friends at Microsoft came from way back here and they continue to rock today.  Special thanks to Omar for hooking me up with this great opportunity.
  • Getting the green light to staff up a team at SVC building the data services behind Windows Media Center and shipping MCE 1.0.
  • Shipping the Foundation 1.7 release to Comcast subscribers, not to be stopped by never having enough Motorola DVR boxes, sparks and smoke coming out of a power supply minutes before a Comcast exec demo, a 72 hour spec-writing marathon one winter weekend, or the death march it took to hit June 30th with 90% confidence.
  • Shipping the IPTV 1.1 release, and DVR in particular, (redacted), the late night food runs for Thai food, beer and popsicles and communing with Peter Barrett over whiskey on many evenings in a dark office lit only by the LCD displays and LEDs on the STBs.
  • Shipping the IPTV 1.6 release and whole home DVR.  (redacted) while finding a way to ship an elegant whole home DVR solution which is unmatched even today.
  • Laying the groundwork for our Mediaroom 2.0 Server release.  It is exciting to see our 2.0 vision start to get realized with an updated STB experience and Windows Phone 7, Media Center and browser clients leveraging the 2.0 server work. It is going to be a hit!
  • Getting invited to pitch my new product idea, Project (redacted), to J Allard and (redacted).
  • The opportunity to build and manage great teams.  All the new hires, promotions and coaching through thick and thin over the years was a pleasure.  Given that people are our biggest asset in a software company, I was privileged to have such great assets to work with.  I appreciate all of your hard work and dedication.

That being said, the most important victory is all of the friendships, support and growth I gained over the years.  Whether it was encouragement during a rough time, a game of bocce, a cigar, the privilege of sharing a wedding day, rocking out on stage with the band, home baked cookies or the thrill of racing around the French Alps and Autobahn, the friendships span multiple continents and I look forward to them lasting beyond my days at Microsoft.  Thank you for all you have done to make my Microsoft experience wonderful.  I will miss working with you.

My last day is this Friday but I’ll still be living in SF and working in our small valley (redacted).

Until next time,

-shan

Here are two photos from my last day…

View of me reflecting off the window in my office as I leave
View of me reflecting off the window in my office as I leave. Thanks to Nosh for capturing it.
View of the Microsoft sign from my car window as I leave the parking lot
View of the Microsoft sign from my car window as I leave the parking lot

10 Years at Microsoft

This past week marked my ten year anniversary at Microsoft.  I never would have guessed that answering the call to join the Mac Internet Explorer team would have led to the long adventure my time at Microsoft has been.  Heck, I came in as a Mac guy and now I’m a PC.  What’s even more incredible is that I reached my ten year milestone working nearly the entire time on product teams in Silicon Valley.

Here’s what I savor most about my ten years:

  1. The opportunity to work with incredibly smart and passionate people from all over the world

    Between members of the teams I have worked on and members of other teams that I have gotten to know through collaboration and networking, I have always been impressed by the caliber of people we have.  In addition to being highly skilled at software development, they have also become great friends.  I fondly remember coworkers throwing a surprise party for my MBA graduation, countless baby showers for coworkers and being invited to parties, Thanksgiving dinners and weddings.  One benefit of Microsoft’s global reach is that my experiences also extend to customers, partners and colleagues outside the US where I have shared great times both inside and outside of work – my 2008 Europe trip being one of the international highlights.  Regardless of where I am ten years from now, I know that many of these friendships will endure.

    japan 006
    Dinner in Japan with members of the Windows Media Center team and our Japan subsidiary.
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    For a number of years we had bocce ball games outside our building during the Friday beer bashes.
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    Our MSTV rock band. Yes, that's me with the Superman outfit playing drums.

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    My German colleagues and I on our road trip through the French Alps.
  2. Working on cool stuff and the latest technology ultimately leading to shipping great products

    Though I’m not an EE or CS major, I have always been deeply engaged with technology and media and Microsoft provided me no shortage of technical challenges and opportunities to wrap my head around.  Software and services I have worked on have gone on to win various awards and have enjoyed high customer satisfaction.  Beyond the products I’ve shipped, working at Microsoft provided me with generous amounts of technology to get my job done, great “dogfood” opportunities and access to all of our products for internal use.  It’s a bit like being a compulsive eater at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

    DSC_0017
    Bill Gates demoing our product at CES
  3. A variety of teams and career growth opportunities

    One thing that has kept me at Microsoft for this long is the chance to grow by working on a variety of teams in the company.  In many ways, Microsoft is a collection of smaller companies so when you’ve got the itch to try something new, there’s usually an option to do it on another team.  I have worked in small established teams (Mac IE), large established teams (Windows) and startup teams (TV services, Mediaroom) so there’s quite a wide variety of products and experiences you can have within Microsoft.  During my years I have broadened and deepened my skill set through on the job experience and numerous internal career development courses.

    PICT1795
    Fellow TV services founder Thomas Scott and I on a team sailing trip.

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    When we released IPTV 1.0 we had it in sky writing above our campus.
  4. Great compensation and benefits

    While we don’t have the daily free meals that some other companies offer, we do have an incredibly generous set of benefits — tuition, training, stock, retirement, drinks, discounts, gym membership, legal benefits and more.  When you hear about those “Cadillac plans” in the health care debates, that’s us.  Although Microsoft’s stock performance over my career hasn’t been great, the stock options and grants, ESPP, dollar cost averaging and salary/bonus have given me a very solid financial position.

  5. The tough times

    Yes, you read that right.  I thrive on big challenges and I’ve been at my best at the toughest times — the death marches to ship something on an aggressive schedule, the bootstrapping of something new, the days leading to a big demo or meeting with a customer or the challenge of taking on something completely different.

    DSC_0069
    The "Jalapeno" DVR team that survived the death march to ship for Comcast. Many of us later united to ship IPTV DVR in time for AT&T's U-Verse launch.
  6. A spirit of philanthropy

    Whether it’s former employees who start a non-profit or philanthropic foundation or the everyday donations from employees in the Giving Campaign, Microsoft has a culture of philanthropy and supports employees volunteering and giving through a wide-range of organizations and grassroots efforts.  Recently, Microsoft and its employees mobilized to support the people of Haiti affected by the tragic earthquake there through an initial $1.25M corporate donation, employee donations over $1M (with Microsoft matching that) and efforts from multiple product teams and individuals.

  7. Seeing your product in the market

    It is fun to see people use things you worked on. It’s also fun seeing the reviews, awards and ads (and parodies of ads) for them.  Microsoft encourages us to engage with our customers through public forums, blogs, twitter, conferences and other outlets and it is always a pleasure interacting with customers on products I’ve worked on – regardless of whether the feedback is complimentary or critical.

    u-verse
    AT&T U-Verse ad at the store I run past regularly

We’ll see what the future holds but regardless of what it is, I will always savor my time at Microsoft and the knowledge, friendships and experiences I’ve gained there.

Microsoft, Innovation and Products

Dick Brass, a former Microsoft executive, published an opinion piece in today’s New York Times which has gotten a lot of buzz on the web.  Microsoft’s CVP of Corporate communications responded on the Official Microsoft Blog so I’ll let that speak for the official response from the company.  What follows is my personal take on the topic and it in no way represents my employer . . . and all that disclaimer stuff.

There was an important point missed in both posts which I think warrants discussion.  That is, that innovation alone is not sufficient to make a successful product.  Furthermore, products can be successful without being particularly innovative.  The brilliance of Steve Jobs, or at least a facet of it, is his ability to think about what makes a successful product and execute relentlessly towards that.  The iPod wasn’t innovative but it was a great product because it was an mp3 player that “just worked” end-to-end which set it apart from its competition at the time.  The iPhone, on the other hand, was both innovative and a great product.  At Microsoft, I think we’ve got both innovation and great products on several fronts – Natal for XBox being a great example of what I’m sure will be both.

Between diligent employees working on products, patent filings, Microsoft Research and various “Labs” teams we’ve got a ton of innovation at Microsoft.  I don’t think it’s a system of innovation that we need.  We need better product thinking – particularly at the senior management levels of the company (and by that I mean partner level and above).  We need senior management who gets their hands dirty with their own products and the products of competitors, who can identify a good marketing plan and who will structure and manage organizations around what is best for the product and its customers.  They need to know the experience our customers have as they move from consideration of a purchase through to our servicing of it once purchased.  That experience has many touch points across many different mediums and organizations and it must have a leader who understands that and pursues execution on it with focus.  Much more has been written about what makes great products so I’ll leave that to all the marketing folks and bloggers out there who have covered that topic to death. 

To use an example from Dick Brass’s piece, we need people who realize that retrofitting Office or Windows to work a little better on the tablet devices is not the right answer for making the tablet a great product.  The right answer is to think about what the right scenarios, tasks, features and interaction models are for a tablet user and go from there.  I don’t care if Visual Studio or even Excel doesn’t work well on a tablet because in my view those don’t address key scenarios.  Do I want to view an attachment somebody sent me on a tablet? Yes.  Do I want to make minor edits?  Perhaps.  Do I want to build complex multi-worksheet spreadsheets with all kinds of formulas and pivot tables which connect to a SQL database?  Hell no.  But I do want to make quick drawings and I want to show pictures to people and annotate them.  I want to take free form notes.  I want to read.  I want to watch a movie while on the plane.  I want to know when and where my next appointment is and what materials I need for it.  Then once we get the experience right and we have the technology that supports it we need to get the right business and marketing support – business model, pricing, distribution, advertising, etc.  It’s not a great product until we’re executing well on all fronts and it might mean that sometimes we cancel or reset something until we get it right.

While no company is perfect and there are some shades of truth to problems Brass calls out, I think Microsoft has a series of innovative and successful products outside of Windows and Office ahead of it and with the right leadership and focus we can deliver on their promise.  In addition to better product thinking, we need to be more agile, branch out from 98052 thinking and be willing to manage beyond the org chart and division P&L but it’s all doable.  Sure, I’ve had my share of frustrations as a Microsoft employee for ten years but I think we’re far from the point of “creative destruction.”

New Year’s Resolution time

It’s a little late, but I’m finally getting around to publishing my 2010 New Year’s resolution to my blog.  I’ve been thinking a lot about my personal “Act II” the past few months so my resolution is:

Make three life-changing decisions this year with at least one by Feb 21.

I’ve chosen to publish my resolution to make it more real and also to encourage friends and family to hold me to it and help me along.  As with any good objective, it’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and it is timely – it has a date for an interim milestone.  You might wonder why I chose February 21.  That’s my ten year anniversary with Microsoft which is what brought me out here to San Francisco from Washington, DC.  I’ll post my decisions to my blog as I make them.

Ten years ago on New Year’s eve I was at Disneyland with my family, wondering whether or not the systems I was managing for my non-profit in DC would be functioning properly.  I used my Ricochet wireless modem to check on them just after midnight GMT and again when I got back from the happiest place on Earth.  All was fine, the fireworks were only above the Magic Kingdom and little did I know that the offer for me to come to Microsoft was lost in a paperwork snafu in Silicon Valley, only to make its way to me in a few weeks.

Where to go for Iran coverage

There are a lot of developments in Iran over the past 48 hours and they have gotten little coverage from the US mainstream media.  While I would like to think that this is a turning point for the green movement there, I also fear that this is just the beginning of an extended period of increased civil unrest and casualties.  What is certain is that this may be one of the first times that the overthrow of an established government has been covered so thoroughly online through blogs and social media.  Here are some of the information sources I am following:

This makes me wonder what the American revolution or Civil War might have looked like if covered in a similar fashion.