With all the buzz lately about Metawatch Strata, Pebble, Google Glasses and others, I couldn’t help but dig up this old Microsoft SPOT video — circa 2003. I wish I could post the pitch video I did for my project before leaving Microsoft.
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:
Extra credit for those who can laugh at this BBC video.
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:
- A consumer product or service that ships directly to customers
- Something that I use (or if not yet shipped, would use) and that my friends and family can use
- A move entailing risk outside of my comfort zone
- Something that makes the world a better place
- Ability to make a measurable impact fairly quickly after we roll out
- Fairly short ship cycles with plenty of opportunity for iteration
- Ability to move quickly to seize opportunities or disrupt things
- 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.
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
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,
Here are two photos from my last day…
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.”
I started this post a few months ago but I decided to give Apple another chance with iPhone OS 3.0. Now that 3.0 is out and I’ve had a chance to use it for a while, I still conclude that the iPhone doesn’t quite cut it for hardcore Exchange users who don’t want to carry their laptop with them everywhere to remain a first class Exchange citizen. Since I try to avoid brining my laptop to meetings to remain focused on the meeting, I typically use my mobile device as my tether when necessary to check what’s going on outside the meeting.
After periods of using both during the workday, I ended up keeping my Windows Mobile phone (a Samsung Blackjack running a special build of Windows Mobile 6.1) for work use and swapping the SIM card to my iPhone for weekends or some evenings. That said, the iPhone is simply beautiful, functional and powerful resulting in a much higher emotional attachment for my iPhone than my Blackjack.
Here are the issues I have with the iPhone’s Exchange integration:
- Deletes don’t enter into an offline queue so if the delete can’t be serviced immediately due to network or Exchange server issues it fails and the message returns to your list. Compounding this problem is that you get one failure dialog per attempt so if you rapidly attempt to delete 5 message and the server cannot be reached right away you get 5 separate error messages.
- Push only updates the unread message count and downloads the message header instead of having the whole message ready. This means you have to wait a few seconds when entering your inbox for it to update to a useful state after you see that there’s a new message. Since push kills the battery and is functionally limited, I just have my email update every 15 minutes.
- You cannot reply all to a meeting invite when you’re remote and need those in the meeting room to setup the conference bridge. Similar problem if you want to notify them that you are running late. Yes, you can reply to just one member but you never know who in the meeting is checking email.
- There is no support for tasks. Yes, there are “apps for that” but this should just be standard and fully integrated.
- There is no support for categories (though this is mainly something I use for tasks).
- You can’t turn on/off the out of office message.
- iPhone users who reply to a thread break the threading order when messages are viewed in conversation view in Outlook.
- Replies are sent in Times font and mess up formatting.
- When a meeting you are invited to gets cancelled, you cannot delete its calendar item. I find meeting invite/reply workflow troubling in general.
- When you finally figure out how to lookup someone in the corporate address book (the GAL) you cannot add them as a contact from the GAL lookup.
- You have to manually set/change the Exchange time zone to properly display meeting times relative to the local time.
Beyond Exchange integration, the other issues I have with the iPhone in general are:
- I cannot get through a full day of average usage with 3G and Push email turned on
- No Adobe Flash support. Web standards and custom iPhone apps are great but there are still a bunch of sites I try to use which don’t render properly/at all because the iPhone doesn’t support Flash.
- No background applications (kind of makes that GPS tracker app for running/biking useless).
- Apple doesn’t allow 3rd party applications which offer a better/differentiated experience for Apple’s “integrated” apps such as phone or email. I could write more about some of the things I’d like to see improved with the App store and lockdown but much has been written about this and for now it’s not a deal breaker for me.
- You have to use iTunes.
- On the 3GS, Nike+ integration is cool (and not available on WinMo) but you can’t use the watch remote to control iTunes unless you are in a Nike+ workout.
- AT&T network and feature crippling.
All of this said, I don’t want to come off as saying Windows Mobile 6.1 on the Blackjack is superior overall. It is not. Beyond the design cred, the iPhone has tons of features which are not yet available or possible with the current crop of Windows Mobile 6.1 devices. WinMo does have many advantages for enterprise users but most people with an iPhone either learn to live without these features or never needed them in the first place.
In many ways, the iPhone vs. WinMo competition is similar to the Wintel/Macintosh competition in its enterprise/consumer split. That’s a blog post for another day.
Over the past few days I’ve held off on emptying my deleted items folder in Outlook to get a better sense of the number of messages I “process” per day. The average over the past three days with very little varyance per day was 800 per day. Granted this does include RSS feed posts I go through but it is still several hundred without them.
This doesn’t include IM, voice mail, meeting requests, personal email or text messages.
The bad news is that I am not getting to zero in my inbox each day either so there is some “carry” from one day to the next.
I’ve got to come up with a better way to handle this. I’ve read various GTD-esque things but at some point, the incoming flow and accumulation of tasks and meetings just doesn’t average out to zero per day.
- Prefab green building
- The rise in the “undeclared / independent” policial party
- The mobile phone as THE device (phone, email/text, video camera, music/video player, still camera, wallet, display/projector, gps, computer)
- IP everything
- Boxed wine
- More content in smaller chunks
Those two people who follow my blog have probably given up on following it since I haven’t posted in ages. The caltrain love poem didn’t happen and instead I’ve been having a very time consuming relationship with my work now that I am responsible for the applications, user experience and server components (metadata mostly) for Microsoft’s IPTV and cable products. The good news is that I really enjoy my work, the people I work with and many of those extra things that don’t fall cleanly into either of those. The bad news is that the long hours have come at the expense of many other non-work things in my life.
In catching up with my blog feeds today I came across a FT article about “tribal workers.” I think this article describes many things I identify with (beyond just my age). While I don’t believe that the number of hours worked alone is a sign of “success” I do feel the challenge of having too many options and the focus on my career. I’ve got the Georgetown undergraduate degree (double major in Econ and English with honors) and the UC Berkeley MBA not to mention some good career experience. I’ve worked in DC and Silicon Valley, live in San Francisco and have had some great travel through my job at Microsoft.
I have to think some more about whether or not I fall in this new “class.” I probably do — I had a pretty good streak of 80-90 hour work weeks in the past few months and I just got off the phone (via my parents’ VOIP service) with my relatives in Italy who were watching the World Cup game at the same time I was.
Italy won and I think I probably felt like more of an Italy fan than a US fan as far as the world cup goes. Don’t tell that to the Germans I work with on IPTV. 🙂