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.

[Content is no longer available – Thanks Disney!]

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
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,


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.
    Our MSTV rock band. Yes, that's me with the Superman outfit playing drums.

    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.

    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.

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

    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.

    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.

    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.

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.

A year has passed since I wrote my note…

Yes, it’s true.  My blog has gotten little attention due to my work and the fact that I’m using Twitter and Facebook to do more granular posts.  I’m fixing the site up a bit and will probably blog a little more once I’ve fixed some things.

I’ve added a Twitter box and a link to my Twitter feed so you can see that I am still alive. 🙂

On the blog again….

Well, it’s April Fools Day but this isn’t a joke post.  I’ve never been very good about posting to my blog but I’ve decided to make another run at it.  It probably won’t be daily but I’ll get something up here at least once a month.  Now that I’ve got a halfway decent camera in my 3G phone, I might even do a little mobile blogging.  I may also do some cross-posting of stuff around IPTV to a msdn or spaces blog since our global subscriber acquisition rate for services running Microsoft’s IPTV software is ramping rather quickly now.

I’ve got to figure out what I want to do with photos.  I may either use my Windows Live Spaces site for that or I may share some of them out publicly via Orb.

BART / Caltrain to SFO – they just don’t get it

I was reading this SFGate article on BART to SFO ridership being well below estimates this morning.  Having used both BART and Caltrain to get to SFO, I have to admit that it’s no surprise that ridership is so low.  I have ridden train to airport links in a number of other cities and there is a clear distinction between planners who “get it” and those who just want to spend a bunch of money (and probably get kick-backs) and check off another campaign promise on their list.

Issues I have with taking public transit to SFO:

  1. The link between Caltrain and the airport, a BART train, only seemingly runs every 30 minutes and it NEVER aligns with the caltrain schedule.  In fact, the train often just sits there in the station with its doors closed, taunting you with the view of the airport in the distance.
  2. The BART train uses BART fare cards (a separate and overpriced transaction) just after you got done paying caltrain with your caltrain pass/fare.  There is no “get me to the airport” single payment mechanism.
  3. When going from San Francisco to SFO on caltrain, you have to go through a maze of escalators and elevators to go over the caltrain track and into BART.  Didn’t anyone get the memo that we have luggage when going to/from the airport?
  4. There are no clearly posted BART or Caltrain schedules ANYWHERE in the airport.  The odds that I take BART to Caltrain or BART to the city would go up sharply if I knew when the next train was and the rough estimate of when I would arrive.
  5. Most people have to take the AirTrain (little airport shuttle on rails between terminals) to get to the BART train to get to CalTrain to go home.  Not only are the schedules for BART and Caltrain not posted but they are not aligned, as mentioned earlier.
  6. Taxi to SF: 15 minutes;  Public transit to SF: 45 minutes to an hour depending on time of day.  Don’t plan on using caltrain link after 9pm due to Caltrain schedule.
  7. The AirTrain station has a bunch of STAIRS you have to use to get connected to the terminal.  Again, did somebody not know I would have luggage?
  8. To address low ridership, they decreased the frequency of the BART airport link.  Brilliant.

So here are the rules for a successfull rail / airport link – almost all of which do not apply to SFO:

  1. Minimize stairs and escalators between train and airport
  2. Have trains actually arrive AT the airport, not one or two stations / transfers away from it.  Extra credit if there are multiple airport stops that the train makes (such as the R1 in Philly)
  3. Have trains to the airport run frequently or at least at highly reliable and predictable intervals (like on the hour and half hour)
  4. Make it easy and inexpensive to use the payment mechanism and have only one mechanism.
  5. Have the total trip time be competitive with driving/taxi – not just for the people in the boonies when compared to rush hour but for those who want to get to/from the major cities (SF, Oakland, San Jose in the case of SFO versus Walnut Creek).
  6. If the airport link does require transfers from other lines/modes of transportation, synchronize them.

Having said all this there may still be 1 or 2 times per year when taking Caltrain/BART to SFO will make sense for me, but there are so many boneheaded design decisions that got made with the Caltrain/BART/SFO link that I think they should probably scrap it, take the money they are losing daily and just run a shuttle bus from the caltrain and bart stations in the city (SF) to the airport at a lower cost.

For those wondering, my favorite rail/airport links are Washington, DC and Philadelphia.

Tribal Workers – Am I one?

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. 🙂