This week marks three anniversaries of varying degrees of significance in my computing career.
It’s 20 years since my first paid employment in the computing industry. I was 12 years old, and I was overjoyed to have a program published in a computer magazine. Those were the days of badly printed dot matrix listings, where you spent hours typing in a program and fixing all the errors to face the inevitable disappointment of realizing that the resulting program was truly rubbish. My humble offering was a text adventure game for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, a idiosyncratic yet popular Z80-based computer with rubber keys and a tendency to crash at the brush of the power cable. For my efforts, I received the unimaginably princely sum to a pre-teenager of £50 (about twice that or $180 in today’s money, accounting for inflation). To my sheer amazement, I recently discovered on a quick search that the program is still alive and well. Someone has scanned in every issue of the magazine it appeared in, so for your amusement, I am embarrassed to link to Jennifer’s Dolly (2 3), a “whimsical text adventure” where you must “find Jennifer’s dolly before she brings down the house with her miserable tantrums”.
It’s 5 years since I started working at Microsoft. I’d been doing work for Microsoft for three or four years previously, delivering sessions at MSDN Roadshow events in the UK and writing the odd MSDN article, but I could never quite believe I really was fortunate to be actually working at Microsoft. Some say that if you can be paid for doing your hobby, you’re set up for life; others say that the moment you’re paid to do a hobby, it becomes a chore. I’m firmly in the former camp – I’ve truly enjoyed every day that I’ve worked here. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really smart people; hopefully just a small amount of that has rubbed off on me, even though I still sometimes look around and feel like the dumbest kid in class.
A little anecdote: my first day at Microsoft was attending MGB, the internal field conference that runs for a week each summer. This was the year that Steve Ballmer got on stage and chanted “developer, developer, developer” (which amusingly is now Google’s top result returned for his name). His goal was that an audience of sales & marketing types would truly get the importance of developers to Microsoft’s success; I was alternately fascinated and freaked out by the genuine passion that was on display – as a reserved Englishman, in particular, the cultural disconnect was somewhat jarring! The day the conference finished, I flew directly to the Far East to speak at TechEd Japan on my then pet topic of OLAP and Analysis Services. The first talk I’d ever done with simultaneous translation, I didn’t understand why nobody laughed at any of the jokes I cracked. I eventually learnt that the Japanese translator had not even attempted to make my jokes work to such a different audience: she’d said something like: “the foreigner is now telling a joke… (pause) … The foreigner has now finished telling the joke.” It was actually three weeks before I first visited a Microsoft office – seems like I’m not the only one to have had an unconventional start to their Microsoft career…
Finally, it’s 2 years since I started blogging. 235 postings later, hopefully I’ve shared some useful information. It’s hard work to keep the momentum up with something like this, and I can see why so many blogs fall by the wayside. In a comparatively short time, blogs have gone from “wired” to “tired” according to some, but there’s clearly value in the process as part of an open and honest communication. Microsoft isn’t a perfect organization, and we goof up plenty, but the company’s embrace of blogging is one piece of evidence that we’ve not fallen completely off the Cluetrain. The number of bloggers at the company has increased by a full order of magnitude since I began, and the fact that at least 4% of the company’s employees are now directly engaging with their customers in this way is a good start. 4% may not sound like a lot, but I can’t think of any other company has anything like 2,500 employees conversing this openly.
Thanks for listening and participating in the conversation – I aspire to be a listener as well as a talker. I’m privileged to be part of this community!