Robert Scoble and I have had agreements and disagreements. It’s not only one of the things that make me like him but one of the things that make him a “voice” in the industry.

Reflecting on Robert’s time at Microsoft, he was famous for the opinions that he shared but also of primary value was his service as a conversation catalyst.

I think Microsoft has been missing and needing more of each since he left, so I’m going to try to change and increase they way I blog.

I am not suggesting that I will try to fill Roberts “Microsoft Blogger” shoes. Just that I will try to follow his lead and be a catalyst for discussion and HEALTHY controversy. This is harder than it probably seems to the average individual blogger. Blogging when you work for a large company, especially one that is in the news all the time, is a risky thing. Apple, for example, simply doesn’t let its employee’s blog at will. (I was told this at the On Line Community Summit in Sonoma CA last week.)

Microsoft encourages it. Robert Scoble paved the way and did it without really restricting the subject matter of his blog. He was heralded for doing what most other companies would have fired him for.

Heck, if Rory Blyth can’t get fired from Microsoft for his blog J then I’m guessing that I’ll probably be OK.

In the years that I’ve been blogging casually at Microsoft, I’ve been asked a number of times to remove a blog post, only once from my own management organization.

In all but one case I declined, prepared to take the consequences. The one time that I did remove it was when the request came from ScottGu. It was not censorship (if it was – I’d be working somewhere else today.) His was a sensible request as my post was a link to an article that I had posted without the appropriate accompanying opinion. I was assuming the idiocy of the article would be obvious to my readers, I was wrong about that and so the link was being interpreted as an endorsement which was NOT what I wanted.

So, what do I plan to blog about? Well, I’d like to do more technical blogging about Web Technology, but much of the new stuff will be opinion on technology and its use, the business of technology, Microsoft and other business entities.

Finding that fine line between humility and confidence can be difficult for Type “A” personalities. That said, I have clocked a lot of miles in the technology industry, and the popular opinion (at least in the sphere on my communication) is that this experience makes my opinions somewhat valuable and somewhat unique.

Where are a few biographical bullets:

·         I earned my first programming paycheck 33 years ago. (Programming an NC Machine by manually setting the operation instructions via a large mechanical switch collection.)

·         My last employment before joining Microsoft in the fall of 2001 was as the President and CEO of a publically traded (CNRS) technology firm in New York City.

·         I’ve a principal in several startup companies some I owned, others I served in various roles such as VP of Engineering, Director of Consulting Services, VP of Product Development, etc.

·         I have been involved in both sides of the venture capital process. Sometimes representing the organization requesting the capital, sometimes performing technical diligence for the organizations providing the funds.

·         Over the past 20 years about half the time I have served in roles that included business and people management and the other half I have serves as (primarily) an individual technical contributor.

·         I have worked in, shrink wrap product, services/consulting, and enterprise computing organizations.

·          My time has been fairly equally divided between Microsoft, Java, and Open Source development technologies.

I joined Microsoft in 2001 with a strong belief that I would stay for only one year.

After selling the company that I built during the .COM boom to USWeb/Cornerstone and completing the contractual obligation to stay with them for one year, I took a bit of time off and had planned to start another company. I have a commitment for venture capital to start a Web Services based company and had an appointment to finalize the first round of funding on September 13th 2001. Two days after the terrorist attacks in New York City.

I had sort of ongoing conversations with IBM and Microsoft and Microsoft seemed more flexible in terms of my in-office time (the Boston commute is terrible) and seemed like a more fun place to work.

Also, IBM in 2001 was pretty much all Java and really hadn’t “seen” the non-Java, non-Microsoft development world yet.

What’s more, I had seen early private previews of .NET and its potential was clear to me even in those very early builds.

During the interview process at Microsoft, Rick Green, who headed up all of Microsoft’s Developer outreach efforts in New England at the time, asked me “Describe the perfect Microsoft job for you”.

In answer I said, “I just want to be a geek, I want to hang out with other geeks and I want no actual responsibility whatsoever”.

Eventually he phoned me and said, “Ok, I think I’ve got that job for you.”  I spent my first year and a half as a technology and business advisor to the ISV community. It was very interesting work and I focused on working with companies that did not primarily develop with Microsoft’s development stack.

Eventually Microsoft changed that role to focus on working with “named” ISVs like Peoplesoft, etc. and that wasn’t really my cup of tea. About the same time Microsoft decided to expand MSDN to include the MSDN Events team. So, I joined up and spend several years traveling around the USA and presenting to developers (Microsoft and non-MS). I loved the job, my management, and (most of) my peers.

But, no success goes un punished. Pat Hays, the brain trust behind Microsoft Across America was persuaded to join Microsoft Japan, and Mike O’Neal, my direct manager got promoted to a level where he had no direct reports. I loved working for “Mike O” as we called him and the new organization lacked the “juice” for me and stopped being fun. When Mike decided to take a break from managing “people”  (I guess we burned him out), I decided to leave and started to talk with various groups at Microsoft about what I might do.

I received a number of offers and really wanted to go to work for Bill Hilf (I really smart guy who leads much of Microsoft competitive platform strategy), but we couldn’t work out an arrangement that didn’t require me to move to Redmond.

I have little against the Seattle area. It’s beautiful on the eight days a year that it doesn’t rain. My reasons for not relocating are economic.  I was married and divorced as a young guy which made most of my early adult years a real economic struggle. I re-married in my late 30s and my wife Jill and I have two beautiful your children.

Since I built my house during the .COM boom (and before I joined Microsoft and shaved a couple hundred thousand dollars off my salary J ) he life in the kind of home we want to raise our children in.  We sit on a six acre lot on a dirt road and most of the house is paid for. As such, my wife doesn’t need to work (though she has recently joined DTSNH) and we can afford to send our kids to a very good private school without it severely compromising our lifestyle.

Being a great parent and husband is my 1st priority, so multiplying my mortgage by 6 or 7 hundred percent and adding a third to my cost of living just to be where the action is at this stage of my career just doesn’t make sense.

So, I resigned from Microsoft. But….. Just when you think you’re out… They pull you back in!

The plan was to go to SPI Dynamics. We handle had formal discussions, but they were where I wanted to go and they wanted me. 

My buddy Brian Goldfarb mentioned to ScottGu that I was going to leave Microsoft and Scott rung me up and asked if we could spend some time together at Dev Connections the follow week. (We were both speaking there.)

I spent an afternoon talking with Scott and a number of his senior staff and a couple days later Scott phoned and said he wanted me to come to work for him. When I asked him what I would be doing his response (paraphrased) was “Just say yes and we’ll figure it out”.

You only have to meet Scott once to know he’s the kind of guy you would bet on, so I did. I accepted his offer with no job description, no manager, no team designation, no salary or other compensation discussion, and no real performance objectives other than the resonation of the conversations that we had had up to that point.

That was two years ago. I got a manager (Simon Muzio), he’s awesome and I got the better end of the deal since knew nothing about me when Scott plugged me into his organization. I even have a “loose” job description, though what I actually do doesn’t bear a great resemblance to what’s written in our HR system. In some ways I’m Scott’s (and Simon’s) mouse. I just do what they want me to do.

It works for me. There is GREAT stuff about the job and not-so-great stuff about the job.

It lets me influence Microsoft products and culture without having to manage a group of people, which I like.

My renewed blogging efforts will be an attempt to increase those influences.

I expect on occasion to come under fire by both Microsoft and the IT community at large. Hopefully, the product of that conflict will be good for everyone, and I will be able to stay at Microsoft until a time of MY OWN choosing J