Microsoft, the Musical?

Well, it was primarily driven by Microsoft summer 2019 interns

I saw reference to this while browsing through some Teams channels, and I thought, Oh, ok, one of those shaky cell phone productions, let’s see…

Oh boy was I wrong. This is full on “ready for broadway” style musical entertainment. My takeaways: We have cool interns, look at that diverse bunch, they can sing, they can produce, they did this as a passion project while still maintaining their day jobs…

I’ve never been a corporate apologist, and I’ve poked the bear in the eye more times than I’ve stroked it, but this made me feel really happy. I was entertained, and proud that the company I work for can show such fun and mirth, while doing a tong-in-cheek sendup. Tech is supposed to be fun, and this was fun.

I’m sure other companies will follow suit in years to come, or they already do this at other companies, and I just haven’t see it.

Watching this was a well spent 10 minutes to start my week.


Did I really need 3 desktops?

It’s been about 3 years since I built a monster of a desktop machine with water cooling, fans, LEDs and all that. Long time readers will remember the disastrous outcome of that adventure as the liquid leaked, drown my electronics, and caused me to essentially abandon the thing. I somewhat recovered from the fiasco by purchasing a new motherboard, and trying to limp along with various of the components from that original build. Recently, I decided to throw in the towel and start from scratch. This time around, I decided to go with an AMD build, because AMD seems to be doing some good stuff with their Ryzen and beyond chippery. So, I put together a rig around a Ryzen 7, 32Gb RAM, same old nVidia 1060 video card. Upgraded the SSD to the latest Samsung 980? or whatever it is.

That system was acting a bit flakey, to the point I thought it was defective, so I built another one, this time with Ryzen 5, and nothing from the old builds. New power supply, SSD, RAM, video card. That one worked, and it turns out the Ryzen 7 based system worked as well. Turns out it only needed a bios update to deal with networking not handling the sleep state of Windows 10.

So, now I have two working desktop machines. But wait, the second motherboard from the previous disastrous PC build probably still works? Maybe it just needs new power supply and other components and I can resurrect it? And hay, how about that Athlon system sitting over there? That was my daily driver since 2010, until I decided to build the intel water cooled disaster. I think that machine will make for a good build for the workshop in the garage. I need something out there to run the CNC machine, or at least play some content when I’m out there.

I did finally decommission one machine. The Shuttle PC I built with my daughter circa 2005 finally gave up the ghost. Tried to start it, and the 2Tb hard drive just clicks… Too bad. That machine was quite a workhorse when it came to archiving DVDs and other disks over the years. May it rest in peace.

There was one bit of surgery I did on an old Laptop. I had a ThinkPad X1 Carbon from work which succumbed to the elements last year some time. I had tech support take the ssd out of it so I could transfer to somewhere else. Given the machine is about 4+ years old, it wasn’t as simple as it being an nvme SSD. Oh no, it was some special sort of thing which required quite a lot of searching about to find an appropriate adapter. I finally found it, and plugged the SSD into it, then plugged that into an external enclosure, then to USB 3.0, and finally got the old stuff off of it! So, now I have this awesome adapter card that I could only use once, awaiting the next old X1 Carbon someone needs to backup.

All ramblings aside, I’ve recently been engaged in writing some code related to parsing. Two bits in particular, gcode parsing, json streaming parser, are bits that I’ll be writing about.

And so it goes.


As the Tech Turns

I joined the Office of the CTO at Microsoft just over two years ago. I was a ‘founding member’ as Kevin Scott was a new CTO for Microsoft. I have now moved on to another job, in a different CTO Office (Mark Russinovich in Azure).

I noticed one thing while I was in OCTO, I essentially stopped blogging. Why was that? Well, probably the main reason is the fact that when your in that particular office, you’re privy to all sorts of stuff, most of it very private, either to Microsoft, or other partners in the industry. Not really the kind of stuff you want to write about in a loud way. My colleague Mat Velosso managed to maintain a public voice while in the office, but I didn’t find I could do it. Now as it turns out, my new job is all about having a voice, and helping to make Engineering at Microsoft that much better.

But, before I get into all that, I want to reflect on tech.

I’m in my home office, and I’m looking around at all this clutter. I’ve got SD Cards that are 8Gb sitting around with who knows what on them. I’ve got motherboards sitting openly on my bench. I’ve got more single board computers than you can shake a stick it. Various bits and bobs, outdated tech books, mice and keyboards galore, laptops that have been long since abandoned, and 5 23″ LCD displays sitting on the floor.

That’s just in my office. My other cave has similar amounts of computers, displays, tvs, and other tech leavings from the past 10 years of hobbying around, trying to stay current. What to do?

Well, donate all that can to good places. Don’t give working displays to PC recycle, they’ll just tear them apart. Find a school, non-profit, deserving person. Then, all those Raspberry Pi versions you never took out of their boxes, send them to the PC recycler, or give them to a school. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about single board computers, if you don’t actually have an immediate use for them, they’re not worth buying.

Books, to the library, or if you have a local “Half Price Books” maybe you can get some money back. More than likely, if they’re older than 5 years, they’re headed to the compost pile.

I have saved one set of PS/2 style keyboard/mouse, because, they’re actually useful.

I want to reconfigure my office. Now that 4K UHD monitor/tvs are $250, it makes sense to purchase them as decorations for a room. A couple of those 55″ versions up on the walls gives me connectivity for any computers, as well as an ability to do things like use them as a false window. I need more workspace. My current configuration is sets of drawers, which hide who knows what, and counter top which is too narrow, and book shelves, which can’t hold very much weight. So, out it goes, and in come the wire rack shelving units, 24″ deep.

Copy off all the stuff from those random SD cards, and throw away the ones that are less than 32Gb, because you know you’ll lose them before you ever use them again, and you’ll always be wondering what’s on them. Digitize those photo albums, use one of your many SBCs to setup a NAS, and copy everything there, and backup to a cloud service

For me, new job, new tech, new office space. time to blab and share again.


Commemorating MLK’s Passing

Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated April 4th, 1968. That was 51 years ago today. In order to commemorate his passing, I penned the following and shared it with my coworkers at Microsoft.

On this very important day in history, I am contemplative.  As we consider the importance of naming our ERG, I am reflective upon how we got here.

I was only 4 years old on that fateful day when “they killed Martin!”, so I don’t remember much, other than adults crying, smoking, drinking, talking adult talk, nervous wringing of hands, and us kids playing outside.

In my tech career of roughly 35 years, I’ve often been “the only…”.  It’s been an interesting walk.  In most recent years, as I become more Yoda and less Samuel Jackson, I have contemplated these things:

Would I have died fighting rather than be put on the ship

Would I have jumped into the ocean rather than be taken

Would I have fought back upon first being whipped, choosing pride and honor over subjugation

Would I have had the bravery to run away

Would I have had the bravery to help those who ran away

Would I have had the courage to learn to read

Would I have had the strength to send my children to school

Would I have had the strength to drink from the water fountain not meant for me

Would I have had the courage to simply sit

Would I have had the tenacity to face the smoke bombs, water cannons and dogs

Would I have had the conviction to carry on a struggle, long after my inspirational leader was lost…

And here I sit today, and I contemplate.  Will I recognize my calling?  Will I recognize my civil rights moment?  Will I be able to throw off my golden handcuffs and do what’s right?

If we collectively think “Black” means anything, we collectively can’t ignore the passing of this particular day.  I encourage us all to reflect on who we are, where we come from, and where we intend to go in the future.


My First LEAP Video

Here it is, the first video that I’ve done related to LEAP:


Reading Fine Print – A new credit card

So, my kids wanted to buy me a large teddy bear for my birthday.  There so happened to be one at the local Safeway, but it was $75.  The last time we bought a giant stuffed thing, it was a giant dog from Costco.  I don’t remember the price, but I thought, Costco, it’s got to be cheaper…

We went down to Costco, but I we haven’t had a membership there for years.  Time to renew.  One thing led to another, and rather than the simple run of the mill membership, I allowed myself to be talked into the “Executive” membership, which ‘gives’ you a credit card, and a $60 cash back card (offsetting the extra expense of the super membership).  Well, how bad could it be.  I went from having really no credit cards last year, to having 4 of them today.  That must be good for credit worthiness right?  At any rate, I finally got the card, and thought, hay, I might as well read all the fine print.

The first thing that came in the mail was the “Account approval notice”.  This one is interesting because it’s basically just the “congratulations, you’re approved for a card, it will be coming in the mail shortly”.  It does list the credit limit, the outrageous interest rates, and down at the bottom, below the fold, “Personalize your PIN”.  Aha!  This normally discarded little piece of paper is the one that has the credit card PIN, which most people don’t know.  For an ATM card, you always know the PIN because without it, you basically can’t use it.  But, your credit card PIN?  I don’t usually know that, and why?  Because I’m not looking for it, and I usually throw away this intro piece of paper.  Well, now I know, and I’ll try to keep track of this radom 4 digits.

Next up, the giant new card package.  This is the set of papers which include the terms and conditions in minute detail.  This shows the 29% rate you’ll be charged whenever you do anything wrong (like not pay your bill on time), as well as the ‘arbitration’ clause, which ensures you never sue them whenever they do something wrong.  One small piece of paper in this set says “FACTS” at the top of it.

The FACTS sheet.  This piece of paper tells me about the many ways in which they’re going to use the information they gather on me to market to me.  Not only the company itself, but their affiliates, and even non-affiliates (basically anyone who wants the data).  This is normally a throw away piece as well, but this time I decided to read the fine print.  What I found was one section titled “To limit our sharing”.  Well, that sounds good.  Call a phone number, go through some live menu choices, and there you have it, you’ve limited the usage of this data.  All you can do is limit the affiliate usage of your data, but it’s something.  I even chose the option to have them send me a piece of paper indicating the choices that I made.

I feel really proud of myself.  I normally ignore most of the stuff that comes from credit card companies, as most of it is marketing trying to sign me up for more credit cards, or point systems, or whatever.  This time, I really dug in, and caught some interesting details.  I’m curious to see how the “don’t market to me” thing works out.  Of course, once you click off that checkbox, they probably simply sell your info off to someone else to harvest.  I feel like that’s what happens when you unsubscribe from an email list as well, but I can’t prove it.

At any rate, I learned something new today.  Read some of the fine print, try out a little something you haven’t in the past, and go on an adventure!


Aging in Tech

My birthday is coming up in November, and just today I was clicking through one of those web sites that says “45 discounts seniors can enjoy”.  I’ve been doing “computing” in one form or another since I was about 10 years old, and I’m about to be 53.  If I can do the math, that’s been a very long time.  Looking back on my earlier years, I recognize a cocky genius of a software engineering talent (if I do say so myself).  In more recent years, it hasn’t been about an ability to sling code hard and fast, but rather reflecting upon years of developing various kinds of systems to come up with non-obvious solutions faster than I would have otherwise.

Aging in tech typically means sliding slowly into a management position, slowly losing your tech chops, and mostly riding herd over the young guns that are coming up through the ranks.  I’ve taken a slightly different path over the past few years.  I did manage the cats who created some very interesting tech for Microsoft: XML, LINQ, ACS/Service Bus, Application Gateway, but more recently I found myself writing actual code myself, while inventing new ways to hire for diversity (http:/aka.ms/leapit).  It is this latter initiative that I find very fascinating and invigorating as I age in tech.

The premise of the LEAP program is that ‘tech’ broadly speaking, has advanced enough in terms of complexity, that some things are now easier to achieve than they might have been 10 – 15 years ago.  The kinds of “programming” that we’re doing is changing.  Whereas 15 years ago, having the skills to debug windows kernel was a great thing to look for, today, being able to do a mash up with they myriad web frameworks that are available is most interesting.  Knowing R or machine learning tools is increasingly important.  Those kernel debug skills, not so much.

But still, there’s need for old codgers to apply themselves in ever creative ways.  I look out onto the tech landscape, and I see myriad opportunities.  I see the continent of Africa sitting there, daring us to capture it and harvest the energy and greatness that awaits.  I see urban environments across the US, who are all consumers of tech, and can be turned into creators of tech just as easily.  I see AI applications that can be applied to our ever burgeoning populations of elder folks, robots, AI, automation of various forms.  As an older technologist, rather than going softly into that good night, lamenting the loss of my lightning quick programming skills, I see opportunity to leverage what I’ve learned over the years to identity opportunities, and marshal teams of engineers to go after them, adding guidance and experience where necessary, but otherwise just getting out of the way so the energetic engineers can do their thing.

I may or may not be able to pass a typical tech interview screen these days, but I’m more concerned with changing how we interview for tech roles in the first place.  I’m more likely to identify how to incorporate the views of youth, the elderly, the farmer, the street performer, into the evolution of tech offerings to make their lives better.  I’m more likely to, without fear, create a tech start up with a clear purpose, and the financial support necessary to see it through its early rounds.

Aging in tech can be a harrowing experience.  In some cases we age out of certain roles, but with some foresight and thoughtfulness, we leverage our years of experience to do ever greatly impacting things, while avoiding merely being surpassed by our up and coming peers.

So, as I age in tech, I’m looking forward to the discounts that are coming when I reach 55.  I’m looking forward to the seniors menu at Denny’s.  I’m looking forward to being able to think of anything I can imagine, and actually turn it into something that is helpful to society.

Aging in tech is something that happens to everyone, from the first line of code you write, to the last breath you take.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the journey thus far, and am looking forward to many more years to come.