Click here to close now.



Welcome!

API Journal Authors: Liz McMillan, Anders Wallgren, Lori MacVittie, Greg O'Connor, Pat Romanski

Blog Feed Post

Turning Points In Life

The TwinsThis is a post about little things having huge impacts.

It’s hard to have a macro perspective on life when you have a short frame of reference against which to measure it, so what happened 20 years ago was harder to understand than it is today. Things can happen in your life that you know, in some form or fashion, will have long term impacts on your life, both personally and professionally, but you really can’t grasp the magnitude of what those changes may be. We all hope for positive influences in our lives, and for each year to be better than the one that came before it. These ephemeral occurrences come and go, some are nothing more than daily life happening, and some are the cause of people or persons. Malice can certainly be a part of the equation, as can Dickensian benevolence. These are not the topics on my mind today.

In a day full of jokes and internet memes which continue to bore, I reflect on a seemingly innocuous decision 20 years ago today that completely & unquestionably altered the direction of my life. One person made one decision.

As was related to me by others who were in the room when the decision was made, it was five words that made this difference. Life can sometimes be that simple. One person. Five words. 20 years. It’s time to back up.

In the late winter of 1994, I was wandering the halls one of the engineering buildings on campus at UPenn. I never went into this building, but had to do so for some office hours. As fate would have it, I saw a sign that said something along the lines of “Do you want to have your college tuition paid for?” Well duh.

Turns out that Microsoft was sponsoring a national minority engineering scholarship. Their search was targeted on 10 schools, of which Penn was one. At that point in my college career, I had not as of yet selected my engineering major. I was pretty certain it wasn’t going to be computer science, but the requirements of scholarship were merely that I be working toward an engineering degree. Score.

After the application process, and some phone interviews, I found myself flying out to Seattle for the very first time. I didn’t really know much about Microsoft. I had learned how to program in Visual Basic the previous summer working for a mortgage bank, but that’s all I knew about the company. The day I landed is still quite vivid in my mind. I was driving north on I405 in a rented car, amazed by the beauty of the place. I was bummed that I was going to miss Penn playing UF in the NCAA tournament, but it seemed a fair trade for a full day of interviews for a potential shot at a full scholarship.

The interview process at MSFT is legendary, and in 1994 it was far less humane that it is today. I remember walking out of the 6 hours of torture feeling completely rattled and drained. As a 19 year old, I had never experienced that kind of mental taxation. In reality, it was all a blur. These days, I don’t remember much about that day, but there were two questions which I do remember from two different interviewers. One was “design Bill Gate’s bathroom.” The other was “explain calculus to me.”

I remember thinking that this was a very odd question. Odd and quite unfair. I had never had to teach anything before. I just remember staring at the interviewer and thinking “well, I’m f@cked.” But I answered. In talking to the interviewer many years later about it, this was the answer that sealed it for me. I honestly have no recollection of what I said, and if asked to repeat that today, not a chance I do anything resembling an adequate job.

The interviewer was J. Forrest Tucker. He’s the guy on the left in the photo at the top of the post. Jay is the person to whom I referred at the top of this post. I am not sure I would have pursued hi-tech as a field had it not been for his decision. I would have likely followed the herd from my class and joined an investment bank or a consulting firm. In all likelihood, I would not have pursued product management as a vocation. I am an entrepreneur at heart, but given my upbringing, it would likely have taken me a lot longer to decide that it was better to not play it safe; to believe in myself and venture out on my own, or find entrepreneurial ventures to which I could align myself. I would not have ended up in Seattle. I would not have become best friends with Alex, roommate and non-blood Uncle to my children. I would not have met my wife. There’s so much that came from 1 man, with 5 words, 20 years ago.

J. was just a guy doing his job. It’s unlikely he woke up the morning of April 1st, and thought to himself, “I am going to dramatically alter the life course of someone today.” As it turns out, 4/1/1994 was the day that we were supposed to hear from Microsoft about the status of our interview and application for the full scholarship. It was Spring Fling on Penn’s campus, and I was trying to not think about this thing hanging over my head, but couldn’t do it. I remember calling MSFT at 5pm EST, as I hadn’t heard anything. I was told that they hadn’t had their debrief yet, and that I had to wait. So I did what any sensible college age kid does when the biggest parties of the year are going on just outside his door, with young college kids drinking and reveling. I fell asleep. I’m not sure how or why, I just did. And I awoke to the piercing sound of my phone ringing. Not the fun gentle tones we have on our mobiles; this was the banshee shriek of a wall plugged radio shack clanger.

“Is Brandon there?”
“This is.”
“Hey, it’s J. from Microsoft.”
“How’s it going?”
“Well, I have good news and bad news.”
[internal thought: fuck] “Ok…”
“The good news is we would like to offer you a position for the summer at Microsoft.”
…silence for eons…
“The bad news?”
“Looks like it’s going to cost us a little over $30,000 to get you here.”

What I didn’t know, and only found out many, many years later was the role J. played in making this happen. You see, it turns out the scholarship was designed for technical talent. As a business minded individual with strong technical skills, the likely position for me was assistant product manager. The other 3 recipients that year all took SDE or QAE positions. I was best suited for a decidedly non-technical role. So there was debate in the room about what to do with me. When it came time to vote, as it was relayed to me, J. started and ended the voting with 5 words. “He gets it. Next candidate.” And with that. My. Life. Changed.

The Fellas

It was a pretty remarkable summer that followed, and the 5 gentlemen in this photo on the left are all still friends. We made up the bulk of the African American interns that summer at MSFT. Keith is at Google now. Adam is over at Chef (aka OpsCode). Alex is here with me at Amazon. Leon moved back to Michigan a few years back and we miss him, but that’s what Facebook is for I guess. Ian is still over at MSFT. It’s hard to believe that this photo is 20 years old.

The message in all of this is really aimed at the younger readers of this blog. Those who may find their way from Hacker News, or perhaps from the tweets, or maybe even if this gets shared on Facebook. You never know where your life will take you. You never know what impacts anyone will have. But when you do find out that someone has helped you, and this is especially true if they did it knowing full well that you may never know they were your benefactor, you thank them. You thank them when you find out. You thank them when you share stories about how you got to where you are. Then you make sure you are worthy of the faith that person put in you and live up to those expectations. And finally, you perform service to others as a way of paying it forward.  Like I said, I am pretty sure J. didn’t wake up thinking he would be single pivot point around which much of my life would hinge, but he was. Yes, he was in control of a rather substantial outcome, but even small acts can have hugely positive outcomes.

If you know someone who has done a J. for you, pick up the phone and call them. Thank them.

Thank you J. You brought Adam, Alex, Leon and I together with a Knicks game, and you brought me to Microsoft because of an explanation of calculus.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Brandon Watson

Brandon Watson is Director for Windows Phone 7. He specifically focuses on developers and the developer platform. He rejoined Microsoft in 2008 after nearly a decade on Wall Street and running successful start-ups. He has both an engineering degree and an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as an MBA from The Wharton School of Business, and blogs at www.manyniches.com.

@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Commvault, a global leader in enterprise data protection and information management, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Commvault is a leading provider of data protection and information management...
The cloud promises new levels of agility and cost-savings for Big Data, data warehousing and analytics. But it’s challenging to understand all the options – from IaaS and PaaS to newer services like HaaS (Hadoop as a Service) and BDaaS (Big Data as a Service). In her session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Hannah Smalltree, a director at Cazena, will provide an educational overview of emerging “as-a-service” options for Big Data in the cloud. This is critical background for IT and data profes...
SYS-CON Events announced today that VAI, a leading ERP software provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. VAI (Vormittag Associates, Inc.) is a leading independent mid-market ERP software developer renowned for its flexible solutions and ability to automate critical business functions for the distribution, manufacturing, specialty retail and service sectors. An IBM Premier Business Part...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Alert Logic, Inc., the leading provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Alert Logic, Inc., provides Security-as-a-Service for on-premises, cloud, and hybrid infrastructures, delivering deep security insight and continuous protection for customers at a lower cost than traditional security solutions. Ful...
Fortunately, meaningful and tangible business cases for IoT are plentiful in a broad array of industries and vertical markets. These range from simple warranty cost reduction for capital intensive assets, to minimizing downtime for vital business tools, to creating feedback loops improving product design, to improving and enhancing enterprise customer experiences. All of these business cases, which will be briefly explored in this session, hinge on cost effectively extracting relevant data from ...
With the Apple Watch making its way onto wrists all over the world, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a staple in the workplace. In fact, Forrester reported that 68 percent of technology and business decision-makers characterize wearables as a top priority for 2015. Recognizing their business value early on, FinancialForce.com was the first to bring ERP to wearables, helping streamline communication across front and back office functions. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Kevin Roberts...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interoute, owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2015 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Interoute is the owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform which encompasses 12 data centers, 14 virtual data centers and 31 colocation centers, with connections to 195 ad...
With an estimated 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020, several industries will begin to expand their capabilities for retaining end point data at the edge to better utilize the range of data types and sheer volume of M2M data generated by the Internet of Things. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Don DeLoach, CEO and President of Infobright, will discuss the infrastructures businesses will need to implement to handle this explosion of data by providing specific use cases for filte...
As enterprises work to take advantage of Big Data technologies, they frequently become distracted by product-level decisions. In most new Big Data builds this approach is completely counter-productive: it presupposes tools that may not be a fit for development teams, forces IT to take on the burden of evaluating and maintaining unfamiliar technology, and represents a major up-front expense. In his session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Warfield, CTO and Co-Founder of Coho Data, will dis...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Fusion, a leading provider of cloud services, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Fusion, a leading provider of integrated cloud solutions to small, medium and large businesses, is the industry's single source for the cloud. Fusion's advanced, proprietary cloud service platform enables the integration of leading edge solutions in the cloud, including clou...
Most people haven’t heard the word, “gamification,” even though they probably, and perhaps unwittingly, participate in it every day. Gamification is “the process of adding games or game-like elements to something (as a task) so as to encourage participation.” Further, gamification is about bringing game mechanics – rules, constructs, processes, and methods – into the real world in an effort to engage people. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Endo, owner and engagement manager of Intrepid D...
Eighty percent of a data scientist’s time is spent gathering and cleaning up data, and 80% of all data is unstructured and almost never analyzed. Cognitive computing, in combination with Big Data, is changing the equation by creating data reservoirs and using natural language processing to enable analysis of unstructured data sources. This is impacting every aspect of the analytics profession from how data is mined (and by whom) to how it is delivered. This is not some futuristic vision: it's ha...
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
Learn how IoT, cloud, social networks and last but not least, humans, can be integrated into a seamless integration of cooperative organisms both cybernetic and biological. This has been enabled by recent advances in IoT device capabilities, messaging frameworks, presence and collaboration services, where devices can share information and make independent and human assisted decisions based upon social status from other entities. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Heydt, founder of Seamless...
The IoT's basic concept of collecting data from as many sources possible to drive better decision making, create process innovation and realize additional revenue has been in use at large enterprises with deep pockets for decades. So what has changed? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Prasanna Sivaramakrishnan, Solutions Architect at Red Hat, discussed the impact commodity hardware, ubiquitous connectivity, and innovations in open source software are having on the connected universe of people, thi...
WebRTC: together these advances have created a perfect storm of technologies that are disrupting and transforming classic communications models and ecosystems. In his session at WebRTC Summit, Cary Bran, VP of Innovation and New Ventures at Plantronics and PLT Labs, provided an overview of this technological shift, including associated business and consumer communications impacts, and opportunities it may enable, complement or entirely transform.
There are so many tools and techniques for data analytics that even for a data scientist the choices, possible systems, and even the types of data can be daunting. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Harrold, Global CTO for Big Data Solutions for EMC Corporation, showed how to perform a simple, but meaningful analysis of social sentiment data using freely available tools that take only minutes to download and install. Participants received the download information, scripts, and complete end-t...
For manufacturers, the Internet of Things (IoT) represents a jumping-off point for innovation, jobs, and revenue creation. But to adequately seize the opportunity, manufacturers must design devices that are interconnected, can continually sense their environment and process huge amounts of data. As a first step, manufacturers must embrace a new product development ecosystem in order to support these products.
Manufacturing connected IoT versions of traditional products requires more than multiple deep technology skills. It also requires a shift in mindset, to realize that connected, sensor-enabled “things” act more like services than what we usually think of as products. In his session at @ThingsExpo, David Friedman, CEO and co-founder of Ayla Networks, discussed how when sensors start generating detailed real-world data about products and how they’re being used, smart manufacturers can use the dat...
When it comes to IoT in the enterprise, namely the commercial building and hospitality markets, a benefit not getting the attention it deserves is energy efficiency, and IoT’s direct impact on a cleaner, greener environment when installed in smart buildings. Until now clean technology was offered piecemeal and led with point solutions that require significant systems integration to orchestrate and deploy. There didn't exist a 'top down' approach that can manage and monitor the way a Smart Buildi...