Ten Firsts, Part 2

As promised, here is part two of the ten ‘firsts’ in my career at Microsoft.  Click here to read the first five.  Now, on with the show!

First Bad Manager.  The culprit shall rename nameless.  The person was a long-time Microsoft developer.  He was a great developer, but lacked people skills.  At that time, Microsoft had limited training for managers.  Management felt, the person was a great developer/tester, they’ll make a great manager!  Once he became our manager, he would pop into our offices unannounced at a random time during the day and say “Status Me, Baby.”  You had to stop what you were doing and tell him.  We all know how important uninterrupted time is.  Well, almost everyone.

Lesson #6: Not all great {insert the discipline of your choice} make great managers.  The skillsets are different.  The skillset that got you in as an IC (Individual Contributor) won’t necessarily get you in as a manager.  Like anything, you need to learn.

First Automation System.  The project was Word for DOS 5.  Our automation system was called VCR.  You recorded keystrokes and mouse movements on one computer, and they were played back into another computer through the keyboard and mouse ports.  This was some of the first automated BVTs (Build Verification Tests) I had ever worked on.

Lesson #7: Automation matters.  It is the future of the discipline.  Hopefully the automation system is something more robust than VCR, but any extensible easy-to-maintain system is a good start.

First Black Hat.  After shipping Word for DOS 6.0, we came into the WinWord ship cycle close to RTM (Release to Manufacturing).  The six of us formed a black hat team.   We would read up some something for an hour, and then test the heck out of Word; rinse, lather, repeat.  We found twelve recall-class bugs during the RTM process.

Lesson #8: You don’t need to be an expert to test.  We are all intelligent folks.  Give the tester some information to get them started, and then let them run with it.  The innate tester will do the rest.

First Feature Cut During RTM.  I was the tester for a cutting edge technology feature in V1 of Office Web Server.  We provided the UI and relied on another team for the code that did the actual work.  The feature never gelled through the milestones: it would just crash from time-to-time. We talked with the other team and always walked away thinking “it will work fine with the next release.” The next release would have another major bug.  When we hit RC (Release Candidate), I ran some automation over the weekend in the automation lab.  We crashed one-out-of-three machines.  Needless to say, we had to cut the feature.  I spent the rest of the ship cycle verifying we removed every trace of the UI from the OS and Office apps.  Of all the products I’ve worked on over the years, this is the only one that never shipped.

Lesson #9: I learned back then what is obvious today:

  • Automation is important.
  • Cut your losses early.
  • Cross team collaboration is important.

First Addiction.  Word and web servers are fun, but one product turned out to be the “crack” in my Microsoft career.  I was part of the team for V1 of Microsoft OneNote.  All of the disciplines worked side-by-side to develop this product.  We met with customers, developed personas, ran usability studies, and so on; all in addition to our regular duties.  OneNote turned out to be one of Microsoft’s hidden gems.  We liked to joke “The first hit is free.” After we shipped, the disciplines came together again to form the product support for our customers.

Lesson #10: Jobs can be fun, but some are more fun than others. Find your ‘crack’ and enjoy your job just that much more.

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