What Do I Do? Top sites, MIX08, and PDC08.

A few days ago, I received the following e-mail:

Help me out here. I've been reading your blog off and on for years and I can't figure out what it is you do. Your obviously involved with the PDC and MIX conferences, you send a lifesize cardboard cutout of yourself as your resume, you've made a plug-in for Illustrator and a converter for Flash files (which rock BTW), you take amazing photos, you implement seam carving in your "spare time", you write Tivo gadgets, you taught me about continuous integration with your orb article, your article on code review was mandatory reading in one of my classes, you read quite an collection of books, you seem to be pretty good at design considering you claim to be a geek, you build small arcade machines, you counted to a freakin' million, you worked with Tom Skerrit, you write music, you build medical software, and who knows what else. Don't worry, I'm not stalking you. :) I just read through your old posts cuz I couldn't remember all of this! Just what the hell do you do at MS?

Yes, I'll admit to being a bit disturbed until I found out that this person had read through my old posts. Whew! It's strange to have your history read back to you. But, it's a very fair question, and it made me realize that my blog may provide a distorted perspective on the work I do. So, to set the record straight, let me try to explain my job at Microsoft.

For context, I work in Developer and Platform Evangelism, commonly referred to as DPE. My office is in building 18 on our main campus in Redmond, Washington. I've been in DPE for the past three years, and prior to that, I was a Senior Consultant with Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) for five years working out of our Michigan office. I've been working with computers for over 30 years now.

In my current role at Microsoft, it's easiest to categorize my work into three buckets. Note that—like almost any job at Microsoft—the things I do can change many times during the course of a year, but these three are accurate now:

  1. I manage a group of Technical Evangelists and Program Managers to run a program we call Web GO. A primary goal of the Web GO program is to engage with top consumer-facing web sites to help them adopt our new products and technologies. In DPE, we focus most of our efforts on leading edge technology...usually stuff that hasn't shipped yet. As you probably know, it's a risk to work with anything this early on in a product lifecycle, and our job is to do what we can to make early adoption as easy as possible. Along the way, we get a lot of real-world feedback from our customers, and that feedback helps to shape our products and (hopefully) make them more relevant to a wider set of scenarios and usage patterns.

    At the end of our engagement with a customer, we capture what we call evidence. Evidence is the story we tell about the customer and how our products and technologies helped them achieve a positive result. Sometimes this positive result is lower costs, sometimes it's faster time-to-market, sometimes it's how the new technology enables a scenario that couldn't easily be achieved before. Often, it's a combination of these. We create the evidence as a written case study, perhaps a video (like this one featuring yours truly), and occasionally a customer standing on stage at one of our big events.

  2. I own and oversee many aspects of our upcoming MIX08 conference in Las Vegas, and I'm a member of the core team. You may find it interesting that there isn't an official MIX or PDC "events team" in Microsoft. Both of these events are owned by DPE, and we enlist a volunteer army to pull them off. Most of the folks that work on these conferences have another primary role in DPE if you can believe it (I jokingly refer to it as the "Microsoft 120% Rule").

    • Keynote partners - I'm responsible for helping to identify the customer and partner projects we have on stage at MIX08, and I work with the primary account representatives inside Microsoft to make sure that everything stays on-track. I also help to find projects that align with the overall themes of the conference. There's a lot of timing that goes into this, and as you can probably imagine, there are a lot more partners than we have slots, so selecting the right set of projects is critical.
    • The Signal - I co-host our weekly MIX08-related podcast along with Thomas Lewis. We provide a behind-the-scenes look at the event, and we interview speakers, staff, and other notables. Yes, we produce the whole thing.
    • Show Off - Like The Signal, I also work on this one with Thomas. The goal is to find cool projects that get people excited about technology/design and feature them at the Show Off event. This is a blast, and if you have anything that would inspire other developers or designers, please submit a video! Thomas and I will present the best of them the second evening of MIX08.
    • ????? - Unfortunately, I can't talk about this one yet, but it has to do with the evening of day 0 (the day before the keynote) and something we're doing at the attendee party the following night. You're going to love it!
    • Then, there are activities that I oversee. That means that I don't do any of the actual work, but I provide guidance and make sure things are moving forward. I work very closely with owners for each of these activities, and frankly, they deserve all of the credit.
      • The Sandbox - owned by Hans Hugli and Glenn Podany, this is the MIX version of hands-on labs. Plus, there's an online component called Sandbox in the Sky that allows attendees to easily publish their work out on the 'net. This year we've also added technology that makes it easy to take the labs home with you. I can't wait to see how well it works.
      • Open Space - this is a mash-up of what used to be known as Open Mic and MIX Chat, and it's being driven by Drew Robbins and Jason Olson. Think of this as an area where you can meet other experts, including speakers, to chat about design and development topics. Self-proclaimed experts can also schedule their own mini-sessions to talk about whatever interests them. There will be a projector, lots of whiteboards, and couches. They'll also have video cameras on-hand to make it easy to record the content and publish it on the internet for all to see.
      • Session recordings - I had this role for PDC05 and MIX06, and the amazingly capable Brian Keller had it for MIX07 and is driving it again this year. The goal is to record every session we present and make it available online within 24 hours for anyone (not just attendees). Brian has some cool upgrades to the experience this year that I hope everyone will love.
      • Bits - David Tesar is responsible for wrangling the bits for the various products and technologies we talk about at MIX08. This means that he figures out which builds of which products will be available by the conference and works with the teams to get them onto DVDs and CDs we can hand out to attendees.
  3. I am the Content Owner and a member of the core team for this year's Professional Developers Conference: PDC08. I've only just started this role, and my job is to drive the theme, tracks, sessions, and overall direction of the content. This is a heavy duty job, and it will likely consume most of my time as we get closer to October. The content direction that is set will naturally flow to almost every aspect of the event. I hope to be able to post frequently about the work I'm doing related to PDC08. I also look forward to your suggestions and feedback.

There you have it. Those are the three areas where I focus my time and attention at Microsoft. Interestingly, very few of my blog posts relate to my day job. I have an insatiable passion for technology, and I spend a lot of my spare time on hobbies like photography, writing little programs, reading about topics that interest me, and relating old stories (like counting to one million).

So, I guess the overall theme of this blog—if there is one—is me. I have a diverse set of interests, and I hope you'll continue to indulge me for another four years!