Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Liz McMillan, ManageEngine IT Matters, Rishi Bhargava, Xenia von Wedel, Elizabeth White

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 [email protected]” 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
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to simplify and streamline our lives by automating routine tasks that distract us from our goals. This promise is based on the ubiquitous deployment of smart, connected devices that link everything from industrial control systems to automobiles to refrigerators. Unfortunately, comparatively few of the devices currently deployed have been developed with an eye toward security, and as the DDoS attacks of late October 2016 have demonstrated, this oversight can ...
"ReadyTalk is an audio and web video conferencing provider. We've really come to embrace WebRTC as the platform for our future of technology," explained Dan Cunningham, CTO of ReadyTalk, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at WebRTC Summit at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...
Major trends and emerging technologies – from virtual reality and IoT, to Big Data and algorithms – are helping organizations innovate in the digital era. However, to create real business value, IT must think beyond the ‘what’ of digital transformation to the ‘how’ to harness emerging trends, innovation and disruption. Architecture is the key that underpins and ties all these efforts together. In the digital age, it’s important to invest in architecture, extend the enterprise footprint to the cl...
"Dice has been around for the last 20 years. We have been helping tech professionals find new jobs and career opportunities," explained Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
Successful digital transformation requires new organizational competencies and capabilities. Research tells us that the biggest impediment to successful transformation is human; consequently, the biggest enabler is a properly skilled and empowered workforce. In the digital age, new individual and collective competencies are required. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bob Newhouse, CEO and founder of Agilitiv, drew together recent research and lessons learned from emerging and established compa...
Extracting business value from Internet of Things (IoT) data doesn’t happen overnight. There are several requirements that must be satisfied, including IoT device enablement, data analysis, real-time detection of complex events and automated orchestration of actions. Unfortunately, too many companies fall short in achieving their business goals by implementing incomplete solutions or not focusing on tangible use cases. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products...
Businesses and business units of all sizes can benefit from cloud computing, but many don't want the cost, performance and security concerns of public cloud nor the complexity of building their own private clouds. Today, some cloud vendors are using artificial intelligence (AI) to simplify cloud deployment and management. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Ajay Gulati, Co-founder and CEO of ZeroStack, will discuss how AI can simplify cloud operations. He will cover the following topics: why clou...
The WebRTC Summit New York, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 20th International Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo. WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web ...
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life sett...
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their backend AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT - especially in the connected home and office. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Kocher, founder and managing director of Grey Heron, explained how Amazon is extending its reach to become a major force in IoT by building on its dominant cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strat...
Internet-of-Things discussions can end up either going down the consumer gadget rabbit hole or focused on the sort of data logging that industrial manufacturers have been doing forever. However, in fact, companies today are already using IoT data both to optimize their operational technology and to improve the experience of customer interactions in novel ways. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Gordon Haff, Red Hat Technology Evangelist, will share examples from a wide range of industries – includin...
"We build IoT infrastructure products - when you have to integrate different devices, different systems and cloud you have to build an application to do that but we eliminate the need to build an application. Our products can integrate any device, any system, any cloud regardless of protocol," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
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, provided an educational overview of emerging “as-a-service” options for Big Data in the cloud. This is critical background for IT and data professionals...
"Once customers get a year into their IoT deployments, they start to realize that they may have been shortsighted in the ways they built out their deployment and the key thing I see a lot of people looking at is - how can I take equipment data, pull it back in an IoT solution and show it in a dashboard," stated Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.