|By Brandon Watson||
|April 1, 2014 06:29 PM EDT||
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?”
“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.
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.
"ciqada is a combined platform of hardware modules and server products that lets people take their existing devices or new devices and lets them be accessible over the Internet for their users," noted Geoff Engelstein of ciqada, a division of Mars International, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jul. 8, 2015 02:15 AM EDT Reads: 1,128
"We have seen the evolution of WebRTC right from the starting point to what it has become today, that people are using in real applications," noted Dr. Natasha Tamaskar, Vice President and Head of Cloud and Mobile Strategy and Ecosystem at GENBAND, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at WebRTC Summit, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jul. 7, 2015 10:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,245
The 3rd International WebRTC Summit, to be held Nov. 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, 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 15th International Cloud Expo, 6th International Big Data Expo, 3rd International DevOps Summit and 2nd Internet of @ThingsExpo. WebRTC (Web-based Real-Time Communication) is an open source project supported by Google, Mozilla and Opera that aims to enable bro...
Jul. 7, 2015 08:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,006
It is one thing to build single industrial IoT applications, but what will it take to build the Smart Cities and truly society-changing applications of the future? The technology won’t be the problem, it will be the number of parties that need to work together and be aligned in their motivation to succeed. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jason Mondanaro, Director, Product Management at Metanga, discussed how you can plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change the world and it starts with business models and monetization strategies.
Jul. 7, 2015 07:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,642
Internet of Things (IoT) will be a hybrid ecosystem of diverse devices and sensors collaborating with operational and enterprise systems to create the next big application. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Bramh Gupta, founder and CEO of robomq.io, and Fred Yatzeck, principal architect leading product development at robomq.io, discussed how choosing the right middleware and integration strategy from the get-go will enable IoT solution developers to adapt and grow with the industry, while at the same time reduce Time to Market (TTM) by using plug and play capabilities offered by a robust IoT ...
Jul. 7, 2015 07:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,671
The 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 17th International Cloud Expo - to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - announces that its Call for Papers is open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than
Jul. 7, 2015 05:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,332
SYS-CON Events announced today that ProfitBricks, the provider of painless cloud infrastructure, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. ProfitBricks is the IaaS provider that offers a painless cloud experience for all IT users, with no learning curve. ProfitBricks boasts flexible cloud servers and networking, an integrated Data Center Designer tool for visual control over the cloud and the best price/performance value available. ProfitBricks was named one of the coolest Clo...
Jul. 7, 2015 05:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,294
17th Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, 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. Meanwhile, 94% of enterprises are using some form of XaaS – software, platform, and infrastructure as a service.
Jul. 7, 2015 04:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,002
"In the IoT space we are helping customers, mostly enterprises and industry verticals where time-to-value is critical, and we help them with the ability to do faster insights and actions using our platform so they can transform their business operations," explained Venkat Eswara, VP of Marketing at Vitria, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jul. 7, 2015 03:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,013
Discussions about cloud computing are evolving into discussions about enterprise IT in general. As enterprises increasingly migrate toward their own unique clouds, new issues such as the use of containers and microservices emerge to keep things interesting. In this Power Panel at 16th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the state of cloud computing today, and what enterprise IT professionals need to know about how the latest topics and trends affect their organization.
Jul. 7, 2015 03:30 PM EDT Reads: 2,012
WebRTC converts the entire network into a ubiquitous communications cloud thereby connecting anytime, anywhere through any point. In his session at WebRTC Summit,, Mark Castleman, EIR at Bell Labs and Head of Future X Labs, will discuss how the transformational nature of communications is achieved through the democratizing force of WebRTC. WebRTC is doing for voice what HTML did for web content.
Jul. 7, 2015 03:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,862
To many people, IoT is a buzzword whose value is not understood. Many people think IoT is all about wearables and home automation. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed some incredible game-changing use cases and how they are transforming industries like agriculture, manufacturing, health care, and smart cities. He will discuss cool technologies like smart dust, robotics, smart labels, and much more. Prepare to be blown away with a glimpse of the future.
Jul. 7, 2015 02:15 PM EDT Reads: 2,213
Connected things, systems and people can provide information to other things, systems and people and initiate actions for each other that result in new service possibilities. By taking a look at the impact of Internet of Things when it transitions to a highly connected services marketplace we can understand how connecting the right “things” and leveraging the right partners can provide enormous impact to your business’ growth and success. In her general session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, VP, Marketing Enterprise and Cloud at Ericsson, discussed how this exciting emergence of layers of...
Jul. 7, 2015 12:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,856
The 17th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. 17th International Cloud Expo, to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Microservices, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps 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 today!
Jul. 7, 2015 12:30 PM EDT Reads: 2,094
The 5th International DevOps Summit, co-located with 17th International Cloud Expo – being held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real results. Among the proven benefits, DevOps is corr...
Jul. 7, 2015 12:15 PM EDT Reads: 2,107
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
Jul. 7, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,822
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
Jul. 7, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,047
SYS-CON Events announced today that kintone has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. kintone promotes cloud-based workgroup productivity, transparency and profitability with a seamless collaboration space, build your own business application (BYOA) platform, and workflow automation system.
Jul. 7, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,293
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists peeled away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud environment, and we must architect and code accordingly. At the very least, you'll have no problem fillin...
Jul. 7, 2015 11:45 AM EDT Reads: 2,851
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems, described how to revolutionize your archit...
Jul. 7, 2015 11:30 AM EDT Reads: 2,042