September o’ change — I started at Microsoft 20 years ago TODAY

Fresh out of college, unable to find a good job in the field I loved (now called bioinformatics), I started as a Tester on Microsoft Excel on September 12, 1988.  I intended to stay for two years on this little career detour — but was having so much fun I stayed an extra 18 years :-).  Now, I officially have 3 more work days left to my Microsoft stint — and the very next day I will start working for myself incubating an idea as a freshly minted startup.

When you are still in school — each September brings huge change.  Funny thing is — since I timed my change on a major anniversary of my beginning — I still find myself tied to this academic-schedule-based September o’ change.

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20 Years – and no more. KenMo is not @Microsoft.

I’ve decided to leave Microsoft.

It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make because I have worked at Microsoft for 20 years — and I love the company.

For those of you who care, this hasn’t been too hard to predict over the past 9 months — as I stepped out of my 5-year stint starting up and leading the technology for Live Search (a.k.a. MSN Search) as noted when I took a sabbatical and as I came back from my leave.  Many people have helped advise me through this period — and I think that it’s obvious to every one of them that it’s the right move for me.  I was one of the last to come to the conlusion that leaving the free pop behind is the right thing for me.

Why is it the right move for me?  Is it because Microsoft is a lame, bloated, has-been company?  Is it because I lost faith in Microsoft’s role in the future of software?  No, no and most certainly not.  Microsoft is one of the best companies in the world.  I have huge admiration for my many many friends who work there, and I know that there are great things in Microsoft’s future.  Microsoft is far from perfect — but so is everything else I’ve ever looked at in life — and I’ve never seen another company do as much good in the world as Microsoft.

It’s just that for me, personally, the next challenge I am craving happenned to be elsewhere — in part BECAUSE I have spent 20 straight years there…  In part because I have NEVER worked anywhere else…  The right next step for me is to try the one thing that Microsoft couldn’t offer me — starting a company from scratch.  That’s what I’m talking about… (you can’t see the smile break out on my face, and the butterflies start soaring around my stomach as I write that…)

But — it’s not easy for me.  I have invested a lot of personal brain cycles and heart in trying to make Microsoft be the best it can be — through the easy times, and through the tough times.  I have been to every company meeting since 1988.  I have been to 18 of the last 20 company picnics in the shadow of Mt. Si.  My kids have grown up trick-or-treating in the halls of buildings 6, 10, 16, RED-West and 88…  I have a Microsoft logo tattooed on my butt…  I have been thrown in virtually every water feature on campus by my friends and teammates…  (one of the above isn’t actually true…)

If there’s interest — I’ll be sharing more of my thoughts as I go through this transition.  But, for now, please know that despite all of the flatteringly great arguments that Microsoft’s top management made to me to try to convince me to stay for a little longer — this is indeed the right path for me.

The path ahead is uncertain — but I am sure it’s right for me to try it.  I can’t wait!

And — who knows — maybe I’ll end up back at Microsoft some day.  And, I for one, will NOT consider that a failure.

That’s it for now…

-Ken

Microsoft and Yahoo – Come on now – Just Make Up Your Mind!

Please don’t read anything into this post, as I have absolutely zero information on which way things will land.

I find the anticipation amusing. I wonder how much internet traffic has gone up since the Saturday deadline with people just hitting “Refresh” every minute to see if a decision has been made yet.

After reading Kara Swisher’s amusing post designed to entertain people during the delay — I find myself with an old Lovin Spoonful song running over and over in my head — and thought I’d share it with you all in hopes that it will enter your head and exit mine 🙂

“Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind”

Ken’s Kindle Review – Did it light my fire?

I am a proud owner of an Amazon Kindle.  I really wanted one the day in November when Amazon announced it – and about a month ago I finally got mine as an early birthday present from my wonderful wife who is still waiting to borrow it.  I have finished my first book, read the Wall Street Journal on it daily, and played around with many other features.  I’m a gadget freak, so of course I wanted one – but the question was whether I’d actually like it.

I’ll go into details below, but let me start with the punch line.

The summary

I love my Kindle, but I can’t wait for version 2.

I love the novelty, the vision of the future, and that beautiful screen.  I will exclusively buy books on it whenever available.  But, if you’re not a gadget-obsessed person, I wouldn’t recommend it for you yet.  The expense and the quirks will bug you too much.  I have total faith that Jeff Bezos and his Amazon team will iterate on this and in ten years we will start thinking of printed books as loved relics of the past – as we do today typewriters, vinyl records and even CD’s.

Likes

  • Screen clarity – especially in sunlight
  • Seamless browse and buy experience
  • Eco-friendliness
  • Weight, size and battery life

Dislikes

  • Awkward cover
  • Usability problems
  • Tables/graphics display

The gritty details

The packaging and first-run experience were as beautiful as a freshly purchased iPod.  It’s amazing how much the details of that first experience impact my feeling of being lucky to own this new gadget.  Within minutes I had purchased and downloaded my first book.  I chose to read Ken Follett’s World Without End as my first book – which is no short order, weighing in at 3 pounds and 1024 pages.  I was pleasantly surprised when the book downloaded in what seemed like seconds.

The form factor of the Kindle seemed perfect to me right out of the gate.  Instead of lugging a 3 pound monster to the beach and Starbucks – I was packing a sleek, leather-bound 10 ounce Kindle.  Nice!

But, it wasn’t all rosy — a usability problem hit me right from the start and it took me a while to retrain myself.  Somebody tried to be way too tricky when designing the next/prev/back buttons and blew it.  I was silly enough to think that after pressing the “next page” button, I could just press the “back” button located right under it to return to the previous page.  Sorry, wrong answer!  Despite the fact that everyone is trained that pressing “back” in a web browser takes you back to the previous page – on the Kindle it takes you back to the previous “object” you were looking at.  So in this case it would pop me out of my book entirely and take me to my list of books on my Kindle.  I need to use my left hand and press “prev page” for that – not “back”.  Huh?

The leads me to another gripe I have.  The book I was reading had 1024 pages, and the Kindle totally hid from me what page was on.  The Kindle has a foreign concept called “locations” that won’t be intuitive to anybody who is used to reading books.  The fact that I was on location 7,698 out of 20,762 in the book just didn’t cut it for me.  I wanted a mapping back to page numbers so I could know what page I was on.  I often felt disoriented in an endless stream of words and locations.  I realize there are user-settable font sizes and different print editions of book, but just mapping back to a standard hard-cover or paperback edition would have worked great for me.  Please bring back page numbers!

The screen on the Kindle is nothing short of beautiful for text.  I was pleasantly surprised when I took it outside in the bright Arizona sun and discovered that the screen looked even better than it did inside a building.  I’ve never seen a screen that didn’t look anemic outside – but this electronic paper does the trick.  Sure, I wish it was bigger, had a built-in light, didn’t flash annoyingly on a page turn, and had the ability to display color, but the clarity of text more than makes up for it.

Amazon’s “Whispernet” is huge.  I have yet to hook my Kindle up to a computer, and I may never get around to it.  Browsing the Amazon store is seamless and downloading books is surprisingly quick.  Based on my ten years of purchase history with Amazon.com, my Kindle came out of the box knowing what books to recommend to me!  I was literally sitting on an airplane getting ready for a flight and quickly downloaded two newspapers to read on the flight.  All in about one minute.

The leather case the Kindle comes with is a must-use accessory to keep the Kindle protected, but it has a couple of annoying flaws.  The worst flaw is that my Kindle constantly falls out of the case.  The little plastic tab that is supposed to keep the Kindle from falling out just does not work.  Worse, it sometimes pries the battery cover off of the Kindle and my Kindle falls out of the cover in two pieces.  The other annoying flaw I’ve noticed is that if you’re not careful, the Kindle cover can push the scroll wheel when you close it and drain your battery.  I learned to always push “Alt”-“Font Size” to power down my screen before closing the case, but that just should never happen.  The case isn’t all bad – the little strap that closes it is a nice nostalgic tie back to a fancy bookmark.

Battery life is excellent for just reading, but I recommend turning off your “Whispernet” connection or it will drain your battery quickly.

If you’re a gadget-geek, you really should go and buy a Kindle today.  If you’re a normal person – you should wait for the next version.

My top wish list for improvements in V2:

  • A bigger screen at the expense of the keyboard
  • An integrated cover that works
  • More fit and finish (like page numbers and tables that are legible)
  • Cheaper initial purchase price.

But, don’t get me wrong.  I love my Kindle – and I’m sorry to say that my wife is going to have to wait a long time if she wants to borrow it, which means I’ll probably be buying one for her shortly…

Darcy Burner for Congress

Seems like calls from political campaigns are getting more and more frequent these days.

So, when my caller-ID just lit up earlier today and said “Darcy Burner for Congress” — I sighed before picking it up, preparing to deflect a mindless call.

I was surprised and delighted to hear the caller say “Hello, this is Darcy Burner.”  Rather than the expected cold call or recorded message — it was Darcy herself!  I was very impressed to see Darcy Burner working the phones personally in her district — and enjoyed my brief conversation with her.  Darcy just barely lost to Dave Reichert in 2006, and has been dedicating herself to another run at him this year.

I look forward to supporting her again in this fall election.

So… What now Ken?

For those of you wondering — I’m in the late stages of figuring out what I’ll be working on next.

Was Mary Jo Foley’s speculation right upon my leaving?  Stay tuned 🙂

“Moss has held the lead core-search manager’s job for more than five years. Moss is taking a sabbatical, from which, according to Microsoft, Moss will return. (A substantial number of other Microsoft managers who’ve taken sabbaticals have not returned to the company.)”

A challenge for Mini-Microsoft

Originally Posted on:Wednesday, 05 Oct 2005 20:33

I’ve been reading the mini-Microsoft blog for a few weeks now.  Although it was brought to my attention through the tremendously negative Business Week article, I’ve really been enjoying the thinking on the mini blog and others comments (Dare and Scoble) and wanted to share a few thoughts – and issue a challenge to mini.

“Indeed, there are areas of excitement within Microsoft.  One is MSN, the internet operation, where the search group is the underdog competing against Google.”  I’m glad that our fun, customer focused, entrepreneurial environment got mentioned.  It’s still amazing to me how far our reputation has changed since two years ago – and so much is still yet to come J

No Birds

2 ½ years ago, I was asked to be the technical leader for a new team that would build from scratch a world-class search engine.  Google already had a huge lead in quality and market share – and many people within Microsoft said “no way” or “Ken, you’re taking a no-win job” or “MSN doesn’t have the technical skills” or even “you’re going to have to use Linux…”  I call these people the “no-birds”.

Now, it’s important to distinguish the no-birds from people who are constructively criticizing.  No-birds are usually very creative and intelligent people, but their efforts are misguided.  All they care about is shooting down ideas.  They take pride in talking loudly, getting listened to, and are content measuring their impact based on any change in a plan – even if it’s just making things so confusing that nothing gets done.  They secretly are happy when things are screwed up.  They are worthless.

Constructive criticizers are people who point out weaknesses so that things can get better.  They feel bad pointing out a problem without proposing a specific solution.  Their ego’s are on the line with the team’s success.  They are vital.

Is mini a “no bird” or a constructive criticizer?  2 ½ years ago, would mini have said it’s great that Microsoft is trying as hard as it possibly can to build the world’s best search engine?  Or griped that there’s too much work to do, screamed about how we missed the boat on search, and pointed out 498 ways Microsoft’s culture will get in the way?  (and believe me – we are constantly changing our culture…)

Given my reading of mini’s blog, I’m giving mini credit for being a constructive force.  He basically comes out and says as much in his writings like: “Let’s slim down Microsoft into a lean, mean, efficient customer pleasing profit making machine!”  He’s quoted as saying: “Microsoft has been wonderful to me, I really want to improve it.  I really want to make a difference.” 

I have strong opinions on many of the points discussed on Mini’s blog and in the comments.   But I’ll save those for another discussion.  Now, on to the challenge…

(For the record, Business Week quotes Mini talking about his wife, so I’m assuming Mini’s a he — everything stands equally well if it’s Ms or Mrs. Mini :-))

A Challenge to Mini

I have no idea who Mini is, but I would like to officially issue a challenge to him to come and do a totally anonymous informational interview with me.   If he passes our hiring bar, I am confident that we can provide him with a way to feel inspired by Microsoft and the work we’re doing.  We have many awesome features he can come and work on – and he’ll be able to ship them as soon as they’re ready since we update our service constantly. 

I, and the rest of the management team, will do our very best to provide cover for any bureaucracy that may stand in his way.  Mini will be free to innovate and ship software as fast as he is able to.  He will be able to challenge himself to see how good he can be.  He will be inspired and have a blast.  I can almost guarantee that success won’t be easy — but I can guarantee the opportunity to challenge himself.  If he does great work, he will get great rewards.

I offer a personal guarantee that I will keep Mini’s identity secret unless he releases me from that promise.  We hire many people into our team each month – so nobody would have to know about this except for Mini and me – even if he gets hired here.

What do you say Mini?  Are you serious about changing the world – or are you just talking?

Ken Moss

General Manager MSN Web Search