Thirdly, aka Forty two, aka Understanding the answer can require a properly defined question

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/06/30 15:31 -04:00, original URI:

Continuing on with the third of all point from A whole new spin on the term 'Vertical markets' (aka in SiaO we trust?), the one that had not much to do with typography but was a bit more all-encompasing....

And much more to do with me personally than with anything else.

Warning -- an overly introspective post that is too technical to be a worthwhile Potpourri read and too navel-gazing to be a worthwhile technical read. It's just therapeutic for me so you can probably skip!

It has to do with the nature of the work in Windows International.

I am once again drawn back to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

    "It was a tough assignment,"said Deep Thought mildly.
    "Forty-Two!" yelled Loonquawl. "Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million years' work?"
    "I checked it very thoroughly," said the computer, "and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is."
    "But it was the Great Question! The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything," howled Loonquawl.
    "Yes," said Deep Thought with the air of one who suffers fools gladly, "but what actually is it?"
    A slow, stupefied silence crept over the men as they stared at the computer and then at each other.
    "Well, you know, it's just Everything... everything..." offered Phouchg, weakly.
    "Exactly!" said Deep Thought. "So once you know what the question actually is, you'll know what the answer means."

This will seem, relevant in a moment, I think.... 

I have spent most of career at Microsoft with a focus on internationalization, and felt myself being drawn to Windows International all of that time, because I felt that it really was the center of the universe, speaking from the standpoint of Microsoft and internationalization, at least.

And then eventually I ended up there, l and I realized I was right -- it is the center of that universe. It is where the support comes from, where it all starts. Where, if people are not using our stuff or building on our stuff in one way or another then they are likely to be doing it wrong.

But the problem, and what led me to the changes I mentioned in Track change (a.k.a. A new job that has a few things in common with the old one) is that while I was sitting in the center of this universe, that it is by and large just where things start -- not where things happen.

Where things happen is further out from the center or source of things, in the applications from both Microsoft and the ISVs outside of it.

The Windows International Fundamentals effort in its purest and most original form (the form that the GM explained to me when I voiced my concerns about the increasing distance between where things start and where they happen) was really intended to be an effort to communicate with those places where things are happening and making sure that they are on course and doing things right. Helping them out in making sure things are happening right.

And that work is incredibly rewarding since to be honest (to go back to that Duvall quote I cited) this is an area where I feel like I do my best work when I am moving through their world but keeping in mind all of the time that it is their world. I don't feel quite as far from them when I am assisting them....

But (and you know there had to a but since the original allusion talked about this all having a 'disturbing' aspect!), the group really seems to be much more Windows focused, most of the time. When I work with groups in Microsoft outside of Windows or customers outside of Microsoft (both groups of which I think make up a large percentage of the SiaO demographic), I am not being told it is a bad thing, but it does feel like it is being treated like it is outside my actual job, but tolerated.

Kind of like that India trip now that I think about it,

And that extends to conferences I speak at or meetings I go to -- I am asked "Isn't that a program manager's job?" or whatnot. Maybe it is, but none of them were stepping up and I was doing those things before I was hired, and was pointedly told when I got the job originally that these things were recognized as being important and they wanted those things to keep happening. But now it is treated the same way -- as being outside of my actual job, but tolerated. Just barely, some days.

Now I am not claiming that Windows is perfect here, or that it needs no help in improving, but I do think that Windows is not the only piece of this puzzle. and I signed up for a great deal more. In the end, Windows is a platform, a foundation. And just as with the foundation under the house, it is doing its best when we aren't thinking about it. Which leaves all the times that we actually are....

International behavior in Excel/Word is roughly 42 million times more important than Calculator or WordPad/Notepad.

And SQL Server's (or Access's) use of collation is roughly 56 billion (the British billion) times more important than the way files are ordered being based on the user locale.

And what the keyboards do in Word is the only thing cutomers need in order to decide if the keyboard is broken -- behavior in Notepad is of trivial interest by comparison and only occurs to them when we ask them to try it.

Windows isn't where the important stuff happens most of the time, it is what sits underneath the important things. Which still makes it important, but not the only thing that is important. Because it is not what most customers really see when it comes to international features (even when those features entirely depend on the OS).

Not all of my colleagues share that same view about the importance though (and not everyone likes my approach to the whole situation, for reasons both good and bad, all of which I accept as valid even if they won't share that feedback with me), and it is hard to gauge how much of what I do amounts in the end to the same sort of strategic miscalculation as Loonquawl and Phouchg were guilty of -- working so hard to find the answer that I did not make sure that the question was being framed correctly.

Well, that isn't entirely right -- when I originally was thinking about issues like the ones in Open it all up, get out of the way, and then what happens? and Subsets of subsets of subsets of subsets of subsets, I was working to frame the question how I imagined it. But posts in this blog do not amount to team mandates, at least not in this case -- since it is my team in the sense that I am a member, not in the sense of ownership. And when people in Windows have to allocate headcount and budget and resources they can hardly be faulted for framing the question differently than I would, from where I sit.

I was momentarily stumped.

But then I had a conversation with someone very wise (way wiser than me, in fact!). A VP in an entirely different business unit and division of Microsoft who I knew from way back when.

With their help, I had an epiphany.

Two years from now, if I am asked to identify some of the most important work I did two years prior -- for myself, for my interests, for my passions, for Windows International, for Microsoft, and most importantly for customers -- a lot of it is stuff I can't talk about yet that [technically by the above definition] falls beyond the scope of my job, as some people see it. The distance therefore between the job and what makes the job worthwhile for me is also pretty big.

So I do think I am doing the right thing by and large, and I'll certainly keep on trying to be doing it.

But I have to wonder what it is has been costing me from a career standpoint to have my [sometimes meager, other times substantial] efforts tolerated rather than embraced.

So taking a step back, I let excerpts of the words of the prophet Gavin DeGraw wash over me (obligtory YouTube ref for people who don't have the album here):

...Part of where I'm going is knowing where I'm coming from

I don't want to be anything other than what I've been tryin to be lately
All I have to do is think of me and I've peace of mind
I'm tired of looking 'round rooms wondering what I gotta do
Or who I'm supposed to be
I don't want to be anything other than me....

...I'm surrounded by identity crisis everywhere I turn
am I the only one who's noticed
I can't be the only one who's learned...

...I came from the mountains
the crust of creation
My whole situation made from clay dust stone
and now I'm telling everybody

I don't want to be...

And I have come up with a plan, I think.

I need to frame the whole problem a bit differently -- with my mangement and the people in the group -- going forward, pulling the bulk of these extra-occupational pieces that are accepted as personal idiosynchrocy in until they are part of my job. Because they are important to Microsoft's customers, and whether I want to blame myself for not doing something sooner or my management for letting it happen, in the end I own my own happiness. And my own career.

Therefore in the end, if I want them to intersect, I own that, too.

Plus other random things of dubious value about language and music and a MacBook Pro and more, in a Blog called Sorting it all Out...

I assume I will probably still have a job by next Monday, but just in case I don't I think this blog would make for a hell of a coda.


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