Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Leadership, Defined.

Well, it's happened. It took a few years longer than I would have liked, but I've successfully made manager. The story takes some time to tell, but largely it's about a GM getting fired, and my whole organization bumping up a level to fill in. My direct manager went from 30-40 employees to over 130, which is a great reflection on the work we had been doing.

I'd delivered the cloud optimization dashboard within IT, been around the world demo'ing it and showing teams how to get control over their cloud infrastructure, and even writing public articles about how IT does cloud optimization.

It was clear this project had more legs- the whole industry was going to hit this problem about 12-18 months after we did. Getting me closer to the development and BI team was important, so we could deliver faster and push the designs to other teams. Several teams across the company reached out and asked to work with us on the logic and data. The Azure product group even finally came knocking to take this prime time.

So I was moved to our engineering arm of the IT infrastructure division. I was also given the Cloud Consulting team, a small team of brilliant cloud architects that help the rest of the company with tough design challenges. Saying "Given" is of course poor word choice. The consulting team does a lot of what the optimization dashboard does, with a much higher technical ceiling, and an emphasis on design.

So here I am, reporting to a new manager, with a new to me team. Almost all of the team members have more tenure than me, and most are the same level. Heck, since I was promoted so recently, I'm barely even their peer.

Now here's my opportunity to take my passion for leading, growing, serving, and putting it into practice. The last few weeks have been crazy. Some of the employees like to have long running discussions with me daily, others have spoken to me once. I've been transparent, honest, and open about this situation- I am young, I am a new manager, and I am new to this team. I committed to them that I will do my very best to support, learn, and enable each person. I want everyone on the team to feel empowered to go achieve the goals they have, and to truly enjoy their work. The consult team has the unique opportunity to essentially work on whatever projects they want to. There is no shortage of cool things to go help design and build around the company, but there is definitely a shortage of talented cloud architects.

I think the team was tentative the first few weeks. With any new manager, there comes a general sense of unease. Humans are change averse. Was this change made to deconstruct the team? Why did they put such a young engineer in charge? Is he going to make us all work on his own projects? After sitting down with them, doing a fair bit of listening, and chatting about the value I see in their work, I think things are starting to relax a little bit. But one thing I know is, building trust takes time. Building relationships take time. Building a cohesive team takes time.

This afternoon, my manager told me the way I handled the team in the first staff meeting was as if I had been doing it for years. That blew me away. It reminded me- I am ready for this. I have prepared for this. I have taken the training. I have spent countless hours reading books, discussing leadership, learning from great mentors, and so much more. I am ready for this.

Bring it on, Microsoft. We will reinvent you as a passionate, people focused company that focuses on loving individuals, not software.

Senior Service Engineering Manager, Rick Ochs

Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Cloud Revolution is about people.

A couple of days ago I got to witness a pretty cool keynote talk from one of the leaders in IT. It was part of a summit in India that I had also presented at, and it was the end of the day. Half of the attendees had found their way out of the summit by that time, but those that stuck around were definitely the ones that wanted to hear the vision and leadership thoughts. Our journey to the cloud as an organization has been quite the wild ride over the last few years, and it's been one of those transformations that only comes about once or twice in a lifetime in technology. To redefine the very way we design and build, and go about our day jobs so fundamentally in such a short amount of time has been mind boggling.
I was sitting up in the front during this closing keynote, watching this leader give a little piece of his heart. He talked about the freedom engineers now have, and he compared it to the US incarceration problem. Granting freedom alone does not create innovation. Granting vision and empowerment does. Engineers, with cloud technology, have the power to design and solve nearly any challenge they face. Any challenge their customer faces. And not in some 6-12 month long project- in a matter of days. The speed at which you can write some small feature that delights thousands or removes some archaic process is orders of magnitude faster than it used to be.
You see, IT's role over the last few decades has been to design and run these massive data pools, things like sales data, contract data, HR data. Single, large, slowly moving bodies of information that served huge business needs. Changes were once or twice a year, and the time spent planning the feature was about equal to the time spent building it. Engineers spent a great deal of their job replacing tires and changing oil to keep these great machines running. The complexity is staggering, and you need some of the best people to keep them humming along.
Throw all of that away. Our job is now to reinvent IT. Our job is not to run and maintain these global machines. Our job is to delight people. To find really cool problems, and solve them. To talk to people in other organizations, learn from them, God forbid, build something together.
As this leader talked about our new job, I looked around. I saw people on the edge of their seats. I heard people asking questions about what the next challenge is. About what tough old-school IT design to remove next. As with many such keynotes, it was quite insightful, and very encouraging. I think the teams walked away with something tangible- they have been given vision, and permission, to go change their world.
The next day, as I was wrapping up my visit with my friends in India, they spent a good amount of time talking about the closing keynote. I could see they had caught the fire. Previously, I've seen them catch direction, and find good tasks to go do. To see them have the fire in their belly for embracing this cloud first freedom was even more inspiring to me personally than the keynote had been. But it showed me something- the leader's desire for IT to grow, to reinvent itself, to lead the way. This leader's passion for each individual to embrace the freedom, to not only be freed from incarceration of ITIL, waterfall, monolithic datacenters, but to be inspired to do something with the freedom.
This leader loved the people. He loved the journey. The empowerment, the freedom. You don't sit in front of a monitor cutting tickets all day long anymore. You create. Take your paintbrush, and make something that wows people. Take your job and turn it into a beautiful painting of designs and ideas.
Microsoft IT is a fun place to work.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Dilemma of Growth

As personal and professional growth happens, there are times when you haveto decide between being content, and being hungry for more.

I'm in one such situation right now, where I have been in a strong growth position for quite a while, demonstrating new skills and abilities to influence entire organizations and technology strategies. Having shown this now consistently for some time, I feel it is now time to look ahead a little bit. My next personal goal is to become a manager, and I have received a fairly large amount of feedback that my senior leadership team thinks I have demonstrated enough leadership talent to be ready for that. Great- the stars are aligning, right?

Not so fast. Our group just had a pretty massive re-organization last week, and I had some amount of hope that this re-org would shift things to the point where a management job would be made for me. Now I don't know all of the details behind the decisions on how the org would be structured, so I can't say for sure why, but I was not given a manager position. I was told about one manager position, along with the information that it wasn't a great fit for me, which I generally agreed with after hearing about what that job's goals are, but also told I could apply for it if I wish.

But now, a week after the organizational changes, the dust starts to settle- and I feel a little disappointment. Could the leadership team, and my manager, have found a way to get me into a lead type role? If I had made a big enough statement with my talent and work, would it have forced them to figure that change out? I haveto think so. Now I'm stuck a little bit where half of my professional advice I read tells me to be content and satisfied, always confident, and the other half tells me to go take what I want and push the boundaries constantly.

I don't want to seem ungrateful to my boss or my management chain- they are the ones that have provided me the stage I am currently using to showcase what I can do. But now that I've done that- when is the output? What is the output? I'm sure they probably will give me a promo during this review cycle, they'd be insane not to, but I'm not focused on that so much as being a manager...

I guess the next step is just to sit down with my manager sometime soon and make it clear where I see my next career move, and ask if she can help me with that or not.

Friday, January 08, 2016


I haven't blogged about work in a few years... so I suppose I'll make some notes here, more as a journal.

The last couple of years have been tremendous for me. Success beyond what I could have hoped for, and really a lot of potential being opened up and utilized. One of the best individual events was going to Finland to meet with some Nokia folks following our acquisition there, and comparing infrastructure maturity and models. Not only was it a fun work experience, but I got to take a few days and just walk around Helsinki. Visit some cool churches, a local farmers market, buy some reindeer skin and a fox, eat some truly unique food (tar ice cream? baby reindeer? all sorts of interesting things). My first ever real European experience.

On the project front, I completed a datacenter closure as the lead Program Manager. We squeaked through by the skin of our teeth, decommissioning the last server 12 hours before the deadline. We ended up decommissioning, migrating, or replacing over 9,000 servers, across all of Microsoft IT. After numerous exasperating setbacks and directional changes, we ended up having about 3 months left with still 6,000 of the assets remaining, so we had to pull together a rockstar team of IT engineers and PMs to knock it out of the park- and we did. I hired and built a team of Engineering PMs who reported directly to me, and we simply crushed it. I'm so proud and honored to have been able to build and lead that team, and work with some of the most talented folks I've ever met at Microsoft.

At the tail end of this project, a new manager for our group was introduced. Interestingly enough, it was someone from my past, who I had worked very hard for when I was a junior engineer. At the conclusion of my datacenter project, I started working hard on the next datacenter closure, preparing the project and lining up a plan and resources. I had a few struggles there with my manager at the time, and our group manager was also deciding how best to re-design our organization to make some improvements. She ended up promoting me to report directly to her, and creating a new role for me and a few folks she hired, while at the same time we went through some pretty miserable layoffs. I came out the other side okay- even more than okay, considering the new job she was passionate about for me, and the promotion. Upon her request I helped her design the new role, and recruit the new folks to fill it out. Humbling experience to be counted on as an advisor, which was not without a few mistakes on my part... (reminder: don't always trust those you work with, even if you have a great relationship with them)

I've now been in that job almost a year, which is "Service Engagement Lead," or akin to a service manager/rep. I support two divisions in MSIT, and all of their infrastructure needs and engagements with SDO, the platform and datacenter team. All the while in this role, I've been passionate and engaged on Azure. During the end of my last datacenter closure work, we were starting to really push people into Azure instead of another datacenter- paying ourselves for hosting and services, as well as dogfooding new Microsoft technology really encouraged our leadership to make some tough statements about mandatory Azure adoption, which has been... shaky at best. Well, I got some Azure training, got really noisy and friction-y about the best way to migrate applications and servers into Azure, and got myself invited to a lot of other meetings on how to improve this whole "Azure" adoption across IT stuff. As the months went on, I kept being an advocate for what I thought were some common sense changes and focuses, and got myself nominated for a bunch more Azure training, both Tech Ready conference nominations and a week long Azure bootcamp. This only made me more noisy as I realized we weren't even using the vast majority of Azure's features correctly. The momentum kept building, and I started building some slide decks for how we could re-invent our division to really go after Azure more aggressively. Then something crazy happened- I started getting weekly invites to the Leadership Azure meeting, and the LT started really paying attention to these slides I made. Serious debates started up, and... earlier this week, LT reconvened after Christmas break, with a list of names of people to roll out my strategy vision across the division. I was blown away- they took my vision slides and decided to run with it. My request was to put one person in charge of each service area in SDO to spend some time thinking about how to re-invent it for an Azure first world, and they totally bought in to it. Not only that, but my name was one of the names on that list for leading up a service area. Incredible... such a humbling experience.

So over the last couple of years, it's just been one opportunity over another, with each one being a success. It's hard to describe it, rarely do you see someone passionate and engaged have their ideas successfully bought in to, and with the support and encouragement of my manager, I've been able to do more and influence more than I ever have before. Having a manager that believes in you is the absolute fastest way to grow your impact and responsibility. It hasn't always been easy or rosy, but the mistakes and problems are only opportunities to fix areas before I get to the level where they are more serious.

Here's looking forward to the next two years at Microsoft. And hopefully, management.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

2016... The year of world beating, or the year of netflix and crackers?

Happy new year!

First few days of the year, I was thinking a little bit about what I want for the next 12 months. What kind of man do I want to be, what is the difference between a good man and a great man, and what is the secret sauce that stands in between a good man and a great man- how do I capture it?

Then I started thinking more about 2016. An insane election, terrorist organizations all over the world shooting everyone in sight, promises to build fully functioning AI, and more personally- a very challenging financial goal of putting Rosemary through two years of Bastyr. Maybe I'm doing really well if we just get through it... I feel like I might be stuck in neutral for a few years financially and personally. That's not bad- because being stuck in neutral means my wife is getting these life sized goals of a human sciences degree from a prestigious university, and my kids continue to grow and learn at their rapid rate. So I suppose it's time for Dad's goals to take a back seat for a few years- and that sounds good to me. Looking back on the last 8 years, Rosemary has really had the thankless job of staying home and keeping two little biological masses alive and undamaged, so it is satisfying to see her get her shot to do something world-class and show her true capability (which honestly, sometimes it feels like no one knows what she is truly capable of, not even herself...)

I'll just sit back and let life happen, and just enjoy the success of all those around me. 2016 might not be notable for me, but it sure will be for everyone else in my family. :)

So happy 2016 to you. I hope you can make it through this crazy year too, and maybe even find some achievements- even if they don't always look and feel the same as previous years.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Passion & ambition, the formula for progress.

There are those that seek out new success, that embrace challenge and friction. They might be the ones you consider arrogant or hard headed, but they are the ones that change the world. The ones that don't get slowed by critics, or bogged down by listening to pedestrian ideas that ambition is selfish and narcissistic. People like Nikolai Tesla, Carl Sagan, or a contemporary visionary, like Elon Musk.

Some of my own advice: The vast majority of advice is garbage. Surround yourself with smart, capable, successful people, and watch how they accomplish their life goals. Have conversations about success, about industry, about embracing life's goals. When you focus your energy on your passions and your ambitions, you will find your excitement for accomplishing these things- and it makes you an interesting person. Would you rather sit and chat with someone that talks about their latest drinking experience every night, or someone that is trying to build an electric car in their garage? Or maybe someone that has a fascination with macro economics in the internet age?

I want to be one of those people. I want to be a good story teller, an ambitious leader, a passionate engineer. I want to look back on my life and see the things that were accomplished, and feel proud that I did the most with what I had. The family I built, the people I touched, the changes I made.

Thank you, James Whittaker, for sharing with me- you put into words what I have been feeling for a very long time.

Read his book here.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review Time.

Well it's that time of year. Time to learn where you were ranked among your co-workers to earn your bonus, raise, and stock award.

It's a frustrating process, one that has been blasted in the media many times over regarding Microsoft- the fact that they pit you against your peers in a competition to earn the most money and biggest bonuses, and then decide upon it in a room full of managers that directly rewards you for how vocal and aggressive your own manager tends to be. Oh, you've got a soft spoken manager? Have fun with mediocre reviews until the next re-org.

They temper the process by telling everyone that an average review at Microsoft is equivalent to a stellar review at a different company, and they do give bonuses and awards that make that impression as well, with average reviews netting people large 10% bonuses. But that doesn't shake the distinct feeling that you are still just average among your peers. Especially since they only have so many of each kind of rating for each group- essentially meaning, that if there are five of you, one of you has to get a horrible rating, and one has to get an exceptional rating. This is the crux of the matter- what if you have a team of five STELLAR individuals that make the company millions of dollars each? You haveto sit down with one of them and tell them they are rated remedial. Or what if you have a team of 5 underperforming individuals that do nothing? First, you should be fired, second, you haveto give buckets of cash to a few of them.

What makes this all so frustrating, personally, is that the rewards and ratings were set and agreed upon a few months ago. Usually in June. SO, I've been waiting several months after my ratings and reviews have been completed to find out what they actually are. This is frustrating, because in the mean time, I operate in a vacuum of information in my daily work. My mid year review, my boss wrote down that I was performing at an exceptional level- but what does that even mean? Does that mean he sees me as someone who is going (or already did) earn a 1 rating? Or does that mean he was patting me on the back? Or yet even better, that he put me forth as a 1 rating individual, but my score was argued about by several senior managers that have no knowledge of me or my work, and bumped down to a 3? Who knows, the scenarios are boundless.

So I find out my review in roughly 30 minutes. Honestly my expectations are all shot to hell- I'm pretty sure I get at least a 3, but between 1 and 3, I have absolutely zero bearing on where I might fall. I'm only sure of the 3 or above idea, because 80% of the company review distribution is locked up in ratings 3 and above. So I'm pretty sure I performed better than the lower 20%. I think.

It makes the actual dollars and cents not matter as much- not that I don't really look forward to wads of cash, but I more look forward to improving myself and being a better employee. I know that sounds sort of lame and cheesy, but I guess it's just part of my personality of trying to please people, which dates back to my earliest years, when I would constantly bring my mother glasses of water wherever she was in the house, even if she didn't want any. The end result was just a lot more dishes. But the attitude and the determination are still there, albeit expressed in a different method.

Wish me luck, pray for me, and... I guess it doesn't matter, the rating has been decided months ago.