Reflections and refractions

Day 1.

Following on from the beginning where you are post, as we leave 2017 behind and start a new year, a new blog, and new beginnings, this is my end of year reflection.

Its been a year of transition for sure, leaving Microsoft (and indeed leaving behind the entire concept of paid employment), and leaving the US were big steps; as was taking on a new house, welcoming a new granddaughter and saying goodbye to her great great grandmother. We travelled a lot, met some great people on the way, as well as reuniting with family and friends back in the UK.

One of the biggest disappointments of my career was after finally getting where I wanted to be in a product division at Microsoft I was utterly unable to effect any kind of meaningful change to the product, even though my Manager was generally supportive of what I was trying to do. But it‘s almost a year on since I left now and I’m beginning to see things in a different light. The ideas that drove me to get into the Windows division are still with me, and I’m starting to formulate a plan to realise them in a different way (teaser for a future set of posts); and I’ve realised that Windows was never going to be the place to manifest them; I’ve realised that any truly interesting thing in software was flighted by either one person, or a team of 2-3 (Unix, Git, C, Smalltalk as prime examples).

Microsoft isn‘t a place where they grow things, it‘s a machine for adopting things developed elsewhere and turning them into $$. But I don‘t want to come across all bitter about my time at Microsoft, over the 15 years I was there I met a lot of great people, (and a fair few not so great ones it has to be said, but even they taught me a lot about what I wanted to be), I got to see and do a lot of cool stuff, and I achieved a level of financial independence which is truly the greatest gift. But it‘s not a place to go if you have software ideals. I‘d peered behind the curtain at the source code of Windows, and experienced first hand the mind numbing futility of triaging 20-30 bugs per day just in our teeny little corner of that vast edifice (and I’m not talking about trivial bugs here, I’m talking about OMG how did we ever ship that, we have to fix it now! bugs). And the problem with that many incoming bugs (and a legacy of literally thousands like them) is that we never got to address any deep architectural problems, at most we’d get to ship one teensy little feature each quarter.

Not that there was an architecture of course; when you design by bug fix for 20 years any semblance of an original plan is totally obliterated. I doubt there was a single dev that understood more than 30% of the codebase, and the turnover of devs was terrifying. People talk about code smells, but the steaming midden that I saw would need a full on biohazard suit to work on.

So when some beancounter in corporate decided that it was time for me to catch another wave; I decided to not do what I’d done over and over – find a new team, new product, new everything and start over – which is pretty much how things are in Microsoft, you catch a wave, ride it for 2-5 years and move on to something else; which may be fun in your 20s and 30s, OK in your 40s, but in my mid 50s I just couldn’t face it again, and we were in a position financially where I didn‘t have to, so we didn‘t.

But that meant a whole other set of challenges, selling our house, buying one essentially sight unseen on a different continent, and then fixing up all what the seller (who we have come to affectionately call Caractacus Potts because of his interesting approach to home maintenance) called ‘minor cosmetic issues’ , but were in reality major basic necessities like working heating, lighting and plumbing. So we lived as nomads for about 6 months, which was challenging and a burden on the extended family, but also liberating in it‘s way. But now we’ve had Christmas and New Year here, it all seems to be basically functional, and we love the location.


So onwards and upwards into 2018. I still have to get my music room functional, and get some kind of workshop built in the garden, and there’s that coding project I mentioned, and doing my yoga, not to mention getting to know a whole new little person; so its not like it‘s going to be a dull year, but hopefully one of quietly building a solid foundation for personal growth, connected family and a lot less travelling.

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