June 7, 2004 spout

My First Presentation For A Distinguished Engineer

Monday, June 7, 2004

Wednesday was a good day. Not only did I get birthday wishes from all over the internet (thank you, Orkut), but I got to give my first presentation to a Distinguished Engineer (or DE, as we call them in humble tones). A DE is the top end of the individual contributor ladder that technical folks who want to stay technical — aka avoid becoming management – are on. Architects, e.g. Don, are one step down on that ladder and Program Managers (PMs), e.g. me, are even further down. In this case, the DE to whom I was presenting is someone that I’ve long respected and who invented and continues to guide my favorite programming language: Anders Hejlsberg.

A couple of weeks ago, Anders was digging through our docs on a topic in which he was interested because of the future directions he’s got in mind for C#. However, the particular information that Anders was looking for wasn’t in our documentation. So, he mentioned that he’d like someone to look into it and get the information for him. As a percentage of the 56K employees at MS, there are a very few DEs, so when one of them mentions that they’d like to see something done, that’s what happens. This doesn’t happens because a DE is your boss or because they decide whether you get a raise or not. This happens because smart technical folks get respect at MS and the smarter you are, the more respect you get. So, when Anders mentioned to BradA that he would like a brief on this technology, Brad found someone to give that brief: me.

Why me? Well, lately I’ve been talking to Brad about me doing some more technical work on WinFX and Longhorn. In the past, I’ve written and spoken a great deal about the good and the bad of various technologies and my thinking was that if I could get into a feedback loop with the product teams so that I could help prevent some the worse bits from making it out the door, giving me the opportunity to write only nice things about our technologies. Brad already runs the WinFX review team that’s in charge of making WinFX a nice place for developers to play, so when I volunteered to help with some of that work, it didn’t take long for him to take me up on it. And, after a few moments of hesitation when I realized that I only knew a little more than Anders about this particular topic, I jumped at it, digging into the technology, sending tell me more” and review these slides, please” emails to the various product groups in charge of those technologies (it’s amazing how quickly you get a response when you put I’m writing a presentation on your technology for Anders and…” into an email : ), revised the slides, woke up in the middle of the night with the perfect set of pictures to illustrate things, etc. In short, it was a blast and I learned a ton (which you know I like : ).

And the actual presentation was even more fun than the preparation. There are three kinds of talks. One kind of talk, which happens 80% of the time, is the kind of talk that doesn’t really affect you one way or the other. It kind of blends in with all of the other talks you’ve given and doesn’t really make an impact on you.

One kind of talk drains you completely. This is the talk where you just can’t get anyone to notice you at the front of the room and you pour all of your energy into it to make it acceptable at all.

And one kind of talk, my favorite, is when the juices are really flowing and you walk out of the meeting all excited and energized. This is the kind of talk that drives me and my colleagues to all-night diners for a debrief session. This last talk was the kind that I had this time with Anders and a couple of the product teams from around the company. I was really just guiding the discussion, with Anders leading and peppering all of us with wonderful, insightful questions. I had 20+ slides with overview, pictures, details and recommendations, but I only showed 4 of them (3 of pictures and 1 of recommendations). My inability to get through all of the slides didn’t matter: Anders got it all. He was interested in some of what I had to say, but also brought up points I’d never considered. What I think should be in our platform was changed by just listening to Anders ask questions. I could feel the synapses in my brain realign. It was amazing.

Things will absolutely change in our platform because of the desires that Anders expressed during my presentation. What a privilege.