Interview Day at Microsoft, the follow-up

I received word today that Microsoft will be going for an internal candidate for their open Channel 9 position. I think they would be remiss, at least for this posting, to not do so. The job entails seeking out and getting interviews with personnel throughout the Microsoft organization. Someone like myself who is coming from outside, who has virtually no idea of how Microsoft is organized, would not be the best candidate for that position against someone who already has contacts throughout the organization. It would be akin for me interviewing for a print press position covering the White House or Capitol Hill and knowing absolutely no one in Washington.

It was an honor to get to speak to Jeff Sandquist, Robert Scoble, and Charles Torre (there was another very nice woman whom I interviewed with named Jennifer, but I don’t know if she’s as out there as the rest of team so I won’t mention her last name). If you don’t frequent Channel 9, you really should. I haven’t made it there since Friday, but every time I stop by I get pulled into an interesting conversation. Microsoft truly is leading in transparency, and even they don’t know where it’s going to lead. It’s a truly exciting time in the world of new media.

I received very good feedback on the interview, despite not getting the position. Apparantly the team felt I would be a fit for Microsoft, which is good news, but now I need to decide how much time I feel I can spend marketing myself for other positions. Interviewing is very taxing, and having gone through three in the last month and a half, I’m not sure how many more I want to do. It’s extremely tempting to just wait until the end of the year and take my package. We’ll see. I’ve got a lot of decisions to make in the next few weeks and months.

Thanks again to the Channel 9 guys for the glimpse inside their team and opportunity to speak to them. It was truly an honor. Keep up the good work.

Y! depending on Microsoft is bad?

In an effort to more frequently put on my tech pundit hat for the rest of the world, rather than just for the poor souls who really don’t care about this stuff but are forced to listen to me ramble on about it at work, I’m starting with a response to Russell Beattie, who’s a Yahoo employee and is concerned about Y! using Microsoft’s DRM for their new subscription music service. Scoble commented about this on his blog. Russell says:

So all this and I really didn’t mention Apple. Yes, Apple has lock in right now for their 10 million iPod users. Big Woop. It’s such a small piece of the pie it’s not funny and they’re going to get crushed like a bug. The thing is, by holding the only competitor to the Janus codec (FairPlay) so close to their chest, Apple is not only bringing about their eventual demise in the media market, but also everyone else as well. I’m sure Yahoo (like every other Music/Media service out there) begged Apple to open up their codec for the YME and Apple said no. That just gave Microsoft a little more power. It’s like 1989 all over again when everyone was begging to license the Mac OS. Two years later Windows 3.0 showed up and Apple is now at 2% market share. If you don’t think the same thing is happening in the media space, you’re dreaming.

I think you’re vastly underestimating Apple’s ability to not make the same mistake for the fourth or fifth time :). Sure, all their past history would lead you to believe they’ll go right ahead and do it again, but I think the strategy is really different this time. At this point in the game, Apple is in the lead in the digital music player market and looks to be that way for at least probably the next year. Eventually, as the early adopters begin to trickle off and music players are truly mainstream, I think you’ll see Fairplay licensed to low-cost competitors. Their hardware for now is their primary revenue source, but the iPod and ITMS is potentially the biggest bid to get into the software market, ever. The pent up demand for licensing of FairPlay, by the time Apple opens it up, will be extraordinary and should be a higher margin and higher revenue source long term than iPod sales.

At this point, Apple has no incentive to license FairPlay. Microsoft offers a strong competitor in terms of their codec and DRM, but the Bellevue Apple Store wouldn’t constantly be out of iPods if there were a good competitor for the device. Of course, I could be wrong, and Apple could screw it up all over again just like they did in the Early 90s. I wouldn’t put it past them, but I just don’t see it happening again.

Scoble writes:

Russell, is there anything we can do to help reduce your fear? What would you like to see Microsoft change? Yahoo is one of our most important customers and we only win if you do.

I think Russell is afraid for the same reason many Microsoft ISVs love Microsoft but live in fear of them as well. Microsoft makes great platforms that are easy to develop for and provide quick-to-market solutions, but Microsoft has a long history of becoming direct competitors with customers for which they previously only provided a platform. Microsoft is already in beta with a music store product. I don’t think it’s far to reach to see them with a device, after being continually frustrated with their customers inability to come up with a good iPod competitor (how many iPod killers have there been already?). It will have excellent marketing, will be easy to use, and will provide everything the customer needs with easy access from the Windows desktop or the Windows Media Player interface. Microsoft will sell the customer on the integration, and the customer will love it. I can see it plugging directly into your Xbox 360 which integrates with your home-office Media Center PC that’s storing all your data. Strangely enough, in this particular instance, Apple could actually be competing head on, and they won’t be at a significant price disadvantage. Also, if my above ideas are correct, they’d be licensing their DRM as well to their competitors.

On the other hand, Y! suffers from the same problem as all the .com companies did, and I think it’s a bit of crying over spilled milk. During the .com boom, the companies who made out like kings were the infrastructure companies (Cisco, Sun, Nortel, etc), because for every infusion of cash into every portal and content play, there was dollars being thrown into infrastructure. I think this is yet another case where the infrastructure player is going to make a bundle and the content companies are going to scrape by with what pennies the record companies allow them to take for being middlemen between them and the consumers. From Russell’s perspective, I think he’s exactly right. If you’re scared of being run out of business by someone who can offer an integrated solution, you shouldn’t be using their technology to power your service, especially if you’re already a technology company capable of competing in that space. Unfortunately for Y!, they’re just a little late to be coming to the party with another DRM strategy, and thusly, their offering will probably be largely irrelevant while the battle comes down to Apple and Microsoft.


I just read Doc Searl’s post on IQ. There looks to be an interesting conversation going. Doc wrote:

One of my many IQ scores, by the way, was 103. That was in the 8th grade. It should have meant nothing. Instead it meant that the school wanted me to go to a “technical” high school to learn a “manual trade.” And that my parents had to hunt down a private school. Every one of those schools administered an Otis IQ test. Because I got all the answers right on the test, the Cartaret School (long since deceased) wanted me desperately. Because I choked terribly on the same test, another school (Mount Hermon) told my parents that I was borderline retarded and at the very least I needed to go back a grade. (In fact, I had a crush on a girl who was headed to Northfield, Mount Hermon’s sister school, and that was all I could think about during the test.) According to this table, my best SAT scores (nearly the worst in the now-deceased school that did take me, by the way), translate to an Otis IQ score of 119.
Meaningless, of course. But highly consequential, as it tends to turn out.
Which is why IQ sucks.

In response, Bob V wrote:

IQ application is fraught with danger. Doc Searls’s post does a pretty good job of illustrating this with examples. If you want the same message with a bent towards genetic testing, watch Gattaca.

I have always been a proponent of standardized testing, even with its many downsides. Perhaps this is because it worked out well for me, but unfortunately I can’t think of a better way that doesn’t involve massive amounts of spending.

I think the problem, as always, is with time management. The problem is the same when you go in for a job interview. How are you to assess the quality of a potential candidate for any sort of program, job, etc, in a brief period of time? Education has the same problem as employers do, which is that gauging someone involves the use of some predefined criteria as to which there will inevitably be some who score better than others, thus giving a basis on which to choose someone.

I always scored well on standardized tests. I was always in the top 1% on every standardized test I ever took, and my IQ tests were always between the mid-140s and the low 160s. When asked, I usually give 155 as my IQ, as that was the most recent test I took. Obviously, with those kind of scores, education was never a problem for me. I’ve not done so well, I think, in my interviews. Interviews make me nervous, but tests never did. Some people are exactly the opposite. This is unfair, but unfortunately so is the majority of life.

The difference between education and employee interviews is the case history. This is where I believe education, relying too much on testing and IQ application, fails. Again, this is a time management issue. It takes a much shorter time to make a determination on one number than to totally review a person’s record over time. While you’re being educated, you come across many people whose job it is to assess your competency. When I was selected for the Gifted and Talented program during elementary school, I was given a test, which I later was told I didn’t do so well at (it was an IQ test and, as with anything, I learned to do better on those tests), but I was admitted to the program based on my teacher’s strong recommendation. This is exactly the thing education needs to be doing. Teachers have years of wisdom and experience, and a file on a student should bear much more on their education path than testing. Any system that makes determinations based purely on a number of a set of numbers derived from a test to route a student is unconscionable.

However, teachers can also be wrong, and they carry with them their natural human biases. This is why testing is necessary. Every system needs checks and balances, and testing offers, as best as possible, the unbiased opinion that is needed to hopefully find promising students that aren’t showing it due to various other conditions in their lives (teacher isn’t good, bad home life, etc).

It is an unfortuante fact of life that testing decides so much of people’s opportunities. Throughout life, almost all major life changes in terms of education and career are decided by some form or other of a test. For education, using only the results of a test to decide a student’s fate is wrong. At any point at which such a decision would be made, they have volumes of data by which they can make a decision, but they seem to choose the easy path and decide purely based on a set of numbers that someone else administers for them, rather than take the time and effort to decide based on that student’s history. For employers, it’s much more excusable because of a lack of access to that employee’s history. This makes it unfair for people with excellent track records who may not do well in interviews, but the rules are setup to make it fair for people who want to start over and not have a bad history follow them around for their entire lives. Changes probably could and should be made, and maybe I’m an apologist, but I’ve not seen many systems that can catch all exceptions. No one number should decide anyone’s future, but assuming it’s only part of the decision, I think the benefits far outweigh the exceptions it creates and the hardships that people like Doc endure because of it.

Update: Bob V. responds to me. Apparantly I smell. 🙂