Leaving Microsoft

 

Executive Summary / TLDR version:

After a great 15 years I’m leaving Microsoft– my last day at the company is Friday September 14, 2012!

Long and rambling version:

Just over 15 years ago (June 30, 1997) I moved to Seattle to come work at Microsoft.  I wanted to be part of the rapidly growing “consumer internet space”; I saw the rapidly rising rate of non-computer-nerds (aka normal people) suddenly getting email addresses and using the internet, and wanted to be part of that shift as the internet changed the way we all live.  I knew it was going to be a huge shift – what was once the domain of computer nerds was rapidly becoming mainstream; I knew I needed to be part of that rollercoaster ride!  Microsoft offered an excellent opportunity to not only ride the rollercoaster, but to help design and build it.

Here’s the photo they took for my official Microsoft employee badge on June 30, 1997 – young, dumb, and happy!  That there is a genuine look of amazement that Microsoft actually hired me.

Now compare that photo above to my current employee badge – the hairstyle changed (thankfully), and it appears 15 years beat the smile out of me a bit…   Microsoft aged me horribly! :):)

What a ride it’s been.  During my 15 years at the company I was fortunate enough to be on teams that built and ran some of the coolest consumer online offerings in Microsoft’s history, creating products and services that combined computer science with mainstream consumer productivity and entertainment.  Some of the products I helped build, ship, and run:

    • MSNBC.COM online internet news service
    • MSN.COM online internet service
    • Xbox video game and entertainment console
    • Xbox Live online gaming and entertainment service
    • Xbox360 video game and entertainment console
    • Zune music player & online music service
    • Forza Motorsport automotive racing games for the Xbox

(plus a few other things to advance the state of Xbox consumer entertainment that are still cooking / won’t be out of the oven for awhile)

Watching everyday people use and enjoy technology I helped create has been hands down the most rewarding aspect of my career so far, and I’m honored to have been part of Microsoft’s success in bringing technology beyond the office and into the living rooms and laptops of people at home.  I’ve had an amazing experience at this company, and along the way I’ve learned more than I ever imagined – I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me, the people I’ve met, and the work we’ve accomplished together.  But the time has come for me to explore new opportunities and engage in what I believe is one of the next big “shifts” in how the world uses technology – Big Data and Data Science.

 I’m tackling two projects, both are startups:

1) I’m joining Tableau Software – a mid-stage startup headquartered in Seattle.  They’re a market leader in data visualization software, and they are growing like crazy riding the “big data” wave as more and more people demand cross-platform tools to help them make sense of their data.  We’re in an era where there’s tons of data being produced and gathered by every device and service on the internet, but it’s still far too difficult to make that data into something that’s useful for most people.  Most companies with tons of data employ teams of BI (business intelligence) analysts to wade through it all.  But Tableau’s mission is to advance the state of Business Intelligence – to “democratize data analysis”, and help non-BI-nerds gain deeper insights and tell stories with their data.  It’s an exciting and transformational time in the computing industry as every device and service becomes interconnected and sharing data with each other, and more and more information workers look for value in that data.  Tableau is poised to take advantage of this shift, and I’m very excited to be a part of it.

2) I’m also growing a small “data centric” startup of my own – SufferHub.  It’s an online fitness data tracking + game service, using GPS-based fitness + biometric data (think Strava meets NikeFuel, but using GPS location plus heart rate and power data to keep score).  I’ve been a fitness enthusiast (especially cycling) for most of my life, and as technology has infiltrated my favorite sport I’ve been fascinated with the data analysis that is now possible with consumer-grade tracking and measuring devices, as well as the possibilities for adding gaming mechanics to that data.  What started off as a tiny personal hobby / coding side project has grown to the point where I’ve built SufferHub up to “working prototype” phase, now it’s time to hire a few real developers to take it to the next level over the winter in preparation for a larger scale launch next spring.  If you’re a cyclist, runner, or hiker and own a smartphone or Garmin fitness device, check it out and sign up for the Beta!

To my coworkers (both past and present): thanks to everyone I’ve had the pleasure to work with during my *excellent* tour of Microsoft!  I’ll see you around, either online or roaming around the Seattle area and beyond.  It’s a small town and a small industry, and I’m sure we will cross paths again.

To my non-computer-nerd friends and family members who have been there for me as my life and career have evolved and changed over the years: thanks for patiently listening to me ramble and rant about all things tech related from Microsoft over these past 15 years – my rants will change focus somewhat and the brand names and methodologies will differ, but I’m still glad to be one of the computer nerds in your life.  Rest assured I’m still focused on bringing technology to the mainstream, and I’ll continue to drag you into computer nerd-dom with me every chance I get!

Thanks for reading,

Brian Lockhart

Forza 3 vs. Gran Turismo 5: we have a winner

At this time last year, the team at Turn 10 Studios (where I work at Microsoft) was basking in the afterglow of having just shipped a great racing game: Forza Motorsport 3 for the Xbox 360.  After working on the game for 3 years, we were very proud of what we’d created, we’d showed it off to the world at trade shows, and now we got to sit back and watch the great reviews (and sales!) start to roll in.  After a brief holiday break, we spent 2010 getting back to work on our next project, all the while waiting to see what our biggest competitor (Gran Turismo) would come out with to try to beat us.  They’d slipped their ship date numerous times over the past 2 years, practically bowing down to let us waltz into the 2009 holiday selling season unchallenged.  And now, there was a better than average chance they’d even miss holiday 2010 also.  But in what I can only imagine was an intense scramble driven by corporate mandates from the highest points at Sony, they finally released their game this November.  And so far, they’ve underwhelmed.  After “racing” against them for years, could it be that we had overtaken them without even knowing it at the time?  Could it be that the fastest and meanest car on the track had run out of gas?  According to many of the reviews, yes.

Rather than attempting to cut and paste choice quotes from around the games industry, I’ll just cut to the chase and post the rollup scores.  In the games industry, the MetaCritic score is a pretty important yardstick.  All the reviews for a given title get weighted and tallied; generally if you get 90 or above you’re in good shape.  The bigger your game is (i.e. more expensive to produce / needs to sell well to be profitable, etc.), the more important it is for you to get strong review scores.  That said, I’m pretty happy how our little competition turned out this time around.  The individual reviews are all on the other end of those links, but the average score is what matters at the end of the day:

http://www.metacritic.com/game/playstation-3/gran-turismo-5

http://www.metacritic.com/game/xbox-360/forza-motorsport-3

“Interesting” infographic:

Any way you do the math, 92 > 84.  And while we shipped a year apart on competing platforms, and the sales figures won’t be true apples-to-apples comparisons, it certainly feels like there’s a new king in the racing game genre.  Forza has really raised the bar and stolen the crown.  We entered a tough racing games market with a strong, entrenched leader.  And through hard, focused work driven by passion for racing games combined with relentless customer focus, we won.  Congratulations to everyone at Turn 10 Studios, and thanks for making this one of the proudest points in my career!  I played Gran Turismo games long before Xbox even existed, it feels strange to compete against something I admired and enjoyed so much when I was younger.  But it feels pretty good to win!  :)

We have snatched the pebble from the hand of the master.

Forza Motorsport 3 – game credits

Pretty cool – my first AAA video game credits, for Forza Motorsport 3:

Forza 3 Credits.

They’re visible in the game, but it’s nice to see it online also.

I’m in the credits for other products at Microsoft (Xbox / Xbox360 / Xbox Live) but to see those you needed to jump through some hoops. :)

http://www.eeggs.com/items/36359.html
http://news.teamxbox.com/xbox/2235/Xbox-Easter-Egg-Revealed

Fun stuff.  At the time I’m working on something I never think about the credits / it always seems like it’s the last thing on my mind.  But weeks or months after the product ships and someone points out the list to me “hey, saw your name!” it brings back a nice memory and a bit ‘o pride for a job well done.

 

Forza Motorsport 3 interview from Tokyo Game Show

Interview I did for G4TV while on the floor at the Tokyo Game Show, September 2009.  This was the third day of the show, hard to tell but it’s REALLY loud in there.  I’m barely able to croak out a sentence after having to almost shout above the din for 3 days straight.  :)

It was a pretty cool show for us; we had just finished up the game (released to manufacturing) and this was the last big trade show of the year before we would be out on shelves.  Being in Tokyo was special because it’s the home of our biggest competitor, Polyphony Digital – makers of the Gran Turismo racing game series for Sony Playstation.  For 3 solid years we frantically worked on our game hoping to beat them to market, and at the Tokyo game show they announced they wouldn’t be shipping in 2009 after all.  A perfect piece of news for us, that meant we had the holiday window all to ourselves.  Probably the best possible way to finish off a product cycle – wrap up a great game, hit your date, show it off in your competition’s home territory, and watch them slip their date.  Perfect.

Forza Motorsport 3 TGS 09 Interview in High Definition – G4tv.com