Company Man (or: The New Job)

by Joey deVilla on October 17, 2008

A couple of knapsacks and an old accordion
The last of my stuff at the b5 office.

Since I announced that was laid off about three weeks ago, I’ve received a lot of invitations from people to talk about job opportunities at their companies. There were so many invitations, and a lot of them turned into interviews. I ended up being far busier as an unemployed guy than I was during the last weeks of my employment. I want to thank those people for thinking of me, and also for thinking that I might be a good person to work with.

"Credit Crunch" cereal

It’s a strange thing to say given that the headlines seem to be all economic doom and gloom, but I had plenty of choices and decided to be really picky. This will be my third company this year. The first imploded under pathologically clueless management. The second, seeing rough times ahead in the internet advertising market, downsized me. I had to make sure that the third time was the charm.

On my first day off the job, I went to my local cafe armed with a printout of my updated resume and a pad of paper. Computers are wonderful things, but sometimes a situation calls for the distraction-free purity of your thoughts and an old-school writing instrument. Reviewing my resume, I made notes based on my recollections from all those jobs, all in order to answer a simple but important question:

What do I want to do?

What I Want to Do

Joey deVilla and his accordion with Linus Torvalds
Me and Linus at LinuxWorld Expo NYC 2000.

I want to get back to the work I loved most and did best. It most often goes by names like “developer relations” and “technical evangelist”, positions I held at OpenCola and Tucows. I loved that sort of work because it combined some of the things I love to do most: computer programming, talking to people, explaining complex ideas, writing, public speaking and yes, rocking out on the accordion.

Eiffel Tower plans

I want to work on projects with substance. I want my work to reach, influence and benefit a very wide audience. I want opportunities to make a significant contribution to my field. I want to make a big splash.

Cover of E.F. Schumacher's book, "Small is Beautiful"

And finally, I want a change.

My long-held career strategy has been to pick small companies. Over the past thirteen years, I’ve worked mostly with start-ups or small independent software shops.

I’ve learned a lot working in that mode, being small, scrappy and living off penny budgets and meager resources. It gives you a wide range of experiences from having to play many roles, you make significant contributions even if you’re a newbie and you can effectively define your job.

Woodcut of Archimedes and his lever moving a globe

That got me thinking: What if I switched strategies? I’d like to see what I could do, given an environment of plenitude: bigger budgets, lots of resources to draw upon, a really big platform and an audience to match. To borrow a line from Archimedes, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

The Decision

Radio Shack's old "Executive Decision Maker" electronic toy

I decided to sign up with the firm who offered me the kind of work I described above. They also seemed to be the most eager to take me on, and offered some of the biggest learning opportunities and challenges. Perhaps you’ve heard of them:

Microsoft logo, enhanced with an accordion

Some of you might need a moment to process this. (If you’re the type to do a spit-take, now is an appropriate time.)

Monday, October 20th, will be my first day as Microsoft’s newest Developer Advisor. Microsoft Canada prefers the term “Advisor” over “Evangelist”, but the job description’s the same. I’ll be part of the Developer and Platform Evangelism group, of which my friends John Bristowe and David Crow are members. The group is headed by Mark Relph, VP Developer and Platform Evangelism, and I’ll be reporting to John Oxley, Director Community Evangelism.

My evangelism work will be focused primarily on using Microsoft technologies to build stuff for the Web. It’s an area where I feel that Microsoft has dropped the ball in the past, but where they’re beginning to show signs of progress and promise.

The position is classified as “mobile”. Sometimes, I’ll work out of my home office. Other times, I’ll be working at a wifi-equipped cafe, either in my home neighbourhood of High Park or downtown. I’ll make regular appearances at Microsoft Canada’s HQ deep in the burbs or the “hotelling” office in the Ernst and Young tower of the TD Centre in the heart of the financial district. I’ll also be on the road, doing demos, presentations and accordion rock and roll for business, academia and user groups.

It seems that no “I’m joining Microsoft” blog entry written by someone who’s been living nearly exclusively in the world of Apple and open source is complete without a long, tortured justification. I’m going to skip all that and simply say that joining Microsoft will allow me to:

  1. Do great work.
  2. Have that work spread far and wide.
  3. Earn a fair reward for my effort.

The Journey Continues

"Curve right" sign

It’s been nearly a year since Assrockets and Opportunities (or: Why I Changed Jobs) (an article you really should read if you haven’t already). Since then, I’ve had to make a couple of changes to my plans, but the journey — and the reason for the journey — continues.

I’m going to be living the Chinese curse for the next little while. Working for a company with the size, scope and reach of Microsoft is terra incognita for me, as are its technologies. I’ve already been told by a couple of people on my team that it’s going to feel like “drinking from the firehose” for the next little while, what with getting up to speed with the current stuff and hearing about what’s coming soon at the Professional Developers Conference in L.A. (which I’ll be attending).

These are going to be interesting, exciting and challenging times. I’m looking forward to them.

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