Today was my last day at Microsoft. After 13.5 years I decided it was time to strike out on my own. I'm starting a new company that builds on my setup expertise to take the WiX toolset to the next level. I'll talk more about the future tomorrow. On this New Year's Eve, I want to look back and reflect on my tenure at the largest software company in the world.
Naturally, as a software design engineer, I think first about the things I built.
I started at Microsoft as an intern in 1998 where I spent 8 months on the Windows Installer team. There I created some stuff that people (including myself) still use today: Merge Modules, ICE validation and Orca the MSI editor. Not bad for a junior in college.
In my first few years as an engineer at Microsoft, I created things like Setup Watson (error reporting for Office setup), Office local cache, a datacenter deployment system for what would become Office.net. Of those, only local cache still in use (check your largest fixed drive for a MSOCache folder and you found it). Still, not bad for an engineer fresh out of college.
Next I transferred to Windows to build platforms instead of an app (albeit a very large app). The big things I accomplished there were building the Trusted Installer to get Vista shipped (and is still used in Windows 8). Then I demonstrated how Windows could be purchased and installed from the web (no physical media necessary). The latter led to a million dollar day and the Microsoft Store.
After a short detour through Live Mesh, I finally landed in Visual Studio. The result of that you can see today in the Windows Store app manifest designer and the awesome new Visual Studio 2012 setup plus VS Updates. Not a bad way to cap off a decade plus career.
Of course, if you rewind all the way back to the beginning, there is this side project I started called the WiX toolset. Robert Scoble called it the "most used piece of software at Microsoft" (which might be a bit of an exaggeration). Time magazine called it a "relatively insignificant geekware tool" (I took that as a compliment).
But the WiX toolset was more than a piece of software. It was the first project released as Open Source from Microsoft. The WiX toolset was the experiment that changed the perception of Open Source inside Microsoft. I specifically remember when Sam Ramji, who was Microsoft's director of OSS platform strategy, presented me a "Microsoft Lifetime Open Source Achievement Award". He shook my hand and said, "Thank you for giving me my job."
A few weeks ago, I started thinking about what to write in this blog entry. I thought that the blog entry would end like that. I thought that the WiX toolset would be the most important thing I accomplished at Microsoft. But when I sent out the broad email informing people I was leaving the company, a surprising thing happened.
A lot of people asked to meet over lunch or hot chocolate before I left.
Over food or drink, each person told me how they appreciated what I had done for them. There were a lot of different reasons but there was a common theme. In the end, they all thanked me for being passionate about what I did and inspiring them to do the same.
I decided that was the most important thing I accomplished at Microsoft. I inspired others to do their best work by leading by example. It is about the people. I like that.
I'll leave you with the email I sent out broadly in Microsoft announcing my resignation.
My last day at Microsoft will be 12.31.2012.
My last day in the office will be 12.21.2012.
I'm off to define my own tiny company (1-5 person), probably related to setup and WiX toolset.
If you want to meet up for hot chocolate or beer in the future, email me at: rob at robmensching.com
When my Dad was about my current age he retired from the Navy as a Chief Warrant Officer. After retiring he wanted to be a farmer planting soybeans and raising cattle. So we moved from California to the state of Missouri (pronounced "Misery") and lived on a farm. My Dad retired from farming after more than a decade when the hay bales weren't getting any lighter and my brother and I were off to college.
My Dad looks back on those years as some of his best. We were talking about that recently and two things he said resonated with me. First, success or failure was all on him. With all due respect to Mother Nature, my Dad decided what and when to plant, when to buy and sell cattle, and how to handle all the crazy things that happen on a farm. That last point reminds me of one bitterly cold winter night when my Dad carried a newborn calf from the field into our kitchen to keep it warm (and alive) until morning.
Second, my Dad told me one of his fondest memories was when my brother--who was ~3 at the time--would ride on the tractor with him while planting or combining. During breaks and over lunch he was able to spend quality time with his youngest son. A simple memory like that really appeals to me now that I have a son of my own.
So, I'm off on an adventure. No, I'm not buying a tractor and my family is not moving (we're staying in Redmond). Instead, I've decided 2013 will be the year I strike out on my own to see what I can build. After 13.5 years of experience at--what can only be called--a "large software company", I'm looking to create a 1-5 person "tiny software company".
I'm sure whatever I build will be related to setup and the WiX toolset. Some of you have heard me say that I believe the WiX toolset is "pretty good" for a volunteer project. I often wonder if I could make the WiX toolset "awesome" with some focused effort. I hope to find out.
In any case, I'll still be out there "fighting the good fight".
At this point in the email, I suppose I should insert the obligatory "Microsoft has the best people" quote. I could say that but since my entire professional career has been at Microsoft, I'd understand if you were not impressed. <smile/>
Instead, let me say that thing I believe I will miss most about Microsoft is the people. I can already see my future self being excited about a finished feature or a hard bug killed and after demoing the result to my wife hearing her say, "That's nice, dear." Seriously, I will miss being able to run down the halls sharing challenges and successes with you all. I'd also ask that you keep this short story in mind if I invite you over to show off my latest creation. <smile/>
My last day is December 31st, 2012 but if you want to see me in the office you'll need to do so by December 21st.
In closing, keep coding. You know I am!