What’s up with me

The two months since I left Microsoft have been low-key recharge-and-relax time: catching up on sleep, visiting my mom, reconnecting with friends, doing some writing (blogging, poetry, the fictional The anomaly and the goddesses), and hanging out with Deborah. It’s been great. My friends consistently tell me how relaxed I look and sound (my Facebook status messages apparently give the same impression), and that’s exactly how I feel.

We’ve also been doing some long-delayed cleaning, including tackling the “closet of doom”, where stuff has been accumulating for the last 8 1/2 years. After that, everything else looked a lot more manageable! We’re planning on mostly being in the Seattle area in 2008, and are on-target for moving Godzilla up to Bellevue in January. At 16, she’s now mostly a monster emeritus, and so the chances she’ll destroy the city are relatively low, although our couch is probably at risk. We shall see.

It’s been a great chance to step back and look at the last few years of my life — and think about the next few years.   As well as reflecting on the Ad Astra experience, I’ve been rereading my journal from 2004-2005, as I was first really getting into social networks (centered around Yahoo! Messenger, Burning Man, psytrance, and the security researcher community at the time). On the professional and political side, many of the ideas that developed into Project Fabulous and Ad Astra are there in very early form; on the personal side, it’s fascinating to see which of the issues at the time I resolved … and which I just put on hold for the last few years as I threw myself into work.

While I didn’t have the words to express it, and of course the details were very murky, I had a surprisingly clear picture of the narrative I was trying to craft and the challenges I’d face. For example, I found a journal entry from August 2004 that pretty accurately predicted the next three years, and notes from a New Year’s Eve 2004/2005 discussion with Deborah that had a paragraph on how “Microsoft is an unhealthy environment for Jon”. Indeed.

One evolution that really leaps out since then: I’ve moved much more towards crafting our narratives publicly: blogging (until now, primarily in a work context ) and on social networks (Facebook, ezboard, Myspace, free-association …). Which leads very naturally into “what’s next”.

Deborah and I will be kicking off the Tales from the Net project* at the beginning of 2008 with the goal of completing a (non-fiction) book by the end of the year. We’re both really looking forward to collaborating on this and have been sketching out our initial plans. Those who know us probably won’t be surprised to hear that it will focus on social networks’ empowering and transformative possibilities as well as issues like free speech, privacy, and intellectual property — and that blogs, discussion groups, and wikis will all play major roles in its construction. We’re currently being coy about the details; stay tuned!

I’ve also started to look at some consulting opportunities. Lucky for me, the broad-based, diverse, participative, anti-elitist (“look to the marginalized!”) culture, community, and innovation work I was doing at Microsoft are really hot right now. Because of the scale we worked at** I’ve got unique cred; because of the decentralized approach we took (despite an illustrious title of General Manager, I chose not to build an organization but instead work collaboratively with other groups and vendors) I’ve got an amazing network. Ideally I’ll be able to leverage this for gigs that align to at least some extent with the stuff that Deborah and I are working on, and keep the bar high for work that I’ll consider: major impact, people I like, a chance to learn and carry out interesting experiments, and of course fun … because everybody knows: fun rules.

One particularly intriguing possibility is to couple the culture/community work with my software engineering and security background and continue to build on the “computer science as a social science” perspective. As architect of the breakthrough PREfix and PREfast tools, I’m something of a grand old man*** in the static analysis space — analyzing source code and finding defects. Conveniently enough, eight years after my startup Intrinsa was acquired by Microsoft, the field is booming, with companies like Coverity and Fortify looking like they’re on track to go public. While it’s not completely clear how to align this with Tales from the Net, Microsoft’s Channel 9/on10 and MVP program illustrate possible connections.

Then again, there are lots of other opportunities as well. After 18 months of having my professional career largely defined by constraints and resistance, and interacting with people whose initial reaction to anything is “it’s a bad idea and you’re an idiot for suggesting it”, there’s a real sense of freedom in being able to explore — and getting responses like “huh, we hadn’t been thinking of that at all … that’s interesting. Let’s discuss more and maybe we can make something happen!”

Something I was very conscious of during this downtime was the importance of thinking about my priorities — and of getting new routines in place to help reinforce the kind of lower-stress, more sustainable life I want to be leading going forward. As these various projects get up and going, it’ll be interesting to see how successful I’ve been at that. It’s early days yet, but results to date are encouraging.

2007 was a stressful and difficult year, but was also filled with achievement and new friends — and ending on a real up note. I’m optimistic that 2008 will start positively and get steadily better and better!


* Why yes, now that you mention it, that *is* the domain name here. What a coincidence!
** Despite Microsoft’s reputation as a conservative “follower” in the tech space, they gave me a a multi-million dollar budget to experiment with ideas that are not only untried but radical in every sense of the word — and they’re investing a lot more building on our initial successes.
*** in the gender neutral sense