Sunday, August 7, 2016

How I Used the Career Triforce to Change my Job

When I was leaving Microsoft, on my last day, I got a lot of questions around why I was leaving. I was a lynch pin of sorts in the team. I was positioned very well to get impactful work. Highly networked. Very happy with my day to day. Reporting to one of the best managers/mentors on the planet.

I was on a career trajectory for Microsoft that was almost unreal. Averaging better than a promotion every 2 years with no slow down just because I was cross bands eventually ending up at the top of the Principal ladder. Compensation was great when compared relatively across other MS employees (will not be discussing this further). Everything seemed to be going amazingly well.

What did I say to everyone? Well, I said there are three areas (these are not my own, but taken from a book on career advice that I found exceptionally relevant) on which you should judge your current career. You should start by looking at your Job. Do you love it? Are you able to make an impact? Are you passionate about what you are doing? All off my answers here would be positive. The first part of my TriForce is complete

Next you look at your Manager. This is the singular individual who has the most control over your happiness and your career path in most companies. Ask yourself questions like, are you aligned with your boss? Does your support you when you are about to fail? Does your boss accentuate your good qualities and help you improve on your bad qualities? Can your boss act as your manager, your friend, a leader and a mentor? Well, #FML, it turns out I just found the second part of my TriForce.

Lastly I said you look at your Team. For me, at my level this meant looking at my immediate team, the entire Edge WPT team and then finally up to the Windows organization as a whole. Those are the scales at which I had impact at Microsoft. When looking at all levels of the team you ask questions like, do I like working with these people? Are the politics manageable or are they over the top? Does the team exercise trust? Does the team exercise transparency? As I worked from my local team up to Windows the third component in my TriForce starts to crack a little bit, maybe it has a little bit less luster.

However, when I consider the most stress I faced while making my decision to change jobs, it came down to the people. I loved the people and I felt like we created an almost extended family like support system for one another. I wasn't concerned about my projects that wouldn't get done if I left. Instead I was worried about the people that I worked with on a daily basis that I could see growing and becoming amazing engineers in their own rights. I was worried there wouldn't be enough people left infusing positive energy into the team on a daily basis to keep the morale up. I was worried that I was failing my team by leaving. That's when you realize, yeah, you have a great team. There may be some scuffs on that TriForce shard, but its still shining just as brightly as the other 2. My TriForce was complete.

My Answer

Okay, so if I already had the TriForce what kind of answer could I give everyone then? Why was I leaving? This is when I learned something that I had learned earlier in my career, but it took another 11 and a half years to discover it again. Once you've built a TriForce there isn't as much exponential growth in your future and mostly you just end up making incremental improvements. You spend more time doing the things you know, rather than learning new things. Your awesomeness starts to atrophy. You rarely feel the stress of a complicated and new situation. You rarely push your boundaries.

That isn't to say there aren't still moments like that. There certainly are. They just aren't as often and so growth tends to become linear and plateau increasingly frequently.

You also don't know if you have the skills to build another TriForce. I spend a lot of time mentoring and I often reach out for new mentees. My dream is that they too can achieve their TriForce and that I'm an enabler for that. I provide experience and strategies for working with difficult situations and to figure out why some aspect of their career is not shining or working well with the rest. Are my recommendations good? Do I have enough experience to offer the types of career advice that they need? If I put myself in their shoes, with their knowledge, and took on their risk would I be able to replicate my experience?

That is an important question for me. Doing something once can be dumb luck. It doesn't mean you can make it happen. It means it happened and perhaps it has something to do with you. But perhaps you are unaware of the actual forces of nature that brought it into being and it turns out it had nothing to do with you. That is a scary thought. Am I successful because of me? Or am I successful because of a random set of circumstances that I only manipulated superficially.

This led me to my answer to the team, paraphrasing a bit I finally said, "When you make a career change you should look at your job, boss and team. If they are all great then you are probably on the right track. When I look at myself, I have a TriForce in these three areas. Everything is amazing. So I had to use other measures to figure out my future. Specifically to follow my passions in VR and to see if I can build my second TriForce."

Maybe everyone thinks that is bullshit and will point to other factors in my decision making. I had a lot. Compensation, family, location and friends were all additional complications. However, I can say after tons of cross comparison Excel tables, almost everything zero'ed out between Oculus and Microsoft. I was only left with a very real and pressing question, one that Brendan Iribe asked me during my process. Do you want to think about VR all day, every day? That was his pitch to me. An offer to work on a technology that would change the future with all of my insight and passion. And when my answer to that simpler question is, "Fuck Yeah!" you can see how my explanation to my former team was given in honesty.


Passion isn't on the TriForce, but it is part of how you feel about your Job, how you are supported by your Boss (does he let you run with your wacky ideas?) and how your Team adapts to a changing society and marketplace. That makes it is an integral component in all of them. When you are passionate you'll find that you can't sleep because you are still solving problems. You spring out of bed every morning to rush to work. You let everyone know what you are working on and why they should care. You see clearly how what you are doing is going to change the future, improve lives, connect you more closely to your friends/family and make the world a better place for everyone to live.

When I saw the opportunity to lend my passion and devote all of my ability to launching the VR revolution I couldn't pass it up. VR has to potential to change the way that we think about education, jobs and entertainment. It literally allows us to redefine space itself and transform a living room into an anything room. I didn't jump ship to VR in the beginning because my expertise wasn't needed yet. But now is the time to scale and build platforms for VR that extend to millions. This is where I thrive as a developer. This is where the web thrives as a platform for scale and accessibility. This is the time to deeply investment my time and effort and build my second career TriForce. With news like the HTC VR alliance offering 10 billion in VC capital to development of VR content and experiences, I think I'm in good company thinking this way.

My Final Advice

Most people in their careers I find are working on some aspect of building their TriForce, probably for the first time. I know because I mentor some amazing developers and almost always they have some sort of hang-up in one of these areas and they haven't yet figured out how to completely self-diagnose themselves when things are going wrong.

For this reason I think evaluating your job, boss and team is a great way for you to figure out two things. For instance, do you need to improve something in your current career in order to elevate yourself to the next level. You may find that your job sucks for some reason, but it is within your control to make it not suck. You should do that. The easiest thing to change is yourself.

If you evaluate these and find that there are things outside of your control that you don't see are going to change then you can use it as a way to figure out how you are going to change your career. Not everything is within your control and often times your happiness or passion requires an environmental change. Perhaps your current job would get you there, but in a time period that is longer than you would like. I always recommended being open and honest during this period just in case you've misread your situation. If you did, then making your situation apparent to your team can sometimes result in the change that you were going to switch jobs for.

If you are sitting on your TriForce though and you are happy with all three you shouldn't close your eyes off to the opportunities that might present themselves. Maintain your marketability and interview skills. From time to time, reach out and do an interview or two and see what else is available both in terms of unique job roles, but also life changing compensation. When an opportunity comes along and you do have to make the big decision, know that it will be stressful. Then calm down, evaluate everything objectively and if it looks like another opportunity to build your next TriForce then perhaps you should go for it!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Why we need high quality, native streaming on mobile devices

I've gotten to spend a good portion of my day figuring out how to do something I think is pretty basic. I want to stream both my screen and my camera at the same time. I want to do it while I'm walking around. I want to layer the two streams together. Since I'm on an awesome phone I'd like to swap between front and rear facing cameras. I'd like to swap between the screen being the focus of the stream and whatever camera I have chosen.

Why is this so frigin hard? It appears there is no device that can accomplish this and instead we have to cobble together a bunch of technologies to make this work. Even pick one of the requirements above and things fall apart either at the device or in the app store once you start exploring software options.

iOS Options

On iOS you can do amazing things with video and overlays using software like Live: Air Solo. Thank god for this application because I thought I was going to have no solution for quickly switching between my cameras to capture the rapid action of Pokemon GO rare chasing. But iOS has limitations that prevent on device screen capture so streaming the screen will be impossible without an external device. There are lots of external options, but once I use them I'm tethered to some sort of Mac/PC device and now we are talking a lot of weight, power, etc... for a sufficiently long streaming experience.

iOS has further limitations in that you can't stream the video camera from a background application. You can register as a VoIP app but then you can only do audio apparently. Even Facetime cuts off the video as soon as you multi-task.

Android Options

On Android you can capture the screen pretty easily, but the remaining applications are a mess. I found not a single camera capture application that had the same quality as the iOS Live: Air Solo app. Most of them failed to even start recording and would instead just crash. Most would then fail to function properly after being restarted from the crash. I finally landed on an Android application that I have almost configured to properly work for Twitch called Bitstream. It also has screen capture support, but once I get everything cranking and I'm reviewing my stream I see a lot of hiccups and glitches so something isn't working quite right. Its hard to debug these issues due to the stream delays as well.

In the end there is no single device that meets my requirements (arguably an nVidia Shield should do this with its native Twitch streaming capability). I may be able to use Bitstream and switch between sources, but I won't be able to overlay them. That is the closest to a complete solution available without going the laptop option.

Laptop Options?

What would it take to go the laptop option? I need a laptop with a really long batter life and I probably need to have an external battery pack for it as well. I found the Mikegyver series of batteries that work with the Surface Pro series of tablets. This would be nice. Once you have the laptop going you can power your phone off the laptop, you can tether the laptop to the phone, you can mirror the screen onto the laptop and you can use something like OBS to do all of the compositing. You'll probably still end up using your laptops cameras in this configuration instead of your phone.

There is another option for laptops, BlueStacks, but does this work with a mobile game like Pokemon GO and can I walk around outside? It seems to use Fake GPS and other hacks to get it working. That isn't interesting. I want to be mobile, I want to be legit and I want to play the game for real.

Using a laptop is both expensive and heavy, but they appear to be the only quality options.

Why No Native Application?

I really have to ask why though. Is this such a new phenomenon that nobody has thought about how to build hardware and software that makes this possible? Streaming your video to an ingestion server has been around for at least a couple of years now and you'd think the build in applications would allow this. Streaming video from a background app, also seems like another basic capability. Finally, streaming your screen so you can show it to and help others.

I think its time for vendors to build in an application with basic RTMP support and the ability to broadcast from the screens, cameras and microphones present on the devices. Its an amazingly useful way to share your experiences, provide help/support and otherwise express yourself with your friends. Third parties aren't doing a great job so its a huge hole in the application ecosystem and streaming is being dominated by the desktop market when all of the interesting stuff is happening outside.

There are some inroads from app makers. A lot of services are building applications for their dedicated endpoints. Periscope from Twitter is actually quite a powerful application, but it doesn't interact with other services. Meerkat and UStream also seemed interesting, but were closed. At the end of the day I want to send it to the ingestion servers of my choosing and record for a duration of my choosing. Many of the services have limitations in all of these areas.

I'm going to keep running down applications and solutions to this problem. I'm not willing to give up just yet and I think there is a solution hidden somewhere. If you have ideas leave them in the comments.