Friday, September 29, 2006

My Niche at Microsoft?

I am an educational media producer -- with the emphasis on education when I'm talking to producers, and on production when I'm talking to educators.

I haven't taught in a classroom for years, but throughout my 20-plus year career, I've collaborated in-depth with educators during the design and development of the toys, films and software I've produced. The niche I've carved for myself is very specialized and very deliberate. In the 80's, when I worked at places like Disney and Educational Insights, there were designers and there were developers. The designers, like me, established the creative vision and the educational curriculum behind the game, and the developers, along with the artists, carried out that vision. The benefit of having separate roles was that each would prompt the other to push their limits, to think outside the box and to expand their comfort zones. I'd design stuff that I knew would be a stretch technically, but the engineers would ultimately find a way to pull it off. (Well, except in '83 at Disney, when we were working with about 16 pixels and about as many colors per square inch... in those days, even begging and pleading couldn't help the artists to make Mickey's ears round!) At the same time, developers would sometimes beg us designers to find a way to put some cool technical capability to creative use. It was a simbiotic and oddly functional relationship.

A decade later, in the mid-90's, when I was a producer at Edmark, advances in technology had made it possible for developers to also be designers. They could think up an idea and -- boom -- it could be programmed. Developers no longer had to rely on designers; instead, they became designers themselves. And, in many cases, designers also became developers. Thing is, I had (and have) absolutely NO interest in coding. I have zippo interest in long complicated logic puzzles for the sake of logic. And oh -- I even hate math! So becoming an engineer/developer simply wasn't gonna happen for me. I continued down the design and product development road, eventually adding film to my software repertoire -- and absolutely loving it! And I expanded my horizons to include product management (budgets, timelines, staff mentoring, etc.) in addition to design. But I did NOT add engineering -- and that was by choice.

It has come back to bite me a few times, in terms of job opportunities, but I have never really regretted my decision. I'd be a terrible developer/engineer! And I'm a pretty darn good designer, producer, and product manager... so I'll stick with what I love.

Over the past 5 months at Microsoft, I have explained all this more than a few times. I'm pretty much the sole non-techie on an otherwise highly technical team. I'm a dismal failure at writing technical specs -- though I rock at writing non-technical design specs. And, to get to the original point of this post, the reason why I think I might have found my niche is because the big wigs there have, I think, seen that even a non-techie can prove to be valuable at Microsoft. I get education, I get kids, I get teachers. The developers get code, get features, and get platform -- but I think it's safe to say that they don't necessarily get their audience... nor is it their job to. And that's where I come in. Having my foot in both worlds for 20-plus years, I can serve as a necessary liasion between the two worlds -- and that is what I've been asked to do, at least on a trial basis.

Now THIS, I could love!! I'll work with educators in really cool ways (which will include blogging!), I'll work with Microsoft in really cool ways, and everyone will be happy. At least that's the hope. I'll let you know how things go!

In the meantime -- no, I didn't hear from the company who said, at Startupalooza that they "absolutely need" me. In fact, their site has been down all day, and according to a few interesting blogs, I shouldn't be surprised if they died a sudden death (the day after the job fair?!). Nor did I hear further from the Handheld Games company who called a few nights ago (though a former co-worker advised me to steer clear of them anyway... a micromanagement problem, apparently). But I did hear from my former boss, now at a local casual gaming company who said they have a senior producer opening and will definitely call me. And I do have a solid relationship with the company for whom I'm producing the training videos. They're still awaiting VC funding and can't hire anyone permanently until and unless that comes through. But I remain hopeful. It's a great staff and I've come to feel quite at home there!

And ya know... I might just consider staying at Microsoft if they'll have me and if I can just do what I do well there (design and educational media) and not feel that I'm a complete idiot because I don't do what the other 99% of them do (coding)!

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1 comment:

adamjh said...

Hey there!

Thanks for the congrats. I really hope you find a great niche, preferrably at Microsoft if there's one that suits your fancy.

Best of luck :)

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