Computing industry history and other things I am enthusiastic about

When I was in college, I was technically majoring in Business Administration. However, as the workload was manageable (at least initially)  and I was living on my own, I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. Most importantly, it was also the first time I had broadband and an always-on internet connection. So many a night was spent teaching myself how to program in Delphi (I had already started with Turbo Pascal in high school) and wasted on other technology enthusiast stuff.

Microsoft

I am not entirely sure how it came about that my enthusiasm was focused on Microsoft, though. I guess it was just coincidence that at the time Longhorn had just been shown off at PDC 2003 and there was a lot of excitement around the great plans Microsoft had for their flagship product. Microsoft also had a great communications strategy whereby they offered all kinds of interesting and instructive videos for free download, such as The .NET Show and later Channel 9. While I am not sure, as I said, what originally got me interested in Microsoft I know what kept me interested and that was definitely Channel 9. Their first video describes their mission pretty well: to keep the conversation going and make Microsoft and their technology more approachable by showing the people and their enthusiasm in making Windows and their other products.

There is, for instance, this one video of J.P. Stewart, a car enthusiast working at Microsoft, who has fitted his car with Windows XP and a bunch of other technologies, or Scott Hanselman who has various Microsoft products integrated into his house. I find this communications strategy highly effective (I know it worked on me), because what makes one more inclined to be enthusiastic about a company’s products: seeing the real people working there and their enthusiasm for the technology or a guy congratulating himself, throwing around words like “revolutionary” and basically going on an on about one minor improvement in their manufacturing process that, let’s face it, few people will care about (I am talking about the unibody video, of course).

TrianglesAnyway, this is the story of how my enthusiasm for Microsoft came about. Naturally, I was very excited to see Microsoft put up videos from all their developer (PDC) and design conferences (MIX) of the past few years. There is some pretty cool stuff there. I find it particularly interesting to watch the really old stuff and see how what was new and exciting back then is already several generations behind now.

If you are a history buff like me, you might also enjoy The History of Microsoft series or Anders Hejlsberg’s tour through computing industry history at the Microsoft Museum. Or these videos of Larry Osterman talking about his early days at the company. I can also highly recommend his blog along with that of Raymond Chen who has a lot of insightful stories of the historic reasons for why certain are the way they are in Windows. On the topic of Windows history, let me also mention two books I find very interesting: First, Inside Windows 95 by Adrian King which has pictures of some of the early designs of the arguably most significant release of the Windows operating system. From the same time period there is also Visual Interface Design for Windows by Virginia Howlett that talks about the work done on for the 3D graphic user interface in Windows 95.

Another series of videos that I find very interesting is the campus tour. Microsoft is a big company and they have some pretty cool things such as their archives, research labs (parts 1, 2 and 3) and an awesome food court.

FogCreek Software

The other site in addition to Channel 9 that I spent a lot of time on during my in college days was Joel On Software. It has taught me everything I knew about the software development process when I got my first job. The Two Stories article, for instance, has had a profoundly influence on what I think makes a good manager. So it should come as no surprise that when we were looking for a new bug tracking/project management tool at work, I suggested FogBugz. I have also used CityDesk way back when I was getting into HTML and I needed a simple solution to create a bunch of HTML pages based on templates I had written using HTML and CSS.

Their latest product or rather service that I use is the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. As a programmer I obviously use Stack Overflow the most. But I also find the Stack Exchange podcast very interesting. I find it really cool to listen to Joel Spolsky, Jeff Atwood and others working on the site about the different design decisions that go into making the Stack Exchange sites great. It’s really unfortunate that due to the nature of my work at a bank, I cannot freely talk about the things I am working on or the technology challenges I face.

Amazon.com

The other technology company I love is Amazon. I love their products, have shopped there regularly since 2003 and of the 37 online purchases I have made so far this year, 36 have been at Amazon (the other one was train ticket for an upcoming trip). There is a really interesting video on MIT’s World video site entitled Earth’s Most Customer Centric Company: Differentiating with Technology where Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com,  talks about how they have used technology to set themselves apart from their competition. It’s really insightful and also quite funny. Another great source of Amazon.com history is Amazonia, a book by James Marcus, an early employee at Amazon.

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