June 11, 2019
About me, eh? Well, let’s see… I find that I don’t update this page very often. In fact, based off my comments in this section, I updated it in 2018 and be that in 2015, 2011, and 2009. I guess you can say that I let the blog speak for me, rather than making many updates here. This particular update is a particularly special one to me because not only am I posting it on the 15th anniversary of when I relocated to WA, but it’s also the one where I announce that I have shifted my work focus from Xbox to Surface and from a PM role to Hardware/Software Engineer-Project Lead-PMish role.

Last update, I asked for a moment to bask in the sheer joy of shipping software. I took it. Had I realized it was only going to be allowed to last for seven days, I would have… I don’t know – basked harder?

It’s been a busy eight months.

Shortly just after shipping Xbox Avatars to the world, the corporate reorganization machine went into full swing and scattered a lot of my [former] team to different corners of the Engineering world. The team had lived for close to four years without any re-orgs – and during that time we had exactly one person leave the team – which has got to be an Xbox record, if not a Microsoft record. I think the team that put SQL Server 2000 together went longer but that was a long, long time ago. Year four and five had a total of 11 re-orgs, as if we had lost time to make up for. The last re-org closed ended my second round of work on Avatars, and while I still get daily questions about the feature – that I’m happy to help with – I decided that it was time for a change.

Enter Surface.

Why hardware? Little unspoken or unknown secret: Microsoft is as much a hardware company as it is software company. While the company started making software in 1975, the first hardware product followed five years later in 1980 with the Z-80 SoftCard. Personally I love that this product exists because it’s some quantum junction with the universe.
It was made for the Apple II computer line – !!! – with allowed their hardware to run Commodore’s CP/M environment – the same Commodore that licensed Microsoft BASIC for their Vic 20, 64, and 128 computer line. And lest not forget that Microsoft started making mice as early as 1983.

It’s an interesting transition. To be honest, I’m still having whiplash, moving from shipping product every two weeks to every 12-24 months. I also changed roles – and earned the Microsoft trifecta just before my 15th anniversary! – having worked here as an SDET, SDE, and PM. Why not a PM in Surface? The role I have taken on is very PMy as I mention above. While I’m not orchestrating the E2E feature set of an Surface project, I am orchestrating part of the production and learning a whole ton about manufacturing amazing hardware through various means. What am I specifically working on? Not telling! At least not until after marketing sends out an update first.

Beyond the fifteen years at Microsoft? Keep reading.

Over time there have been some changes to this blog not least of which was moving away from MovableType to WordPress. Not only did the layout of the blog changed but I also managed to break every single deeplink that other websites published years ago. Long time readers have likely noticed a drop off in posts as well and there are two reasons for that. One is a combination of Facebook + Twitter and the other reason is my son. The first one has given me an easier outlet to Rant in microbursts; the other has repurposed my personal time to focus my feedback to the physical world rather than the virtual. The biggest challenge of having a kid? Your can’t dedicate all of your free time to yourself or projects that have kept you engaged in the past. No complaints here; just an observation.

For over five years I was the Program Manager for the Xbox Avatars team. What’s this you ask? Avatars? Didn’t you vow to never work on them again, after 2010? And you were a PM for it? Valid questions, and to quote Mr. Ricardo, “Let me ‘splain.”

Why did I return to Avatars? For people that have worked with me – or had the misfortune of working near me – over the years, they may have witnessed the crazy and wild times that Avatar brought to the Xbox 360. I was an SDET and SDET Lead on the team that brought the Avatar Marketplace to life in 2009. After we shipped that gloriously wonderful bit of tech, we realized that we had a serious issue when humans tried to control an Avatar using this new neat device called Project Natal. Thus, I led the team working on rescaling the Avatar so that when a human tired to control it using their body – aka Avateering – the Avatar on screen would react “correctly” which in this case meant that the newly rescaled character would not have its arms clip through its head. By the end of 2010 – having worked to rescale over 4000 pieces of content and harnessed endless NUI streams – I was Done(TM) with Avatars. I went to go work on another Xbox Live feature and the Avatar tech continued to evolved eventually landing an Editor on web and other devices.

In 2014, when I heard rumblings that a new Avatar team was being formed to create a new Avatar character and platform, I was interested. When I realized that I would be able to course correct all of the limitations that were a part of the Xbox 360 generation Avatar – fixed body styles, clothing that didn’t cross character styles, muted expression – I become team member #1. Or #0. Depends on who you ask, but at that time it was just me and the Art Director. Throughout the next five years, as the only full time PM on the project, we not only brought the existing character to Xbox One but we also crafted the most inclusive, expressive, and creative Avatar-system that Xbox had ever seen and we released it to the public yesterday. There had been preview audiences that had seen it over the summer and user research groups before that, but it’s such a charge releasing it to the entire Xbox community both on console and on Windows 10. Call it a bucket list item, taking a project from conception to [Ship It] Impact Award, but our team did it! It took a while – I don’t know of any other feature that took almost five years to ship at Xbox – but finally #shiphappens.

When did I stop being an SDET? As mentioned above, it was in 2014. March, to be specific, just after we shipped Xbox One and the “big multiplayer update.” Long story short, when the recruiting started for the Avatars team, I knew that I wanted to work on it but I found myself caring more about the feature than about lines of code or bug counts. I wanted to drive the PM aspects of the project: develop a vision for the platform, actively seek feedback from our customers, and work with my team and others across the company to get it built. Up to now, my career has spanned almost equal amounts of years as a developer and as a tester that was always against a backdrop of PM concerns and efforts – I felt it was time to make the backdrop the main focus.

Before moving making the move to PM, I was an SDET working on multiplayer technologies on the Xbox One client. In my role there, I was writing software that was designed to test other software as part of the yet-to-be-released Xbox One console which brought a set of challenges. How does one test multiplayer features for games when the games themselves aren’t completely built yet? Hell, how do you test on a console when the console itself isn’t completely built yet? It was one of the hardest and most demanding projects that I’ve ever worked on, going back to the start of my career. Seeing how well it’s done in the wild, it’s also one of the most satisfying successes. And that was at the beginning of this generation; it only gets bigger and better from the there.

In the days before Xbox One, I worked on Xbox 360, Xbox LIVE, and a few games at Xbox Games Studios [nee Microsoft Studio, Microsoft Game Studios] ranging from Bing for content searching on the console to the Community and Games team which focused on features that brought people together and then brought them to their games. During the whole of 2010, I spent my time leading a team that worked on the Avatar Platform which delivered tech to customers and developers alike – if it involved an Avatar and was on the console, we were there helping the process along. In the years leading up to the Avatar Platform, I worked on putting player-focused gaming features in a number of different games, not least of which was Gears of War 2; before that my work on MSDN and Visual Studio was focused on bring our help system to Windows developers around the globe.

I moved to Washington in 2004 after spending a little over three decades in Connecticut where I also worked in technology on PCs and mobile devices. I had a pretty good run of over six years with one particular company in CT. We went through three different death spirals during that time. We rode the pre-bubble, the peak of the bubble and the burst of the bubble. We even survived the post-bubble-burst pain of the early 2000’s, but alas: the last money crunch knocked most of the employees out of the company, driving the stock price down to 6 cents – when you consider splits, it IPO’d at $216 and had an all-time high of $1,116. Such is life! I am rather proud that the thing wouldn’t die for so long and that I was able to stick with it – working for one company during the dot-com era is not something most people in the northeast can say. As that job ended, I took a look around the tech field in CT and New York City… even Boston; now that I live in Washington, you can see how the job search turned out.

Why Washington, you ask? It was simple, really: there’s tech jobs here. A lot of them, in fact. And even so, I’ve met a lot of great people out here. I love the area, I’m used to people being friendly, and I’ve spent more time outside in my three years here than I did during my first 30. There’s hardly any snow – aside from the 2019 and 2008-09 winter – there’s not as much rain as non-northwesterner’s think the rain isn’t so bad, and only the people from California can’t drive. Aside from missing the occasional grinder or Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, the availability of Vivace, Starbuck’s, Seattle’s Best, Tully’s, and Vita’s keeps me smiling.

I’m also a musician emeritus – been playing some type of instrument since 1982 and have always tried to find an outlet for it. During my last years in CT, I was tooling around with a garage band that tried to play out from time to time. I was happy to be a utility player for them that included electric basses, keyboards, woodwinds, brass thingies, and other sorts of noise makers. I’ve fallen way out of practice since coming to WA, much less finding a new group to hang out with, so I’m sort of “retired” I guess. And while I like Guitar Hero, it simply doesn’t count. Rocksmith does, but I haven’t had much time to play that either.

Speaking of things like “thingies” I should warn you that I have a very unique way of typing when “casual” and this is a casual site, so you can expect to see things like that. I think it adds charm, but I also had to add a disclaimer against any brain aneurysms I might cause a spell checker or grammar checker, much less a literary major. Also, I plan to write most of these blog entries when I have free time and well, my mind might wander from time to time… like a prison, one never knows what will come out of the gate when it’s left unattended.

In addition to my side projects like SharpMT and SharpKeys, I’ve also spent a number of the months during 2003 writing an anthology of short stories. Well, “short stories” is probably too strong a term. I consider them to be self-contained episodes of my childhood that I’ve gathered into one book, if only for my own sanity – I was hoping that by putting them down on paper that I would get them out of my long term memory. I could call them RetroRants, but they aren’t really rantings; they’re mostly just stories and a whole lot of them have become fictional in the telling. The working title was “YesterGeek” but the book hit the streets as Memoirs of an Italian Geek – I’m a Geek and very much Italian. I probably didn’t realize just how Italian I was until I proofread my own stories, but it seems to fit. You can find out more about it at

So anyway, given the above history, can you now see why I felt I could speak out on a number of different issues? As a technologist, I’ve through countless successes and failures with devices and services in the wild, running the gamut of the first HDD iPod to a uber-thin Sony 505VE to a desk-melting PowerBook to a custom engraved Zune to a shiny new iPad mini to an all-white Xbox One X. As a mobile programmer, I’ve coded for at least a dozen different mobile devices over a span of 20 years; I was dedicated to a startup that actually got delisted from NASDAQ twice. As a consumer of music and musician, I’ve been all over the place with lots of different experiences; almost as many I’ve had to endure with business trips. As an Italian, I’m an opinionated loudmouth; as a former tester I can still find fault in anything and then learn from fault I found. As a “philosophical programmer,” I use logic to prove myself to be correct in a conversation, even if I end up losing the argument. Oh yes: it is very possible to be right and still lose; ask some of my ex-girlfriends about that.

Hope you enjoy the rants and the ever fleeting rave,

Randy No Arms' ongoing commentary on life, gaming, and the rest of the world