Why I’m leaving my job at Microsoft

My last day working at Microsoft will be December 1, 2017. I’m not taking another job right away. Instead, I’m blocking off time to pray, to invest in my family, to study, and to work on some projects. As I’ve shared this news in recent weeks, I sometimes get confused looks. “Why?” is the general question. “Why leave a perfectly good job with no other work lined up?” Great question! What follows is my answer.

I began working at Microsoft in the fall of 2000, a few months after finishing a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Tennessee. My first role was as a Support Engineer for Windows. I can easily remember how excited I was to get this job! Microsoft was the only software company I interviewed with; all the other companies I considered were hardware-focused, which was more aligned with my education. And yet… Microsoft… what an opportunity! This was a company that was changing the world, and I wanted to be a part of it.

Over the next 17 years my career at Microsoft as a software engineer took a variety of interesting turns. Some highlights: I debugged Windows and worked on hotfixes, helped develop “Fix it”, led a team of engineers who built diagnostic tools and services, and led an engineering team building services for Microsoft’s financial systems. Through all of this I found that not only is Microsoft a place to do incredible technical work, but perhaps more importantly the people at this company are amazing. They are intelligent, technical, collaborative, driven… these are my kind of people, and I’ve learned so much from them over the years.

Why would I want to leave a company like that? There are actually several reasons, but when distilled down it comes to one thing: I want to be intentional. Microsoft has been incredible, but I came to realize that I’ve allowed myself to be swept along in my career, taking each opportunity as it came, without stopping to consider where I’m going.

I’m choosing to be intentional in how I spend time with my family. My wife and children are the most important people in my life, and they deserve more of my time and attention than they have received in recent years. As I’ve taken on more responsibility at work I’ve found it increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy work / life balance (or just “life balance” as a leader I respect calls it). Right now, all four of my kids are at home, and I’ve come to realize just how precious, and limited, this time is. It won’t be long before my oldest kids are in college. If I wait until normal retirement age to take a career break, my kids will be grown. I’m choosing to spend time with them now, even if it means I have to work more years overall.

I’m choosing to be intentional in what work I do. Software engineering has been a good fit for me, but right now I’ve lost much of my passion for it. I still have a love of technology, but I’m no longer excited about the day to day details of my work. As a manager at Microsoft, I cannot lead effectively if I’m not genuinely excited and passionate about my team’s work. I have other interests and abilities outside of software, and I plan to use my time to study and grow those skills, and consider other career paths. Or perhaps doing so will lead me back to software engineering as my true calling, and I will be happy in the knowledge that I took the time to make a deliberate career choice.

I’m choosing to be intentional in how I seek after God. I’m a Christian, but too often I trust in my own abilities rather than in God. I make too many decisions just based on my own logic, and not on faith. As I leave my job and step out of the comfort of regular income and a clear plan for my career, my intent is to be more deliberate in the time I spend in prayer and study of the Bible, seeking God in how I may be involved with the work of his kingdom.

All of that said, I realize that leaving full-time employment is not a prerequisite for being intentional! However, as mentioned above, I need a change. While I could jump to another similar position at Microsoft or elsewhere, in doing so I would miss the opportunity to pause, fully consider what is next, invest in my family, and seek God.

I’m thankful that I had the chance to work at Microsoft; it truly is a great company full of exceptional people. I don’t take my decision to leave such an organization lightly, and I recognize that I am blessed to even have the option to take time off from regular work. I plan to make the most of the opportunity!

Advertisements

Reading Star Wars

sw_books

Since the release of The Force Awakens, I’ve had some people ask me about the Star Wars books: where should a new reader begin? Well, it depends. Which continuity are you interested in? If you aren’t familiar with Star Wars continuity, check out my earlier post, Star Wars Continuity Explained. If you want to read Disney’s new canon, then the number of books available to you is relatively small (at least as of May 2017).

On the other hand, if you want to read the Legends continuity, things are a bit more complicated. There are over 150 novels in Legends, and that isn’t including comic books, young adult fiction, etc. You could read through the books chronologically, starting with Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void and ending with Crucible. I wouldn’t recommend it. That is a lot of books, and you are likely to get bogged down at some point.

A second option is to read the books in the order they were published. I would also advise against this, for similar reasons.

Instead, I’d recommend you start with the book that fundamentally shaped the Legends continuity, Timothy Zahn’s 1991 novel, Heir to the Empire. Don’t stop there – it is a trilogy! Once you have read Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command, then you have many options to choose from. My recommendations and some brief commentary are below…

Disney Canon
This is for those who want to stick with the new canon. Read these in any order:

  • Thrawn – My favorite in the new canon so far, but then again I was already a fan of the character.
  • Lost Stars – This one is actually a YA novel, but is very good. It gives differing perspectives on the Galactic Civil War from two compelling characters.
  • Ahsoka – Another YA book, but if you are a fan of Clone Wars or Rebels, you’ll want to check this out.
  • Bloodline – A nice look into Leia’s life before The Force Awakens.
  • Tarkin – An interesting look into Tarkin’s background
  • Catalyst – A prequel to Rogue One… Read it, and watch Rogue One again!
  • Aftermath Trilogy – I’m honestly not a fan of this author’s writing, and the first book in particular I found disappointing. That said, the second and third books were intriguing and provide some hints at how things progress towards The Force Awakens.

Legends: New Republic
A reading list for those who want to stay in the timeframe and continuity of Heir to the Empire. This list is exactly what I read my daughters when they expressed an interest in Star Wars novels.

  1. Thrawn Trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command) – start here; these are fantastic.
  2. Dark Empire Trilogy – Contains what is probably the most fan-contested plot point in Legends, but worth a read. This is the only comic book series I’m including in this post. There’s actually a ton of great Star Wars comics, but I’ll save that for another post. I’m including this one because it was an early influencer of the Legends continuity.
  3. The Jedi Academy Trilogy – Fans like to criticize the writing and stories of these books, but I enjoyed them as a youngster. They are fun and contain a lot of details that are referenced and built upon later.
  4. The Courtship of Princess Leia – Reading this is actually jumping back in (Star Wars) time, but this book is worth reading. It has some important universe-building concepts, and it is just fun, although the fundamental premise is a bit wacky.
  5. Hand of Thrawn Duology (Specter of the Past, Vision of the Future) – Honestly, these are my least favorite of Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars books, but they were still enjoyable. They continue the mythology of Thrawn, and establish some important aspects of Legends continuity.

Legends: The New Jedi Order
If you’ve completed the New Republic books, this is the next chronological series. Summary: a extra-galactic species that exists outside of the Force invades the Star Wars galaxy. It is a contentious story among fans: some fans hate the premise, but I personally love it, although the series was too long…19 books! As a bonus, read Rogue Planet, set between Episodes 1 and 2 as a prequel era tie-in. 20 books is a big commitment!

Legends: Legacy of the Force
If you make it through The New Jedi Order, this is the next chronological series. Summary: the galaxy is torn apart as… well, really anything more is a spoiler. I’m a fan of the core storyline here, although some of side stories I could do without – the Mandalorian story in particular didn’t hold my interest. There’s a lot of interpersonal strife here, which I think is good for character development, but it is a rough ride for the Skywalkers and Solos.

Legends: Fate of the Jedi
After Legacy of the Force, this is the next chronological series. Summary: a lost civilization of Sith come into contact with the larger galaxy, and an ancient powerful Force being emerges. This series starts off slowly, and has some odd aspects, but overall it was worth a read. I really enjoyed seeing an ancient Sith culture thrust into the Star Wars galaxy, and one character in particular was a great addition: Vestara Khai. Bonus: read Lost Tribe of the Sith (a short story collection) for some “historical” context.

Legends: Crucible
If you read all of Fate of the Jedi, wrap things up with Crucible. It is the last novel, Star Wars chronology-wise, in Legends.

Legends: X-Wing series
These are fan favorites, written by two authors. I personally prefer the books by Michael Stackpole, and I’ll admit not finishing this series after Aaron Allston took over the writing. These are set in the New Republic era, but they can be read independently of everything else.

Legends: Darth Bane Trilogy
This trilogy describes the beginnings of the Sith’s rule of two. Great characters, set very early in the timeline. Kind of dark, as you’d expect.

Legends: Various
Here are some recommendations that mostly can be read independently of everything else.

  • Darth Plagueis – Excellent book, includes Palpatine’s backstory
  • Cloak of Deception – Nice lead in to The Phantom Menace. Palpatine at his manipulative best (or worst?)
  • Survivor’s Quest – Mara and Luke investigate Outbound Flight. This is set several years after Vision of the Future, but before The New Jedi Order. Best when read after the New Republic books.
  • Outbound Flight – Great backstory on Outbound Flight, Jorus C’Baoth, and Thrawn. Ties in nicely with the new canon’s Thrawn. Best when read after the New Republic books and Survivor’s Quest.
  • Revenge of the Sith trilogy (Labyrinth of Evil, Revenge of the Sith, Dark Lord) – A book before and a book after Revenge of the Sith makes for a more complete and interesting story of the Empire’s and Vader’s beginnings.
  • Kenobi – One of my favorites. An awesome look at Kenobi on Tatooine.
  • Death Star – An inside look at the Death Star, before Catalyst and Rogue One gave us a new story.
  • Allegiance and Choices of One – A Zahn duology set between A New Hope and Empire. Cool to see Mara and Thrawn in a different time period.
  • Shadows of the Empire – Fills in the details of what happens between Empire and Jedi. This book was a big deal when it was released, with a comic book, toy line, soundtrack, and so forth.

I hope you find this post useful if you are a new Star Wars reader!

A Review of Star Wars: Thrawn

Last year when it was announced that Grand Admiral Thrawn would be appearing in season 3 of Star Wars Rebels, I was excited. When that announcement was followed with news of a new Thrawn novel by Thrawn’s creator, Timothy Zahn, I realized I was looking forward to the novel much more than the television season. As it turns out, my anticipation was properly placed. Seeing Thrawn in Rebels was fun, but somewhat underwhelming. Star Wars: Thrawn, on the other hand, was great!

Timothy Zahn has always been one of my favorite Star Wars authors, and he didn’t disappoint here. The story was fun and engaging, and it brought a new depth to several characters. This book is set in Disney’s new continuity, but it is written in such a way that it can mostly fit into the previous Legends continuity. In particular the events of Outbound Flight are not contradicted, and the first chapter of Thrawn is very similar to Mist Encounter. That said, the book is firmly in the new canon, and leads directly into the events of Rebels Season 3. References to evils lurking in the Unknown Regions applies equally well to Legends (the Yuuzhan Vong) and whatever is being alluded to in the new canon (see Aftermath: Empire’s End).

A few other highlights for me: the reader gets into Thrawn’s head to understand how he thinks, the Chiss Ascendancy is now canon, H’sishi is back in canon, Governor Pryce is given an interesting backstory, and Sy Bisti returns as a language.  Overall, a fun read that stands on its own but really shines if the reader is familiar with Legends or with Star Wars Rebels.

Why Star Wars fans are so excited about Grand Admiral Thrawn’s return

Thrawn_novelStar Wars Celebration Europe ended today, and for many Star Wars fans, the most exciting news by far was the return of Grand Admiral Thrawn. For the casual fan, this reasons for this excitement might not be obvious.

Thrawn (full name: Mitth’raw’nuruodo) is one of the most beloved characters from Star Wars Legends. He’s a cool, calculating, non-human genius who cares more about order and stability in the galaxy than personal power. He’s not your typical Star Wars villain. Not only that, his debut was in the novel that effectively kicked off the Expanded Universe, Heir to the Empire, one of the more popular books in Star Wars Legends.

Thrawn is going to be in Rebels Season 3 and in a new book by Timothy Zahn. This is awesome for the obvious reasons that we get both television and novel content, but there’s more to it than that. First, we are finally seeing Disney’s canon take on a significant character from Legends. It means something to fans to know that there are real opportunities to see characters who we love show up again. Secondly, Timothy Zahn is writing in the new canon! That alone is great, and the fact that he is crafting a Thrawn story makes it that much better. The fact that Zahn was involved with the planning of Thrawn’s appearance in Rebels shows that the Lucasfilm Story Group is serious about getting this right.Rebels_Season3_poster

For me personally, it was absolutely fantastic to sit next to my two oldest daughters and see the excitement on their faces when Thrawn was revealed in the Rebels Season 3 trailer! We’ve been reading the Legends books together for a couple of years now, and we’ve also been watching Rebels, so the two coming together is perfect.

 

Japanese Transformers Victory Catalog

While sorting through some things in my closet this week I came across an old Japanese Transformers catalog, the kind that was packed inside the toy box, to encourage kids to buy more toys! I believe this is from the Transformers: Victory toy line. I bought the Goryu toy while in Japan, probably in 1989, and this came in the box. As a kid I had no idea before going to Japan that these Japan-specific toys even existed, but I was thrilled to find them! As an adult I am still pretty pleased to have this catalog!

MonoGame and shared projects

When targeting multiple platforms with Xamarin, a common approach is to use a Visual Studio shared project for the code or assets that are common. In the case of a MonoGame project, this means moving the .mgcb file to a shared project. However, a shared project doesn’t support a Build Action of “MonoGameContentReference”. A simple fix to this is to open the .projitems file from the shared project in a text editor, and change the ItemGroup entry for the .mgcb file from “None” to “MonoGameContentReference”. A disadvantage to this approach is that the Visual Studio IDE will no longer show the .mgcb file, but the build should work.

Bits from The Force Awakens Novelization

The_Force_Awakens_novelizationI finally finished reading the novelization of The Force Awakens (a couple of other books distracted me), and there were several interesting things near the end.

Han and Leia are married
When Han sees Leia: “Husband and wife stood regarding each other…” The film doesn’t specify if Han and Leia were still married by the time of The Force Awakens. Actually just going by the movie it isn’t clear if they were ever married. Glad to see that point cleared up. Although I’m still frustrated by their relationship overall; they did so much better in Legends… oh well.

Han hasn’t seen Kylo Ren’s face in 10 years
“For the first time Han saw the face of his son as a grown man…” Kylo Ren is around 29-30 years old during the events of The Force Awakens, so we can assume that Han hasn’t seen Kylo’s face for around 10 years. That’s longer than I expected.

Kylo is weakened
After Kylo murders his father, he falls to his knees and “found himself weakened”. I find it interesting that the act that Kylo hoped would make him stronger actually had the opposite effect.

Kylo knows who Rey is
After Rey calls the lightsaber to herself, Ren murmurs “It is you.” Kylo Ren believes that Rey is someone in particular, not just a surprisingly strong Force user.

It-is-you