Raw Data By P3 Adaptive
Good Design is the Cake, Not the Icing, w/ Brad WeedListen Now:
Today, special guest, Brad Weed of Interplace waxes philosophical about his and Rob’s shared time at Microsoft and we discover where the seeds of ethical capitalism were planted. He is a former designer at Microsoft who worked on every release of Office from 1992-2007 and played a major role in defining and refining the company’s design and user research disciplines. He is an incredible entrepreneur with a passion for innovation who may forever be known as the perfector of the Microsoft Ruler.
Brad built upon his work as at Microsoft to become the founder/CEO of Interplace. With the use of the latest IoT technology, Brad’s company is committed to developing sustainable transportation solutions that address major global challenges like urban congestion and climate change.
He stops in today to chat about the importance of using IoT technology to create sustainable transportation solutions. Brad’s vast experience in design and user research makes him a pioneer in the industry, and his passion for addressing global challenges, like urban congestion and climate change, is second to none. As they delve into the topic, Brad shares his unique perspective on how IoT technology can help change the way we think about transportation and the environment. Don’t miss out on this insightful conversation between old friends as they explore their history and the choices they made to find a better path for the future.
Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello friends. Today we welcome Brad Weed as our guest on the show. And in some sense I have known Brad for more than half my life, and yet at the same time, the two hours we spent recording this conversation is probably more time elapsed than I had spent talking with him directly lifetime up until that point. It's a shame that our lifetime conversation total was so low, because Brad is a deeply thoughtful and deeply kind person. And it's one of those weird phenomena about working at Microsoft back in those days that you would meet all of these people that could absolutely be one of the most stimulating and warm friends that you could ever have in your life, and yet there's no time for it, because there's just so many people. It was like my cup runneth over in that era.
(00:00:46): And at the same time Brad was very much senior to me and ran in the circles and was accepted in the circles of people that, a number of people that I found to be relatively intimidating. Brad himself was never intimidating, but the fact that he kind of ran in that circle held him a little bit at a distance from me. For the entirety of my time in the office organization at Microsoft Brad ran the entire design and usability organization for Microsoft Office. That was a big deal to me back then, but in hindsight, with the benefit of age, experience, and wisdom, it's even more important than I realized. It's even more important than I realized in my 20s anyway. And we talk about that. We talk about that journey of mine and some funny and embarrassing stories along the way.
(00:01:33): But through it all, from a distance Brad was always calm. In an environment full of big personalities that chewed a lot of screen Brad was never making any big sudden movements, not brash, not loud, very much giving off that still waters run deep kind of impression. And if I had that impression back then, during this conversation I got to find out that those waters run deeper than I ever could have possibly known.
(00:01:59): For instance, he's way more technical than I knew back then. This is a programmer, but it's not just technical. He also spends a lot of time just kind of watching people, watching the way things work, wondering why? Why it's that way? Wondering if it can be better, and if so, how? And that's something that's familiar to me. In my own way, that's something that I do. And discovering that about Brad was like, "Ah, why didn't we hang back in the day?" In this conversation he gave me an alternate view of Bill Gates, which I actually am deeply appreciative of. And also listen to the way that he handles my confessions about how I undervalued in the early parts of my career the contributions of people like Brad and his team. The usual move in those situations is to just kind of say, "Nah, don't worry about it. No big deal." He wasn't like that.
(00:02:47): But Brad validates those confessions while at the same time provided me with an authentic narrative of the forces that were acting on me at that point in my life. Imagine what the world would be like if mistakes and injuries like that were always treated in that way. I'd like to live in that world, but in the meantime, let's go visit that world, the world of Brad Weed. Yeah, let's get into it.
Announcer (00:03:13): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please?
Announcer (00:03:18): This is the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive Podcast. With your host Rob Collie, and your co-host Thomas LaRock. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to p3adaptive.com. Raw Data by P3 Adaptive is data with the human element. Welcome to the show, Brad Weed. It has been forever, so good to see you.
Brad Weed (00:03:48): Forever. I can't count the years.
Rob Collie (00:03:50): I bet it's 20 years.
Brad Weed (00:03:52): Yeah, it's got to be 20.
Rob Collie (00:03:53): Now, I made a prediction to myself that when we got on screen, I would see you and go, "Yes, Brad looks exactly like he did the last time I saw him." You do not age my friend.
Brad Weed (00:04:04): You're just puffing me up right now. I did not have gray hair when you knew me, and I had more of it.
Rob Collie (00:04:10): I can be puffing you up and telling the truth at the same time. These are not mutually exclusive.
Brad Weed (00:04:15): I'm just thinking of, you remember Kurt DelBene?
Rob Collie (00:04:17): Yeah.
Brad Weed (00:04:18): In my final years at Microsoft I ran into Kurt and he turned the corner and he is like, "You have gray hair." And I was like, "Kurt, so do you."
Rob Collie (00:04:30): Yeah.
Brad Weed (00:04:32): Welcome to our reality.
Rob Collie (00:04:34): He's an interesting guy. I got to know him a little bit in the Office Designer project. Then I ran into him when I wasn't an employee anymore, but he still thought I was, he didn't keep track of when I left, but I was talking to him like he knew that I had left. I was telling him how irritated the community was that Power Pivot had been removed from standard Excel, which is one of the age-old tricks. You take the good stuff out of standard edition to Prop Up Pro, right? I told him, "I've been talking to Mary Jo Foley about this, blah, blah, blah." And he's like, "Why have you been talking to Mary Jo Foley?" He thought for a moment that there was a radical.
Brad Weed (00:05:10): Yeah, you can't do that without a handler.
Rob Collie (00:05:11): Yeah, exactly.
Brad Weed (00:05:11): How dare you?
Rob Collie (00:05:12): No, no, I'm free-range now. Free-range nerd.
Brad Weed (00:05:16): So is he now.
Rob Collie (00:05:18): Oh, that's right. He ended up working for FEMA or the government or something. He was in charge of the COVID.
Brad Weed (00:05:24): He left to help with the Obamacare website.
Rob Collie (00:05:26): That's right.
Brad Weed (00:05:27): But then came back to Microsoft, but then I think he's left again.
Rob Collie (00:05:31): Okay. I think he's earned it.
Brad Weed (00:05:32): Oh yeah.
Rob Collie (00:05:33): He's overseeing some massive projects.
Brad Weed (00:05:35): He's seen a lot, and same with his wife. They're the ultimate Washington power couple.
Rob Collie (00:05:40): Oh, I didn't know that. I didn't know anything about his wife.
Brad Weed (00:05:43): Yeah, she's a U.S. senator.
Rob Collie (00:05:45): Maybe I knew that, but I don't think so.
Brad Weed (00:05:47): And he is got a really elaborate, extensive car collection too.
Rob Collie (00:05:51): So, you and I knew each other because we were longtime office people. We worked for the firm.
Brad Weed (00:05:57): Yes.
Rob Collie (00:05:58): When I joined in the summer of '96, were you already running design and usability for Office?
Brad Weed (00:06:06): Yeah, because I started in '92. I was one of six designers at the company at the time.
Rob Collie (00:06:11): At the whole company?
Brad Weed (00:06:12): At least doing UI design, and there's probably more designers doing physical paste off and layout of Books. That was a big part of the software industry back then. And a year after I started, the six of us split into apps and systems. The manager of the team went to systems, and then we interviewed a couple people to manage the app side of the house, and then ultimately they're like, "Brad, you're 25. You can handle this. Why don't you just be the manager?" That's how I became a manager, and then I was a manager the rest of my career.
Rob Collie (00:06:49): So, how many years in were you after '92 when that split happened and then they made you a manager?
Brad Weed (00:06:56): It was a year later.
Rob Collie (00:06:57): One year. Wow.
Brad Weed (00:06:58): Mike Maples had just started and he was starting to create business units. He's like, "Oh, why don't we have these dev tool thingies over here? We should have this Windows thingy over here and we'll have this apps thing here." As you remember, Mike Maples was in our building. He was co-located with all the apps people
Rob Collie (00:07:16): Throughout my entire career at Microsoft I was always a little bit less politically tuned in to what was going on probably than average.
Brad Weed (00:07:22): That's why we love you, Rob.
Rob Collie (00:07:24): As well, Eric. It comes with pluses and minuses. But in summer of '96 I was a setup tester for Office 97 and working on the network installation wizard. My very first project was 100% IT focus. The NIW was a set-up customization tool for IT departments to use. I was testing that. My office in building 17 West Wing was right across the hall from the two women who were doing all of the icons for Office.
Brad Weed (00:07:57): Okay. You remember names?
Rob Collie (00:07:59): No, I don't. I remember what they looked like. I don't remember names. And I think this was the last release where the icons were done in Redmond.
Brad Weed (00:08:07): No, no. We continued to do them even into 2000, maybe even 2003. There was some supplemental hiring of contractors here and there, but we were still doing most of them in-house. That's what we were all hired to do by the way. That's what I was hired to do.
Rob Collie (00:08:23): Was icons.
Brad Weed (00:08:24): My title was associate graphic designer and this toolbar thingie had just been invented and they needed icons. I had been working in Santa Barbara at a 3D computer graphics company, because that was my mission in life from when I was a junior in high school. I wanted to work in 3D computer animation. But then I was laid off when the Gulf War hit. We lost a bunch of defense contracts, and so they laid off a third of the company in Santa Barbara. It was literally waking up from a dream. I went to school in Santa Barbara, I got a job in Santa Barbara, and then when you're like, "I have to leave Santa Barbara, and I have to leave my dream company?" Microsoft, and I just was lucky they were hiring at the time. And that's how I had landed at Microsoft. But I had been doing UI design and programming and program management as you do at small companies. And so I was like, "Sure, I'll do icons. That sounds good." And I did, I probably didn't do as many iterations of icons as my boss wanted me to do.
Rob Collie (00:09:28): There's only so many, yeah.
Brad Weed (00:09:30): There's only so much iteration of copy paste you can do. VB had just come out, and so on the side I would build prototypes. The UI prototypes of different interactions. And one of the assignments I had early on was to redesign the word ruler. I just built this VB prototype of this new interaction for the ruler, and I sent this [inaudible 00:09:54] to the developer and the program manager, and I said, "Hey, I was just playing around with this, what do you think?" And the developer called me almost immediately after I hit send. And he is like, "[inaudible 00:10:07] do not show up in my inbox from designers, only dot BMP. Can you come to my office? I want to talk about this."
Rob Collie (00:10:14): Okay.
Brad Weed (00:10:15): I go to his office and he's like, "I have this idea for a feature. If you hold the control key down and move this little slider you just made, can you show the dimensions that you're moving the slider from the origin? It's going to be a lot easier for you to do it in VB than it is for me to do it." And I said, "Yeah, sure, no problem." I go back and I put this little thing in there, the program manager's on the sideline going, "Oh, this is cool. It's just like fanning the flames, copy, paste, putting stuff in the spec. Brad, you should think about this. Let's do this and put it this way." And it changed the way people thought about interacting with a designer. And then when I became manager of that team, I just hired in my image. And I was like, "Well, let's just go find people who can do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and push the envelope on what design is." And so the rest is history as they say.
Rob Collie (00:11:10): That's an awesome story.
Brad Weed (00:11:11): That's my only good story, so you make the most of it.
Rob Collie (00:11:14): That's not true. It's definitely not true.
Thomas LaRock (00:11:17): I got his LinkedIn profile right here, and he even says at the bottom, designer and he talks about redesigning the Word and PowerPoint ruler and the UI for the very first scroll able mouse. So that's his first thing.
Brad Weed (00:11:30): By the way, the ruler you used today is the ruler that was designed in 1993, '94.
Thomas LaRock (00:11:37): And I got the ruler up in everything.
Rob Collie (00:11:40): Oh, yeah. You think that's impressive. You think that's impressive. When you see the setup icon in a Windows app today, that's the same setup icon that I helped coordinate the voting for in 1999 or probably '98.
Thomas LaRock (00:12:00): Rob, his LinkedIn, he redesigned the Photo Gallery and Movie Maker. He's got so much cool stuff in here, Metro.
Rob Collie (00:12:11): He's got at least those many stories.
Thomas LaRock (00:12:13): At least.
Rob Collie (00:12:14): You have at least as many stories as your LinkedIn reports.
Brad Weed (00:12:16): Yeah. Metro's my friend Bill Flora, who happened to start the same day I did as a designer. He saw me day one for orientation and introduced himself. And I said, "Well, how did you know that I was hired to be a designer too?" And he says, "I could tell by what you were wearing." But Bill Flora, he went on to design Encarta, which when he took it over, it was basically just a database of encyclopedia content that you would search into. And Encarta 95 became the beginnings of what became the Metro design language at Microsoft. Bill took that and put it into Windows Media Center, which is still an awesome remote control interface. And then that eventually became the design language for Microsoft.
Rob Collie (00:13:04): I definitely want to come back to Metro.
Brad Weed (00:13:05): Oh, okay. Good.
Rob Collie (00:13:07): I've got a list now of things we're coming back to. I want to go back to the original story where the developer calls you and says, "Designers don't send XE's. They send me BMPs." Now that story, even at that point in time, if you just pause it right there, that story can definitely fork two different directions. It could fork in the direction that it did go, which is the very, very positive direction.
Brad Weed (00:13:30): Oh, absolutely. He could have been super defensive, and a lot of times that is the interaction that you might have.
Rob Collie (00:13:36): That's right. And in fact, I witnessed a lot of that defensive interaction. And I'm positive that at multiple points in time I myself reacted defensively to designer. I was definitely insecure, especially in those early years.
Brad Weed (00:13:50): It should be noted too that the program manager also could have shut down that pretty quickly.
Rob Collie (00:13:56): You lucked into two?
Brad Weed (00:13:57): My life is full of luck.
Rob Collie (00:13:59): Everybody is.
Brad Weed (00:14:01): And in your interview with Simon, you guys talked about the role of randomness in life. I'm realizing now the older I get, the more random these things are that can change the course of your life for good or bad. I've had really good random luck.
Rob Collie (00:14:15): And every time I go through a string of bad luck, I step back and go, "Yeah, wait a second."
Brad Weed (00:14:21): That means something's good is about to happen.
Rob Collie (00:14:23): The overall baseline of my life is of favorable chance. Do you think that if they had reacted negatively to your prototype, would that have merely delayed that change in interaction? Would there have been multiple trials at this where you've mocked things up and eventually it took somewhere? Or would that, do you think demoralized you, would have deflected you permanently from that course?
Rob Collie (00:14:56): No, definitely not.
Brad Weed (00:14:57): It's a graphics library that lets you do a lot of generative digital art, which is what it's used for by a lot of people. But it also lets you build physics engines in it and do simulations. And so I would've continued to tinker and building prototypes. That's what I love to do. I love to get lost in VB, and if it wasn't the ruler, it would become something else. And I think this is part of who I am.
Rob Collie (00:15:22): Well, these are two things I did not know about you. I didn't know that you were a tinkering coder prototype, hands-on builder. I just never knew that. I interacted with a lot of people on your team. They did represent that.
Brad Weed (00:15:33): Yeah. I mean, they're not easy to find, honestly. We were lucky that schools started to tilt their programs a little bit towards doing computer interaction design. There weren't a lot of those happening. In fact, one of my mentors when I was at Wavefront Technologies in Santa Barbara is the one who introduced me to the idea of applying design principles to UI design. Don Norman's book had just come out, and he and I would actually drive down to Pasadena from Santa Barbara and teach the first UI design class at Art Center. And we were basically there just trying to convince designers that they could be designing the software that they're using. Which for a lot of designers was just like a, "I don't understand." It's like, "Well, do you like how the software that you use as design?" "No, it's horrible." "Well, then why don't you do something about it?"
(00:16:26): That seed was planted in Santa Barbara. I just brought that to Microsoft, and when I started to do recruiting, I would just try to find people that were comfortable working with engineers, comfortable working with human factors people. And that ended up being people that were trained in industrial design. Oftentimes they're mechanical engineers who stumbled their way into industrial design. And they too build models. They build prototypes, physical models, physical prototypes. And they have to think about the human factors of those prototypes. And then I would talk to them and say, "Hey, you can do that with not just plastic or wood or any other material. You can do that with pixels." And then they're like, "Oh yeah, I hadn't thought of that."
Rob Collie (00:17:14): And that's an incredibly unrestrained canvas.
Brad Weed (00:17:16): And so folks like that would show up to Microsoft. They're comfortable sitting down with an engineer. They're comfortable working with the human factors folks. We had doing usability lab tests at the time. And they just had an easier time integrating, and that ended up being the kind of folks, they weren't all industrial designers, but that's usually where I started.
Rob Collie (00:17:37): The other thing that I'm learning for the first time is that you and I have something in common when it comes to our Microsoft career arcs. Which is we both benefited and also suffered through sort of a battlefield promotion of sorts. I ended up at age 24 as the loan program manager on what we was code named Darwin, AKA Windows Installer, because really no one wanted that job. Now, that's not the same with your situation, but there's a timing element in both of them. At 25 you're in charge of design for Office, like crazy.
Brad Weed (00:18:13): Now it's just bizarre to imagine. But at the time everybody working in industry was so young. The industry was so young, that it was not uncommon. Most of Microsoft average age was what, probably 30. Back to random occurrences. It just so happens that we were landing at a place in time that was building software with a bunch of people who liked to make software. We didn't know where it was going. WordPerfect was kicking everybody's butt. There was no Microsoft domination in the early '90s. It was a scrappy, we got a win kind of place. It attracted people who like to build things. It felt very startupy that way. I mean, there were probably, what, 30,000 people on Redmond campus at that point, so it was a big company. It felt like everybody was there to make something.
(00:19:05): I do think as big companies scale up and starts making money it does start to attract people that are there not to make something, but to be somebody. And that definitely changes the tenure of who you're working with, how they work, what motivates them? And it starts to be a place you don't really recognize anymore. And an environment in Office, by the way, that I think was also super unique.
Rob Collie (00:19:30): I completely agree.
Brad Weed (00:19:31): Benefited from, and it gets back a little bit, I think, to Mike Maples. He was just a great technology leader. He was at IBM and he was at Microsoft, but he is also this kind of folksy, warm man who hired people who were also very morally grounded. They had an ethical approach to how they hired and managed and dealt with people. And we were fortunate to just be around managers who hired in that image as well. Very unique even within Microsoft.
Rob Collie (00:20:07): I agree. I'm glad you bring that up because as part of my job on the Windows Installer, part of the contract was that this technology was going to be given to Windows. And so what the hell? What was this 24-year-old, and I was naive even by 24-year-old standards. What was I doing in this shark infested tank? But I would go over to the Windows team. I spent half of my day over in Windows buildings, and the culture over there was so mean. It was mean over there. It was a kick down management culture. And randomizing the way that someone would assert themselves as being good was to be abusive.
Brad Weed (00:20:51): Absolutely. There's a good video out there somewhere on YouTube that was posted on the Facebook old timers group, Microsoft old timers group a while back. Somebody had filmed one of the first fountain shipping celebrations at Microsoft, and it had Ballmer there and Mike Maples as the leaders of this whole thing, and everybody was trying to goad them into jumping into the fountain as well. And there's Ballmer being Ballmer. "Come on, Mike, jump into the fountain, we're going to jump in this thing." And Mike Maples is there in his soup coat, and he is like, "Oh, come on now, Steve. Let's calm down. No, there's no need to get all riled up." You look around at the crowd and everybody behind Steve is acting like Steve. "Yeah, come on. [inaudible 00:21:51] jumps in the water. Come on, you whimps."
(00:21:50): And everybody around Mike is standing there politely. "We'll wait for our opportunity to throw ourselves into this fountain. The time is not quite right."
Rob Collie (00:22:00): Wow.
Brad Weed (00:22:01): And you could see in that moment, "Wow, that's how it got started." People were looking up to different leaders and were taking from what they related to, and they were rubbing off on everybody around them. Eventually they both jumped in the fountain together and Ballmer in his bombastic way, Mike Maples taking off his coat and kind of climbing in gingerly like an office person would. And even there, it was just like very different human beings, very different approach to management. Very different cultures, very different sets of technology, but they all came together and they jumped in the fountain together. There's something about that tension yields good results. I mean, it's everywhere in nature. It's no surprise, but I think it's there in human behavior too.
Rob Collie (00:22:55): It was like a Forbes article or whatever that came out. It was pretty damning about Microsoft and their stack ranking and all of that. It was an in-fighting.
Brad Weed (00:23:05): Oh, yeah. Was that the one that had the org chart with the guns pointing at each other?
Rob Collie (00:23:08): Yes. Yes. Part of it was that I had never witnessed division leaders doing that sort of thing to each other. Whether it went on or not, I just didn't see it. But a lot of the nastiness, well, I didn't really see a lot of that in Office. I saw it elsewhere. When I made the what was considered by many at the time to be a disastrous career decision and left my position of influence on Excel to go work on fantasy sports.
Brad Weed (00:23:34): Oh yeah. How dare you follow your passion?
Rob Collie (00:23:36): I know. I know. The last time I saw Richard McAniff, I think I'd left Fantasy Sports. I was saying I was back over on the SQL Server side, Richard McAniff just like, oh, just his usual, folksy way. Just explain to me, right to my face without any hint of how this might be perceived. He's like, "I still tell people all the time your story as a cautionary tale." Oh, thanks Richard. I just kind of smack him on the shoulder.
Brad Weed (00:24:02): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:24:03): Never changed man.
Brad Weed (00:24:06): Not Richard.
Rob Collie (00:24:08): But anyway, I ended up getting folded into Bing, and I got to see you talk about the people who showed up to be somebody. Oh, I was surrounded by them.
Brad Weed (00:24:18): I know. At least you were introduced to reality sooner than I was. It came much, much later in my career. And then by then I'd been so convinced this is how the world operated. Everybody takes care of one another, you know? Look out for one another. You can be open, you can be honest. If you're direct with somebody, they're not going to think you're a nail sticking out that needs to be hammered down. It very much was like a family. You're around the table, there's squabbles, there's fights. Some food might get thrown occasionally. You wake up the next day and you're all like, "Yeah, but we're family. Let's get to work." And I think increasingly it became a place where people got a lot more cautious about what they're saying. People became more performative in hopes of getting promoted. And these are all very foreign behavior characteristics that, again, I think is consistent with every growing company. I don't think it was unique to Microsoft, but I think it's what happens when things get too big.
Rob Collie (00:25:19): Well, there were definitely inflection points in this. We just recorded yesterday an episode with an ex Microsofty who left in '97, David Wood, so he showed up in '85 or '86.
Brad Weed (00:25:30): Yeah, I know the name.
Rob Collie (00:25:32): He worked on Word, he worked on internationalizing Word, but this would have been in the mid-80s right before you got there.
Brad Weed (00:25:37): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:25:38): There's multiple waves of employees coming in. In high school you were in on the idea of computer graphics. When you showed up you're still part of that big first cohort of people who were following their passion. Now, for me, that wasn't the case. By the time I showed up. Let me tell you, my story was just like, this is where the assembly line put me.
Brad Weed (00:25:57): And there had been an assembly line put in place by then. And computer science education that had been happening throughout the '80s, and now it's spinning out recruits into the machine.
Rob Collie (00:26:09): I had deflected into computer science in college by default. Like, oh, this is the major in the engineering school that allows the most flexibility to take other classes.
Brad Weed (00:26:18): Where did you initially head?
Rob Collie (00:26:20): When I enrolled in college?
Brad Weed (00:26:21): Yeah. What flavor of engineering were you hoping to go towards?
Rob Collie (00:26:24): I was a biomedical engineer, like anybody coming in 1992 wanted to be. I had the T-shirt on, everything. I never made it to a single biomedical engineering class. Didn't even touch and go on that runway. Because in my first semester I discovered philosophy and oh, did I love that? The computer science major was designed to encourage. The person who designed the CS major at Vanderbilt had wanted to build well-rounded people. And so it explicitly designed the curriculum to force you into doing other things.
Brad Weed (00:26:54): That's awesome.
Rob Collie (00:26:55): I can fit the philosophy thing in.
Brad Weed (00:26:57): That's awesome. I mean, that's a real gift.
Rob Collie (00:27:00): Yeah. It was. It's only in hindsight that I really knew how special that was. I ended up at Microsoft because it was just sort of the coolest place that was available.
Brad Weed (00:27:07): Absolutely. Especially by then, right? Windows 95, it hit, it's everywhere in the universe. It's spread around the world in large part, early efforts to localize software, which is radical thing to be doing at the time.
Rob Collie (00:27:22): But the right thing was still in my operating system. Let's go do the right thing. Now, I had the youthful belief that I knew what the right thing was more often than I actually did. But that's what I wanted. And I actually wrote a long blog post years ago. I called The Cult of The Right Thing, which in hindsight, I was really talking about office. I wrote it. I was talking about Microsoft, but I was really talking about office. Then there's this third wave of expansion that happened around Comp 2000 when-
Brad Weed (00:27:50): Comp 2000. Yeah, that is definitely an inflection point.
Rob Collie (00:27:54): Where the shareholder said, "No, we don't want you investing your cash, we want you deploying it."
Brad Weed (00:28:00): Yeah, absolutely.
Rob Collie (00:28:01): Boom, big explosion and growth. Over in Bing, there were people already over there in influential management positions who were dirty.
Brad Weed (00:28:12): Oh yeah.
Rob Collie (00:28:12): This will really crack you up. The core UI team on Bing, the program management team for Core UI on Bing was 22 program managers, and I was looking at that going, "In office? This is less than a program manager of a job, and you've got 22? What are they doing?" I'll tell you what they were doing. They were doing everything they could to climb over each other's bodies.
Brad Weed (00:28:39): Yeah, no, exactly right. Yeah, being performative to their best ability.
Rob Collie (00:28:45): Totally. One of my direct reports changed managers at one point, and he came back and told me what his new manager was telling him. He said, okay, you won't believe what she's telling me. Oh, just give it up. He goes, okay. She says, "Look, first of all, never work on anything that the vice president doesn't personally know about." That was rule number one. And this was, I'm not even lampooning this, this was word for word.
Brad Weed (00:29:08): Yeah, I believe it.
Rob Collie (00:29:09): Second instruction was, never finish anything. Just start things. No one cares about whether you finish it, let some other sucker come along and be the one that follows through. You're the visionary. You start things and then move on.
Brad Weed (00:29:25): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:29:26): Wow.
Rob Collie (00:29:26): And this is a person that I'd already sort of sniffed out as dirty.
Brad Weed (00:29:30): And it's a natural behavioral thing that as organizations grow it attracts other kind of people who other have other kind of motives. And you could argue that as big companies grow, their motives become more geared towards what does Wall Street want? What do shareholders want? And that can start to distract you a little bit from, well, what does the customer need? It may not be what the market wants. It may not be what Wall Street rewards. It may not be what the shareholders want. Either I'm old fashioned or I'm just pointing out a symptom in a larger problem of scale, that when you get so large that you've become confused about what it is you're making. It might be a good time to look in the mirror and say, "Well, what are we doing here?"
Rob Collie (00:30:21): But by then, there's no soul left. It is a Wall Street publicly traded entity, just a profit engine, right?
Brad Weed (00:30:29): As somebody, especially now that I'm not working, who benefits from a nice diverse portfolio, of course, I want CFOs to be extracting as much value as they can out of these companies that I have stock in. I also recognize that I'm contributor to this and worked for a company that contributed to it. And I think that it's not enough to just wash your hands of it. And I spend a good chunk of my time now trying to be a critic of the system, not in an effort to kill it, but to evolve it more towards what we were talking about earlier. There's got to be an ethical way to do capitalism.
Rob Collie (00:31:10): Brad, I wish we'd hung out more when I lived there.
Brad Weed (00:31:13): I don't think I had words to explain any of this when we were there. I was just happy to be playing basketball with you.
Rob Collie (00:31:19): But I was working through a lot of these same things in my own naive way in my own head. I was sitting around one day going, "We have a 40 billion cash hoard. There's 40,000 of us." And I knew this wasn't going to happen, but I'm like, "Why aren't we dividing that up a million each?"
Brad Weed (00:31:33): Yes.
Rob Collie (00:31:33): I started pulling on that rope and eventually it led me to an understanding of you can't answer that question without getting to the bottom of how everything works. And I went on a multi-year journey doing that. There's at least one other thing I want to talk about from back in the day. Which is very much talk about ethical capitalism. I'm like, yeah, let's go. Let's, let's do that. So in 1992, there were six designers at all of Microsoft.
Brad Weed (00:32:02): Doing UI design.
Rob Collie (00:32:03): Yeah, doing UI design. Okay. One of the things that I tell people about Microsoft versus Apple, let's see what you think about this there. I'm sure you'll at least have a refinement to it, if not an outright replacement. At Microsoft, the engineers, at least when I was there. Remember I left in 2010. I was still in the multi-year waterfall release world. A lot of things have changed since then. But at Microsoft the engineers were essentially in charge, and design was a support function. And at Apple Design is in charge, and engineering is a support function. And this leads to some very interesting and pronounced results. Apple, for instance, was never able to produce a truly competent spreadsheet product. Because it requires an engineering brain of rarefied air harvested from the entire planet, United States doesn't have enough of them to make a system like that sophisticated and have it work and be cohesive.
(00:33:01): But at the same time you end up with things like, I can't even sign in to half of my Microsoft products these days without just raging. The engines under Power BI are impossible, Brad. They are impossibly good. They are the most amazing software ever developed. And sometimes I can't get to it because the login prompt has been hidden.
Brad Weed (00:33:26): Because there's 22 program managers just on the login prompt.
Rob Collie (00:33:33): And I do feel even Apple's consumer friendly nature has been slipping. I no longer find the iPhone-
Thomas LaRock (00:33:41): I'm sorry-
Rob Collie (00:33:41): ... intuitive.
Thomas LaRock (00:33:41): Did you just say Apple was user-friendly?
Rob Collie (00:33:43): No, no, no, no, no. User-friendly. Yeah, they were. That was their thing, right?
Thomas LaRock (00:33:47): I'm sorry, Apple, you just described Apple as being user-friendly. Okay, just duly noted. All right.
Rob Collie (00:33:54): That was always the thing, right?
Thomas LaRock (00:33:55): No.
Brad Weed (00:33:55): That was certainly the reputation they had, yeah.
Rob Collie (00:33:58): I never had a problem signing in to my shit with Apple still to this day.
Thomas LaRock (00:34:02): That's true. And certain things for Apple would just work, but.
Brad Weed (00:34:06): It is a subtle point that a lot of people, I don't think put enough spotlight on, which is Apple also as part of their user experience, likes to hide little things. And they leave it to a community to uncover it. And then until you stumble across somebody that teaches you how to do the little trick, you're never going to figure out how to do the little trick. But once you do, now you're part of the club.
Rob Collie (00:34:34): Oh.
Thomas LaRock (00:34:35): Apple's like the biggest fucking gate keeping thing ever.
Brad Weed (00:34:39): Nothing in that is user-friendly.
Thomas LaRock (00:34:41): They actively are customer hostile. They're a hardware company, masquerading as software, but I digress.
Rob Collie (00:34:48): That part I get.
Brad Weed (00:34:49): That's exactly where I come from. And Rob, I think you're right. I've never been there. I've only talked to people who have worked there. But my impression is that yes, they're first and foremost a hardware company and they're mechanical and electrical engineers. I think how it played out there was Steve Jobs wished he could be Jony Ive. I see a lot in that tech world.
Rob Collie (00:35:17): I don't know who Jony Ive is.
Brad Weed (00:35:19): He was their head industrial designer-
Rob Collie (00:35:20): I see, okay.
Brad Weed (00:35:22): ... forever. His name is even batted around as being Job's replacement. He was always with Steve Jobs, but I think Steve just ached to be Johnny as I think there are a lot of technology people who wish they could be creative. They try to surround themselves with a creative person, oftentimes making them do mundane things. What Steve Jobs would do is he'd say to Jony Ive, "Hey, make a beautiful object. Make this thing that people crave, piece of sculpture." And so Jony Ive, industrial designer would go and make a model and Steve would iterate on like, "Yeah, this is beautiful. This is perfect. This would be great." Then they go to the electrical engineers and mechanical engineers and jobs would say to them, "You have to make this."
Rob Collie (00:36:10): Yeah, it's got to all fit in that shape.
Brad Weed (00:36:12): And they would be like, "Oh, cool, okay." Well, they can't do that with off-the-shelf parts, so they're going to have to make their own battery, and that battery's going to have to conform to this particular shape, and it's going to have to exist in the world for at least six years. And it's going to be really expensive to make this thing, but we can advertise that cost over six years. Maybe that's okay, because by then we're going to come out with one that we know somebody else is going to want and then we're going to make them replace it. That I think was the design engineering dynamic that was taking place. They needed software to operate all this stuff. So yeah, "Okay, well, we should probably do the software thing too." They ended up getting more of the reputation for what people were interacting with. But really I think the secret sauce was in that hardware collaboration between industrial design and electrical and mechanical engineers.
Rob Collie (00:37:09): Totally random, but have you seen these new solid state active cooling chips?
Brad Weed (00:37:17): Well, are you talking about the chips that they're using now at Apple?
Rob Collie (00:37:20): I think these are brand new. They replace fans and they're actually better than fans.
Brad Weed (00:37:27): Are you describing the M1 chips that are now used in Apple products?
Rob Collie (00:37:29): Not the CPU. If the M1 is the CPU, then that's not what I'm talking about. Inside the chip, it's silicone, right? It's a chip.
Brad Weed (00:37:36): It's a sock chip. It's a system on a chip they use in phones.
Rob Collie (00:37:39): It gets rippling waves of compression in this thin little space.
Brad Weed (00:37:45): Okay.
Rob Collie (00:37:45): That drive an incredible velocity of air without any apparent moving parts. It's almost like the caterpillar drive that was in Red October, like Magneto blah, blah, blah. You just make the water move the equivalent of a caterpillar drive. But for a cooling chip. She used even better back pressure than a fan. The average laptop, the average phone CPU is capable of much more, performance is limited by its cooling.
Brad Weed (00:38:10): I see what you're talking about. Yep. They find a way to unlock the true power of that chip with a novel cooling device.
Rob Collie (00:38:17): And it also allows a much smaller form factor with the same level of cooling.
Brad Weed (00:38:21): That's awesome.
Rob Collie (00:38:23): Just you're talking about the Apple industrial engineers having to fit everything in this box right now. You can just imagine they're like, "Oh my God, the fan can be 20% the size. It's too easy."
Brad Weed (00:38:32): Totally.
Rob Collie (00:38:33): But part of this is me just replaying my career and thinking about in hindsight what an injustice it was that someone like Martine had to win my approval in 2001 to get something done.
Brad Weed (00:38:48): Great example.
Rob Collie (00:38:49): What did I know? When it came to a design, why should I have been the gatekeeper for someone of that level of genius and talent?
Brad Weed (00:38:58): Because you had a title that said program manager, and with that came power.
Rob Collie (00:39:02): There's like this apology tour that I want to go on.
Brad Weed (00:39:07): I think that's great. I mean, I think that Martine cheered. I hired a bunch of people from Delph University, both industrial designers. The thing with Delph University, which no program manager ever really knew until you talk to these guys, is it's an engineering school. It's the premier engineering school in Holland. To get accepted to that university, you get accepted as an engineer, and then only after being there a year do you decide do you want to continue being an engineer or do you want to switch over to industrial design? The curriculum is almost identical, except now you're taking what they call form making classes, which is the aesthetics and application of human factors to shaping products. But everything else holds true. And so your education as an engineer in college was akin to Martine's education in college. Our society in America has led you to believe that Martine is not as smart as you.
Rob Collie (00:40:11): And the Microsoft culture, the way it was established, also reinforced and magnified that message.
Brad Weed (00:40:17): Absolutely. Some of this is because I'm a tweener. I never really fit in there either, and I hire people in my image, and so that's why I ended up working with people like that. But I used to think it was a Microsoft thing. It's like, "Ah, it's so frustrating." I mean, the dynamic you're describing would drive us crazy. Lucky for me, I had managers, especially Steven Sinofsky, who were like, "Hold on here. These people are not just for icons." And he built me a pedestal that I could stand on to tell my story and empowered me to hire more and do more, but that was rare.
Rob Collie (00:40:56): Yeah, it definitely was. And the thing is, to make it even more ironic, is by that point in time when I had a completely inappropriate level of authority relative to someone like Martine, I had already come to the conclusion that my degree was worthless. I had that level of self-awareness to know that nothing that I had studied in college was terribly useful. I remember one time on Windows installer running around the hallway saying, "Hey, I just used [inaudible 00:41:27] squared notation to prove a point. Four years of college. There it is right though, right there." I was already that level of sarcastic about how stupid the system that produced me was right and how irrelevant it was to the job I was doing, and yet I still was that guy. I still lorded that authority.
Brad Weed (00:41:50): You were evaluated on that behavior. It's no mistake that Microsoft hired program managers who were confident, very highly self-confident and driven. And it's kind of a take no prisoners, everybody get out of my way, I got to get this thing done. And if that means doing it myself because this designer's too damn slow, I'm going to do it myself, whip up paint, move this thing there, send it to developer, put it in a spec, we're done. And then all of a sudden, "Oh, did you talk to design about that? Have you thought about putting that in the lab?" "Oh my God, everyone take so much time. I got to go talk to them. They're annoying. They keep wanting to do iterations. These users don't know what they're doing. They're all stupid. My job is to get this thing out the door, get out of the way."
Rob Collie (00:42:41): I learned so much in y'all's usability labs.
Brad Weed (00:42:44): Oh, yes, everybody does.
Rob Collie (00:42:47): Oh my gosh.
Brad Weed (00:42:48): I have a great story there too. Developers sitting there in the lab watching a user use something that that poor guy and his poor family spent a lot of time getting done. We're talking late nights, all nighters to get that code to where we could put it in the lab, and he's saying this guy flail, and he was really good at the verbal protocol part of it. It's just like explaining everything that's in his head. "I don't understand. This makes no sense to me. Why are you making me do this? This doesn't make any sense." Just articulating his frustration through all this and a developer's back there going, "Oh, the problem is this guy's an idiot."
Thomas LaRock (00:43:31): Oh.
Brad Weed (00:43:37): Clearly he doesn't know how to use software. It's obvious what needs to happen here. I remember the usability engineer swivels around to the developer and he's like, "This is the head of the physics department. Are you dumb?" I don't think he's stupid, but that's not something I'm going to ask.
Thomas LaRock (00:44:02): Excuse me, professor.
Brad Weed (00:44:05): I'd like to introduce him to this guy who thinks you're stupid.
Thomas LaRock (00:44:09): What you just described though is how I feel when I'm using so many things today. Usually things that come out of Silicon Valley and I'm talking Apple and Google. And my wife is using something. Let's say it's a Google sheet, this, that and the other. You're trying to figure it out, and I'm looking and I'm like, "How as a user was I supposed to know I was supposed to go to there and do these three things? Shit, importing a calendar invite into your Google calendar is 17 steps, and you're just supposed to know, of course, that's the way it just works. But it's like the most frequent thing that you would be using or doing with a calendar. Why is it so onerous for me to do this? And I'm like, "You fucking developers."
Brad Weed (00:44:54): But you're confused. Somebody has a very good explanation for why it's 17 steps.
Thomas LaRock (00:44:58): I'm like, "Oh, why are things so much worse?" And I realize things aren't necessarily worse today, but I have so much more awareness when it comes to usability than I used to. You mentioned it before, the whole Apple thing. Like, "Oh, now you learned how to do it. Now you're one of the cool kids." That gate keeping is still there. Like, "Hey, they'll figure it out, or it's just not that important. Just as long as we're not evil, everything's fine."
Brad Weed (00:45:22): By the way, that is a bit of a dopamine hit when you become that insider. And so I think it's some of it's probably also part of their intent is to further your addiction to their product, by planting those little things. Rob, you can say the same thing for usability engineers at Microsoft. They too had to bear the brunt of knuckleheads left, and right. Even to this day, people are like, I don't understand how seven people can tell you anything. It's got to be quantitative. You can't say that these seven people represent a 100 million users of Word.
Rob Collie (00:45:57): What does zero tell you though?
Brad Weed (00:46:02): If there's a problem so egregious with software, after seven people hitting their head against the wall, it doesn't really make sense to invite number eight, nine, or 10 to watch them hit their head against the wall.
Rob Collie (00:46:16): No, no, we got to go right to a 100 million. I want a full population census. That's what I want. I want the entire population of users. I need a census here and now maybe, but it's only if 800 million fail.
Brad Weed (00:46:30): Not that that isn't important, but I think the big data, big N as in number, finds the patterns that you need to look for. That's where you find interesting patterns in behavior. But once you find the pattern, you got to go small and start to talk to human beings and investigate why is it that this pattern's emerging? And you can't pretend to know that by just looking at aggregated data.
Rob Collie (00:46:57): I read something a long time ago. This guy was talking about the value of slow history. I think he called it slow history. You got to study everything. Everything that was going on in a particular timeframe to understand it well. But there are certain things that you can only understand by getting these glimpses into single people's heads. Where they're telling you exactly what they're thinking. He had an audio recording of one of the Roosevelt's.
Brad Weed (00:47:21): Nice.
Rob Collie (00:47:21): The audio recording of this. Roosevelt very, very, very clearly paints a very calculating performative ladder climbing manipulative personality. So when you get something like that, you get something on the human intelligence scale, irrefutable, something that you're never going to get from studying all of the other events. This is sort of his differentiator. This historian's differentiator, like his shtick.
Brad Weed (00:47:45): I totally believe it. I remember being on a customer visit at a car dealership. We watched this woman pull up word. She types in a bunch of stuff, makes the font like 44 point, 60 point or something, and she prints it out and she closes word and doesn't save it, and all these program managers with us are like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. What'd you just do? Why didn't you save it?" And she turned around and she's like, "It's saved on that piece of paper that's in the printer paper." I just made a sign I'm going to put on the door. Why would I save it?
Thomas LaRock (00:48:20): Why would I save it? It's saved on that print. Oh my God.
Brad Weed (00:48:26): You're only going to catch that by watching somebody in action.
Rob Collie (00:48:30): I've debated internally whether to tell you one of my top three in hindsight, most shameful moments of my time at Microsoft. But here's the thing I'm going to tell you., but I think of the person who did this. He happened to have the name Rob Collie, right at the time, but I think of it as a different person. It's like three or four entire people ago. For me, we share DNA me and this person, the villain in this story.
Thomas LaRock (00:48:59): And the passport and the social security number.
Rob Collie (00:49:02): Look, he didn't know any better. This shows you how clueless I was back then. So on Designer, the ill faded office designer project. Martine came up with among many other things. He came up with the two purple rectangle overlapping icon for office designer. Remember, Office designer never shipped so purple was then able to be reused for one note later. Thank God. We bought a cake. I just forget what we were celebrating. It might have been code complete or something like that. Oh my God. Here we are. We're at the moment, Rob. I've got to tell you the punchline, and ugh, I'm reluctant.
Brad Weed (00:49:42): I've heard it all, Rob, bring it up. This is therapy.
Rob Collie (00:49:46): I insisted that Martine come and be the one to put the icon icing shape on the cake.
Brad Weed (00:49:55): Wow. That sounds about right.
Rob Collie (00:49:58): And as he's doing it, he's basically telling me under his breath, be he's telling me, "I don't understand why I need to be the one doing this."
Brad Weed (00:50:05): I can hear him say it.
Rob Collie (00:50:07): But he was just playing along because he knew that he had to play along with the stupid kid that was, I had so pigeonholed what he did for a living.
Brad Weed (00:50:19): Again, don't blame yourself. Society taught you that.
Rob Collie (00:50:22): Well-
Brad Weed (00:50:22): It still teaches that. You go far enough back in time, there was a moment where art and math weren't these two separate topics. You couldn't learn one without the other, and it wasn't some sort of dogmatic thing. It was just like, "Well, how are you going to understand the beauty of mathematics if you don't first understand beauty?"
Rob Collie (00:50:44): Right, yeah.
Brad Weed (00:50:45): Over time, campuses have just pushed each other to different sides of the campus, and then you're made to decide which side of campus you need to belong on. You're lucky that Vanderbilt made you go to one side of the campus, but they most don't, and so you just don't ever get exposed to it. Did either one of you guys ever take a drawing class, high school, college, otherwise?
Rob Collie (00:51:09): No.
Brad Weed (00:51:10): Why is that?
Rob Collie (00:51:11): I wasn't any good at it, Brad. I wanted to go do the things where I got the merit badges.
Brad Weed (00:51:15): But though a lot of people aren't very good at math, and so what do they do? Well, you put them in a math class.
Rob Collie (00:51:21): Yeah. And we teach them to hate it.
Brad Weed (00:51:22): How do you get good at math? Well, you have to do it over and over and over again. It's the same thing with drawing. There's no different, you guys both could learn to draw, but you haven't. It's not because you don't want to necessarily, but it's because society has taught you that's what the dumber people do. You're an art class because you couldn't do math, so.
Thomas LaRock (00:51:43): Oh, I don't know about that.
Rob Collie (00:51:45): That is exactly how I thought as a youngster, Brad is exactly describing my mindset in high school. Today I don't see it this way.
Thomas LaRock (00:51:53): And for me as a child, the kids in shop class would have been the ones that couldn't do anything else. The kids in art class were just hippies and they were off drawing and painting, but I felt they enjoyed it. I'm sure I had an art class as a elementary or even in high school. I'm almost certain I did. But it wasn't something I enjoyed, so therefore I wasn't taking art classes. I got to, at that point you get to take the classes you enjoy, which in my case was more mathematics based, but the shop kids would have been the ones where I'm like, "You guys, you can't do math or anything else." Come to find out later, they're actually way fucking smarter than I am, so I wish I could use my hands. When I go to my mechanic and I need something, he goes, "Oh, I'll just fabricate the piece of metal. This, that, and," I'm like-
Brad Weed (00:52:37): Ah, dude, I hear you. I hear ya. In some ways what you're describing again is the industrial design sculpture part of art class, which a lot of high school art classes don't do sculpture, so maybe those folks end up going into shop class and more the visual design part of the world. I mean, graphic design, visual arts that go more to traditional art class. They get separated in a different way, but using the same parts of your brain. Although in shop class, you are melding a little bit of making and a little bit of math more so than you might be in an art class. But now not to say that I think the art world suffers in the same regard. Why are you so afraid of math? I mean, there's a reason why. It's because there's math anxiety. Well, why do you have math anxiety? Because it was so competitive.
(00:53:29): I think there's ways to teach math that don't bring about anxiety, and they were probably doing it at one point in Greece ages ago. I had happened to be somebody who liked both. I was better at art than I was at math, but I loved math, especially calculus in trigonometry when you could start drawing things with math.
Rob Collie (00:53:52): On Reddit the other day I saw someone with a bicycle. The bicycle wheels were perfect squares.
Thomas LaRock (00:53:59): Right.
Rob Collie (00:53:59): Square wheels, but they're riding on a track that's inverted catenaries.
Brad Weed (00:54:06): Oh, nice.
Rob Collie (00:54:07): And it rolls smoothly, right?
Brad Weed (00:54:09): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:54:10): This square wheeled bike rolls completely smoothly on this undulating surface.
Thomas LaRock (00:54:18): I've seen that.
Rob Collie (00:54:20): There's an example of someone who had both sides of the brain firing, right?
Brad Weed (00:54:23): And I just think that I was lucky to be raised in a family where my dad was a math major. He taught math for a little while, was one of the first computer programmers, [inaudible 00:54:34] in the late '60s, early '70s, so we were kind of a mathy family that way. My older sister was super good at math, valedictorian, and on my mom's side my grandma taught us how to draw at a very early age, not elaborate stuff. Let's draw a railroad track. Oh, look, these lines converge in the distance. Well, that's a thing called perspective, and you could apply it to things other than a railroad track. I think because I lived in a house where we were doing both, I got exposed to both, I know everybody is capable of learning both, but society forces you into one camp or another.
Rob Collie (00:55:15): For me, the designer, that project represents sort of a big turning point in the way I viewed my job and the way I viewed the world. Certainly it was later in the project that I had my beginning of the awakening. It didn't happen before the cake and the icing incident. Martine, I'm forever. Drinks are forever on me for being such a schmuck.
Brad Weed (00:55:36): By the way, before we'd move off icons, I should also note that it's hard work designing an icon.
Rob Collie (00:55:43): I know it is, but I didn't know that back then. I know it is now.
Brad Weed (00:55:47): And I think that's another, that's kind of weird to me that people would belittle this because well, not anybody can do it.
Thomas LaRock (00:55:54): Are you sure about that? I mean, I can go to the 99 design to pay 50 bucks and I'll get a logo. I don't get it.
Rob Collie (00:56:00): Man. Brad have so many things to talk about. I badly want to get your opinion on the Power Bi icon. I want you to look that up. If you've seen the new Power Bi icon,
Thomas LaRock (00:56:08): You mean the bars?
Rob Collie (00:56:10): Oh yes. Just do a quick Google search for Power Bi icon. Tell me what you think?
Thomas LaRock (00:56:16): Icon. That would be, that would be you, Rob.
Brad Weed (00:56:18): It's different than the four bars with the screen.
Rob Collie (00:56:21): It's just three bars now.
Brad Weed (00:56:23): Is it? Oh yeah, the new one. I see. Yeah, it's just three now.
Rob Collie (00:56:27): Three bars.
Brad Weed (00:56:30): Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Rob Collie (00:56:30): Yeah. You're the emperor in the Colosseum. Brad, the Gladiator looks up at you. The Power BI icons laying on the floor. You got to give the thumb up for the thumbs down.
Brad Weed (00:56:41): Come on, finishing him live, oh."
Rob Collie (00:56:50): I mean, I looked at it, I'm just like, "Oh, come on." See, here's an example of one that I could have done, right?
Brad Weed (00:56:57): True.
Rob Collie (00:56:58): But then you're trying to give the benefit of the doubt. I go, "Maybe this is just really, really, really ballsy, claiming the bar chart as ours." Maybe there is some genius behind it.
Brad Weed (00:57:08): Yeah, you can bet folks and Excel had issues with that. Icons go through styles. That's the style of Microsoft icons right now. Total reductionist. How few things can we put in front of people? That's where they landed.
Rob Collie (00:57:27): This long journey, there's an ironic twist in it, which is I got what was coming to me, Brad, I want you to know that the universe did its best to even the scales.
Brad Weed (00:57:36): There are some negative karma points taken on?
Rob Collie (00:57:38): Exactly. Exactly. The cost was extracted, so I had this almost all at once moment of getting it near the end of designer, and I credit more than anything I credit Zeke. Remember Zeke?
Brad Weed (00:57:49): Oh yeah.
Rob Collie (00:57:50): Having to live in his shadow. He was successful in every way. He was really good.
Brad Weed (00:57:55): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:57:56): I played second fiddle at best to him for a couple of years, and eventually all at once. Again, I got it. The two halves of my brain connected. I could see the matrix. It's still really nerdy. Yeah. We're engineering, but we're engineering something that human beings can actually understand. That's a discipline.
Brad Weed (00:58:18): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:58:19): I could just pound the table about it. It's like a glacier. If you watch it, is it moving? I'm not sure. If they're taking little micro measurements, you could probably see that it was moving a little bit?
Brad Weed (00:58:30): Until it collapses into the sea.
Rob Collie (00:58:31): That's right. That is how so much of my development as a human has operated little bit, little bid, little hints, and then bam.
Brad Weed (00:58:39): It's a bifurcation. And then complex emerging properties.
Rob Collie (00:58:44): Then years later I end up over on the Power Pivot team, the precursor to Power bi. I'm working for the sequel org now. And they recruited me because I'd worked with them on Excel and all that, and so they had big plans for me. I was going to be the one to design the new formula language and all these sorts of things, and maybe I could have done that, maybe not. I kind of think maybe not.
Brad Weed (00:59:04): Well, I know enough from your Peyton interview that it would not have been modeled after him.
Rob Collie (00:59:08): Probably not. That's right. I looked at what they were doing with their user interface. It was just abysmal. I couldn't believe the decisions they were making. I'm just like, "Oh my God." And this was the first time this team had ever gotten into any interface, any sort of user interface at all. They were an engine team and they wanted me to be an engine team. And I told them, nah, I just can't sit here while y'all murder this thing. I've got to go help you over there, and as soon as I made the decision to go work on the UI, everyone thought less of me.
Brad Weed (00:59:39): I know what it felt like.
Rob Collie (00:59:41): Now I was that guy. I was the guy that they wanted to come put the cake icing on. I lost all kinds of respect, all kinds of seniority.
Brad Weed (00:59:48): I saw that when we recruit program managers, same thing, right? Super Brainiac resume. That should go into the user interface program management team. No, that's not, that person's going into the smart team. It's like, whoa, wait, what?
Rob Collie (01:00:08): I'm so sorry. Anyway. Yeah, I got paid back. Maybe not a 100%, but a good chunk.
Brad Weed (01:00:12): But you still had program manager title. If they change your address book to product designer, then you would've really-
Rob Collie (01:00:20): They didn't need to do that. They just needed to change my review scores. That's all I needed to adjust.
Brad Weed (01:00:28): Yeah. Calibration became very different.
Rob Collie (01:00:30): Looking back, there's no two ways about it. I saved that product. I didn't invent all the cool shit underneath the hood. I didn't build it. I absolutely saved it, and I wasn't recognized for that at all. Anyway, someone was paying attention the day that I had Martine with that squeezy tube of icing. God's of software were watching. We're going to get you, Rob.
Brad Weed (01:00:56): Your brain recorded something there that you aren't conscious of.
Rob Collie (01:01:00): What are you up to now, hinting at all these things like you're a deep thinker? Dare I say, my kind of thinker I'm been vibing a lot with the things that you've been saying, so what are you doing these days?
Brad Weed (01:01:11): When I turned 50, I realized I worked at Microsoft for half my life. And that was kind of a, "Ooh," that doesn't sit very comfortable. And I had just read the Ben Franklin biography where he was, I realized this guy had multiple massive careers in his long life and that if I wanted to do something different, I'd probably better get going. I studied geography as an undergrad, mostly because there were computer cartography classes, computer map making classes. That got me the computer graphics education that I was looking for. Speaking of planting seeds, it planted a lot of seeds in my brain that I really wasn't aware of. And I was always interested in urban design, urban planning. How we use land, and then living in the northwest with all the traffic issues and multiple attempts at straightening the retina S curves to get to the airport. That never really worked.
(01:02:13): I decided I'm going to scratch this itch, and so I decided to go and get a degree in sustainable transportation while I was still finishing up my career at Microsoft. The left being design person became program manager in Windows, did the movie maker photo gallery thing, GPM for both of those things, and then when there was a regime change, when Steven left and there was a mafia takeover, I went running back to office and that's when I got reacquainted with Dave. He was PM. I was design and we had [inaudible 01:02:49] as engineering. We were the triad for Excel, so I was back in Office back working on Excel and back with Dave.
Rob Collie (01:02:55): Awesome.
Brad Weed (01:02:56): Which is a blast because the three of us traveled literally all over the world together visiting different teams. That's when I was like, okay, I'm going to go. I'm going to get this degree. I could still work and get the degree. It was through UDub and then when I got that, I was about the time that I was turning 55 magic moment at Microsoft. You can leave with all your stock, and so I said, "All right, I'm going to do it. I'm going to go. I'm going to leave. I'm going to keep pushing on this topic. My degree exposed me to systems theory, complex systems, network theory, how land use and transportation are intertwined and this complex network of interactions that result in crazy emergent behavior in humans, and in how we use land and move about it. I just kept wanting to pull on that thread a little bit more, and so I found this intro to complexity class at the Santa Fe Institute and did their online class and became even more convinced that what's happening in the world relates a lot to my geography undergrad.
(01:04:07): Geography's really fascinating discipline that way. There's physical geography in how the earth works. There's behavioral geography and how humans work, and cartography is really just a graphical depiction of what's happening through all of that. There's economic geography and how geography plays a role in our economic structures.
Rob Collie (01:04:30): Just the fact that a continent that was laid out east to west was tremendous advantage for development of civilization over a continent that was laid out north to south. Because you could conduct trade with people who were all experiencing the same climate at the same time as the north, south continent was basically always split just by weather and I would've never would've thought about that.
Brad Weed (01:04:57): No. No.
Rob Collie (01:04:58): Eurasia had a huge advantage.
Brad Weed (01:05:02): That also expands to how we carve up the world. The United States is diced up into these little squares because Thomas Jefferson wanted to turn United States into a spreadsheet. That's what he did. It's a little curvy and wonky as you go east because they hadn't quite perfected how to perfect a square with surveying, but then once they did, then everything gets diced up. Dice it up, you can tax it. You can tax the quantity. It's literally a spreadsheet.
Rob Collie (01:05:34): They really dialed it in by the time they got the Dakotas.
Brad Weed (01:05:37): Oh, yes, and then that dictates so much of how society works even to this day.
Rob Collie (01:05:45): The senate, the electoral college?
Brad Weed (01:05:47): Yeah, precisely.
Rob Collie (01:05:50): This rectangle, it gets its two senators.
Brad Weed (01:05:55): Yeah. Let's adjust the polygon a little bit to get a few more Senators.
Rob Collie (01:06:00): Oh, gerrymandering. It's his oldest time.
Brad Weed (01:06:02): Yes. Which is all about Map making.
Rob Collie (01:06:05): And some very, very, very creative map making at that, isn't it?
Brad Weed (01:06:08): Very creative map making.
Rob Collie (01:06:10): And there's an art and a science to gerrymandering. You've really got to tap into. It's a multidisciplinary field.
Thomas LaRock (01:06:17): Yeah. You got to know if those people are really going to vote for you. You don't want to screw that up.
Rob Collie (01:06:25): Oh no, don't worry. If you screw it up, you just fix it the next time.
Thomas LaRock (01:06:29): You'll be out.
Brad Weed (01:06:32): The more I started reading and all this different research and pulling all these threads, I realized if I just keep rabbit holding on these topics and never write it down, I'm never going to retain it or understand it as much as I would if I would write it. So I made myself write an essay a week. That's how I came up with the newsletter I have now at [inaudible 01:06:55] and [inaudible 01:06:55] is a play on words. I had a career doing interface. A lot of the same principles apply in the physical world. When we interact with place and I pick these topics, they're divided into seasons. I'm writing about human behavior right now, and it's just me mostly thinking, "Well, what don't I know and what do I want to know?" I'm going to go find current relevant research that largely has some kind of complexity science angle to it and read as much as I can, and then I'm going to write an essay about it because that's the only way I'm going to understand it.
Rob Collie (01:07:34): It forces it, yeah.
Brad Weed (01:07:35): And I try to publish those at the end of each week. I read what I write so that it become a podcast. Substack is awesome. That way. Once you have the MP3, they do all the distribution of the podcast, and I'm managing to get an okay following, but it's not important to me. I call it my personal PhD. Maybe one day the dissertation will be a book and I'm trying to wheel away at that on the site as well.
Rob Collie (01:08:01): That is so cool. I can completely relate to a lot of that. I think through my keyboard. I can think more effectively that way. If you're going to put something out in the world regardless to how many people are going to see it, it forces you through the discipline of flipping over all of those rocks.
Brad Weed (01:08:16): Yep. Yeah. There's a quote by an author, I can't remember her name, but, and I'm going to butcher the quote, but it's something like, "I don't know what I think until I read what I write."
Rob Collie (01:08:26): Yep, totally. There's absolutely something to that and it forces that follow through on certain things that you otherwise wouldn't necessarily have the discipline or even the awareness for it. I learned more about Power Bi DAX, the DAX language as a result of forcing myself to make a video course. I didn't expect that. Didn't expect it, didn't expect it. But oh, I understand this works because I've tried the pattern and it works, but why does it work. Now I got to go find out. I've got to, same thing with the book that I wrote. It forced me to learn more. When you're reading your own words, do you ever find yourself going back and editing the words so that it's easier to read?
Brad Weed (01:09:06): Yeah, absolutely, and I had a hard time getting comfortable doing that. Reading things aloud to myself here in my basement alone.
Rob Collie (01:09:16): It's inauthentic. It's weird.
Brad Weed (01:09:17): Now I can't write without doing it. As soon as I have to read it out loud, then I realize, oh my God, this makes no sense. Or this sentence is three sentences. That word, I don't think I'm using that word right. It doesn't have the rhythm and cadence I thought it did when I say it, versus when I just look at it, so it makes a big difference.
Rob Collie (01:09:38): I feel your pain with the voiceover thing.
Brad Weed (01:09:40): The editing part of it is not fun, but I have intro music and then two kind of interruptions in the middle where I put some music in there and I like that part of the process, trying to find the right music to suit the mood for what I'm saying, it's only 10 seconds of music, but just the editing out all the ums and uhs is annoying.
Rob Collie (01:10:03): That's why I have other people do it. I'm working on a bit of a magnum opus of my own. It does support this company. It involves me writing and then reading my own words into a microphone with no one there to hear. It's very difficult to trick myself into thinking that I'm actually talking to someone versus projecting. It still sounds like me, but it's a different version of me. It doesn't sound like this speech pattern that I'm using right now. It's different.
Brad Weed (01:10:32): It is.
Rob Collie (01:10:33): And then, oh my God, turn on a camera and it gets 10 times worse.
Brad Weed (01:10:37): Oh, tell me about it. I'm taking piano lessons again. I did as a kid and then I did right after college, and that got me into playing jazz piano. Martine was our Sox player and our jazz band there for a while, but I'm taking lessons over Zoom with this guy in Florida, and yeah, I feel pretty good about my practice sessions by the time a week goes by and I get to him until the camera comes on, "I swear to you, just five minutes ago I was playing this perfectly."
Rob Collie (01:11:11): Oh, no.
Brad Weed (01:11:11): And so now he's like, "Well, why don't you just record yourself playing it perfectly and just text me the MP3? And so I tried that and it's even worse.
Rob Collie (01:11:21): Yeah. Now, here's a question. If he was was just in the room with you, would you have the same difficulty?
Brad Weed (01:11:28): Yeah, probably. I just have this, I aimed to please bug in me, and so I want him to be happy with my playing and it just totally gets in the way of my playing.
Rob Collie (01:11:39): That becomes part of your brain activity, part of your CPU. Working on that when it could be doing the other thing, my prediction for me is that if someone were there with me and it wasn't being recorded, I'd be okay. Because the personal connection would sustain me, but there's something about the tech being in the way. That makes it feel robotic, and I start to feel like at that point like I'm acting. That feels like a cousin of lying and it tears me apart. Authenticity-
Brad Weed (01:12:08): I know what you're talking about, because there's times when I feel I have to get an announcer voice to read my podcast. And I feel a lot more comfortable doing that now, having watched a professional DJ, have you ever been in the studio with a DJ?
Rob Collie (01:12:23): Well, Luke used to be a DJ. I've watched the live video feed of him in the studio, but no, I've never physically been there.
Brad Weed (01:12:31): I was lucky to be in the booth at KEXP, the way the DJ would interact with me when the microphone was off. Same thing as you're talking about, totally different. And then the microphone, he would go live and suddenly you see him talking with his hands and he had to make sure that if his hand was moving, that he would enunciate exactly what he wanted to say. But otherwise without the hand, he would just sound like a normal guy having a normal conversation, and so when I saw that, I was like, you do have to perform a little bit for the microphone.
Rob Collie (01:13:05): Do you remember or did you ever run across Richard Klees, the speech trainer at Microsoft?
Brad Weed (01:13:12): Oh, yes. Oh my goodness. He was so harsh.
Rob Collie (01:13:15): Yes. I learned so much from him.
Thomas LaRock (01:13:17): You guys had a speech trainer?
Rob Collie (01:13:19): Yes. They would bring him in before you go to a conference and he would just savage you.
Brad Weed (01:13:31): He was a nice guy until it was your time to talk.
Rob Collie (01:13:34): I never lived up to his standards. But I did get to that 80th percentile. And Brad, you won't believe this, the same guy who did the cake thing, a year and a half later as a lead program manager on Excel, I would send all of my new hire PMs to him. They wouldn't be giving demos, they weren't going to conferences, but I would send them to him and then they'd come back and I'd say, okay, all the things you learned there about emphasis and punch and all of that, that's all important in software too. It's important in the interface.
Brad Weed (01:14:08): That is awesome. That is so cool, Rob.
Rob Collie (01:14:12): It's on the other side of the glacier falling into the ocean.
Brad Weed (01:14:16): What a brilliant twist of phase. That's really cool.
Rob Collie (01:14:19): I just felt like the world was just such a bigger place at that moment and I was so excited to be on the other side of it and understanding more. I was a new person. I was just a completely new guy.
Brad Weed (01:14:30): Standing in the back of the room and you're like, what'd you say? What'd you say? What'd you just say? I can't hear you.
Thomas LaRock (01:14:39): That's awesome.
Brad Weed (01:14:41): And he was like, where are your hands? Where are your hands right now?
Rob Collie (01:14:47): Yeah.
Brad Weed (01:14:47): Are they in your pockets? Are you holding something? I can't tell.
Rob Collie (01:14:51): Years later, I was blogging, he's a speech trainer, like verbal, and I'm blogging and I'm basically doing what he taught me. They're not going to pay attention to all your little details. They're going to see the pictures and the headings and maybe some bold sentences there and there, and that's going to win their attention, and maybe then they'll read the rest of your shit.
Brad Weed (01:15:11): Yes.
Rob Collie (01:15:12): Maybe. Right. You've got to constantly keep earning their attention. So when I became a trainer for a while, Brad.
Brad Weed (01:15:18): Oh, good.
Rob Collie (01:15:19): Eight hour days of sustaining people's attention. Oh my God, I was just wiped out at the end of the day. I've never drank so much in my life as at the end of those days, just absolutely hammered. Wake up the next day and do it all over again. Man, I haven't been back to Seattle in a long time, but I want to come say hi.
Brad Weed (01:15:39): Come say hi. Go shoot hoops and-
Rob Collie (01:15:42): I don't know that my knees can take it anymore. We'll see.
Brad Weed (01:15:44): No, we're not going to run. We're just going to-
Rob Collie (01:15:46): Okay. Fine fine.
Brad Weed (01:15:47): ... walk and talk and shoot.
Rob Collie (01:15:49): I'm playing roller hockey again after-
Brad Weed (01:15:52): Oh, nice.
Rob Collie (01:15:53): That's actually strangely compatible with middle age.
Brad Weed (01:15:57): Yeah. It is weird.
Rob Collie (01:15:58): I don't know that I could sustain even a half court game that involved actual attempts at rebounding and that'd be very difficult.
Brad Weed (01:16:09): No, that's too much and I'm not doing that either.
Rob Collie (01:16:09): I didn't think that would ever come for me, that my joints wouldn't handle that kind of stuff, but it did.
Brad Weed (01:16:14): Yep. It's the back for me. It's not going to be keeping up with me, I know that.
Rob Collie (01:16:18): But think of all the growth in our brains.
Brad Weed (01:16:21): Yes.
Rob Collie (01:16:21): It could just, how many people ago?
Brad Weed (01:16:25): Which is still going back and getting a degree did remind me that you're never too old to learn and it was such a blast to go back to school. I loved it.
Rob Collie (01:16:36): Well, Brad, it's been a pleasure. Part of the reason for this podcast is catching up with people. What a conversation. I'm so glad we did this. Really explore that intersection between engineering and human factors and the fact that they're both engineering. Having a whole episode largely devoted to that, I think is a real win.
(01:16:52): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive Podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive help your business. Just go to p3adaptive.com. Have a data day.
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Also in this episode:
Kurt DelBene – Will Microsoft muscle rescue Healthcare.gov
Excel is the Most Functional of Programming Languages w/ Simon Peyton Jones
The Cult of the Right Thing – Rob Collie
Readily Ticket’s Series of Fortunate Events, w/ David Wood