lunch with dan ling


I had lunch today with Dan Ling, the corporate vp for Microsoft Research. We had a lovely discussion about social computing topics, as well as my impressions of Microsoft thus far.

I realized that the biggest problem I've encountered here is a growing sense of isolation--if I don't make a proactive effort to schedule time with other people, I end up spending the day in my bare, windowless office. And since I tend to do my best thinking when I'm engaged in discussion with others, this hasn't been a healthy thing.

Dan pointed out that the MSR office buildings' design doesn't facilitate informal meetings at all. Too many isolated corridors, high-traffic locations like kitchen and restrooms opening up onto narrow connecting corridors rather than open areas. I really miss the Golisano building at RIT--it really did a great job of facilitating informal interaction. :(

During the course of our discussion, I also mentioned to Dan my critique of the Virtual Earth Katrina maps. When he asked whom I'd sent it to, I told him I'd blogged it rather than sending it out. Perhaps I need to make a point of letting people internally know when I've blogged about Microsoft stuff, though, since it's unreasonable to think that they're all hanging on my every word here!

Clearly, I need to start being more proactive in a number of ways, which starts with my requesting some office space over in RedWest with the MSN search folks, so that I can interact with them more regularly as they start to roll out potentially cool new features. I also have to take the initiative in scheduling regular lunch and/or coffee dates with people whose work I'm interested in, so that I can find ways to contribute a little more around here.


There are people at Microsoft who sometimes act as if writing something in their blog is the same thing (or better) than sending an email to someone directly. And while their are people at Microsoft who read every word you blog they are likely to often be people who can't fix the issue. Like me. :-)
BTW if it were not for blogs written by Microsoft people I would feel much more isolated. I work from home and while the space is very comfortable there are no other Microsoft employees in the building. For that reason I try to visit as many people as I can when I do come to Redmond. Sometimes I just randomly drop by in hopes of catching people in between appointments that I am able to set up.

I've heard so many visiting researchers complain about isolation - and I experienced it myself when visiting RMIT in Melbourne. Yes, you're supposedly in a new, exciting, bustling research environment far more closely tied to your work than your home environment but everyone else is NOT on sabbatical, they're busy as anything and don't have much time for those informal meetings. I've only had pretty short spells as a visiting researcher, but I suspect that it simply takes a while to kind of find your place and for other people to include you properly.

Architecture can be stifling too - the humanities building at the University of Bergen, where I am, was built in the sixties and is TERRIBLE - our department doesn't even have a shared room for coffee breaks and general hovering - we have to either bump into each other in narrow corridors, agree to meet in the canteen or someone's office, or book a meeting room. I'd love to work in a structure actually set up for interaction. I'd really love to try working in an open plan office.

I guess as you say you really need to be very proactive. Good luck!

I like the idea of architecture encouraging human interaction. I don't think I've ever been in a place that did that (though I don't know for sure) but I've seen my share of sterile environments. Its nice that you brought the concept up.

I'm loath to fill peoples' inboxes any more than they already are, so it seems a bit cheeky to email them with anything other than at least semi-urgent queries or information. I just give them my Furl feed URL and make sure anything new that sparks ideas ends up there. This isn't really an ideal way to work, though.

Anyone who has any good tips for getting this right - keeping people informed while not bombarding them - should post them! I'd be very appreciative, especially as I could roll out any good ideas internally at my company. We've got two offices, hundreds of miles away from one another, so not as gargantuan as MS but still needing to get it right in terms of sharing information between distributed team members (and yes, we're rolling out internal blogs, but nothing beats regular face time).

I found your comment about social isolation very interesting. I'm an Assistant Professor in a small department of 8 whose layout is essentially vertical - I'm way up on the fourth floor at the end of the hall, and no one finds themselves there "by chance". I find this layout to be very inhibitory of spontaneous interactions; as a consequence I think it's quite isolating. As I imagine it must everywhere, most stuff gets worked out and decided during the spontanteous conversations that happen when people meet unexpectedly in the hallway, in a lunchroom or in a mailroom. I NEVER bump into people. I suspect that there is always an ongoing conversation amongst the second and third floor people - somehow it never comes upstairs.

I was thinking for a while it was a male/female issue. I'm female, and the only other female is the one on the 4th floor with me. She has essentially isolated/alienated herself from everyone, (aah - I digress.) but because our numbers are small I don't know if I can chalk my isolation up to unintended sexism on the part of the rest of the colleagues.

Enough of the pity party. Of course, I can and do schedule lunches, etc, with my colleagues, and they will generally find time to go, but I think it's not the same as casual professional interactions. I'm not sure what else I can do about it - I've tried expressing to my chairman that I'm feeling geographically isolated, but basically, he's an introvert, so I suspect that he has no idea what I'm talking about.

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This page contains a single entry published on September 16, 2005 3:03 PM.

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