Jon Fincher Shares Thoughts on Importance of People

03/22/2019 by Jon Fincher

As geek as you may be, you will achieve only as much as your team allows you. This is why it is important to build or join a great team and rely on them to multiply your productivity. Jon Fincher, former Senior Program Manager at Microsoft shares his thoughts on importance of teams even if you are a force of nature as an individual contributor.


Hi folks, my name is Jon Fincher I'm a former Microsoft employee. I worked for the company starting in 1995 way back when Windows 95 was the new hotness all the way until 2017 when I left in order to pursue a career in teaching. Taught for a little while and now I'm currently pursuing grad school so I can teach some more.

When I started way back in 1995, I was a customer support engineer and worked on a number of products in Office and in Windows space. And then I started working on a product called Windows NT 4.0 embedded if you can remember that far back - if not Wikipedia is your friend. After that I worked on Windows XP Embedded. I was a test engineer for that product and then started servicing the product and became a program manager in order to service it. Then as I was servicing XP embedded, I started to transition over to service just straight Windows and that was about the last eleven or so years of my career.

One of the last projects that I worked on there at Microsoft before I left was to remove Windows Journal from the operating system. As an interesting project, it took the team about eight or nine months to do the technical aspects of removing a component. Removing something from the operating system is fairly trivial - it's a bunch of bit twiddling just to make sure it works.

The real interesting part though was basically my forte: It was the customers. It's something that I've always been interested in it's been working with people working with customers teaching them how to use our our products, finding out how they're using our products, finding ways that our products can do weird wonderful things that they were never designed for. Customers are great at figuring out ways to make our products do things that we never intended them to do. In this case, I worked with customers who were using journal. Helped them find ways that they could redo their business processes so they weren't dependent on journal anymore.

Then we found we did get a chance to remove journal. The technical aspects of that from my point of view: I did a bunch of data mining trying to find out who was using Journal how many people use Journal on on a monthly basis or weekly basis. But that wouldn't have been of any use whatsoever if hadn't been for the team. Throughout my career the team has been the base unit.

Me as an individual, I can only do so much. I don't do anything without the team and even when I was a customer support engineer, it might have just been me on the phone with a customer but the customer now is the team and I'm a member of that team trying to figure out how to make something work. I just happened to be the person on the team who knows the most about our product; they know their business, they know what they want to do and they know how they need to get it done. It's the same thing with teaching. I may be the person in the front of the classroom passing on the information, but the entire class is learning. It's not what they call the sage on a stage. It's not me sitting in front of a classroom just espousing wisdom and tossing facts off it's a conversation between me and the people in the class.

Learning happens when they ask questions and I can answer them. Learning also happens when I ask them questions and they answer me. That's how I determine whether or not they're picking things up and it's the same thing with working with customers they ask me questions I ask them questions we go back and forth and it's a conversation.

I think that's the one big takeaway that I found or that I have for Microsoft is that my life and life in general, I think is just a series of conversations like that. It's a series of asking questions and relaying information and asking more questions and asking questions back and trying to get back and forth so that you can get it whatever the truth is whatever truth matters at that particular point in time. It may be big, it may be small, but the conversation matters and conversations happen between people.

As much as I enjoy technology as much as I enjoy computers, as much as I enjoy software, as much as I enjoy tinkering with all this stuff, it's really just without people involved it's it's fairly useless. I might as well be in a locked room with no contact if I don't have anybody to share these things with. So that's probably the biggest takeaway I'd have is that the people matter. Not only just the customers but the people around you. The people who you work with. The people who you share your discoveries with.

So as you go through your your career, your life, your hobbies.. As you learn things, you discover things, don't be afraid to share them. Somebody else may have found that somebody else may say "oh that's not a big discovery". I've discovered two things that people invented 30 years ago. There are still discoveries to me and I'm still happy to discover them and I may be a little embarrassed to find out that somebody else already got to it before I did, but still it leads me on to the next thing. Okay, somebody else already found that. Great where did they go from there maybe I can pick it up where they left off and I can do something more with it.

So it's the people, it's the sharing of the discoveries that matters. That makes the most sense. That makes the most difference in my life.

Thanks for your time and good luck and talk to you later.

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