The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

September 7, 2012

Turning Over a New Page (Sort Of)

Filed under: Technology — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:56 am

The new Kindle Paperwhite, also known as “What I’ve been doing for the last six months”.

From back in one of the earliest of my many contracting stints at Microsoft, I can recall a recruiting poster on the wall of the building I worked in, looking for developers to deal with some of the really deep low-level portions of the development tools.  After the poster listed a few of the perks of working on this particular team (this was back in the day when Microsoft was still, by and large, the king of the proverbial hill in the software industry) this poster offered a slogan which has stuck with me over the years:

“Because you never want your mother to understand what you do for a living.”

Even though my career since then has taken me into some rather technical directions, but I don’t think I’ve ever managed to quite reach the point where I wouldn’t be able to eventually, with a bit of patience, explain to my mother exactly what it is that I do for a living.  In fact, of the various products I’ve worked on and roles I’ve been in, I am pretty sure that my current one would be among the easier ones to explain to someone unfamiliar with my field.  Of course, being able to explain this to someone, and being allowed to explain it to someone can be two different things at times, and particularly when you’re working on a rather well-known product, it’s quite common to find yourself telling people that you can’t tell them what you are currently working on.  Non-disclosure agreements are a fact of life in the fields I work in, especially when working with products intended for highly competitive emerging markets.  This means that when I have friends and family asking me about things pertaining to my job, quite often it means that I have to tell them that I’m not allowed to say anything.  Not that I would ever expect any of my friends or family members to go out leaking things to Gizmodo or anything like that, but to paraphrase an old quote (which I think has been attributed to at least half a dozen different people over the years,) it’s better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you an idiot than it is to open it and get yourself fired for saying something stupid that ends up on a dozen different Blogs within 24 hours.

Naturally, the fact that you’re not allowed to say anything doesn’t mean that people won’t speculate about things.  The various gadget blogs are particularly notorious about this, and when they’re not busy reporting breathlessly on the latest allegedly leaked component of the allegedly next iThingy they’ll be breathlessly reporting on soon enough, every once in a while you’ll find various speculation about whatever it is that you happen to be working on.  Naturally, it can occasionally be rather amusing to see people speculating on the tech Blogs about something that you happen to have sitting on your desk while you’re reading it (or, depending on exactly what it is you’re testing, quite a few of those somethings,) especially when they’re way off the mark.  Naturally, the speculation on the Blogs leads to even more speculation on the comments, and before you know it you’ve got the Internet equivalent of the old Telephone Game going on with rumors piling on top of rumors, eventually leading pretty much everyone down the proverbial garden path.  For those people with inside knowledge of the product  in a position of wishing to remain employed and/or employable, the only real option they really have in this situation is to just stay out of the conversation completely.

Eventually, if people are doing their jobs the way they’re supposed to be, there’s supposed to be a finished and hopefully marketable product at the end of the whole process.  In most cases, this product will make it out the door with some degree of fanfare, but this also depends a lot on exactly what it is you’ve been working on.  If said product happens to be version 2.3 of something that 99.99998% of the people on the planet have no idea even exists, chances are that people will probably put up a news release on the website then go out for lunch and/or a few beers and head back to the office to start working on version 2.4.  On the other hand, there are times when you happen to be working on a high-profile product that will be getting a high-profile introduction to a significant base of patiently waiting users.  Over the course of my career to date, I’ve worked on products at both sides of the spectrum, and plenty in between, but this is the first time I’ve worked on a product that has gotten the full-fledged press conference treatment. 

As you probably noticed if you read any of the tech Blogs or most of the news sites yesterday, Amazon held a major press conference in California, where Jeff Bezos took the stage to announce a number of upcoming new Kindle devices, including a number of new Kindle Fire models.  Also included in this product launch was the brand new Kindle Paperwhite, which just happens to be what I’ve been working on as a localization tester for the past six months.  Although I have also worked with other Kindle devices as well (including some testing on the refreshed version of the low-end Kindle device and an update for the now previous generation Kindle Touch that went out a few months ago,) the Kindle Paperwhite is the one that the vast majority of our team’s test efforts have been directed toward for most of the time that I have been there.  Most people will be raving about the new improved screen (now with built-in lighting) and the significantly overhauled user interface, but given the efforts that me and my colleagues have put into this, I do have to say that my favorite feature on this particular device is the fact that it will be shipping with support for eight different languages right out of the box.  Admittedly, I may be just a little biased on that one though…

Anyway, for those of you who will be buying this new Kindle when it comes out (which is currently expected to be on October 1st,) enjoy, and remember:  If there are bugs in it (which I’m sure there are, I’ve still got an article in the works on this subject that will become the next post in my software testing series), I’ll probably blame someone else for them.  But still, even though I happen to be moving off the localization team and into a different role within the Kindle team at this time, I have to say that I am quite satisfied with the way this one turned out.  Naturally, there are hundreds of people that have to work together to get something like a Kindle out the door, and even though I really only worked with a handful of them, I’m glad to have had the chance to work on this.  But still as always, technology will not stand still, so it’s on to the next thing.  It will be interesting to see what that turns out to be…

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