Category Archives: Personal

Solo Superhero Strikes Again?

Last month, I published a blog post about managing my mental health and dealing with social anxiety. And I want to continue that conversation. I thought I would highlight a recent example of where my anxiety kicked in and how I dealt with it.

Sometimes going out and doing things that come easy for everyone else doesn’t come so easy for me. Like going to the movies by myself. My anxiety gets triggered when I think of being in social situations by myself or around large groups of people. Even seeing a movie in a movie theater. Last week, Spider-Man: Far From Home from Marvel Studios came out. And I am religious about seeing every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie on opening night AND in IMAX. For IMAX movies in Regal Cinemas, they release special collector tickets. And I collect them. So, by seeing these movies on opening night – I ensure I get one of these tickets. For popular movies, these tickets can go quickly.

When it came to seeing Spider-Man: Far From Home, I didn’t have anyone available to go with me on opening night. And it makes me feel more comfortable going to movies with someone I know. Yes, I know – it’s just a movie and you’re just sitting there watching a big screen for 2 hours and not really being “social”. You’re still around a lot of people though especially when your going to a hotly anticipated movie which most of the Marvel movies are.

In trying to manage my anxiety, I am challenging myself to confront these situations head on rather than avoid them. To make sure I didn’t weasel out of seeing this movie, I used the Regal Cinemas app to purchase a ticket for the movie in advance. An IMAX movie ticket on opening night isn’t cheap. And it’s not trivial to get your money back for a ticket you bought through the app. I trapped myself a week before the movie. I HAD to go. Otherwise I would be wasting a decent amount of money which is stupid.

In short – I went to the movie, it was awesome (highly recommend seeing it and seeing it in IMAX), and I got the collectible ticket.

There are still cases where my anxiety gets the best of me. I wanted to go see the Foo Fighters (my favorite band) in concert and didn’t go because I didn’t want to go by myself. Same for Weezer. And every year I tell myself I’m going to go to San Diego Comic-Con but never actually do it. I’ve still got work to do. But at least I’m taking baby steps!

For those of you who have social anxiety, how do you manage it? I’d love some tips to try! Leave a comment or tweet at me.

Managing My Mental Health

Mental health issues (or disorders) affect 1 in 4 people. That means millions of people today live with mental health issues like Autism, Depression, Anxiety, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and others. Unfortunately, that has come with a somewhat negative stigma. Studies on these mental health issues are ongoing, but it has been discovered that many are the result of how the brain is “wired” which can impact behavior as well as create challenges in thinking and learning. Today’s push on neurodiversity challenges the negative stigma by saying that the differences in how the brain is wired that results in mental health issues are simply normal variations in humans and shouldn’t be treated as a defect. These people are simply a normal variation of the human species. To put a spotlight on neurodiversity and to fight the negative stigma often associated with mental health, many people are speaking out and sharing their experiences on their own mental health issues. And I would like to take part in this conversation by sharing my own experiences dealing with my mental health.

Throughout my entire life, there have been very specific situations which make me extremely anxious. It began when I was a kid with minor things like reading out loud in class when I was in grade school. My teachers and parents just told me I was “nervous”. But as I got older, it got worse. In high school, the risk of simply getting picked by a teacher in class to answer a question or read out loud gave me feelings of panic and fear causing my heart rate to skyrocket. It also gave me stomach troubles. Having to present a project in front of the class or participate in group projects made me feel the same way: absolute panic. Anything related to being in major social situations gave me severe anxiety. So, I did everything I could to avoid getting into these situations. I managed this well in high school, but this became more challenging in college. In college, there were classes that required you to participate in group projects to pass the course. I ended up simply not doing the group projects which in turn meant not getting good grades. I didn’t go out to parties. I couldn’t make friends. No matter how hard I tried to convince myself to feel differently in these social situations – it never worked. It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I realized I was dealing with Social Anxiety Disorder.

I continued to do everything I could to avoid the situations that would give me anxiety, even when I started working for Microsoft in 2008. To avoid these situations, I created various excuses. But a few years ago, I realized that by avoiding these situations, I was missing out on experiences and opportunities. I missed out going to product launches and big technology conferences because I convinced my managers that “I didn’t need to be there” because I didn’t want to travel. I missed out on meeting new people and making new friends after moving to Seattle because I didn’t go to social gatherings like happy hours I was invited to. I was given opportunities to meet amazing people I admire like Satya Nadella and I didn’t take them because I “didn’t want to bother people”. I’ve passed up so many amazing opportunities to introduce myself to people and always chickened out. And I’m divorced because my ex-wife felt she was missing out on doing fun things with friends and family which I avoided because of my anxiety.

After my divorce, I decided to take time to self-reflect. In OneNote, I created a list going back as far as I could remember of all the experiences and opportunities I missed out on because of my anxiety. It was a rather long list. But the list served as a forcing function for me to face my fears. I didn’t want this list to grow. In fact, I wanted to create a new list of all the NEW experiences and opportunities I get to have as a result of facing my fears. My hope is that it allows me to grow more comfortable with more social interaction both professionally and personally. Every time I find myself closing up and feeling anxious – I’ll open up the list of all the things I’ve missed to remind myself I don’t want to add to it. It’s a great way to hold myself accountable.

Over the course of the last two years, I’ve had amazing opportunities and experiences as a result of me facing my fears. I’ve traveled to Europe for the very first time and visited London and Munich. I discovered a way to make myself feel more comfortable is to travel with someone I trust and who I am comfortable with. It made a huge difference in the level of anxiety I felt. I’ve spoken in front of groups of people at a big technology conference. Instead of getting up in front of a bunch of people and making a speech, I’ve discovered I feel a lot more comfortable speaking along with someone else on stage who I can work off of. And I’ve done social things where I’ve met cool people. But I have a lot more work to do. I still find myself falling back into my old routine of avoiding things. Dealing with this is really hard for me. I feel like I’m broken because I see everyone else out traveling the world, having fun, making friends – but I struggle so much. But I remind myself of the progress I’ve made so far.

I have so much more to say on this topic and on mental health. I want this blog post to serve as an introduction to me talking more about this and opening to my struggles as well as ways I’m coping and managing my anxiety. I have been signed up by my boss (told) to take part in a neurodiversity session at Microsoft Ignite 2019 in November. Microsoft has been investing a lot in diversity and inclusion in technology and this is part of that effort. I’m glad to be taking part in this conversation!  

What I want to do in 2019 (Better Adulting)

We’ve been having a significant “snow event” here in Seattle and it has given me some time to put down a blog post highlighting some of the big things I want to do and be better at in 2019 (aka be better at adulting).

These are the things I want to do this year:

I want to continue building my brand. Back in September, I blogged about building my personal brand. I want to continue that investment into 2019.

I want to continue being an advocate of diversity in technology. Back in September at Microsoft Ignite 2018, I took part in several Diversity and Technology sessions which really fired me to be a better advocate. I also spoke at an internal Microsoft event in Redmond put on by the Hispanic/Latinx Organization of Leaders in Action (HOLA) group. I want to continue to participate in these types of sessions and events. I passionately believe people with different backgrounds and experiences should be given equal opportunity to thrive in both their professional and personal lives and am incredibly proud of the work Microsoft is doing in this area.

Me at Microsoft Ignite 2018.

I’ve created a list of work projects by priority. Over the holidays, I took some time to reflect on how I work. I really wanted to give myself some focus in 2019 and do a better job setting myself up for success in my job. That’s not to say I wasn’t being successful. I just felt I could do better. Instead of being a bit random in the projects I am working on, I decided to create a list of projects that I intend to focus on for the rest of the year by priority. That list and their priority were agreed upon by my manager. And I keep this list in Microsoft To-Do. Now, when something random comes my way – I will measure it against this list to ensure I am focusing on the right things and evaluating any trade-offs that might need to be made. Part of this is also learning to say “no” to things (or delegate). I have always struggled with that. Part of this is that I want to give myself dedicated time to think about things more thoroughly and exert my creativity. I have a very active mind and it needs to let loose some creativity! Of course this list can evolve as priorities change and shift projects around!

I’ve created a personal financial plan for the entire year. I’ve created a financial Microsoft Excel spreadsheet where I have plugged in all my reoccurring expenses and bills. My goal is to pay down what debt I have and boost my personal savings account. This spreadsheet allows me to plug in and estimate numbers for the rest of the year. My intent is to be far smarter about my spending this year which also means being much more deliberate in choosing what nerdy things I collect. My other goal is to save up and trade-in my Ford F-150 by the end of the year. I love the truck but its far too big for what I need especially in the Seattle area. What will I trade my truck in for? Well, it will either be another Ford like the new Edge ST or a Tesla Model 3. We’ll see. Keeping your financials in good shape is a critical thing any adult should be doing and I was doing it previously but more on a month to month basis rather than long term.

I want to write more on my blog. I want to write more here on my blog. I find it therapeutic and it helps exert some of that creativity I mentioned above. There are a lot of topics I care about and I want to talk about those things here. Last year I floated the idea of possibly writing a book but realized I’m not ready yet to do that. I’ve begun using Microsoft OneNote to keep ideas on topics I want to write about on this blog.

I got to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis in real life!

I want to be a better advocate of the exploration of space. I recently donated and joined The Planetary Society. Through The Planetary Society, I sent letters to state and federal politicians regarding the impact of the recent U.S. Government shutdown on space exploration. I also became a backer of the Restore Historic Mision Control on Kickstarter to preserve the legacy of the Apollo Program.

I want to travel more this year. Ok, there are two pieces of this one. Whenever an opportunity to travel presents itself at work, I want to do it. I recently took my very first trip to Europe (London and Munich) and it was awesome! I’m going back to London at the end of this month for Microsoft Ignite | The Tour. Additionally, I need to be better at actually taking vacation time. I tried to take several weeks off over the holidays and didn’t do a great job. I’ve already made progress and plan to go with some friends to San Diego in June!

Me having tea in London.

So lets see how I do in accomplishing all these this year!

10 years ago I was interviewing for a job at Microsoft

10 years ago today I was celebrating my 25th birthday. I was also on the Microsoft campus here in Redmond interviewing for a full-time position to run the company’s Windows blog as a Communications Manager on the Windows PR Team. This was my dream job. I completed my interview loop shortly after lunch (I was interviewed by 3 very awesome people).  By mid-afternoon – I got the call from my recruiter that I got the job and outlined my offer. I accepted on the spot. I didn’t care about how much I would be making or whether they would pay for relocation since I was living in Oregon at the time. I had been telling people I wanted to work for Microsoft since the 4th grade. And this was the moment I achieved that. The above picture is the visitor pass I wore when I went through the interview loop 10 years ago. I framed it and have kept it here in my office. It reminds me of how lucky I am to be working at Microsoft today. I literally STILL have my dream job! 

My official start-date was on November 3rd, 2008. So much has happened in the last 10 years. I’m planning to do a follow-up blog post highlighting my most favorite experiences working at Microsoft to-date that I hope to publish on November 3rd to celebrate my official 10 years at Microsoft. 

Crafting my story and building my personal brand

Spin Your Tale

This month, I did a small “reboot” of my blog here in an effort to redefine my personal brand. People know “Brandon LeBlanc” as the guy who works on the Windows Insider Program at Microsoft that also used to run the Windows Blog. A large part of my personal brand is tied to Microsoft – which is ok because I’m more than happy to admit I’m a self-professed Microsoft fanboy. But there’s more to “Brandon LeBlanc” than just Microsoft. I also care about other things – ranging from what Ford is doing with their car line-up to the in-development new Batman movie to the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies as just some examples. I also care about equality in the workplace and space exploration. This is where I can talk about all that stuff. This is where I can craft MY STORY and be in control of driving my personal brand.

What really motivated me to do this little reboot of my personal brand through my blog was my manager Dona Sarkar. She has a huge passion for helping others develop their own personal brand in addition to putting a lot of effort into maintaining her own – independently of her job as the leader of the Windows Insider Program. Matter a fact – Dona just recently released a brand new book called Spin Your Tale which talks about how you can craft and control your story which is the thing that leads to your brand. I highly recommend buying her book.

Get busy crafting your story and building your personal brand. And watch me craft and build my own!

Frustrating online dating experience

I’ve been divorced for about 2 years now and I’ve dated a few people since the divorce was finalized. My last relationship was awesome but I called it off as I wasn’t quite feeling the connection on my end due to some things I needed to figure out on my own. So I took some time off from trying to date to figure that out. This was a few months ago. Recently, I’ve jumped back onto the dating apps – primarily Bumble and Tinder to casually look at meeting new people. I’m an introvert. And there’s the so-called “Seattle Freeze”. So it’s a bit difficult for me to meet women. The dating apps help with that. So that’s really my dating life in a nutshell. I don’t normally write about my dating life but wanted to vent. Who knows if I will actually post this (Update – I did.).

Up until two days ago, I had been messaging back and forth with a woman I connected with from Bumble. We hit it off (or it appeared we did at the time) and decided to move from messaging via the Bumble app to texting each other after exchanging phone numbers. We texted each other all day one day asking lots of questions and in general getting to know each other more. We even exchanged Instagram accounts which gives more insight into the kind of person I was. She even followed me and gave me permission to follower her (her Instagram account was locked down). I was going on vacation to Arizona but told her I wanted to meet up when I got back and she also wanted to meet up. The very next day – things were completely different. Texts were short and pointed. It felt like I was getting the cold shoulder. I asked if anything was wrong and she told me she was just at work. So naturally, I left her alone since she was at work. We had texted while she was at work the day before. But I still wanted to be respectful. Another day passed and I texted “Happy Friday” since it was Friday but I heard nothing back from her. I hesitated to reach out as I didn’t want to seem too clingy. I opened up the Bumble app and noticed she un-matched us. Then I noticed she un-followed my Instagram account. I still had permission to see her Instagram though. Things felt weird. So I texted her and asked if we were still on the same page about getting to know each other. She finally responded with a “not interested” message. I thanked her for her response but I am pretty sure I was blocked by then and she removed me from her Instagram. So that was that.

I totally get that in the process of exchanging messages with people, things can result in someone changing their mind about whether or not a match on a dating app is actually a good match. That’s kind of how the process works before you end up meeting in real life. But I’m frustrated with how things went down here.

First,  things went from seemingly really good to not good at all overnight with no explanation. I read and re-read my messages to try and figure out if I said anything wrong and nothing stood out. So I was really confused.

Second, it appeared that she never really intended to text me back that she had changed her mind and was no longer interested. She un-followed my Instagram and un-matched us on Bumble. It was only when I texted her asking point-blank if we were on the same page that she responded. She was just going to disappear – or “ghost” me.

Oh well. I’m frustrated but I wish her well. I just think I deserved more of an explanation.

Windows XP Professional

My high school report on the future of Windows

When I was a high school senior, I was in a special program called Students Recycling Used Technology (“StRUT”). We would take used PCs and repurpose them in our school in the labs and classrooms as well as get hands-on experience repairing and building PCs with various types of components. It was really fun! As part of the class — we had to do a technology report. And I recently discovered my report which was on the future of Windows. I got a kick out of the report so I thought I would share it out.

My very first Kickstarter

Today I received my very first Kickstarter project: the reissue of the 1975 NASA Graphic Standards Manual. This manual is pretty awesome and perfect for design nerds. While I may not necessarily be a design nerd, I do love and appreciate design. I also love NASA and the history behind NASA. So when I discovered this Kickstarter project — I didn’t think twice about funding it to receive a copy of this manual. It felt like owning a piece of NASA history.

The manual itself gives you a look at the design used by NASA from 1975–1992 which includes NASA’s (in)famous “Worm” logo. This essentially served as the brand guidelines for NASA for a long time. For example — it goes into detail on what was the correct placement of the NASA logo on spacecraft such as the Space Shuttle.

My first experience with Kickstarter has been fantastic. I can’t wait to find other cool projects are out there to fund!

Remembering Windows 95

20 years ago today — Windows 95 was released. Windows 95 was the most significant update to Windows ever made at the time — ushering in the transition from 16-bit architecture to 32-bit architecture and introducing a completely brand new graphical user interface designed to make Windows much more consumer friendly. I was only 12 years old at the time but well on my way to being the computer nerd I am today. I thought I’d share some of my favorite memories of Windows 95 in honor of its 20th anniversary.

There are two things about Windows 95 that were big deals at the time for me when Windows 95 was released: it’s new UI and the Internet.

First — a little bit of backstory. In the early 90’s, my dad brought home our family’s first PC: a HP Vectra 486U. It ran Windows 3.1.

HP Vectra 486U

It was with this PC that I fell in love with Windows. My dad’s job at the time dealt with a lot of computer stuff and I learned to do things on the PC by watching him do things. I had tons of fun. But Windows 3.1 wasn’t exactly intuitive or easy to use. And I quickly got bored with MS Paint. I wanted to do a lot more. You had Program Manager that would be your go-to spot for all your applications and then File Manager to manage your files, etc. But Windows could be so much more easier to use. As a kid — I wanted Windows to enable me to do more.

When Windows 95 came out, my dad and I upgraded our PC together. When I say “together” I really mean I watched him go through the setup experience. And when the upgrade was done and the PC booted into Windows, I can remember being blown away by the new UI. It had a Start button! What did the new Start button do? A taskbar! This was all new! No more Program Manager! So how do I get to all my programs? How do I manage my files? I was so excited to learn the new Windows. I dove right in. The Start menu for me was the single best thing about Windows 95.

The next best thing about Windows 95 was how it made connecting to the Internet and browsing the web much more easier. When Windows 95 came out, I had already been “surfing the web” and checking email. In Windows 3.1, I remember having to use a command line to dial-in and connect to the Internet. With Windows 95, you could do this simply by double-clicking on a connection icon you setup for your Internet service. It also came with a brand new web browser called Internet Explorer. However, my dad didn’t like IE at the time so we kept with Netscape as our default web browser. But even Netscape was better on Windows 95 (they released Version 2.0 after the release of Windows 95). I do remember moving away from Eudora and using the inbox e-mail client Windows Messaging for my e-mail (as a 12 year old and one of the very few kids to even have an e-mail address at the time, I didn’t get much e-mail though).

After Windows 95 was released, I got a huge kick witnessing friends and family all of a sudden in the market for PCs. The PC market exploded with Windows 95 because it made using PCs and connecting to the Internet really easy. And I quickly became the kid everyone wanted to help them learn how to use their PC and the Internet — and I loved it.

Windows 95 helped people DO more with their PCs and I think at its heart — that’s what Windows is all about. And it’s great that Windows 10 has gone back to this.