Neal Freeland

Engineering/marketing manager, family guy. My personal blog with a few work thoughts mixed in.

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Grace Hopper Conference

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I just returned from a few days at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and thought I’d share a few observations. I think men talking about women in tech is like crossing a minefield men don’t know they’re in. Even with the best of intentions they will step on a mine they can’t see. Look at the understandably negative reaction to Satya‘s keynote at the conference this week. That said, I think men should enter the minefield anyway. We need men to bravely embrace this topic and talk about it. But be prepared: We’re probably going to mess something up and become a target. I watched Blake Irving, CEO of GoDaddy and Microsoft alum (I used to work with him), receive a lot of punishing feedback in the press and social media for being on a “male allies” panel. My initial reaction: Geez I don’t want to be a target for this, I’d rather be a silent and safe supporter than open myself up and take a risk. His reaction: Keep trying, we need to take risks if we are going to create change. The women who believe in this are taking risks everyday with their careers. Men can take a few risks, too.

So here goes.

Why it’s important to have more women in tech. Growing the number of women in tech is important because women are the customers of our products, and data show that companies build better products when they have insight and understanding about their customers. A common mistake male engineers make is to say “this is how I use the product, so this is what we should build” when a significant number, or even the majority, of customers are female. Thus, diversity leads to broader understanding, which leads to new insights, which leads to innovation, which leads to more product and business success. This isn’t just the “right” thing to do, it’s also in our self-interest.

What is needed to grow women in tech. To attract and retain more women in technology, culture change is required. Even though engineers are rational and objective, we are still susceptible to gender role bias (test yourself). I consider myself aware and supportive of women in work, and I took the test and it told me I have a slight association of MEN with CAREER and WOMEN with HOME. Over two thirds of the million people who have taken this Harvard test have a similar bias. It is everywhere in our culture and is generally unconscious. When we have low representation (only 17% of Microsoft engineering hires are women) combined with unconscious bias we end up with a culture that is less supportive to women than it is to men. Men generally don’t see this since we benefit from the bias, but many women we work with feel this bias every single day. To change the culture, many women are speaking up and demanding representation and equality. They are being persistent, and this may often feel uncomfortable for all involved. For example, expect women to ask for promotions and pay raises. In fact, encourage them to do so. Changing our culture is something we should all support in order to achieve the benefits of having more women in tech.

What managers can do. I learned some of the tactics we can deploy as an organization: Actively recruit women into the organization; listen to women’s stories; identify and develop top female engineering talent; increase the number of female engineering leaders; establish metrics and hold leaders accountable; model work/life flexibility; train managers to be aware of unconscious bias when determining promotions and rewards; help women connect with each other to reduce isolation and build support networks; mentor and sponsor women. There are a lot of great resources at the National Center for Women in Technology.

An example. We can generally all agree that the tactics above are useful, but I believe this topic is mostly about how we treat each other. It’s about relationships, so I want to bring it down to earth by sharing an anecdote. I crossed paths with Yeelin who worked on my team last year. She is an amazing program manager early in her career who works super hard and knows her space cold. I noticed in some product meetings (scrum and spec reviews) that she held back even though she had the answers. I hypothesized that she did this because as an Asian female she has heard messages that this is the behavior she should demonstrate, and I raised this in a skip level 1×1. She agreed with the hypothesis. I encouraged her to show her leadership more visibly and assured her that people really want her to do so; we all appreciate helpful leaders. I added that I believe she has the technical talent, passion and work ethic to be successful in her career. I also suggested she connect with Qiao Lin, a female engineer who was a few years ahead in career experience and who had just transferred to the Bellevue office from China. I was impressed by Qiao Lin’s enthusiastic networking (she reached out to meet me in a 1×1), her confident style, and that she had asked me to donate to the Anita Borg Institute during our annual fall giving campaign. Then we had a re-org and I didn’t see much more of Yeelin. Fast forward nearly a year, and Yeelin told me that she was at the conference because of our conversation and Qiao Lin’s mentoring. It’s hard to describe exactly, but I felt like we shared a moment of mutual appreciation and that we were both trying to live the change we are hoping to see in the world.

Next year I will encourage more women to attend this conference, and I think it is an amazing place to recruit top engineering talent.


Written by nealfreeland

October 10, 2014 at 3:18 pm

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Memorial Day 2014

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Here’s a note I sent to some co-workers on Friday morning prior to Memorial Day weekend

Hey all – I just wanted to take a moment a remind us that this weekend is Memorial Day. It’s a great time to enjoy a bbq with family and friends, and appreciate the improving weather as we head into summer. If you’d like to, maybe you can take a moment to reflect on the meaning of the holiday as well, which is to honor those who died in service to their country. I’m a veteran so this holiday has special meaning to me, but I’d like to use it as an opportunity to remind myself that my job is important and I should strive to make it meaningful. Any veteran will tell you that yes of course they love their country, but what all veterans really care about is the brothers and sisters they serve with. This is why Memorial Day is so meaningful: it honors those who served, and didn’t come back.

Today we work together making software. One day we’ll just have the memories of having worked together. I try hard every day to help make those good memories.

Thanks for all you do, and enjoy the weekend!

Memorial Day

Written by nealfreeland

May 26, 2014 at 8:01 pm

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New Bing

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We announced a bunch of upgrades and a new logo today. This has been a big cross-team effort, and my teams have contributed many features (homepage; page zero; new answers on PC, tablet and mobile; snapshot entities; and marketing pages and in-product messages announcing the changes).

Read on for summary from my boss, Lawrence Ripsher.


The Next Phase

At Bing, we understand that search is more than simply finding information, it’s about taking action and gaining knowledge. Since Bing’s launch, we’ve talked about doing instead of searching, and how the web has changed from a collection of documents to a constantly growing digital version of life as we know it. At the same time, the devices and scenarios through which people experience the web are morphing at an accelerating rate. We no longer think about search as simply a box that people type into. We ‘search’ on maps using our fingers, ask our devices questions using our voice, use our social networks to figure out what’s happening, and even use our phone’s ‘eyes’ to navigate foreign cities. Search has never been asked to do so many things in so many different ways across so many devices. It’s time to change.

Nowhere has this been more obvious than with how people use Microsoft devices and services. We can now speak to our Xbox consoles to find and interact with digital entertainment. Our Windows Phones offer contextually relevant suggestions and can translate languages in real time. Bing image search is now part of Word, and Bing Maps part of Excel. Bing is now an important service layer for Microsoft, and we wanted to create a new brand identity to reflect Bing’s company-wide role. The new look integrates the “One Microsoft” vision both from a product perspective and visually. You can read more about it from my colleague Scott Erickson here.


A New Look for Bing: More Helpful, More Human, More Beautiful

Within our product team, we talk about the goal of Bing as always being helpful, human and beautiful. To chart this course, we have also rebuilt with a beautiful new, modern design focused on simplicity, speed and visual appeal to give people a better search experience regardless of the device they are using.

Let’s take a look at the changes:

A New Interface: a Modern

With this release we’ve created a modern experience – one that is faster, cleaner and more visually appealing. We believe that search can be beautiful as well as functional and efficient. With that as our goal, we evaluated fonts, spacing, color, visual scan patterns, the search box and even the underlying code. We’re excited about the final result and to give you a glimpse, we have created a destination at you can learn more about the new face of search.


Katy one

However, the journey to a modern experience is not simply a point-in-time. In rewriting the underlying code of our search experience, we gave ourselves a dynamic environment to respond quickly to the future state of the web and how people use it. In landing on today’s design, we went through hundreds of variations of the experience and we’ll continue this process to redefine what it means to be a beautiful, functional and efficient search experience. Here’s just one glimpse of how our new modern design could evolve in the future.


Snapshot: Helpful Information at a Glance.

Last year we introduced two major features. The first was Snapshot, which showed what “Bing knows” about a person, place or thing. The second was our Sidebar, where you could see what your “Friends know” from Facebook, Twitter and many other social networks. Throughout the year, we’ve learned a lot about when people need factual information and when they need a human perspective.

In our new design, we’ve combined these two sources of knowledge to provide people with all the supporting context they’ll need for any given query. This combined region ranks the key information and actions we know about any an entity, while bringing in friends and expert opinions about that same topic. For example, consider a search for “Highway 1”. Bing knows there are many possible things you might be looking for. Our new design displays both the factual data about this beautiful route (length, date, related places), and also the human perspective whether they be status updates, photos, tweets, check-in’s or expert opinions.

Highway 1 of 1

Highway 1 of 2

Page Zero: Finding without Searching

The past several years have given us terabytes of data on how people engage with results once they perform a search. Our balancing act is getting information to a user as quickly as possible while making that information relevant and meaningful. In other words, people don’t just want faster guesses from their search engine, they want search to be fasterand smarter. As such, we’re introducing Page Zero, a new function in Bing that helps a user get an answer or take an action before they even seethe first results page. We do this by showing key tasks associated with the query while they’re typing. This not only provides important information and services to them quickly, but enables them to see what kinds of things they can explore on Bing and across the Web. For example, if you type Katy Perry, we understand what you’re looking for before you’ve even searched and give you a quick glance of who she is and suggest other popular search tasks associated with the singer.

katy page zero

Page Zero can also help users find what they are looking for faster through “intelligent disambiguation”. This is another way of saying if we understand there are two similarly named people or things, we give you the choice of picking the one you want for the most relevant results. For example, if you’re searching for “jon stewart” You could be talking about the show or the host. So here we present you with a choice right in the search box.

jon page zero

We’ll continue to improve our intent understanding based on real-time data so our action tiles will actually change over time based on what actions are most relevant to that entity. For example, for a query like the publication El Tiempo, we’ll show deep links into the site so you can navigate directly into the publication. For something like the query for United Airlines, we will show the most common actions like “Check in” and “Flight Status”. We think the time people will save using Page Zero instead of navigating a search results page will be significant.

el tiempo

united air

Pole Position: High Confidence Results

In search, there are a lot of queries that have multiple or ambiguous intents. For example, someone querying “temple” might want information about the religious structure, Temple University in PA or the subway station in London by the same name. We address these scenarios in a number of ways, such as the earlier mentioned intent disambiguation.

However, we often also receive “high-confidence” queries – searches for which we have very clear data about what someone is looking for due to our work to understand search intent using advanced machine learning. We’re now introducing a new surface area at the top of the page called “Pole Position” for results where we have high confidence on a user’s intent. When we know that someone wants images of a celebrity, is looking for a specific fact or needs a detailed view of the weather in a particular city, we now provide a much larger answer beautifully integrated at the top of the page. These larger format answers help people find the best answer for their question. This space will be rapidly evolving to enable users to take an action or dig deeper into that topic. To create this feature, we’ve leveraged all our experience with delivering structured data and entities in our Snapshotover the past year. We’re excited about being able to deliver a compelling experience when we are sure, yet dial back gracefully when variety should be emphasized.


The Right Search Experience for the Right Device

As our technology world continues to be defined by screens – from 100” TVs to 1.65” watches and everything in between– the ability for our search interface to intelligently scale according to the given device is paramount. Our new layout is built from the ground up to work across devices and will adjust both to the size of the screen and the context of the user so we present the right experience at the right time. Results should look as beautiful on a Surface or iPad as they do on a PC or phone. Our new platform will enable us to improve experiences across an ever growing range of devices, like mobile. In fact we recently announced a revamped experience as part of Windows Phoneand this release will leverage those improvements to will bring them to all mobile devices. Part of this focus on mobile and tablet devices means integrating touch into our experiences and we’ve introduced a number of capabilities to allow for more rapid refinements in the future.

mobiel one      mobile 2   mobile 3

The improvements we’re releasing in this latest release of are the beginning of a new, more modern era for Bing. We believe this reinvention will give people faster access to information, more efficient ways to get things done and a unique and human perspective on search, all delivered through a beautiful experience.

It’s time to move forward. It’s time to build the next generation of search.

– Lawrence Ripsher, General Manager of User Experiences, Bing

Written by nealfreeland

September 17, 2013 at 6:19 am

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Bing for Schools

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This week we announced Bing for Schools. The program gives schools an ad-free search experience with strict filters (to help block adult content) and enhanced privacy protection. It also lets parents band together to search on Bing and earn their school Microsoft Surface tablets. My folks on the Bing Rewards team worked hard over the last month to adapt our program to support schools, and I was really impressed by the team’s agility and passion. It’s fun when work is connected like this to a larger community.

Bing for Schools

Written by nealfreeland

August 24, 2013 at 6:28 pm

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Announcing Bing Boards

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We announced a new feature this week at a blogger conference in New York City. Bing Boards is an experiment to see if we can get people to provide content to help others with their searches, and we’ve targeted lifestyle bloggers to start. Here are some sample Boards: one, two, three, four, five. It’s taken us months to conceive several ideas, respond to user feedback, pivot in a new direction, and finally land on this feature. We’ve used the best practices of The Lean Startup, and the experience has been much more like my time in start-ups: rather than the traditional Microsoft method of building for scale, we’re building for learning. We’ll see how Bing users react, and I’m sure there are many changes we’ll need to make, but I think we’re on to something.

Boards Party Hats

Martha Stewart

Kelli Stuckart from our editorial team stalks Martha at the conference and tries to convince her to create a board. 🙂

Chen at Blogger Conference

Chen Fang at the conference

Martha and Bing Boards

The team (Chen, Katie, Cathie, Kelli) got a photo with Martha!

Written by nealfreeland

June 20, 2013 at 10:47 am

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Bing Homepage Panorama

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Last week we launched another extension to our Bing brand image with a panoramas feature. It’s a fun way to move around and zoom in and out of the image. Rajeev Chand on the team has done a very nice driving this, and the response from our users has been very positive. I especially like this article from Fast Company: Forget Google’s White Backdrops: Bing To Launch Interactive Panoramic Backgrounds.


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October 29, 2012 at 9:19 am

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Microsoft Patent Award Arrives This Week

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Microsoft delivered my award this week for filing a patent with three co-workers. The title of our application is “Strategy-Resistant Referral Rewards Distribution.” Quickly summarized, we created a way to make it harder to cheat a refer-a-friend marketing program. “Strategy-Resistant” just means “hard to cheat” and “Referral Rewards Distribution” just means “Refer-a-friend payment.” The Microsoft lawyers and PhD researchers use language that’s pretty technical to be reviewed by bureaucrats in the US Patent Office. This is probably why it’ll take ~3 years before we find out if the patent has been granted.

Strategy-Resistant Referral Reward Distribution

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December 20, 2011 at 9:34 pm

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