Former DJ Spins Up a More Social Outlook 2010

Editor’s note:
This is the first installment in

Ten Behind Office 2010

, a series that features employees behind some of the new and updated features in Microsoft Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010.

REDMOND, Wash. — March 25, 2010 — Michael Affronti has been a professional DJ, a personal trainer, and even a personality on MTV.

It’s only natural, then, that the self-described “die-hard multitasker” has designed two features for the next version of Outlook that will help people do more, connect more, and click less. One feature lets users keep track of e-mails by conversation, and the other helps them connect socially with friends and coworkers without having to leave Outlook.

Michael Affronti (right) with Outlook colleague Jed Brown at a Seattle Sounders game.

The new Conversations View feature in Outlook 2010 groups e-mails by conversation, letting users more easily navigate, organize, and delete messages from their inbox. Affronti says the new feature can reduce the number of clicks people typically use to deal with their inbox by up to 40 percent.

The Outlook Social Connector, on the other hand, is a set of features that help users keep track of their friends and colleagues and expand their professional network. The tool lets people see items such as Facebook updates and LinkedIn pictures for their e-mail contacts. It also allows users to add a contact as a friend on social networking sites.

Affronti, a program manager on the Outlook team in Office, has been at Microsoft for more than five years. A Long Island, New York, native from a “large and awesome Italian family,” Affronti says he believes a diversity of experience is one of the best assets you can have.

To that end, during and shortly after his time at Boston University’s School of Management (where he focused on management information systems and computer science), Affronti interned at John Hancock Financial Services in addition to becoming a DJ, a certified personal trainer, and an MTV personality on a show called “Global Dance.” He even started a Web site design company.

The Outlook Social Connector is a set of features that help users keep track of their friends and colleagues, as well as expanding their professional network.

“I’ve sort of been all over the place with what I wanted to do, but I figured out sometime close to high school graduation that I loved software, specifically the business and productivity portion of software,” Affronti says. “When I started looking for a job, not too many companies had positions where people could work on both the business and design sides of technology. That’s why I came to Microsoft.”

After joining Microsoft, Affronti worked on the RSS feed and Instant Search features for Outlook 2007. He loves being a program manager because it offers him the variety he craves and an opportunity to work on the technical and creative sides of Outlook, plus he gets to interact with customers and partner companies.

“One of my favorite parts of my job is when I meet with partners, companies, and end users to discuss, evangelize, and get feedback on features in Outlook 2010,” Affronti said.

Microsoft News Center asked Affronti about the new features he worked on in Outlook, about working in Outlook, and about what he does in his free time.

News Center: What was a typical day like developing for Outlook 2010?

Affronti: My typical day is a bit crazy; working on two very complicated and large features requires a ton of meetings, context switching, and then even more meetings.

Depending on the time of the cycle, my day can be consumed with design meetings and usability labs as we iterate on the feature during initial development, or schedule and resource checkpoints with our management to understand how we will hit our various shipping milestones.

In a particularly busy week, I may attend a conference on social networking or even fly to meet with our new partners for the Social Connector.

News Center: Did you hit any speed bumps in developing Conversation View and the Social Connector for Outlook 2010?

Affronti: The Conversations feature has been an amazing iterative design experience over the past three years. We have learned a ton from our customer feedback along the way and have used that feedback to actively improve the features.

We have also learned that the way each of our customers individually manages mail is a very personal, habitual, and widely varied set of behaviors. “Doing mail” in Outlook is one of the most frequent and repetitive activities that customers do, and this extremely high level of usage means customers create very strong habits and preferences. We are very mindful of and respectful of this.

News Center: What did customers have to say about these two new features, and how did that feedback affect development of these features?

Affronti: Getting customer input has been an interesting process for us. For Conversations, we spent over six months in the usability labs reviewing design iterations, sketches, and actual prototypes to get detailed customer feedback on the new inbox experience. There were even times when we were furiously modifying the prototype in between participants in a single lab to try out new ideas. We listened very carefully to what people had to say, adapted the feature, and even reached out to particularly vocal users to ask if the changes helped them.

We are only now starting to get broad user feedback on the Outlook Social Connector since our beta was recently released and the connectors for LinkedIn and MySpace went live.

The feedback we’ve been getting has been extremely positive, supporting our belief that the Social Connector’s ambient presentation of communication and social information doesn’t negatively impact productivity.

One user reported, “I haven’t heard from this person in a long time, and the Social Connector showed me (through LinkedIn) that they changed jobs and the last e-mail they sent me was a year ago.” We love hearing about these great scenarios that are happening for our users as we blend social data into their work experience in Outlook.

News Center: What do you think people will say about the new features once they’re out in the world?

Affronti: I can’t wait until Conversations and the Outlook Social Connector are released with Outlook 2010! I hope people will react positively to the new features and the entire release. The entire Outlook team has worked amazingly hard on the product, and we’re all extremely proud of what we’re delivering to our customers this year.

News Center: What do you need to do your best work?

Affronti: I do my best work in my office, sitting on my balance ball with some great house or trance music playing. The balance ball keeps me focused (but makes it hard to turn and talk to someone when they stop in). I also have one of those transformer desks that can be raised into a standing position, so I spend about half my day upright. It’s also great for doing mini-presentations during meetings in my office.

News Center: What are your main interests outside of work?

Affronti: I’m a huge soccer fan, so twice a week you’ll find me playing on my Seattle co-rec teams or at Qwest Field on the weekends cheering on the Sounders at one of their home games.

My fiancée and I love great wine and tasty food, so we’re always trying out new restaurants in Seattle and going to the wineries for tasting with our friends. You can’t beat the music scene in Seattle, and not a month goes by that we don’t see an amazing artist perform at one of the venues around the city. Summer is my favorite time of year in Seattle, and we spend a lot of our time down at the beach on Alki playing volleyball and enjoying the gorgeous weather.

I’m also a self-professed social networking addict, and my friends joke that you can usually find out what I’m doing by checking Twitter (hit me up: @micflash), Facebook, or FourSquare.

News Center: What’s the best part of working at Microsoft?

Affronti: The amount of impact we have on our users through our software has always amazed me. When I first joined Microsoft after college, it blew me away that I was making design decisions in a product that would eventually be used by over 500 million people.

It’s amazing to see user data that shows in one day millions of people clicked inside the Outlook instant search box that I worked on a few years ago. I love the opportunity to talk with customers, learn how our product can evolve to help them with their lives, and then deliver that value in the next release.

News Center: What’s next for you?

Affronti: Not sure yet. We are just now beginning the planning for the next version of Office, and there are tons of exciting new areas and teams that will be tackling the next set of challenges facing our users. You can be sure I’ll be working in the people and social networking space.

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