Welcome to Meet Team Xbox, which is your inside look at the key talent that drives our Xbox and Windows development here at Microsoft, in an effort to make your console and PC experience as awesome as possible. This week, we spoke to Ashley Speicher, the Software Engineering Manager for Xbox. Speicher and her team is responsible for all of the Xbox One-to-Windows 10 PC in-home game streaming, and its TV and OneGuide media features.
Speicher has been with Microsoft since 2002 – with the lion’s share of that time spent with the Xbox team. Prior to her current role (which she has held for the past three years), she led the development team in charge of the Xbox 360 Dashboard and Guide. And before that, she was a key contributor on many projects within the company, including the Xbox 360 DVD player, the very first Netflix app for Xbox 360, and the Media Center Extender for the original Xbox and Xbox 360.
But she didn’t always have her heart set on video games. Speicher started out her college career as a pre-med student at Stanford University – and when she took an introductory computer science course during her first quarter, it gave her a new passion.
“I was immediately attracted to the surprising creativity of it – that idea that you’re really building something, and there’s no single right answer,” Speicher said. “I loved that I needed to be creative and that I needed to be a good craftsman with the code that I was writing. When the final project in the class was to write a video game, I was completely hooked.”
Fast-forward to today, and Speicher leads a team of developers (which she personally grew from zero to 35 in just one year) dedicated to making Xbox’s media and streaming features as awesome as humanly possible. In-home game streaming from Xbox One to Windows 10 is something that Speicher is particularly proud of. “It’s a really tough problem,” she explained. “We’ve worked super-hard to get the latency way down, and make the streaming connection as smooth as possible, even across suboptimal home networks.” So, remember: when you’re using this awesome feature and it’s running as smooth as butter, you have Ashley Speicher and her team to thank for it.
“Another huge highlight for me was working on the first couple versions of the Netflix app on Xbox 360,” Speicher told us, reflecting on the early days of media app integration. “This was the first time Netflix showed up on any game console, and it was really cool to be a part of that.” During (and since) those years, Speicher has been granted 13 patents from the US Patent and Trademark Office, with even more currently under review.
But not everything always works as intended: “The work on Netflix actually led to one of the funnier bugs I’ve seen in my career,” Speicher recalled. “There was such a high demand for the app, and when we shipped it, the activation codes were suddenly really long. You needed the activation code to pair up your Xbox 360 with your Netflix account. Unfortunately, the text box that displayed the activation code was too small, and the whole code couldn’t be displayed. Activation was failing for everyone, and it was a huge crisis. Shaheen, the first dev on the project, got a call at 4:00 a.m. to deal with it. He ended up making the text box ridiculously wide, just about covering the entire width of the screen to be on the safe side, and shipped out a title-update within hours!”
However, as is often the case when one’s career advances into management roles, there are plenty of times when she misses rolling up her sleeves and getting her hands dirty. “I do miss coding sometimes. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to do it anymore, but the march up to console launch was so crazy that everybody was in the trenches running the kernel debugger, fixing bugs, and even doing some real dev work from time to time. I actually spent a week writing a special colorspace conversion mode that we needed. While I love what I do on a daily basis running the team, it’s always super fun when I get a chance to dive deep back into the code again.”
And of course, like everyone here at Microsoft, Speicher is excited about the release of Windows 10. “I’m completely addicted to Windows 10’s Xbox app right now,” Speicher said. “It’s awesome that – right on my PC – I can so easily see what’s going on with my friends, message them, watch their Game DVR clips, and get jealous over all the achievements they’re earning.”
When she’s not working, Ashley enjoys indoor rock climbing and – of course – playing video games. She’s a big role-playing game geek (having cut her teeth on the Ultima and Final Fantasy series), and has logged hundreds of hours in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and BioWare’s various RPG masterpieces. Beyond that, she’s an avid fan of everything from Halo, to Rock Band, to Limbo.
Speicher holds a Master of Science and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Stanford University. Originally an Army brat from the east coast, Ashley now lives in Redmond with her husband, her son, and their two dogs.
We – and our fans – are lucky to have Ashley on the Xbox team. We’ll be introducing you to many more member of Team Xbox in the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned!