Behind the whys

This post is inspired in equal parts by Ashley’s fantastic post on why she joined Microsoft and Keith’s one on why he left Microsoft. Both tell great stories about open source at Microsoft. Here’s my take on them.

There’s no shortage of stories when it comes to open source in this place. Later this summer, it’ll be 7 years since I joined Microsoft, every single day of which I’ve spent working passionately in the open source space.

I joined Microsoft as an expat living in Ecuador when the local GM asked me to lead open source strategy for a handful of emerging markets in the region. At that time, I had spent 8 years of my career focusing on open source, from community to product. Canaima had been in market for a year and I was actively applying the learnings from years involved in policymaking efforts in Venezuela where I had the opportunity to join congressional workshops and debate with Microsoft reps that would then become my colleagues.

Suffice to say that what was front and center in every conversation I had wasn’t associated with Microsoft back then, and that my decision to join Microsoft didn’t come without repercussions.

I was immediately dismissed from the board of a local free software group and countless networks and contacts closed, a few still to date. My dad gifted me a copy of this book shortly after a local newspaper ran an interview with me about open source which he disagreed with (he insists I’m reading too much into the gift) And like many others, I was also thrown into the world of Office and Windows, products I hadn’t used since I was a teenager.

There are increasingly more posts (like Ashley’s) that brilliantly explain why would someone come in those conditions, and I won’t bother you with mine because hindsight is 20/20, but let me say that as terrible as all of that might sound, it was also a true calling – a calling for transformation. And after all this time responding to that call, I realize how thankful I am for being able to say my entire career at Microsoft has been focused on open source.

On one of my first trips to Redmond, I got to meet a handful of others in my role around the globe, and we were starting to cross-pollinate that community with the high-profile hires Microsoft had then. Just a few years later I had an opportunity to come to Redmond and help lead that community – a community that is still heavily influenced by Ramji’s and Hilf’s contributions to the space.

While in LATAM I had an opportunity to drive impact in disruptive ways: from supporting a Postgres conference (5 years before we had this) to coaching Microsoft Student Partners in rolling out a Linux distro. In my first few years in Redmond, I worked on projects from deprecating taxonomy and helping write priority memos so it was unequivocally clear how we wanted to work with open source, to curating and sharing global best practices and defining field strategy, all things I did with Mark Hill while I was his CTO.

Of course, those were testing years. I would equate some of my experiences to trying to change a belt in a running engine. It didn’t take long to realize we needed a new engine, and I had the opportunity to write a spec for it in an internal forum called ThinkWeek. When the paper got a Certificate of Excellence (long story short, way too many Skypers voted for it) I realized that the pieces had arrived and we were being offered a chance to build it. John said it best in his ChefConf keynote: it was a mix of opportunity, changing demographics and strategy shifts.

And although open source is visible across the company, it’s much harder to hide it in Azure, a product that I had first interacted with in 2008 (when Miguel de Icaza ran an open source panel at PDC08) and that I had mostly ignored in my first years at Microsoft (arguably because it was called Windows Azure then) but that in my eyes provided a clear vehicle for that open source transformation I joined for.

And so that’s how I ended up in the cloud whirlwind a few years ago, focusing on the open source portfolio across Linux, Java, Node.js, DevOps and containers, helping define and land our approach to open source and supporting our work with the ecosystem at large, lurking behind papers and decks in partnership with amazing people like John, Julia, Joseph, Gebi, Mark or folks around the globe like Caroline, Frederic, Alex, Rafael, Olga or Tito.

The first time I traveled to Redmond I met a dozen of open source enthusiasts from around the world (it might have been Gianugo’s first day, too) and fast forward to today where I get to share with 700 of my colleagues in a Yammer group dedicated to open source in the cloud. My colleague Stuart volunteers to help employees that want to take the LFCS certification: that’s another 700. Our team lives and breathes open source in a way that lets us share market intelligence with customers, partners and the community at large.

Later this month at our yearly readiness conference we will have a dedicated open source track. At the Inspire conference, we’ll award the Open Source Partner of the Year award for the third year in a row. And there’s no shortage of industry chatter on this transformation – for which we’re thankful and we learn every day.

But it’d be very easy to get lost in what’s new and what’s different and not realize why it’s meaningful. Stories like Ashley’s give us not only a fresh perspective but the energy to run the engines. And stories like Keith’s and others who have pursued a different career at Microsoft or elsewhere after being part of this open source journey (like Alessandro, Sara, Ahmet or Nik) motivate us to do it right.

When college interns and high schoolers alike reach out to shadow and spend time learning about open source in a place like this, that’s meaningful. When a customer in France interrupt your presentation to ask for your take on a particular corner of the open source world so they can make investment decisions, well, that’s simply awesome.

And that’s why stories like these inspire all of us doing open source at Microsoft. Welcome, good luck, keep being awesome, stay in touch, whatever that is: here’s to more open source stories!

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3 thoughts on “Behind the whys

  1. Great read!! It’s awesome to witness the change, too.. Battleships don’t take to corners very easily but you guys are doing tremendous things! I remember at MGX last year the amount of puzzled looks we got as to why an open source vendor was at a MSFT readiness conference the coincidence of course being that they only recognized us because they were being brought on for their understanding and knowledge of OSS.

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