Quiet riot: Dave Campbell and the art of humble disruption

Disruptive. According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, it’s the adjective form of disrupt, which means to break apart or throw into disorder. But in the tech industry, it’s become the buzz word for transformation, tearing something down in order to create something new and better. 

Spend time talking with Dave Campbell, Chief Technical Officer of Microsoft’s Cloud and Services organization and one of the company’s elite corps of Technical Fellows and you understand why. “People have to recognize that there’s a need for disruption,” said Campbell. “There comes a time when you have to make a shift and take a run at the new world.”

Campbell’s approach to work reminds me of a moment in the film “Apollo 13,” when several NASA technicians need to quickly design a carbon dioxide absorber to save the lives of three astronauts trapped in a damaged capsule. One technician turns to everyone assembled in the room and declares, “We’ve got to find a way to make this [a square canister] fit into the hole for this [a round canister] using nothing but that [the contents of mismatched pieces spread across a table].”

It’s kind of a fitting analogy for the disruption that Campbell’s accomplished in his career, including 20 years at Microsoft. “Dave thinks sideways,” said Dean Hachamovitch, Chief Data Strategist at Microsoft. “Whereas the rest of us look at a problem the same way, he always manages to find another angle.”

That’s why when Bill Gates stepped down as CEO at Microsoft, he anointed 22 Technical Fellows, including Campbell. While a huge honor, Campbell jokingly dismisses it as coming from some process in a smoke-filled room. “Dave is all about the business, the customer and the outcome,” said Ted Kummert, who as former chief of the SQL Server team used to be Campbell’s manager and now remains a good friend.”

Read the full profile at microsoft.com/stories.