1 Year on Next at Microsoft: People at Microsoft

In yesterday’s post I gave a virtual tour of Microsoft’s Redmond HQ and noted that we form opinions about people by the places they inhabit. As cool as many of those places are, unquestionably the most fun aspect of my job for the last 18 months has been meeting some of the people building the future at Microsoft. Our executives, past and present, help to shape perceptions of Microsoft but my focus has been on highlighting some of the unsung heroes of Microsoft over the last year.

A few months ago colleague of mine left to join Google and asked my why I’m still here after almost 14 years and I think my answer surprised him – I said it was the people. I know that sounds trite but it’s true, even more so over the last year given the people I’ve been able to meet so I’d like to introduce you to some of those people and the work they’re doing.

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First up is Stevie Bathiche who I’ve covered frequently here on Next. He’s one of the first people I met when I started my cultural expedition across Redmond and the demo of his lab just blew me away. His Applied Sciences Team is reimagining human computer interaction and pushing the boundaries of display technology. Every time I take someone in to their lab, they depart in a state of amazement as they tell the story of Breaking Harlow’s Monkeys.

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As we march towards these more natural user interfaces, a field of artificial intelligence known as machine learning is becoming ever more important. We have a lot of acknowledged experts in this field and John Platt is one of those – he helped explain machine learning to me in a post titled Machine Learning for Dummies. He also explained why he’s holding Oscar in this photo. It turns out that John is the recipient of a real Oscar – an Academy Award no less. Read on to find out why…

…I don’t want you to think it’s a man’s world here so allow me to introduce you to Rochelle Benavides and Sheridan Martin Small.

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Lets start with Rochelle who is surrounded by her team in this photo. She’s one of the most passionate designers here at Microsoft who started on Media Center and is now part of the team responsible for the new Xbox dashboard that will arrive on Dec 6th. She’s someone who cares as much about how something feels as much as how it looks and you get that sense when you play with the new dashboard or the Zune PC software which she was also deeply involved in. Here design philosophy…

1. Technology should inform design but never guide it
2. Design should inspire technological innovation
3. The design process should never be crippled by technology
4. Our products should deliver beauty, create emotion, and be memorable

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….next up I Sheridan. Wow, where do I start with Ms. Martin Small. She’s one of the most fascinating and creative people I’ve ever met. She currently a User Experience Designer for Xbox Incubation which is as intriguing a job as it sounds. My profile of her is probably the longest I have written as Sheridan has taken a fascinating journey through Microsoft, Expedia and PopCap. You wouldn’t think a fine art major would end up with the skills she has amassed but it did help her create small fluffy character called Ronaldo who starred in the Fun Labs demos at E3 this year and the amazing Printing Dress. Sheridan is also the subject of perhaps the best photo I have ever taken…read on, you will not be disappointed.

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…back to the boys. I never expected to meet a toy maker at Microsoft but that’s what Karsten Aagaard is. He started his career making kids toys by hand following a challenge his brother set. He worked as a toymaker for 8 years and learned his craft surrounded by a handful of artisans who hand-crafted everything that the company turned out. From there, on to Motorola and then to Tennessee…to build houses. And then on to Microsoft. Who knew Microsoft employed toy makers? Find out why

 

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You could hardly find a person more different (in a good way) to Karsten than Andrew Phillips. Once you get your head around the work he is doing, you just want to know more. To me at least, it’s some of the most interesting work that is happening at Microsoft. Andrew is the head of biological computation lab at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England and the impact of his work is best described by Jim Haseloff of Cambridge University

“all of the technologies we need to feed ourselves, to clothe ourselves, to provide materials for the modern world derive from nonrenewable sources and we need to move towards renewable sources and use sustainable technologies…largely they’re biologically based, so the ability to program biological systems is hugely valuable in that endeavor.”

Andrew is in fact developing a whole suite of biological modeling languages, not only for modeling complex systems such as the Immune system, but also for programming molecular computers made of DNA, and programming groups of cells to communicate with each other to perform complex functions. It’s amazing stuff.

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Two more from the profiles I’ve done this year. I often talk about the racing car driver I came across at Microsoft and people are surprised that we have such skills at Microsoft and even more surprised when I tell them the person in question is a girl. That’s Kiki Wolfkill, currently an executive producer at 343 Industries, the gaming unit within Microsoft Studios that’s responsible for the Halo franchise. Before this Kiki has worked on games like Project Gotham Racing and Forza Motorsport so her racing skills came in hand – she has raced both as an amateur and as a professional, beginning with amateur road racing with SCCA, NASAPro, and Porsche Club Racing.

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Last up in this recap is Greg Hithcock. You see his work every day is you’re looking at a Windows PC as he’s Partner Development Lead in the Advanced Reading Technologies Group. – that means he works on our font technology for one thing and he’s been around the place for 25 years so has a rich history of stories. After spending a few hours with Greg I felt fully educated on typography (not just fonts). We talked ligatures, typefaces, stylistic sets and debunked a common myth about reading speed with the Stroop Test.

That’s all for my recap but there are plenty more people you can read about by clicking on our People tag….and I’ll be adding more in the coming weeks and months!