Editor’s note: The following is a post from Thomas Kohnstamm, a writer for microsoft.com/stories.
It only takes a few seconds in the presence of James Mickens to understand why he’s known as “The Galactic Viceroy of Research Excellence” rather than his official title of “Researcher.” To talk to James is to step into a Technicolor world saturated with humor, absurdity and profound intelligence.
When I asked him to interview for this story, James suggested that I accompany him instead “on a one-man Special Forces mission to rescue some rare Bengali pandas from a Renton-based Hezbollah cell.” He then proceeded to grill me about my food allergies because, he deadpanned, “Many of my ninja throwing stars are made of compostable peanut resin.”
We never did rescue those poor pandas, but James had already accomplished his mission: to disarm me as a potential adversary and initiate a sense of camaraderie. More importantly, I found that he considers this ability to connect with people – more so than even raw intelligence – to be the key to his success as a researcher.