Jeffrey Snover: Leading Innovation at Microsoft

| MSNE Staff

When it comes to innovation at Microsoft, Jeffrey Snover is the man to talk to.

Leading the charge as the chief architect of Windows PowerShell, Snover, a Microsoft technical fellow, and chief architect for the Azure Storage and Cloud Edge group, has been with Microsoft for 19 years. In his tenure with Microsoft, Snover has built dozens of management technologies and products, driving innovation company-wide and worldwide. PowerShell, his most recognizable technology, is a task automation and configuration management framework from Microsoft, consisting of a command-line shell and associated scripting language. PowerShell has drastically revolutionized programming, especially within Microsoft, lending itself to innumerable innovations using Windows. And we’re thankful that he came out to Boston to celebrate innovation at our annual OneWeek Hackathon.

No stranger to New England, Snover grew up in the Boston area, spending his early career here in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and Nashua, New Hampshire. And although he’s based in Redmond now, he ventures to the east coast a couple times a year to meet with various teams. This summer, while Snover came to our Hackathon, he took the time to meet with leaders at Microsoft Research, Office, and InTune, but also met with outside PowerShell user groups to tune into the tech community here in New England.

“This used to be the center of the tech world, right along Route 128 and Interstate 495,” Snover explained. “There was a dip period as the industry shifted from vertically to horizontally-aligned, and much of the balance of the tech industry moved from the east coast to the west. Now, there’s a rejuvenation and also a diversification, where we’re seeing hubs of technology rather than individual centers. There’s a lot more vibrance in the tech community today in Boston than there was 10 years ago. There’s no doubt about that.”

In his visit to our New England Research & Development (NERD) Center, Snover was generous to give a talk at on site on Software Development in the Age of Social Responsibility. We were also thankful for his guidance with our Hackathon teams, and ultimately his work as a judge at our Hackathon science fair.

“As a judge, they told me, ‘here’s some categories to pick winners in, but you can create your own categories’ — one of the categories I want to have a winner in is best failure, a project that had a great hypothesis or grand ambition but wasn’t able to succeed,” Snover told us. We were excited to grant this award to our bot framework app team, which had a stellar concept that wasn’t able to make it to the execution stage.

This, he says, is part of the larger focus Microsoft is building on a growth mindset, which focuses on the concept that nobody is fixed in their abilities or knowledge.

“Growth mindset means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Snover said. “It’s not needing to know all the answers, but being willing to dive into all the questions and getting all the answers, and using customers as the source of answers. But it also means to embrace failure as a learning opportunity, which is really at the heart of this.”

We were excited to see that growth mindset in action at our Hackathon, as projects like Liberating the Loo, Engineering Escape Rooms Curriculum, and a high school intern-driven project focused on boats and water quality, sought to improve existing programs and technologies through simple change. We’re excited to see this mindset reflected throughout Microsoft as well, and we’re thankful for leaders like Snover who make this consistent innovation possible.

“Culture change is hard,” said Snover. “It’s one thing for Satya [Nadella, CEO at Microsoft] to say something, but he says it again and again and again, and everybody has to say that again, iterate it, and translate that into a set of visible actions. That’s one of my roles. A focus on implementation.”