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Terry Myerson: Lessons that I learnt by leading Windows

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My lessons from having the honor to lead Windows are many, but three really shine through to me today

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Chief : It is an emotional day for me as I look toward starting my next chapter outside of in a few months. Satya and I have been discussing this for some time, but today it becomes real. Actually sharing the news with the team, customers, and partners has been an incredibly intense experience. Microsoft has been my work, my team, and my purpose for 21 years.

The decision comes with a lot of reflection and special memories of the past two decades. With a blog like this, hopefully I can share a few lessons learned, and my ongoing enthusiasm for Microsoft.

It's surreal to look back on how it all started. I recall meeting Bill Gates in 1996 as Microsoft was evaluating buying Intersé, one of the earliest Internet companies, which I founded with Midori Chan and Ed Hott way back in 1994. During our meeting, I remember being at the whiteboard explaining how we could infer a user's path through a web site based upon referring URL's in the website traffic logs (ok, this probably sounds very basic now, but it was advanced in those days!). I remember discussing with Bill how caching impacted the logs. I remember us both drinking Diet Coke. I loved the discussion. I couldn't believe the CEO would dig into details at this level. Our discussion left me really wanting to join the team, and it was the beginning of my love for designing great software with the people at Microsoft. It's incredible to think that of the ~20 people who joined Microsoft in March 1997 from Intersé, five are still here (including both Midori and Ed, and Harvinder Bhela who helps lead Windows today, and Rajesh Potti, a developer on Office 365).


Our team joined the Site Server group at Microsoft. One of the first people I worked with was a guy on the team named Satya Nadella. I vividly recall attending a Seattle Mariners game with him in the late 90's when he first shared with me about his son and his medical challenges. I grew up a little that day. It's amazing what he has done as CEO. I believe in the strategy and vision the company is pursuing, and the leadership team here to make it happen.

Joining a large company after being CEO of a startup is certainly an adjustment. I moved from Silicon Valley to Seattle. My title changed from “CEO” to “Product Unit Manager”. I had a boss. But wow, Microsoft opened the world to me. I left the country for the first time in my life, talking to customers in Europe, Australia, Africa, and Asia about our work. My development team grew to over 100 people. I didn't have to worry about real estate or health care. A team of people was there to help with recruiting. Microsoft provided an environment and the resources to dream big, like I had never experienced before. I was hooked.

A short time after joining, while at a volunteer event for Seattle Works, I met Katie. She was teaching 1st grade to English as a 2nd language students. She was so honest, smart, beautiful, and fun. Luckily for me, she eventually agreed to be my wife.


After Site Server, Perry Clarke convinced me to join him on the Exchange team. For the following 8 years, Exchange became my purpose. I learned so much about being a leader and running a large-scale software business during this time. It's crazy to look back at the Exchange team I joined, with a tightly coupled on-premise server design, low share vs Lotus Notes, and under $500M in revenue. Over the following 8 years we built the beginnings of today's cloud scale Office 365, became the leader in enterprise communications, and grew the business to over $2B.

I will always love the Exchange team, customers, and partners. Some of the many great people I got to work with in these years were Dave Thompson, Karim Batthish, Vanessa Feliberti, Mike Swafford, Naresh Sundaram, Jim Kleewein, Kim Akers, David Lemson, Jason Mayans, Vivek Sharma, Russ Simpson, Jim Van Eaton, Jackie McGee, Jon Avner, Jorge Pereira, Julia White, Malcolm Pearson, and Ian Jose. It's hard to list any names, because I know I'm forgetting some really important people – but it's also too hard not to list them.

Exchange 2003 was codenamed Titanium (aka Ti), and in my office today, my wall has a picture of the Exchange team on the fields in front of our building:

Looking back at my biggest learnings from Exchange, the biggest lessons centered around how to get a big engineering team to work well together- leveraging customer feedback loops to create intensity and energy, getting the team aligned around a shared schedule to create well integrated work, and the importance of consistently communicating to a large group of people to keep everyone in sync.

Katie and I had all 3 of our kids while I worked on Exchange.


Then came October 2008. Over a year earlier, just prior to the iPhone launch, I was personally involved in negotiating the Exchange ActiveSync license with Apple. I was carrying a 2007 v1 iPhone (which I still have in my office today). I was an outspoken lover of smartphones and knew how important they would be. Enabling mobile connectivity was a key focus of Exchange. Android launched that September. But what I remember most vividly, was the Friday when Andy Lees and Robbie Bach asked me to lead Windows Mobile. I knew we had so much work to do on our non-touch no-app-store Windows Mobile effort. I was honored, and more than a little terrified. 10 days later my office moved across campus.

The Windows Phone experience was incredibly challenging, and much has been written about it – but looking back, I am so proud to have been part of the team. It was during this time that I started working closely with current Windows leaders Henry Sanders, Joe Belfiore, Darren Laybourn, Bill Duff, Carlos Picoto, Chuck Friedman, Linda Norman, Chadd Knowlton, Richard Ward, KC Lemson, Erin Kolb, and Albert Shum. We innovated in phone user experience. We had innovative plans for the business model that never came to light. We worked hard. Really hard. But the industry moved forward faster than we could catch up.

When the #1 seeded UVA basketball team got knocked out of the tournament a few weeks ago in the first round, my Intersé colleague and UVA alum Ed Hott posted a famous Teddy Roosevelt quote to his Facebook feed. Today, reflecting on the experience of everyone in the Windows Phone team, this quote resonates:

Looking back at this phase of my career, my biggest learnings were that success requires a special composition of business model, user experience, and technology. We had a differentiated experience, but it's so clear in hindsight that the disruption in business model which Android represented was enormous, and that building our early versions of Windows Phone on an incomplete Windows CE platform, designed for small embedded systems, left us too hobbled to ever catch up.


Then came spring 2013. At this time, despite the competitive challenges in the phone market, Windows Phone was doing relatively ok (which lead us to Nokia…) Ironically at that time, our biggest challenges were on the storied franchises of Windows (Windows 8) and Xbox. While meeting with Steve Ballmer on a Saturday in his office, he asked me to lead Xbox, Windows, and Windows Phone – and an incredible incubation now known as HoloLens. I was honored, and humbled to now be leading over 17,000 engineers and accountable for over $40B in revenue and $5B in operating income—but we had some real challenges. Over the coming months, we made some hard prioritization calls and made a multiyear commitment to get after it. Watching a team of Microsoft engineers reorient, get focused, and drive on a multiyear journey of deep technical innovation is a sight to behold. It is one of the purest expressions of Microsoft's capability to create. Today, I have a deep sense of pride in the great brands that are Windows 10, Xbox One, and the Surface family of devices we created together.

Panos Panay, Phil Spencer, Alex Kipman, Roanne Sones, Dave Treadwell, Mike Fortin, Eric Lockard, Kudo Tsunoda, Nick Parker, Brad Anderson, Don Box, Gabe Aul, Kevin Dallas, Stevie Bathiche, Brett Ostrum, Yusuf Mehdi, Ilan Spillinger, Linda Averett, Mike Zintel, Mike Ybarra, David Hufford, Kareem Choudhry, Chuck Chan, Bonnie Ross, Matt Booty, Lydia Winters, and so many other leaders stand out for me during this phase of my journey.

On my wall next to the Exchange team, will always be a picture of our Windows and Devices team. Again, out on the field (a much bigger field than we used for Exchange!) in configuration of the 12th man, to support the Seattle Seahawks as they headed to the Superbowl in 2014:

A few weeks after we took this photo, Satya became CEO.

One of my favorite things about leading Windows has been the Windows fans. Through good times and bad, I've loved your feedback. I've loved your passion for our work. I've loved your applause when we've done great work and I've loved the push to do better. One of my deeply held lessons from my Exchange days was the importance of that feedback loop with customers and fans, and that's why we created the Windows Insider Program so we could build Windows 10 led by your feedback. Now with 15 million members, you continue to make our product and our team better each and every day. Thank you.

Today, we are now approaching 700 million active Windows 10 users, commercial usage is growing 84% year over year, Xbox One is running a Windows 10 core, Surface is leading PC innovation, HoloLens is bringing breakthroughs to computer vision, our universal Microsoft store enables Xbox GamePass, Azure reserved instances, and Office distribution, and the OEM ecosystem is revitalized with profitable growth. Last year, we finished the year with over $8B in operating income from our segment.

My lessons from having the honor to lead Windows are many, but three really shine through to me today:

  1. Technology really can empower people to do great things. While that may just sound like a soundbite, the last few years I have felt it in new and meaningful ways, making me a real optimist about our future. Amongst so many other things, Windows has been a platform to consider basic human creativity, how students will learn in the future, how surgeons can will operate in the future, and how people who are blind can use their device without a display.
  2. Broadly define who is on your team. The passion, commitment, and sheer brilliance of the people across Microsoft has kept me inspired for 21 years. I am so proud of the teams I have had the honor to lead. Windows has taught me to appreciate that some of my best teammates are at other companies like Intel, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus, Acer, AMD, Qualcomm, Samsung, Best Buy, Adobe, Autodesk, Activision, Electronic Arts, and so many others. We have worked together to move the industry forward, creating opportunity for so many along the way.
  3. Have fun with it. My Microsoft journey has included some challenging days, but I barely remember them. Looking at a photo collection today, I see so many self-deprecating moments where our leaders have had some real fun. I have dressed up as Big Bird, a clown (a few times), Captain Kirk (twice), and Santa. I've been thrown in a lake (a few times). I have dressed as Braveheart's William Wallace and ridden a live horse into a team meeting (once). I have laughed so hard I've cried (many times). I will cherish these memories of sheer fun with the team as much as anything else I take away from my 21 years at Microsoft.

So after working fulltime pretty much nonstop since I was 18, missing many a kids birthday while traveling for work, I'm ready for a break. I will now take some time to train for a half Ironman, learn to play the piano or guitar (my daughter is voting guitar, but having listened to Joe Belfiore and Chuck Friedman play piano on so many late nights, I'm leaning that way), learning more about genomics and robotics which fascinate me, and spending some overdue quality time with Katie and our kids. I couldn't be more appreciative of the support which Katie has shown me while I've been giving my all to Microsoft, and now I am excited to spend some unrushed time together.

As I look back, I remember one particular afternoon a few years ago when I went for a walk around campus with the young founders of Beam who we had recently acquired (to help create Xbox Mixer!). That afternoon, I felt like I was going for a walk with my younger self, joining Microsoft with limitless enthusiasm, and eager to do great things. It was inspiring to welcome these incredible people, a new generation at Microsoft. I see this same energy and enthusiasm across Microsoft right now – a sure sign of even greater and more amazing things to come for this company.

Leaving fills me with many emotions. But I'm mostly filled with gratitude and optimism – gratitude for the experiences I have had and optimism for the future ahead – both for Microsoft and myself.



ps. I'm editing this post today, the day before I will publish. I'm sitting down next to Bill Gates for my last scheduled meeting as leader of Windows and Devices at Microsoft. My team is debating with him the future of Project Rome and Windows Timeline. The conversation is smart, insightful and invigorating – and we're both drinking Diet Cokes – just like that first meeting 21 years ago. A great bookend to over two amazing decades with Microsoft.

Adapted from Terry Myerson post on Linkedin 

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