Technical Advisor in the office of the CTO

So, I received an email a few weeks back which essentially said “would you consider a role working for the CTO as a Technical Advisor”.  Well, at first, I wasn’t sure what to think, but then I actually talked to who was asking me the question, and I thought, “wait a minute, this could be a really cool thing”.

It’s like this.  At Microsoft, we don’t always have a person in the role of CTO.  Bill Gates was “Chief Scientist” at one point, and Craig Mundie I think had the CTO role, as did Ray Ozzie.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a distraction.

The current CTO is Kevin Scott, and before I actually met him, the #1 comment everyone said about him was “he’s a really cool guy”.  Well, after meeting him, I have the same sentiment.  Kevin’s not an industry luminary from the birth days of the personal computing industry like Ray Ozzie was, he’s an engineer’s engineer with a pedigree that extends through Google, a startup adMob, and LinkedIn, where he continues to be responsible for their backend stuff.

I’ve been at Microsoft for 18 years, which means I’ve done a fair number of things, and I know a fair number of people.  The first aspect of being a TA is getting around, meeting with people, and spreading the word that there’s actually a CTO.

What does the CTO do?  Well, the best description I can give is the CTO acts as the dev manager/architect for the company.  The scope and responsibility of the CTO can be very broad.  Part of it is about efficiency of our joint engineering objectives.  Part of it is making sure we’re marching to the beat of a similar drummer.  Can you imagine, Microsoft has a few multi-billion dollar businesses, led by business managers who are fairly autonomous, and have quite strong independent personalities, or they would not be in the positions they are in.  And along comes the CTO to help unify them.

Really, the job is being fairly impartial where necessary, and just reminding people of their shared goals and objectives, and helping them to reinforce achieving them.

Being a TA to the CTO?  Mostly it’s about going deep in areas.  Kevin Scott is a fast learner, fully capable of digesting tons of info, and fabricating a well informed opinion on his own.  The challenge is one of time.  Microsoft is vast, and if you want to go beyond the surface level in many areas, you’d spend all your time in meetings, and not actually be able to synthesize anything.  So, the TA role.  We have those infinite number of meetings, going deep on multiple topics, synthesizing to a certain level, and surfacing interesting bits to Kevin where decisions and direction might be required.

The the surface description of the role and responsibility.  The truth is, it’s not at all a well defined role.  Eric Rudder was Bill Gate’s TA, for five years, and he was quite a force, doing more than just feeding Bill Gates opinions on what he heard in the company.  We’ll see what our current office of the CTO is capable of, and what kinds of value we are going to impart on the company.

I am excited for this latest opportunity.  I think it’s a fitting role for where I’m at in my career, and what value I can contribute to the company.  So, here we go!