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February 21, 2014

What Microsoft’s change in leadership means for you

By shutterstock_170445092

The mantle of leadership within Microsoft that was created by founder Bill Gates has been passed on for only the second time in the company’s history. As with any significant organizational change, lots of questions have been raised, and industry insiders as well as financial analysts are all looking for clues to what this will mean for Microsoft in the long run. For those of us in the trenches building software on Microsoft platforms and with Microsoft tools, there’s cause for both excitement as well as caution.

While lots of people have enjoyed the occasional pot-shot at Steve Ballmer, it would be difficult to find any tech firm CEO who was more of a cheerleader for developers. From his famous “developers, developers, developers” chants to the only slightly more subtle Build and MVP Summit keynotes, Steve Ballmer always embraced Microsoft’s core software engineer mentality and developers in general. When it was announced that Steve Ballmer would be retiring, the prospective candidates included several well known but non-software names including Alan Mulally from Ford. While this might have produced a Microsoft with a better bottom line or more favorable to Wall Street analysts, it would have been a bitter pill for many who long for the days when Microsoft engineering-based leadership led the industry in innovation and research. In the end, the Microsoft board chose the then chief of Cloud and Enterprise Division, Satya Nadella, to replace Steve Ballmer, and in doing so has once again given a nod to the importance of software engineering as key background for leadership within the company.

The selection of Satya Nadella also left a vacancy in the Cloud and Enterprise Division that is currently being filled by developer conference and blogger favorite Scott Guthrie. This move, along with being proof that hard work and technical acumen will garner promotion from within, could also help to mend the internal bruises left during the Sinofsky era feud between the Windows team and the Developer Division. Scott was formerly head of both .NET platform as well as the Azure Application team before taking up this new post. I believe this also means we’ll see more of the transparency that Scott drove in open source integration and web standards, making it easier for developers to work across platforms.

Microsoft is clearly undergoing a transformation. Since Microsoft’s earliest days, their developer enthusiasm has always been directed toward writing applications exclusively for Windows. But that seems to be changing as Microsoft is allowing its products to move beyond their Windows roots with the recent disclosure of the upcoming Office for iOS release as well as Nokia, now a wholly owned Microsoft company, planning to release an Android-based phone. Does this mean we could soon be seeing an Android SDK for Visual Studio? Or perhaps an XCode plugin? That could create some very exciting possibilities.

While I wouldn’t expect to see Satya Nadella shouting and sweating on stage anytime in the near future, it would seem that developers are still firmly in control at Microsoft and that in my opinion is a very good thing. It is however interesting, and perhaps a bit troubling, to note that neither Satya nor Scott come from consumer facing product lines. Julie Larson-Green, once considered a prospect for the CEO position before being discounted in favor of former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, might have signaled a stronger focus on the consumer space if chosen. Why does this matter? Because the enterprise is increasingly becoming a BYOD environment. Once the stronghold of Blackberry and Microsoft, enterprises are now embracing iOS and Android devices for work, driven by consumers who want to have more say in their personal computing environment. On the plus side, Bill Gates is coming back to Microsoft part time to help steer the product roadmap as an advisor to the new CEO. So will Microsoft become the new IBM, relegated to the data centers and clouds? Or will Bill Gates pull another rabbit out of a hat and finally capture the consumers’ hearts?

What do you think of the new changes at Microsoft? Is this the beginning of an exciting new era or the end of Windows as the predominate development platform?

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About the Author

is a Chief Architect specializing in large scale distributed system development and enterprise software processes. Paul has more than twenty years of development experience including being a former Microsoft MVP, a speaker at technical conferences such as Microsoft Tech-Ed and VSLive, and a published author. Prior to working on the Windows platform, he built software using a vast array of technologies including Java, Unix, C, and even OS/2.