Longtime Microsoft engineering leader Jon DeVaan is leaving

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Jon DeVaan

Jon DeVaan, the respected Microsoft executive who oversaw some of the company’s most important engineering initiatives, is leaving after nearly three decades — capping a year of massive changes in Microsoft’s executive ranks.

DeVaan, who was tapped by Bill Gates a decade ago to reinvigorate Microsoft’s companywide engineering initiatives, is known in part for helping to get Windows back on its feet as the leader of the company’s Core Operating System Division starting with the Windows 7 development cycle. His influence and popularity among the company’s engineers was such that the Excel team once named a pre-beta version of Excel the “Excel DeVeloper Release.”

His last day at the company will be Tuesday. DeVaan broke the news to his friends on Facebook earlier today, reflecting on a career that spanned from Microsoft’s first applications for the Mac to this year’s release of Windows 8.1. His post didn’t say anything about his future plans.

Update: Via email, DeVaan says, “I am spending time with my family and holding space open to see what opportunities develop.”

The news of his impending departure sparked an outpouring of memories from DeVaan’s current and former colleagues. In an email message this afternoon, the former Windows chief Steven Sinofsky recalled fondly one of the many times DeVaan “enlightened” him on the realities of engineering at scale.

Back in the early 1990′s the use of garbage collection was more theoretical than practical (it is used broadly today in .net and scripting languages), but I was really into it having just come from graduate school (the theoretical).  I went to see Jon to convince him of the virtues of using GC in Excel as we explored using it in our first C++ tools. He was open minded and then patiently showed me the tiny number of bugs in Excel that were rooted in memory management problems and also showed me just how memory efficient Excel was–all due to the amazing coding and engineering the team did.  At once I learned the limits of theory, the pragmatic engineering Jon exhibited, as well as his patience and openness to new ideas from a ‘new guy’.

In a year of Microsoft shockers, starting with CEO Steve Ballmer’s retirement announcement, DeVaan’s departure actually isn’t a complete surprise. A reshuffling of Microsoft’s Windows executives under the “One Microsoft” reorganization left longtime Windows leaders DeVaan and Antoine Leblond without senior leadership roles under new operating systems chief Terry Myerson.

A Microsoft spokesman confirmed the news: “Jon DeVaan has chosen to leave Microsoft to spend more time with his family. Since he joined Microsoft in 1984, Jon contributed to important products and services across the company. We thank him and wish him and his family all the best.”

 

  • Anonymous

    I actually think MS is doing it right with this reorg. Old people with old ways and old ideas is what is holding MS back from competing with Apple. It never made any sense to have 5 OSs that were all different. It should have always been one experience. I actually think they should stay in the software business and get totally out of hardware. I actually would love to see them make more apps for the Mac and Linux.

    • Eric LeVine

      Jon DeVaan was holding no one back. He is one of the truly great engineers and leaders that MSFT has ever seen. It was an honor to work with him, and MSFT is a lesser place with his loss.

    • Out For Justice

      What does age have to do with new ideas? I’m sure with Jon’s experience he would run circles around you with the shear number of ideas he generates daily. I’m also sure that he generates more ideas in a month then you’ll likely generate in a lifetime…

    • Abion47

      In general, I would agree with you. Certain experiences suggest that a vast majority of people from older generations are tied into an older style of thinking, and are unable to predict or comprehend what the newer generations of consumers need or want.

      However, there are also quite a few notable exceptions to this observation, and I would argue that DeVaan was one of them. He is one of the departing MSFT executives that I believe truly will be missed.

      • http://info-tran.com/ Info Dave

        This is not an age relevant divide, but rather, mindset related. The question is, how much do you have invested in the existing environment? The older you are the more you have invested, generally.

        There is no reason to support the past, unless you’re heavily invested in the past. Microsoft will be sucking hind teat for the foreseeable future. This does not bode well for Microsoft.