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Aseem Datar
Aseem Datar, chief of staff for Microsoft’s Azure cloud business. (Photo courtesy of Aseem Datar)

Aseem Datar’s rise at Microsoft has taken him all the way to the cloud.

In his 14 almost years at the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant, Datar has risen from developer to chief of staff of the company’s Azure cloud business, where’s he’s taken on the challenge of managing growth for the successful enterprise. This week, he is GeekWire’s new Geek of the Week.

“I have always loved the unknown, with the goal of learning more about something that I have no idea about,” Datar said. “The uncertainly has a certain amount of enigma that draws me in.”

Datar said this attitude has allowed him to push boundaries and consistently get out of his comfort zone, which he considers a key to growth.

The early part of his career was spent working on Windows and Datar was the founding member of the team that built the Office delivery platform before joining the Azure team. Outside of work, he enjoys teaching at the University of Washington, is an advisor to multiple companies in Seattle and he loves mentoring startups.

“Who I am can be traced back to what I learned growing up in Mumbai — work hard, play hard, form long-lasting relationships and most importantly place all others ahead of yourself,” Datar said. “Those days were simple, yet formative — it laid the foundation for me for the years to come.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Aseem Datar:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Azure is a huge part of that. In that endeavor my role is to ensure that the Azure machine has a solid operational foundation that fuels exponential growth. That said, I am constantly hacking away at an accurate description of a ‘Chief of Staff’ since the landscape is ever evolving and the scope keeps broadening.

“Every single day is a case of juggling, solving challenges that we sometimes have not seen or have no blueprint for. In my experience, this role requires what we call a growth mindset — an ability to always keep learning so we keep marching ahead. Another aspect is being comfortable to operate in highly complex and ambiguous environments where decisions need to be made with the information at hand — it’s really about taking calculated risks.”

“Lastly, working alongside people on the team to ensure customer delight is paramount.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Truth be told, we are just getting started with the power of the cloud. Looking across the planet, there is just so much potential that the cloud has unlocked. When I was in grad school writing code, I would worry about memory management — today you just go get more compute or storage on demand and ramp up and down as needed. How cool is that? IoT is not just about placing a sensor everywhere but more about gathering data that proves meaningful in so many ways transforming lives — whether it’s your energy consumption or monitoring your health — it’s a huge opportunity and Azure is leading this transformation we are going through.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “People, my reading list and sports. I am an extrovert at heart, so engaging with people is second nature. Learning about their experiences is the closest I can get to understanding something totally out of my wheel-house. My reading list is primarily comprised of biographies that have so much to offer. Sports has always been a part of my life — whether I am playing or watching — it helps me unplug, focus and more importantly bring my ‘A’ game.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “I’d have to say the ability to stay connected to the web — whether its on my phone/e-reader or my laptop, everything pretty much needs connectivity.”

Aseem Datar workspace
The lobby area of an Azure building on the Redmond, Wash., Microsoft campus where Aseem Datar works. (Photo courtesy of Aseem Datar)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “It’s all open space — desks with lots of casual spaces for meetings etc. I am a huge fan given how easy it is to collaborate. Our entire team is pretty much just a shout away.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge the balance needed across both. If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t get done. Part of managing several initiatives is ruthless prioritization, which is easier said than done. I typically go through a mental checklist the previous day and on my way to work which helps me plan what I want to accomplish … and then there is always Sunday night. As for managing life, my mantra is to be PRESENT wherever I am with minimal distractions — I am trying to get better at not glancing at my phone every now and then.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Windows!”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Pick Yoda must I”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Transporter — definitely, given the amount of air travel we all do these days.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “launch an enterprise that invests in some of those that have been turned down by the ‘Shark Tank’ — some serious talent there!

I once waited in line for … “a McDonalds Big-Mac Meal at 5 a.m. when the first store opened in Mumbai. No denying my love for a good burger.”

Your role models: My parents without question — their integrity, work ethic, compassion and value for others has always been something that I have observed and tried to emulate. I will consider myself extremely fortunate if I come close to becoming even 10 percent of the individuals they are.”

On the professional side, I am truly lucky to have some stellar mentors who have had a huge influence on me, its my own “Board of Directors” as I like to call them.

Greatest game in history: “Being a passionate cricketer, it has to be the WorldCup Final 2011.”

Best gadget ever: “I’d say a universal travel adapter.”

First computer: “My Dad’s IBM XT 286 — and BASIC was my favorite!”

Current phone: “iPhone 7 Plus.”

Favorite app: “It would have to be OneNote … it’s a game-changer.”

Favorite cause: “Education.”

Most important technology of 2016: “Did i mention the cloud already?”

Most important technology of 2018: “AI is truly the next frontier. The pace of innovation in this space and the scenarios we can unlock blows my mind. I sometimes wonder how ‘programmed’ the world will be by the time my 4 year old grows up.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “No is never a firm NO. Also, it doesn’t mean Never Ever, it just means not right now; apply all you’ve got towards what you truly want to achieve and it will all work out in the end. It always does!”

Twitter: @aseemd

LinkedIn: Aseem Datar

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