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An old tongue-in-cheek journalism canard suggests that once something has happened three times, it’s a trend. Along those lines, when something happens a dozen times or more, it’s a movement.

A steady stream of prominent open-source developers and developer advocates have joined Microsoft in 2017, with Erik St. Martin, who literally wrote the book on software development using Google’s popular Go language, taking some time yesterday to explain his thinking. Others high-profile developers who have joined a company that once called open-source software “a cancer” over the last few months include Jessie Frazelle of Google, Ashley McNamara and Bridget Kromhout of Pivotal, and Bryan Liston of Amazon Web Services.

As Redmonk pointed out at the time, this is likely what Microsoft was thinking when it laid off roughly 10 percent of its salesforce: traditional enterprise sales approaches aren’t necessarily what cloud developers want to hear when making decisions about where to deploy their workloads. Reapplying that budget to its developer advocacy program has certainly paid off in terms of positive buzz around the Azure team.

But it also shows, once again, just how much Microsoft has changed in just a few short years. The company has always valued developers (I’m sure you’ve seen this once or twice), but only if they were developers using Microsoft products.

The new developer advocate role at Microsoft appears to be less about forcing Microsoft technology down people’s throats and more about meeting them where they are, identifying promising open-source cloud projects and helping out in whatever capacity makes the most sense. Sure, the goal is to still convince them that Azure is the best place for their workloads, but more in the sense of understanding what cutting-edge developers want and working to provide those services in Azure.

Microsoft Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie at the GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Microsoft isn’t the only cloud company with this idea, of course. As reflected in its market share, AWS has probably done the best job over the last several years attracting cloud developers with compelling services and tireless advocacy, and Google has long been a place that serious open-source minded technologists go to do impactful work.

But what’s interesting about Microsoft’s approach is the speed at which it has bolstered this group in 2017 and the notion that Microsoft has become a cool place for open-source developers to work. Even after CEO Satya Nadella hit refresh in early 2014, Microsoft didn’t suddenly turn into an open-source beacon; it took several years of honest commitment to open-source projects before developers began to take it seriously.

Now Microsoft is joining the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, the Open Source Initiative, and leading the industry in terms of its commitment to open-source projects. Will this give it enough juice to overtake AWS? We won’t know for some time.

No matter what, it does show once again that open-source software has won. One of the biggest software companies in the world successfully pivoted its enterprise software product development strategy toward open-source in just three years, and some of the top talent in the industry has recalibrated its opinion of Microsoft as that becomes clearer and clearer.

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