Yes, Satya Nadella is the visionary Microsoft CEO who five years ago began implementing a massive shift in operations that contributed to making the software and cloud giant the world’s most valuable company.
But he needed Julia Liuson to help get there.
As corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Developer Division, Liuson is in charge of a mind-boggling slate of products, including the technical and business strategy, product development and engineering teams for Visual Studio, Visual Studio Code and .NET Framework as well as programming languages, user interface and tools for building Azure, AI, mobile and Windows applications.
Liuson, who started at Microsoft in 1992 straight out of the University of Washington’s electrical engineering program, had to get legions of engineers on board and pulling in the new direction.
The software juggernaut was pulling 180s on multiple fronts:
- After decades of catering only to developers working on Microsoft platforms, the company was going to serve all developers, regardless of what they’re building on.
- The prevailing mindset of “we know what you want, we’re the experts” was replaced, Liuson said, with a wholly customer-centric attitude of learning what problems developers wanted to solve.
- Microsoft expanded beyond proprietary software to embrace open-source software, with the purchase of the code-sharing platform GitHub as exhibit A.
- And the company began updating and releasing improved products at a faster, more responsive clip.
The consumer focus was the hardest piece, Liuson said, and required experimentation among teams to see what worked. “That is changing the habits of an organization, and that is time consuming.”
But she was eager to make the changes, feeling an urgency to shift gears. In the early 2010s, Liuson said developers at conferences would talk about Microsoft software in the past tense. VC firms in Silicon Valley weren’t interested in engaging. And Nadella, who at the time was leading the Cloud and Enterprise Division, was bringing in startups to share their engineering needs with teams that included Liuson (spoiler: Microsoft wasn’t always meeting those needs).
Liuson knew, “if we are not relevant with the developer base, that is a huge challenge.”
With five years of hard work completed, she’s happy with the new direction and what the company has accomplished.
“When people interact with our engineers, people say they didn’t realize that Microsoft engineers were so nice,” Liuson said. Before moving to open source, “everything was behind the wall.”
But the work isn’t done.
“There’s some perception change that we need to finish,” Liuson said, for people who still think of Microsoft as only being about Windows and Office and proprietary products. “Collectively, we can do even more.”
We caught up with Liuson for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: Redmond
Computer types: Lenovo’s ThinkPad
Mobile devices: iPhone Max
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: YouTube, OneDrive, OneNote, WeChat
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? In our building, everyone works in a “team neighborhood.” It includes a large, open space for 12 to 18 team members, and usually has a dedicated small conference room, as well as a couple of smaller focus rooms for each neighborhood. The idea is that a team working on one feature would sit together in each neighborhood.
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? The most important thing to managing everyday work and life is to prioritize time everyday, and set a clear expectation for yourself and those around you about how much time you can spend with them. My principle for making the prioritization decision is “no regrets” — which means you don’t want to regret not spending enough time with certain people later in life. I also found that in different stages of your life, you will spend time differently for work and life.
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? LinkedIn for staying connected and recruiting; Twitter for developer sentiments; and Hacker News, Reddit and Techmeme for reading discussions.
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? I don’t want to disclose that.
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? More than 30 hours of meetings every week, usually.
How do you run meetings? I try to be humble and confident. If there is a point of view that I have to contribute, I will speak up. But I’m also confident where if I don’t understand something, I’ll ask questions and say, “I don’t understand, help educate me.” The important thing is to be more authentic. If you don’t know something, I’m pretty sure there are other people who don’t as well.
Everyday work uniform? I don’t have a work uniform. I enjoy the flexibility of dressing up or down.
How do you make time for family? I make spending time with family a priority. When my son was younger, I worked one year part time. Now my parents are aging, so I want to make sure I am spending time with them every week. There are definitely occasions when I have missed certain important meetings at work for family engagements. With good backup plans, I found it’s manageable.
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I try to keep a weekly massage appointment. I also plan family vacation travel to unplug as it takes my mind to far away places.
What are you listening to? For music, I listen to a lot of Chinese pop/rock music mixed with classic and pop/rock. I just finished listening to Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” and have started Henry Kissinger’s “World Order.” Also listen to the New York Times’ The Daily podcast every day.
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Hacker News, Techmeme, Reddit, Microsoft News and Apple News
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Blitzscaling” by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh
Night owl or early riser? More of a night owl. I usually sleep from midnight to about 7 a.m.
Where do you get your best ideas? While taking a walk or shower, or during discussion with a colleague.
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I am happy with my work style. I admire people who are fantastic storytellers, and that’s something I’d like to learn.