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David Aronchick, head of Open Source Machine Learning Strategy at Microsoft. (Microsoft Photo)

When David Aronchick returned to Microsoft last fall, I suspect that many folks there did a little happy dance.

A Dartmouth grad with undergrad degrees in psychology and chemistry, Aronchick worked at Microsoft for more than six years until the company lost him in 2007. He left the Redmond, Wash. software and cloud behemoth to launch his own Seattle-based startup, an audio clip sharing platform called Hark. From there he led product management for Prime Now restaurants at Amazon, was a senior product marketer at the software company Chef, and then led project management on Google’s Kubernetes Engine where he co-founded Kubeflow.

He’s a guy of many skills and great passion — as quickly becomes clear from perusing his Twitter feed. Aronchick is pumped about open-source Kubernetes. He’s excited for people to use tech to solve big challenges. He’s anxious about climate change and the harmful effects already being felt as the planet keeps warming. Aronchick’s tweeting tone is generally self-effacing and funny, but the long-time Seattle tech innovator is clearly an engineering badass.

And now Microsoft has created a new position that fits Aronchick perfectly: program manager in Cloud and AI and lead of Open Source (OSS) Machine Learning Strategy. He took the role in November.

“In coming back to Microsoft, I felt Azure AI was the best place to merge 30 years of building enterprise software with the cutting-edge research and technology of machine learning,” Aronchick said via email. “Machine learning really can change the world, but only if we give those tools to the people on the front lines of global problems — education, climate change, systemic bias, etc.”

He called out the company’s AI for Good initiative as an example of how that technology can be deployed. Through the program, Microsoft partners with nonprofits working on environmental, social and accessibility issues “to find great data sets, bring them online, build sample machine learning pipelines and release the solution as open source and runnable (for free!) on Azure DevOps,” Aronchick said. “The next researcher with a similar focus area can then build from this existing work rather than starting from scratch.”

In his earlier roles at Microsoft, Aronchick worked on Linux and OSS strategy for server and tools (now Cloud and Enterprise), Exchange, Internet Explorer Security Program Management and Microsoft Research.

David Aronchick, head of Open Source Machine Learning Strategy at Microsoft. (Photo courtesy of David Aronchick)

We caught up with Aronchick for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: I’m currently based in the Bellevue office, but travel often to San Francisco, Cambridge, New York, London and other locations where devs and data scientists congregate.

Computer types: I am typing this on a Surface Book, but also have a Macbook Air and, most importantly, a Data Science Virtual Machine running on Azure for doing development.

Mobile devices: I used to carry them all just to understand how the phones compared and contrast (I think you can only REALLY know a phone’s experience when you use it daily). Now I’m down to just a Pixel 3.

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: I love the connection Twitter gives me to a whole bunch of people I know — and many more I don’t. I use Chrome (armed with LastPass) for almost everything, with VS Code and OneNote for random notes. Gmail (and hotkeys) are critical for processing mail quickly; I love that Outlook Web Access added the Gmail key bindings. For development, I use Kubeflow with Docker (for local development), Kubernetes (for cloud) and Draft with a Jupyter notebook, and, of course, VS Code for this as well.

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? Generally, I like a pretty lean space — most of my office is filled with pictures of my family and mementos from places I’ve traveled and people I’ve met. I love the Microsoft Ergo Keyboard and have two monitors and a standup desk. Thankfully I also have a door to my office, as, I’m sad to report after many years, I’m not very successful at using my inside voice.

David Aronichick’s “lean” workspace at Microsoft. (Microsoft Photo)

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? One thing I’ve learned is that if something is important, I’ve got to get it out of my head ASAP or I’ll just obsess about it. So if I’m in a meeting and remember I need to move a dentist appointment, I try to write it down immediately. Same when I’m at home. If I remember that I need to mail someone, I don’t mail them, I write down a reminder (usually old school on a piece of actual paper). I also make sure to turn off notifications and be present for the people and experiences that are right in front of me.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? I’m all about Twitter. I follow people who can make me smarter and news feeds from sources I trust. I also try to be a frequent retweeter. I don’t have a million followers, but I do my best to raise up voices who might otherwise be lost in the noise.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? I’m a big fan of inbox zero, but, for me, it’s usually inbox 50 or so. Everything is one of the four D’s: Do it, Delegate it, Delete it, Defer it.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 14, but I’m still new at Microsoft, so my schedule is looser than most.

How do you run meetings? I start with working backwards to establish what are we trying to get to. From there, I make sure everyone has introduced themselves or had a minute to talk about why they’re there. I then see if we can agree how to get from where we are to where we’re trying to go and be super tactical in the process. The biggest value of a big meeting is face time, so I try to limit devices to keep people on track and focused on milestones.

Everyday work uniform? Button-down shirt (nothing too fancy, but I do like to mix it up with crazy colors and patterns), slacks/jeans and crazy socks, every day.

How do you make time for family? I love having dedicated time for dinner, weekends, camping, whatever — and actively stepping away.

This was a lot harder when I was working at my own startup because there it felt like every second I wasn’t working, the startup was not moving forward. Note to startup founders: This is a lie you tell yourself.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I love the outdoors — skiing and camping with my kids are two favorites. I’m lucky enough to have a job that takes me around the world, and I love it. I try to eat, live and see all the things that I don’t have at home. It’s a great opportunity to make sure that I’m not taking things for granted, and not confusing “good” with “familiar.”

What are you listening to? I used to listen to music all the time; I was a radio DJ in college. However, I do so much work with words that most of what I listen to now has to be either wordless or super repetitive. Usually it’s just EDM sets (electronic dance music — there’s something about a repetitive beat that just keeps me focused) from the major live-DJ shows if I’m doing anything while I work.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? I tend to stay focused mostly in my areas — there’s SO much to learn. To that end, I browse a broad set of folks on Twitter, and then read my daily/weekly newsletters, which in no particular order include: Exponential View, Launch Ticker, Accompany, Nuzzel, Jack AI, MediaREF, Priceonomics, New York Times weekly summary, Matt Levine’s Money Stuff, TLDR, This Week in Carbon Removal, Recomendo, KubeWeekly, SRE Weekly, This Week in AWS, Climate Changed and Machine Learnings. And a bunch more I’m probably forgetting.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? I tend to listen to (not read) a bunch of things simultaneously, some recent ones focused on how we got here (“Legacy of Ashes,” “The Information,” “The Master Switch,” “Titan” and “The Power Broker”) and thoughts about where we are (“Galileo’s Middle Finger,” “Dream Hoarders,” “The China Dream” and “Weapons of Math Destruction”). As far as where we’re going, I love near-ish hard sci-fi where, to steal from John Scalzi, “you take one little thing about our current world and change it, and then see what happens” (“Three Body Problem,” “Artemis,” “Seveneves” and “The Collapsing Empire”). I’m also a complete sucker for collapse stories, particularly in finance, and the moment where people got it JUST wrong enough to tip it over (“Bad Blood,” “Smartest Guys in the Room” and “The Spider Web”).

Night owl or early riser? When I’m traveling, I have generally unlimited energy (late to sleep, early to rise). At home, I’m in bed pretty early, try to avoid devices near the bed, and up similarly early.

Where do you get your best ideas? More often than not, on the bike ride to work. I also love getting a bunch of super smart people in a room and doing a Post-it exercise. Everyone writes ideas on Post-it Notes around a project, we group them on the wall, and then take those ideas and do a follow-up Post-it generation. We get some really great ideas out of that.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? There are a set of people who can just dial in, turn everything off and, for a period of time, just get stuff done. If I could do that, on demand, I would love it.

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