This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I interview Neil Leslie, General Manager Microsoft Developer & Platform Evangelism Group (DPE), past Vice President of MSIT, Microsoft Corporation.
Neil Leslie is currently a General Manager helping lead the Platform Evangelism and Partner teams who play a key role in leading Microsoft’s Developer & Platform Evangelism (DPE) group. Neil and his team drive efforts to build a vibrant solutions ecosystem through evangelism, community engagement and deep relationships with Microsoft’s Global Partners.
Formerly, Neil Leslie was the Vice President of Microsoft Information Technology (MSIT) engineering organization at Microsoft. He was responsible for managing the company’s IT architecture, application and support operations that span Microsoft’s portfolio of IT internal and external systems worldwide. Day to day, the job responsibilities included the design, development, deployment and sustained operations of the IT systems Microsoft uses to run its business.
In addition, Microsoft’s IT engineering business is noted for being Microsoft’s First and Best customer of Microsoft technologies. Through the early and often enterprise deployments of Microsoft technologies by some 3000 Developers, Architects, Support and Program Management IT Professionals, MSIT Engineering provides invaluable insight into how Microsoft software is deployed to run the enterprise while also providing early feedback and requirements that improve both the value and quality of Microsoft products at release.
Neil joined Microsoft in November of 1991. Since then, he has held a variety of positions including: Group Manager for Premier West, Director of Premier Enterprise, ISV, and OEM, and General Manager for Americas Product Support Services. Neil’s also served in leadership teams within Microsoft product units, including General Manager for Windows Server Systems User Experience team. Neil oversaw the design, usability, and localization for SQL Server 2005 and Exchange Server 12.
Neil spends a majority of his free time supporting his son’s athletics and his wife, Louise Leslie, who competes in national level equestrian events.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Neil, you have a remarkable background with many successes. Thank you for sharing your considerable expertise, deep accumulated insights, and wisdom with our audience.
Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer are really iconic figures in industry and highly respected. I know that this is going to put you on the spot, but can you share your favourite story about Gates or Ballmer?
Can you talk about your prior role as Vice-President of Microsoft IT and share some key lessons and insights?
"….It was one of the best learning opportunities I’ve had in my career because you were able to really walk in a customer’s shoes and understand the impact of data on the application development lifecycle, and turning that responsibility back to enable our business in a very effective way…."
The first World CIO Forum (IFIP WCF 2011), is being hosted in China November 1-4th 2011 in ShenZhen (innovation center of China, 1 hour by courtesy shuttle or bus from Hong Kong) with participants from the Global Fortune 1000 CEOs, CIOs, C-level and IT executives; international government officials and industry decision makers including the top 600 China-based companies. Can you comment on this?
[Ed. Note: Senior executives and industry decision makers are encouraged to participate in the first World CIO Forum. English is the official language of the IFIP WCF 2011 and simultaneous translation between English and Chinese is available. The WCF is supported by IFIP and hosted by the CIE for 2011. The International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP), founded in 1960 under the auspices of the United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization, has 56 country member bodies and regional affiliates representing over 90 countries. IFIP is the consultative body in IT for UNESCO, sector member for the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), scientific associate member for the ICSU (International Council for Science). CIE is the country member for China for IFIP and amongst the largest professional groups in the world. The Chinese Institute of Electronics (CIE) is a nationwide non-profit body….more]
"….It is important for everyone who participates in senior IT leadership roles to understand the emerging markets. Having it within China is obviously a huge opportunity for people to learn – not only learning from the culture or the business but also from other CIOs….You need to understand what’s happening there but also you need to understand the talent that’s available there. Our businesses are global and seeing the incredible depth of talent that’s available is another learning experience that people will see from the opportunity to participate in the forum…."
What are the top attributes required to be successful at Microsoft and as a senior IT executive?
"….You have to be honest. Honesty comes with credibility and it allows you to be more effective from a leadership standpoint, and it also allows you to be incredibly impactful on how you make decisions….You have to be passionate and you have to have conviction on what you want to be able to drive and be able to lead others with that passion….The final thing has to do with your commitment to customers…."
Outside of Microsoft, what are you passionate about?
"….Outside of Microsoft, my passion has to do with sports….I think that something everyone has to have is commitment, something outside of work that allows them to keep driving. It makes you much more effective in your professional life when you have that commitment…."
You were a key driver in shaping the MVP program. Can you briefly describe the program and what you were trying to achieve at the time?
"….The strength of the program has to do with the strength of the brand…."
Tell us more about your role, programs your teams lead, and what specific value is delivered to audiences through your teams?
"….My team takes responsibility for platform adoption. What that means is – how do we show the world exploited examples of how to use software that can impact consumers at high scale, impact enterprise at scale, or can impact an individual…."
What are your vision, mission, programs and specific measurable goals for 2011 and the next three years?
"….For developer and platform evangelism it’s a simple charter, a simple strategy. What it is, is around securing our platform….Much of the work that will drive moving forward in the next six months has to do with being able to differentiate the Cloud and making sure we are building the right applications for the Cloud. A critical portion of that is making sure we’re clear about the role that IT professionals play in the evolution of the Cloud that’s continuing to come to the industry…."
How integral are community groups to your plan and vision and to Microsoft, and what can you do to support community groups?
"….IT professionals see Cloud Computing, they hear about it, they’re participating in it and we need to be able to use that community and the millions of folks influenced by the few folks to be able to help drive that transition….Community becomes incredibly critical to do that. I think a lot of it has to be done through knowledge and education and is something that is a very big focus of our IT Pro team for the second half of this year – to enable folks to understand to use assets like TechNet and MSDN to help educate people…."
You talked about the Cloud and community groups and somehow connecting the two. The Global IT Community Association (GITCA) has this 24 Hours in the Cloud which I think the audience would find very interesting – target timeframe is April, 2011. It has the support of Microsoft to enable people to get involved, get connected and get using the cloud in some meaningful way. Can you comment?
[Ed. Note: Updated information see http://24hours.gitca.org]
"….The opportunities with the Cloud are something where we need to have that strong partnership. We need to make sure we are in the right conferences with the community leaders; to make sure that the credibility and capability are shown around what the Cloud can do for business….It is an opportunity to be able to differentiate and show the value of the IT professional as the transition continues to occur, and that the benefits of the Cloud are seen by Enterprise IT and SMB worldwide…."
Do you have any sense as to what percentage of applications will be moving to the Clouds, say in three years time, and whether it will involve a lot of the core functions within an organization?
"….Honestly, I don’t think there is one-size number fits all….I think what we’ve got to do in partnership with the community, is to empower our people with the tools to make the right decisions for what apps need to be taking advantage of the Cloud today and in the future…."
What do you hope to see with Cloud Computing and what are the current challenges that need to be addressed?
"….I don’t look at it as the challenges with the Clouds, I look at it as the opportunities. Anytime, from an IT perspective, that you can drive a strong partnership with your business and are able to look at enabling the businesses more effectively, you’re in a strong position within IT….The challenge would be how do you systematically decide what applications that you’re able to push to the Clouds…."
Can you expand the last question to two technology areas of your choosing and current opportunities?
"….One is how do we connect? Programmatically we talked about MVP. From a community perspective, how does Microsoft help make sure, through education, that the IT professional community is able to evolve their skills? Education is key and will continue to involve our major worldwide assets like TechNet, MSDN to be able to provide that education and our certification….The second thing is the continued evolution of the consumerization of IT. How do we make sure what people experience at home is brought into the Enterprise – being able to make sure business is more effective and that we are enabling Enterprise IT to be able to support what people carry at home and experiences they expect to have at work…."
We talk about the consumers working with Windows Live at home and working into the Enterprise at work and using other kinds of services in the Clouds. Do you see some kind of amalgamation between the two – the Windows Live environment and the Enterprise environment all of which are in the Cloud?
"….It has to do with identity. Thinking about the way I as a consumer transition into my work life from my home life….The reality is that you’ve got to be able to use Identity as the foundation to be able to deliver that experience from an Enterprise and consumer perspective…."
What specific trends should we be watching for and the pros and cons of these trends, and what value will they ultimately provide?
"….Cloud Computing is an opportunity to have an impact. To simplify computing for users and to make sure we’re more effective in delivering value back to them, whether they are a consumer or they are in the Enterprise….The second one has to do with embracing and continuing to support the consumerization of IT…."
Are there any plans to Enterprise-orient the Kinect product?
"….What you are talking about is the opportunity to use the reach of the cloud and the availability of a credible service….Today the Kinect plans are what you see – creating an incredible gaming experience…."
Can you share some success stories around the work that you are doing?
"….One of the things my team does is run Channel 9. Channel 9 is an incredibly committed way to make sure we are transparent as a company. One of the things we’ve worked on is feedback and user experience. The team has done an amazing job redesigning and making sure that we are exposing the videos for many of our products before they hit the market….The second thing, right now we are getting focused on our next MIX conference and to be able to tell the story to the world around the web what Microsoft is doing to be able to provide a differentiated experience…."
Microsoft Learning has this program, Career Factor, where they’ve selected nine IT Idols from different areas of Microsoft technologies. They are going to follow their experiences as they come up the curve on different kinds of technologies – one of which is Cloud Computing, but Mobile is another, etc. Are there any plans to share some of the experiences, the stories, and videos that are coming out of the Career Factor program with Channel 9?
"….Sharing that early learning and having videos of what people are going for is a fantastic idea and something I need to be able to follow-up on and give a response back to the community….When you tell real stories and they are human-based stories, people drive that social connection and they learn more….You’re talking about the Learning Team trying something new and many times you get fantastic feedback, you iterate, you learn, partner with the community then you can make sure those things are available on a worldwide basis. I think that’s something we need to continue to leverage that type of impact…."
What else are you most excited about?
"….Ironically what I am excited about is what you look at from a Cloud Computing perspective, the ability to be able to iterate, learn, respond and then provide new capability back to customers as quickly as possible, because that is one of the benefits that you’ll see from being able to drive Cloud Computing….I think it’s a huge opportunity in the software space in the coming years and allows us to make sure they are able to experience the latest and the greatest…."
What are the best resources to learn more?
"….MSDN and TechNet….Channel 9….Connecting to the many community programs that are available….the World CIO Forum (WCF) in China….Those are all critical assets and a way to learn what’s available to make sure you drive your knowledge base forward stronger…."
What are the most interesting questions you get asked and what are your answers?
"….Where does the computer industry go from here?….What are the efforts that are in place?….I think a lot of what you see is the opportunity to continually simplify people’s lives…."
You choose the topic area. What do you see as the top challenges facing us today and how do you propose they be solved?
"….It’s a very overused term but ‘knowledge is power’ and I think the opportunity for IT professionals is to make sure that they do understand what the Cloud opportunity brings to their businesses….People have to put themselves in charge of their destiny in the industry, to be that thought leader, as transitions and as evolutions occur in the computing environment they are responsible for…."