What is an Evangelist?

So--- I have been fairly non-communicative here for awhile, now, as well as in other areas of my life, but I feel a sea change brewing as it so often does after a lengthy period of introspection.  I can tell you when my current hibernation cycle began, it was Thursday, June 22nd. 

Wednesday had been a spectacular day, a bright clear mild summer day in the Northeast. I was feeling good, having had an awesome conversation with a great group at the AngelBeat (www.angelbeat.com) Conference in Philadelphia. I had lead a discussion around Windows Vista, alongside presentations from a wide array of technology and industry leaders, I remember VMWare was there and Apple and a host of others. I had just had another phenomenal day as a Microsoft Evangelist.

Then on Thursday I got an email. The text of which read:

“For the love of all that is holy, don't ever present at an AngelBeat again. You are a Kool-Aid drinking Microsoft Queen of the highest order.”

Now, curiously enough, the clearly homophobic attempt to emasculate me didn't bother me nearly as much as the Kool-Aid comment. You see, though not gay, I am well educated and do have fabulous taste, which the ignorant often confuse. No, it was really the Kool-Aid reference that needled me; here's why--I think of myself as balanced. My first job in the industry was rolling out the MS-DOS based computer labs at the University of Scranton in the mid-80's. Some of you remember those machines, no hard drives, dual floppy, Norton Disk utilities to save those floppies--you remember.

So I've been around awhile--mixed Apple, Novell, MCSE NT 4, 2000, 2003--you get the picture, I know there's a lot of technology out there and I think of myself as balanced, as understanding the limitations of software and challenges of heterogeneous environments, but obviously this guy didn't see me this way at all. So I ask myself why?

Maybe, it's as simple as I was only one of 8 presenters at the AngelBeat Conference. I had only 45 minutes and I had a specific product to talk about. So with that amount of time, naturally, I'm going to focus on the product and what's good about it. If you're going to base an opinion about me on only the 45 minutes I had to talk about Vista, naturally you would have no sense of whether or not I take a realistic and balanced approach to technology in general. Also, quite naturally, everyone there that day did form some opinion of me, but none of them felt I was worth the energy required to compose hate mail.

I can't help but think there's something else at work here. It could be an example of that irrational hatred of Microsoft that inflames a percentage of the population. I could write it off that way and say "Oh, there was nothing personal in this." But this guy's response was just so visceral, such a seemingly personal response to me, I have to ask myself, why? And what is about me that could spark such a response?

This brings us I think to the question of style. You see, the fact is I am a fanatic. I am a techno-utopian, who genuinely believes in the power of technology to transform people's lives, to enrich communities, to help people create opportunities for themselves and contribute to the larger social good. This I believe. I’m not terribly interested in technology for technology’s sake, but rather in what it can do for people and that’s what gets me psyched.

Combine that outlook with a deep rooted belief in free market economics and the reality that for 15 years I basically made my living off Microsoft and Microsoft Technologies out in the market before coming to work for the company and what do you get? You get a Microsoft Evangelist.

What's an Evangelist? The best definition I ever heard for an Evangelist in the tech industry was:

"Someone who, by the sheer force of their psychic mojo, moves the market to adopt new technology."

Psychic mojo--I love that! What that really describes, I think, is the infectious enthusiasm I and my colleagues in the industry exude for our products. And why shouldn't we? We are helping people to change the way they live, change the way they work, change the way they interact, we are right there on the front lines, the bleeding edge of technology, envisioning the future and helping to prepare people for it. It's so freakin' cool!

My buddy Chris pulled the definition of Evangelist from Websters.com:

e·van·ge·list /?'væn d?? l?st/ Pronunciation Key –noun


a person marked by evangelical enthusiasm for or support of any cause.


Evangelical enthusiasm, conviction and passionate communication are all the hallmarks of an Evangelist. 

So this period of introspection, of asking myself "What am I? Who am I?"( All that self indulgent crap you should get out of your system during the requisite philosophy class sophomore year, but that I keep asking myself year after year) began with a piece of hate mail six months ago and sort of came full circle with two things that happened at work within the last week.

The first was Management’s idea to change our titles, standardizing across the team and do away with the Evangelist title. When the topic came up on the team call last Friday there was a good deal of passionate communication from the team against that idea.

Being great Microsoft Managers, Harry and crew said, "Oh, we didn't know you guys felt so strongly about it. OK, well let's agree to standardize on one title, we'll create a list and you guys can vote and keep Evangelist if you want." And we did. I don’t know whether we'll be IT Evangelists or Platform Evangelists, but it doesn't much matter, we'll be Evangelists, passionately communicating to our customers and Partners the value of our technology and the power of our platform.

The other thing was an email from a college student, interning in Redmond, who is interested in Evangelism. We had a great conversation and I really learned a lot. In discussing the details of my work and my life and in communicating to him my understanding of Evangelism and the role we play here at Microsoft, I found myself reconciling some of the questions that had been simmering in my head ever since I received that email June 22nd.

The hate mail guy?---He was right! Much to my chagrin I realized that that guy was totally right—I am a Kool-Aid drinking Microsoft Evangelist of the highest order and I couldn’t be more proud.

So thanks, Jeremy and everyone else for helping me to really get recommitted to even more rambunciousness, more energy, more fire and brimstone as we get Ready for a New Day and Launch the sweetest product set in the history of Microsoft; Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007.

Register for a launch event near you at http://www.microsoft.com/business/launch2007/signup/default.mspx. I’ll be at all the NY/NJ events and Scranton, PA. I hope to see you there.

Also, if you are interested in Evangelism in the technology industry check out the conversation at http://www.gnote.ws/, Anand Iyer from my team is heavily involved and his blog is at http://www.artificialignorance.net/. Mentioning Anand makes this post relevant to devs. 😉

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