About a month ago, I started a new role at Microsoft. I have the same title (ISV Architect Evangelist) and the same boss (Nathan Hancock), but my responsibilities are quite different. For the previous 4.5 years, I worked with 10 to 20 “managed ISVs” – software companies who are large enough that if they switched from Microsoft to one of our competitors or vice versa, it would have a noticeable effect on our revenue somewhere down the line. Now I work with everyone else – the 6,000 or so “unmanaged ISVs” in the middle of the US. The effect of any one of these software companies adopting our platform might not be immediately noticeable, but the cumulative effect certainly is. That’s why Microsoft invests in my role.
So what do I do? Simple. I help software companies. It doesn’t matter whether you use our technologies or not – I’m here to help.
My role is mostly technical (my background is as a developer and architect), but a lot of the challenges facing software companies are business related (“what’s the right way to license xyz from Microsoft” or “how should I monetize this functionality” or “why should I use the cloud”) – I help with those, too.
For the foreseeable future, I’m focused on our cloud offering, the Windows Azure platform (which includes SQL Azure and Windows Azure AppFabric). It’s an offering I’m quite passionate about, so it’s easy for me to rally ISVs to support it. Most of the things I’ll be writing and speaking about over the next year or so will be related to Windows Azure and how it can help software companies succeed.
Because I need to reach thousands of software companies, Microsoft has several programs that allow me to “scale,” including
- Microsoft Partner Network – the overarching Microsoft partner program
- Microsoft Platform Ready – the place for partners to get step-by-step guidance and support on Microsoft platform technologies
- BizSpark – the way for startups to become partners and get no-cost access to Microsoft technologies for three years
Sometimes it can be confusing to navigate all our different resources, so I like to think that I put a human face in front of these programs. If you wonder what programs are right for you, don’t hesitate to ask me –
I’m based in Grand Rapids, Michigan and primarily serve the Central Region of the US:
I have peers who do what I do in the East and West and in other countries around the world. In case you are curious, the region is divided into sales districts as well, colored on the map: South Central (orange), North Central (yellow), Midwest (green), and Heartland (blue). I serve the whole region.
At Microsoft, we measure what we do, and we put those measurements into yearly commitments – for the rest of this fiscal year (which ends in June), I am measured by how many partners in the Central region profile applications that are compatible with Windows Azure in Microsoft Platform Ready – I will blog about what that means for you soon, but that’s how my boss will evaluate my effectiveness this fiscal year (though it is only a couple of months long for me). Next year, we’ll probably adjust that measurement a bit.
A quick aside on commitments … it’s easy to measure the effectiveness of sales people, because money is a really good way to keep score – it ultimately rolls up to regulated income statements, so sales estimates (goals) HAVE to be tracked for public corporations. For people who don’t bring in direct revenue, it’s harder to find a suitable measurement. Joel Spolsky argues cogently that companies shouldn’t even try. Management by Objectives is deeply ingrained in Microsoft culture, so we try our best anyway.
One last thing about my role – a few weeks ago, my twitter friend Sasmito Adibowo questioned how I can give advice to startups and small software companies when I work for the largest software company in the world. I think that’s a fair point – I haven’t delivered code into production for a couple of years now, and I haven’t worked on a startup or small software company for several years. I have never been the driving force behind a true software startup (though I did build a small consulting company). I have learned an enormous amount from working with successful software companies of all sizes in my role as an evangelist and through interviews on the Startup Success Podcast. Still, I lack the credibility that can only come with building a successful software company from scratch. I’m more like a food critic than a chef.
Sometimes I feel a tug to leave and start my own company, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. I really like working for Microsoft, and at the moment I think I can make a bigger impact here than on my own. I also have a wife and an eight-year-old son, and my family has grown to appreciate the stability that comes from working for a large, successful company.
I still want to create software, and I want the real-world credibility of building my own company, so I plan to follow in Patrick McKenzie’s footsteps and build a MicroISV as a side project (Patrick was eventually successful enough to quit his day job). Microsoft is surprisingly cool about this. I have lots of ideas, but whatever I do will definitely involve Windows Azure and will probably involve Windows Phone. Unfortunately, I’m not as disciplined as Patrick McKenzie, so I have nothing to show for my efforts, yet. It might take me a while to get off the ground, but I won’t give up. And of course, I’ll write about it here.
In the meantime, remember – if you work for a software company, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I will do my best to help.