Julie Larson-Green: Microsoft Women Worth Watching

Julie Larson-Green: Microsoft Women Worth Watching

Summary: As today is Ada Lovelace Day -- a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in science and technology -- I've decided to kick off a new series profiling some of these Microsoft women worth watching. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be running profiles of ten of them on my blog. Today's Woman Worth Watching is Windows Corporate VP Julie Larson-Green.


In the 25-plus years I've written about technology, I've interviewed fewer than 50 female Microsoft employees (by my rough estimate). In part, this is because there are less of them. Microsoft officials say women comprise 25 percent of the company's total workforce. It's also because many of the women who do work at Microsoft are in marketing, sales and support roles and aren't among those who are "authorized" to talk to us press/blogger types.

There are a handful of women employees dotting Microsoft's executive ranks, including two Senior Vice Presidents (Lisa Brummel,head of Human Resources, and Mich Matthews, head of the Central Marketing Group). But I wanted to meet some of the less-public techies -- the engineers, product managers and programmers who work at Microsoft to find out how and why they've managed to buck the continuing trend of women not entering math/science careers. The women I've interviewed for this series have joined Microsoft via a wide variety of paths. Some knew since they were kids they wanted to be involved in technology. Others came to the Empire via a more circuitous route (master of fine arts in poetry, anyone?). Some are Microsoft lifers. Others are recent hires.

As today is Ada Lovelace Day -- a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in science and technology -- I've decided to kick off a new series profiling some of these Microsoft women worth watching. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be running profiles of ten of them on my blog.

Today's Microsoft Woman Worth Watching: Julie Larson-Green

Title: Corporate Vice President, Program Management, Windows Client

What's your typical day like? "It's all meetings and e-mail. I have lots of one-and-one meetings. I try to carve out open time to be available to people... Being in program management is all about getting people t work together to try to meet goals."

Did you always want to be involved in technology? If not, what steered you this way? Even though she obtained an undergraduate degree in business management, Larson-Green presciently wrote in her college yearbook that some day she wanted to work with computers.

Advice for women (and/or men) considering a career in technology? Focus more on the way you and your team can have a positive impact than on your job title. And always be open to learning. It's important to be well-rounded. Remember that something that looks like a lateral move to outsiders may be just what you need, in terms of furthering your own knowledge and experience.

Favorite gadget (just one) or technology? Tivo

Larson-Green is not one of Microsoft's unsung techie heroines, but she also isn't one of Microsoft's primary spokespeople for Windows. In fact, she does very few press meetings and makes relatively few public appearances.

She's come a long way from waiting tables while in college. These days, she has between 1,200 and 1,400 program managers, researchers, content managers and other members of the Windows team reporting to her.

Currently, Larson-Green is in charge of Windows planning. (Her colleagues Jon DeVaan and Grant George lead Windows development and test, respectively. This core team of three reports directly to Windows/Windows Live President Steven Sinofsky.) This is a new structure for the Windows team since Windows 7 shipped. Rather than organizing Windows Client around smaller product units, the team operates more like the Microsoft Office team does -- not too surprising, given the leaders of the Windows team all came from Office.

It's not just the structure of the Windows organization that has changed since Larson-Green joined that division. The "Windows culture" has changed, as well -- something she takes pride in having had a part.

"People (in the Windows unit) are understanding more about the decision-making process and are not just feeling like people are overruling them," she says. She makes it a point to "make sure everyone (on the team) has the same information and the same inputs."

Larson-Green applied to Microsoft right after she got her business management degree from Western Washington University, only to be told no. But she did land a job at desktop-publishing-software maker Aldus working on the product support call lines. In that role, she got to meet some of the product engineers and helped with questions on debugging TIFF files. She went back to Seattle University and got a master's in software engineering. She gradually worked her way up to dev lead on PageMaker.

Microsoft "discovered" Larson-Green after a few Softies attended a talk she gave comparing Microsoft compilers to Borland compilers and asked her to run a Visual C++ focus group for the company. In 1993, she ended up landing a job on the Visual C++ team, where focused on the integrated development environment. She moved to the Internet Explorer team (where she worked on the user experience for IE 3.0 and 4.0) and then, in 1997, to the Office team to work on FrontPage, where she got her first group program manager job. She also did a stint on the SharePoint Team Services team, back when SharePoint was known as "Office.Net."

At this point in her career, Larson-Green had a choice of three jobs in Office: Group program manager for Excel, Word or Shared UI. She decided she could have the most impact in the UI area. She opted to lead  user interface design for Office XP, Office 2003 and Office 2007.

"Steven (Sinofsky) challenged me about Office. I didn't want to do it," Larson-Green recalls. "I thought the UI was done" and there wasn't much to do to innovate there.

How wrong that perception turned out to be, Larson-Green says. She is credited with championing the Ribbon UI (officially known as "Fluent," which is becoming part of more and more Office products, as well as part of elements of Windows. She also was and is a big advocate of multi-touch technology as a UI game-changer for Windows.

Larson-Green says it's been her style of talking to her team to find out what they think and why that's made her successful at her job.

"I like the social part of software. I think a lot about the motivations and the collaboration model," she says. Up until Office 2007, Larson-Green always had a little of her own code included in every product. That's no longer the case, but she's O.K. with that, she says. "I used to build more product than team, but now I build more team than product."

Let's see what she does with Windows 8 (or Windows "vNext" as the team seems to prefer it be called). And no, Larson-Green wouldn't talk about Windows 8 in any way, shape or form, in case you're wondering if I asked...

(You can find all of the Microsoft Women Worth Watching profiles here.)

Topics: Microsoft, CXO, Operating Systems, Software, IT Employment, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • So she's the one responsible for..

    I am sorry but she is the <snipped> responsible for the Windows 7 Taskbar and Office 2007 taskbar. She needs to fired from Microsoft ASAP. All she does is destroy existing features for sake of innovating something larger than life and throwing away old useful features. Like the menus and toolbars from Office and several Windows Taskbar features (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_features_removed_in_Windows_7#Taskbar).
    • Sometimes change is necessary...

      By all accounts, the Fluent interface has been a success. Crying about a change to a UI that has remained largely unchanged for at least 12 years is pointless. The technology itself has changed dramatically in that time; screens have gotten much larger, PCs are faster, and the user today is not the same as the user in 1995.

      If anything, her role in bringing about the Fluent UI should be applauded, not disparaged. The whole experience of using Windows is now much smoother, much more refined, and not nearly the disaster for most users that you paint.

      I grumble about this or that feature being changed sometimes, but then I get over it and learn the new way of doing things. It helps to learn new things occasionally, because it helps you adjust to the changes that real life throws at you. If you've lost flexibility of mind, then you're nearly as good as done for.

      Oh, and for what it's worth, Office 2010 absolutely rocks, for the changes it's brought about in the Ribbon.
      • Change for sake of change is not progress

        The same UI can be used successfully without the need for change or adapting for years. Just because something is old does not necessarily mean it needs to be replaced. Change for sake of change is essentially what MS have done with Office and definitely with the Windows 7 taskbar. The taskbar has no "new" functionality really. Pinning and unpinning was possible in Quick launch, jump lists replace their previous counterpart, the context menu but suddenly people get wowed by them. Aero Peek is Show Desktop with a new sexy branding and those tiny thumbnail previews that require squinting to recognize their context are useless to lot of people. Grouping introduces one more additional click when switching between apps and years of muscle memory of interacting with the most recently opened app on the far right is forcibly disturbed by reusing the same button used to launch the app. If anything the "superbar" ended up doing away with some powerful features for sake of "simplicity" and some eye candy. For example, it hampers 1 click minimize when clicked on the same button when windows are grouped which was possible in XP's taskbar. Adapting to change only makes sense if that change is demonstrably better and rational, not some random gimmick to wow people as is the unproductive Windows 7 taskbar.
        • RE: Change for sake of change is not progress

          While I would agree that Microsoft should start
          programming in the OPTION to use the new
          interface or old in to their apps, I'd disagree
          with you that the new Start Bar brings nothing
          new. As a professional developer, I usually
          have at minimum 12 programs running at any
          given time. The new taskbar does a wonderful
          job at keeping things organized. The preview
          windows were never meant to be something you'd
          read or use in that format. But if I've got 4
          IE windows open, I can tell, at a glance, which
          one is opened to Yahoo, and which one is opened
          to ZDNet, and get immediately to the one I want
          without a lot of Ctrl+tabbing. And people are
          "wowed" by the jump lists because they can do,
          and often do, more than standard context
          menu's. For instance, the jump list for Word
          shows me the most recently opened documents.
          The old one built in to Windows showed all
          types of documents, not just Word. For
          Messenger, I can set my status, start a
          message, or sign out, all very quickly, and all
          without having to minimize the training video
          I'm watching. You just have to learn the new
          tools. I'm sure plenty of people had the same
          reaction when Windows began to replace DOS as
          the defacto OS.
          • Ambivalent

            First, let me say that Larson-Green's innovations, for the most part, succeed in increased usability for the large majority of ordinary users.

            I recently upgraded my home XP Professional workstation to Win 7-64 Ultimate and found the new Taskbar a significant improvement over the old.

            I can see the merit in Libraries, Jump Lists, and Fluent: most people didn't major in college in Computer Science, attend MIT, have Asperger/OCD personalities, or were library aides, so dump/run/auto-sort works better for the average user; i.e, 98% of the consumer market.

            However, I take exception at the compulsory interface Ms. Larson-Green pushed. I've spent a large amount of my time turning off many of those features unnecessary to a properly organized directory system on a solo user machine.

            Likewise, I had to search out third-party solutions for the much less efficient new Start Menu and killing Fluent. As a minimalist who retains only the Recycle Bin on the Desktop as well as on the bare minimum customized Office Toolbar, those features qualified as ostentatious overkill **for me**.

            Again, I recognize the utility for the targeted market. That market, however, is the rub.

            As a small business IT admin in my professional life, the lack of an XP upgrade path is a serious barrier to migration because app reinstallation is a deal-killer.

            Three weeks into the personal upgrade and I'm still struggling with installing all my apps, even with the advantage of software-supported XP Mode.

            So, overall: "Yay, Julie! Keep up the great work!"

            Just don't disenfranchise us uber-geeks huddling in the corner. :>)

            JJ Brannon
      • RE: Julie Larson-Green: Microsoft Women Worth Watching

        After watching a video Julie did on Channel 9 regarding the new Office 2007 UI, I wrote to Robert Scoble asking if he could pass a suggestion on to Julie about productizing an internal tool the Office team uses. Even though she had no real responsibility to respond to me, she did the same day... actually, within a couple hours.
        raimu koyo asu
      • RE: Julie Larson-Green: Microsoft Women Worth Watching

        It looks like Microsoft is going to continue to roll out, one by one, the names of Android OEMs which have agreed to sign patent-protection deals with the company.
        Linux Love
      • RE: Julie Larson-Green: Microsoft Women Worth Watching

        The first to be announced this week, on July 5, was Taiwanese OEM Wistron.
        Linux Love
      • RE: Julie Larson-Green: Microsoft Women Worth Watching

        Wistron ? like General Dynamics, Velocity Micro and Onkyo ? is paying Microsoft some undisclosed sum.
        Linux Love
      • RE: Julie Larson-Green: Microsoft Women Worth Watching

        Other than that, terms of their deal are not being disclosed.
        Linux Love
      • RE: Julie Larson-Green: Microsoft Women Worth Watching

        There are thousands of accessories for the Apple iPad and I personally enjoy trying out different case options.
        Linux Love
      • RE: Julie Larson-Green: Microsoft Women Worth Watching

        The less expensive samples that were sent for my evaluation were the Masstige Color Block Series
        Linux Love
      • RE: Julie Larson-Green: Microsoft Women Worth Watching

        The Masstige Folio cases are sewn together with a tight stitching pattern that looks to be able to
        Linux Love
    • ha

      Good thing you are not her boss.
    • She deserves a raise IMO

      The new look and feel of the task bars are awesome, especially the win 7 taskbar..So clean and uncluttered no matter what you have going on.Jump list, pinning are all pluses and ease of use for new employees..You can keep the "old" taskbar. It is a real winner for our staff. ...After using it we would never go back to the " Classic" look and cluttered feel ....It really is a very nice upgrade to our everyday use and productivity...Looks good too. So kudos to her for her input...Give her a raise....and you my friend are fired for never changing and wanting to stay in the past...We need to move forward.....My2 cents
  • Any tech women not in management?

    Are there any women at MS who are not in management, i.e. actually do something with software instead of go to meetings?
    • Yes, there are non-managers

      Hi, Yes, there are folks who aren't in management, who actually code and test. Stay tuned... You might read about a few of them as the series progresses...

      There also will be more folks profiled who manage and code, both. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
    • There are lots of female developers at Microsoft

      I work with a lot of women at Microsoft, many of whom are developers, writers, and designers. Microsoft is one of the most gender-neutral companies in the industry, and the women (and men) who work here are some of the smartest people I've met. Respect here is given based on merit, and your gender is absolutely irrelevant to your perceived value to the company.

      Perhaps others have a different perspective, but that's been my experience and observation.
      murdered by owls
      • Totally Agree

        I work with a team with 50% of the team members being females, all developers. There are a lot of female developers here at Microsoft. Everything said above by "murdered by owls:)" is true. Gender and race are totally irrlevant here and everyone respects each other. The environment here is absolutely wonderful. Implicit to say, its a fabulous company to work for. Half of the productivity increases just because of the atmosphere around.
  • RE: Julie Larson-Green: Microsoft Women Worth Watching

    Please please pick women that aren't with the VP title...I worked at MS for 8 years and there are FAR more interesting and impactful women making headway in spaces that MS is not known for but should be. I hope that Lili Cheng and Danah Boyd are on your list.