Five questions for Microsoft EVP of Cloud and AI Scott Guthrie

What's Microsoft's head of Cloud and AI been up to lately? What is he most excited about at Build 2020 and beyond? I asked and ScottGu (sort of) answered.

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Credit: Microsoft

A number of us in the press have been wondering for the last several months about Microsoft's Executive Vice President of Cloud + AI Scott Guthrie. Usually a very visible presence at events and on Twitter, Guthrie had all but disappeared during the latter half of last year, leading to some speculation. (Was he taking a new job at Microsoft? Leaving the company for bluer clouds? Ready to cash in and become a VC...or start his own geek-fashion line?)

This week, however, Guthrie is back and on the heels of his Day 1 Microsoft Build keynote, ready to take on an AMA (today, May 20, on the Build live stream at 1:30 pm ET). I was hoping to grab a little time with Guthrie and catch up, but he's in demand. I did get to send in a few questions for him, however. 

Here are my five questions for ScottGu, his officially sanctioned answers, and the answers I wished/hoped I had gotten.

MJF: Where have you been, Scott? We've missed your red shirt(s). (I actually saw a couple pictures of you in a suit recently, so maybe you've been out there, but incognito?)

Guthrie: I've actually been very busy the last few months.

My day job is running our Cloud + AI Division at Microsoft (which includes Microsoft Azure, Dynamics 365, Power Platform, SQL Server and our Data + AI + Data Analytic Products/Services, Visual Studio, .NET, GitHub, our Identity and Security products, HoloLens, Windows Server and the core Windows Operating System).

I spend most of my time leading the engineering teams and working with customers and partners. But I also still do a lot of presentations in my red shirt (and occasionally wear a suit for more formal events). In the 6 months before Covid I traveled and did presentations/keynotes across the US as well as Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

I didn't do a keynote at Ignite (instead four of the leaders within my team - Jason Zander, James Philips, Julia Liuson, and Joy Chik -- did the Azure, Business Apps, Developer and Identity keynotes respectively). But I did a keynote on Day 1 of //Build and am doing a Q&A session on Day 2. And I will be wearing my red shirt in both.

What I wished he said: After interviewing for Jeff Bezos' job (and deciding it was more trouble than it was worth), I took a little "me time." Rewrote the Azure Fabric Controller in Rust. Mastered the cello. And, taking a cue from my Azure CTO Mark Russinovich, started writing a cybercrime thriller that will feature Elon Musk as the joker.

MJF: I've heard you've been doing more direct customer meetings lately. That seems outside of your geek wheelhouse to me. Why have you been doing this? Are you on the CEO fast track or something?

Guthrie: One of the things I've always tried to drive from a team culture perspective has been a close connection to customers. This is something I've been doing since the very beginning of my career with .NET and I find it an invaluable way to really learn what customers are looking to achieve, what is working well, what problems they are having, and to get a much better sense of where things are going and how we can build the best products + services and help our customers be successful.

Having this close customer connection has been even more important in the cloud era we are in today, and so I continue to spend a lot of time with customers + partners - as do all of the leaders on my teams.

What I wished he'd said: Is it really that obvious? Now that we're compensating our salespeople on cloud services they use and not just purchase, I figured I could really clean up as head of sales. Especially with those multi-million dollar deals we've been closing with our big customers -- I mean, "partners." Watch out, Judson Althoff, I'm coming for you.

MJF: It's Build this week, and Azure has a big presence at this event. What are you most excited about right now, in terms of cloud-development announcements and advances?

Guthrie: We have a lot of great developer announcements happening this week at Build. Just to touch on a few of those that I'm really excited about:

• In my keynote, you saw some great examples and announcements about how VS + GitHub can be used with Azure to dramatically improve developer productivity and enable collaborative development across teams.   

• We are announcing and showcasing some of the work happening to enable even better cloud native development with Azure - with lots of new announcements around our Azure Kubernetes Service and Cosmos DB database offering. We are showing a great end-to-end demo in my keynote of how you can build micro-services on Azure that you can publish as APIs and then consume inside a Teams based Power App that you can easily publish to every employee within an organization. 

• We are announcing our new Responsible Azure Machine Learning tools to give developers toolkits to help understand, protect, and control their data and models to use AI responsibly (for example: so that you can better understand why an AI model recommended something or not and what led to that decision).   

• We've announced new innovations in my keynote around how you can perform real-time analytics on top of high scale operational database systems using a new capability we call Synapse Link. This enables even smarter applications and the ability to use data insights even more effectively within businesses.

What I wished he'd said: Eat our dust, AWS and Google. We're JEDIs! Enough said.

MJF: Jason Zander, your Azure chief, has been doing a bang-up job. But he's been reticent to talk about how Microsoft is scaling its cloud beyond saying "We are always adding more capacity." Can you fill in a few of the blanks here?

Guthrie: We are continuing to build out our cloud in more countries and locations. As of today we have 61 regions around the globe - more than any other cloud provider - and since January have announced new Azure regions in Poland, Spain, Israel, Italy and New Zealand. Our cloud enables developers to connect with customers and employees closer than ever before.

What I wished he'd said: Besides building more datacenters, we have some new ways of building and running Azure to give us a lot more bang for the buck. Someone give me a (Surface) pen and let me draw a little architectural diagram for you....

MJF: Besides scaling Azure out and up, what's top of mind for you as we head toward Microsoft's fiscal 2021, which starts July 1?

Guthrie: Continuing to help our customers in the difficult pandemic times we are living in is top of mind for all of us. We are doing a lot of work both to enable customers to respond to the immediate challenges (for example: enabling remote work from home for employees) as well as help them build new apps and deploy new digital solutions that they can use to transform their business.

The great thing about the Microsoft Cloud all up is that we have both the core cloud platform and infrastructure capabilities customers need with Azure, as well as SaaS apps with Office 365, Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform that enable them to build cloud apps and solutions that connect even better to their employees and business processes. And with VS and GitHub we have the world's leading development tools that enable great developer velocity and accelerate getting things built and deployed. Ensuring we make customers successful with all of this will continue to be my top priority and focus.

What I wished he'd said: It's time. We're finally ready to start publicly disclosing our Azure numbers for real (instead of just by growth percentages). Woohoo!