Meet the father of Microsoft SharePoint: Jeff Teper

At Microsoft, a number of products are associated closely with the managers who run the teams behind them. SharePoint is no exception. But its "father," Corporate Vice President of Microsoft's Office Business Platform Jeff Teper, isn't a household name (at least outside of Redmond).
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

At Microsoft, a number of products are associated closely with the managers who run the teams behind them. (Exhibit A: Dave Cutler, the prevailing mastermind behind Windows NT and more recently, Windows Azure.)

SharePoint is no exception. But its "father," Corporate Vice President of Microsoft's Office Business Platform Jeff Teper, isn't a household name (at least outside of Redmond).

That doesn't mean Teper hasn't left his stamp on past, current and future iterations of SharePoint, Microsoft's all-in-one collaboration and communication server. Far from it. Teper is just more of a behind-the-scenes, yet intensely competitive, guy who runs a team of several thousand.

Teper joined Microsoft in 1992. Before he ended up spearheading SharePoint, Teper was a General Manager with MSN. He has a master's degree in business administration from Harvard Business School and a bachelor's degree in information systems and finance from New York University. He's attuned to business matters and dev matters, both, his team members said.

SharePoint 2010, due out in mid-2010 alongside Office 2010, didn't materialize out of nowhere. Teper and a handful of other Microsoft execs helped birth Microsoft's fastest growing server product back in 1996/1997.

"Teper saw a trend from customers. He was in our competitive team," recalled Tom Rizzo, a director of marketing in the SharePoint group. "People had lots of documents and file shares. Search, documents, Office and the Web were all coming together. They (Teper and his colleagues) told (Chairman) Bill (Gates) and (CEO) Steve (Ballmer) that we needed to invest in this category."

Bringing the idea for SharePoint to Gates and Ballmer resulted in two different takes from two different high-level Microsoft managers, Teper reminisced. He said Gates asked a lot of questions about the long-term architecture (SQL Server, .Net, etc.) behind what evolved into SharePoint. Gates also asked a lot of usability questions, Teper said. Ballmer, on the other hand, used his classic "I don't get this" line of questioning to bring SharePoint's charter into focus.

"Ballmer said we need to make it simple, simple, simple," Teper said. "He wanted to keep the message very simple."

So how did all this talk about simplicity yield a product that even Teper himself acknowledges is quite ambitious and complex? (He called it this week the "ultimate Swiss Army Knife.")

"We may have oversold how simple SharePoint was to deploy," Teper acknowledged. But over the last three years, and this year in particular, there's been a lot of focus from the team around improving SharePoint's documentation, guidance and training, he said.

Throughout the past decade, "our (SharePoint) vision has been consistent, though the scope has grown," Teper said. "Even though it had a lot of different names, we already were talking about things like social networking. Back in 2001, we had the idea of giving everyone their own Web site. We did that before FaceBook or MySpace were launched." 'A great success born from a great failure'

SharePoint, even at the outset, was a complex integration project. Microsoft's first pass at it was codenamed "Tahoe" and built on top of the Exchange data store. Tahoe incorporated several technologies Microsoft obtained during several strategic acquisitions: It bought Vermeer and Interse (the technology which provided the underpinnings for Site Server and Commerce Server). The resulting product launched in 2001.

"Site Server is an example of a great success born from a great failure," Teper quipped when I asked him about the origins of SharePoint. "It was a bad user experience. The business model wasn't great," Teper admitted.

Microsoft ended up splitting the original integrated Site Server product into several independent ones, including Microsoft BizTalk integration server and Commerce Server (which were under Satya Nadella, now one of the kingpings of Microsoft's search and advertising efforts), and Teper and his core group of six people or so, who began work on the next version of SharePoint, which became known as SharePoint Server 2003.

With SharePoint 2003, Microsoft replaced the Exchange data store with a SQL one. Microsoft also purchased NCompass Labs during this period, and integrated its web-content-management technology with SharePoint. In 2007, Microsoft morphed SharePoint yet again, this time developing and realigning it to be more of an intranet and Internet focused tool. Microsoft launched the SharePoint Server 2007 release shortly before it made yet another related acquisition: enterprise search vendor FAST Search & Transfer. The upgrade process between the 2003 and 2007 versions was anything but smooth, the Softies acknowledged this week.

While Microsoft's SharePoint competitors include some of the biggest enterprise vendors, including IBM, Google and Oracle, "we're our own toughest critics," Teper said. He recalled when Gates used to send the SharePoint managers frequent and regular e-mails, saying Salesforce or FaceBook or some other competitor has this feature and wanted to know when was Microsoft going to have it.

(While Microsoft's current Chief Software Architect has given the team "lots of feedback," especially around what it's doing with Ozzie's baby, Groove, he isn't anywhere near as micromanaging as Gates, it seems. "Ozzie is more narrowly but deeply focused than (Gates) on software plus services," Teper said. Ozzie is especially focused on giving the team feedback and help around SharePoint's alignment with Azure, he said.)

The Office culture permeates

Teper cut his management teeth under Kurt Delbene, Senior Vice President of the Office Business Productivity Group, and Steven Sinofsky, former head of Office engineering who is now the President of the Windows client business.

"The reason SharePoint was successful was we used the Office development approach," said Teper. "We use a collaborative development approach to build a collaborative product. And how we organize the team, what we look for, how we work -- it's all very Office-like," he said.

But there are places where SharePoint is different from Office, too. Teper noted that not many of the current Office team remember when Microsoft was an underdog trailing Lotus 123. In the SharePoint realm, Microsoft hasn't and still doesn't have a monopoly position. Teper formerly reported to Richard Case, who ran the OS/2 Compete team for Microsoft. He was a competitive guy and so is Teper, Teper said. It's that spirit of "feistiness and aggressiveness" that really marks the SharePoint team, he said.

Another differentiator between SharePoint and Office -- not to mention a number of other Microsoft teams -- is the fact that SharePoint needs to satisfy multiple masters, Teper said. Whereas a number of products at Microsoft are aimed at a single group -- developers or consumers or IT pros -- SharePoint is targeted at all three groups equally, he said.

Going forward, expect the tam to focus on three "big leap" things, Teper said: Its developer story; making it easier for customers to use SharePoint as an Internet (and not just Intranet) platform; and ramping up dramatically its synergies and offerings around SharePoint Online.

Tomorrow, I'll have more on some of the people who are leading some of the tens of teams behind SharePoint. Note: I got sidetracked and didn't get this last piece out yet about the team. But it's coming soon!


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