Microsoft's Developer Chief Somasegar: The exit interview

November 13 is Corporate Vice President and Microsoft Developer Chief Soma Somasegar's last day at Microsoft. Here are a few of his parting observations after 27 years at the company.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on

Today is Microsoft Developer Division Corporate Vice President S. "Soma" Somasegar's last day at Microsoft.

In October, Somasegar announced he was leaving the company to pursue the next phase of his career. Having had the opportunity to interview Somasegar a number of times during his years at Microsoft, I wanted one more shot. I had a chance to ask a few parting questions one more time this week.

Q: How did you end up coming to Microsoft in 1989? Did someone specific recruit you? Was it a specific job that lured you?

SS: I was a graduate student pursuing my Ph.D. at State University of New York, Buffalo. So, I would say the primary reason was "Get away from the cold of Buffalo"! Jokes aside, I got an offer from Microsoft to work on a 32-bit operating system (which was advanced for back then). I had always been interested in working on operating systems and so jumped at the opportunity. The vision of "A PC on every desktop and in every home" that Bill Gates and Microsoft had was a really exciting thing to be part of.

Q: You started as a software design engineer in Windows, correct? You worked on eight different Windows releases, including OS/2, NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 (and some in between, I take it.) What was your biggest takeaway or lesson learned from being part of the Windows org?

SS: Nobody remembers when you ship something. What people remember is whether you shipped something great. This is something I learned in my early days at Microsoft and have strived to follow that throughout my career.

Q: Since 2003, you've been head of Microsoft's Developer Division, which means you were responsible for all developer tools, languages and platforms. You've seen a lot of changes in what developers want and need in that time, I'm sure. What has been a trend or development that surprised you in the dev space since you've been at the helm?

SS: It's amazing to reflect on how much has changed in software development in the last 12 years. Every business is a software business. Software development is now an integral part of every business in every industry, and the web, cloud and mobile trends have enabled any developer in any organization to reach millions of users literally overnight. The barrier to entry for a software developer has never been as low as it is today. Microsoft's Developer Division has been at the heart of all of these changes as Microsoft's platforms, frameworks and tools have evolved with these trends. I know the DevDiv leadership team will continue to do great work here.

Q: What are you most proud of, in terms of your accomplishments at Microsoft?

SS: I am very proud of the incredible people and teams that I have had the opportunity to work with and lead and the opportunity to play a role in delivering products and services being used by billions of customers around the world.

Q: During Build 2013, youpublicly apologized to .NET developers who felt shunned by the company because of some of its messaging and actions around Windows 8. What's your message, on your way out, to .NET developers now?

SS: .NET is one of the great developer platforms in the world today. The last year has seen .NET begin the transition to open source and cross platform, which are a key part of enabling .NET to continue to grow with the cloud and mobile trends. I think it's an incredibly exciting time to be a .NET developer, and the opportunity ahead for .NET and the .NET ecosystem is huge. I do want to say a big thank you to the .NET developer community and wish them all the best and success in their work.

Q: You also have beena strong OSS advocate during your time at Dev Div, as Microsoft's position on open source has evolved. Why have you been an advocate for Microsoft to open source more of its own technologies and work more closely with open source companies?

SS: Open source has been an incredible force for developing strong ecosystems around software platforms. We've seen over and over again how open source, both for our own technologies and other technologies throughout the industry, can bring together a rich, collaborative developer base across companies and individuals to build amazing ecosystems. The ability to build on others and learn from each other is an immensely powerful phenomenon and helps everybody in the process - both software developers and ultimately end users of the software that we build. Open source engagement has to be a two-way street, both contributing and consuming for it to be a healthy and vibrant effort.

Q: Many Microsoft devs and partners continue to wonder if Microsoft will ever port Visual Studio to other platforms. Do you think that's a requirement or do you feel Microsoft's existing and potentially new partnerships with other tool vendors (Xamarin, Unity, Cordova) go far enough?

SS: We've really seen a combination of places where Microsoft is taking the lead on bringing developer technologies to other platforms, and where Microsoft is partnering with others in the ecosystem who are doing a great job bringing our frameworks, languages and tools to new places. I think it's great to see an ecosystem that has many partners betting on .NET, C# and Visual Studio. At the same time, efforts like open-source and cross-platform .NET and the introduction of Visual Studio Code, Visual Studio Community are things that Microsoft can do which help move that whole ecosystem forward.

Q: The new Microsoft seems less focused on trying to try to force users to go all in with Windows than previous regimes were. Is the same sentiment true for the developer division you've led? Is MS now supportive of devs writing for any platform as long as there is SOME Microsoft technology in their stacks?

SS: I am a strong believer in developer choice and meeting developers where they are. Microsoft has been all about building great tools and platforms and letting developers make the choice of what they want to use and when.

Q: What's the most important/monumental change in the developer landscape over the past decade, in your view?

SS: Two things, which we've already discussed here: (1) The power of Open source, and (2) The transformational nature of mobile/cloud and the opportunities that brings to the world of software development.

Q: What's next for you? Any hints?

SS: One thing I can say is I have no intention to retire! I'm going to start by taking some time to learn, explore and experiment in some new areas.

Somasegar won't be one of the speakers at Microsoft's two-day free Connect(); 2015 virtual event next week on November 18 and 19, but there are still lots of big Microsoft names on the roster with some potentially interesting topics.

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