Why I Joined Microsoft

There I was, Spring 2011. Ready to walk away. Coming from an interactive design background all those years ago, I had enjoyed a great ride partnering with Microsoft. As the original contributor for Microsoft’s Project Rosetta to get Flash designers and programmers up to speed in early Silverlight, I started off strong helping to grow and foster the young community of interaction designers migrating to the Microsoft stack. Hey, it got me an MVP Award. From dipping my toe into Microsoft’s broader world of .NET and managed code, it was only a tiny jump over to pushing the boundaries with WPF, pixel shaders and exploring NUI experiences on the Microsoft Surface. That got me another MVP, and several demo and guest speaking opportunities at SXSWi, MIX and other conferences. Living at the forefront of technology and design is where I thrive, and in that desktop dominant world I was having a blast. But then something happened…

The world changed. We entered what some call a Post-PC world. Other’s call it a PC Plus world – I think they are both true in different ways. But what became painfully evident to me is that the assumptions of unlimited power and unlimited CPU that fueled so many of my projects were no longer sustainable in this particular corner of the future. And that was the corner I was growing increasingly passionate about. By pushing Objective-C and OpenGL optimization in 2008 and their staunch refusal to support plug-in solutions, Apple had fired a resounding shot against managed code in a high experience, devices optimized future. A future where managed code, with all of its developer optimized benefits, was going to have a very real, very hard time competing at the premium experiences level. As I looked across the Microsoft stack at the time, nothing seemed capable of handling this impending shift in the technology landscape. My passions were changing. The world was changing. The face of experience design was changing. And at the time, it didn’t even look like Microsoft was noticing.

The BUILD Conference, September 2011

By September, most of my involvement with Microsoft had been reduced to the part of the future we still had in common – great experiences in the browser. I had the opportunity to build Jitterbugs for the IE9 launch and help push the boundaries of HTML5, but the Windows story had lost its charm and pull for me. As much as I wanted to believe, it didn’t look like Microsoft could be competitive. I started focusing on iPad and iPhone development. I had started unplugging from Redmond and wishing them well in our separate ways.

…then BUILD happened.
The BUILD conference came as a lightning strike. Microsoft came out razor smart, enterprise strong, and swinging for the fences. After the keynote Monday, I was confused. Tuesday I was suspicious. Wednesday I was dazed. But by Friday I was sold. That same Friday, I gave an interview with Dem Delimarsky (@DennisCode) that captured so well the new opportunities I was seeing. Everything was changing. All of a sudden, we were talking ARM based devices for calculations per watt sensitive experiences. We were talking GPU and DirectX 11 and the return of native code. Deep and smart conversations on cost per pixel calcuations. But most importantly, we were talking the key differentiator – an integrated ecosystem of experience and services that spans consumer and enterprise across scales of interaction. From sensors, phones and tablets to desktops and smart rooms to intelligent spaces and the internet of things, a grand unified reality was being born and Microsoft was playing to win. As Steve Ballmer had put it, “the platform is the operating system.” This is the fight I was waiting for. In that one week, I feel in love with Microsoft again.

So a few months later, when I got the call out of the blue that the Coding4Fun team at Microsoft was growing and they wanted to talk, I jumped at the chance. Dan, Clint and Brian have been friends and colleagues for a while, and the more we talked, the more we could see how awesome all of us teaming up our strengths Voltron style could be. A rag tag group of design technologists, hackers and hardware wizards bringing the Maker spirit to all things Microsoft. Painting interactive pictures of what is possible when you marry pixels, code and hardware in this emerging Microsoft ecosystem.

Moving Forward

Especially now, with so much changing, so much risk and so much reward, getting the chance to join a team where our primary mission is to entertain, educate and inspire is a dream come true. All those years ago, I took a chance on Microsoft and it has continued to pay off. It hasn’t always been easy, but I honestly believe there is no better time to invest your talent and energy into Microsoft then right now. I’m still passionate about educating and fostering the designer developer community, and now I’m getting paid to do exactly that. Lead by example and share what you know. I’m having a blast.

So if you’re a unicorn, a hybrid, a design technologist or any other combination of designer/developer wizard, you are desperately needed. You are needed all across the domain of technology, but I personally am betting on Microsoft, because of the huge amount of growth potential. It is all blue ocean opportunity right now on their stack, since everyone else is still fighting in red water territory. So jump in, the water’s fine! Wherever your passion is taking you – from open and responsive web experiences to rich and reach, consumer slash enterprise plays all the way to diving deep into native experiences, coding on the metal across devices at scale, it is full of potential win. Work hard, stay sharp, and keep nimble and together we can build the future one amazing experience at a time. If you’re looking for me, that’s where I’ll be. And I’d love to help you get there too.
So let’s get started. It’s going to be a wild ride!


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Rick Barraza

Design strategy and creative engineering at Microsoft. Passionate about the cultural intersection of design & technology. No longer needs the weirding module.

One thought on “Why I Joined Microsoft”

  1. Wow, I didn’t see this coming – congratulations! WinRT on Win8 and WP8 are exciting areas and the performance increases with the native animations are certainly timely. Looking forward to seeing what you get up to and contributing as I can.

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