Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott on the future of software engineering and the better world ahead

My friend Kevin Scott has a unique vantage point from which to speak about the future of software engineering. He is a very gifted and accomplished man who serves as CTO at Microsoft, but his career as a software engineer spans several years and a variety of different roles in companies both large and small.

If you take the time to listen in to this conversation, you’ll hear his story — which began in a tiny town in Virginia. From his first personal computer (from Radio Shack), of his interest in technology and aspirations to become a university professor to that time when he applied at a company called Google. Please, take the time to listen.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:35] The story of Kevin Scott: from rural Virginia to Microsoft CTO
  • [4:30] High school, college, traveling to Germany, then to Google
  • [13:00] Lessons from working at small companies and giants
  • [21:34] What does an engineering team look like in a small startup VS a large company?
  • [28:34] How advertising tech paved the way to today’s free internet
  • [35:44] Do mission statements matter in mega companies?
  • [39:10] What is exciting to Kevin about the future of technology?
  • [44:05] How far away are genuine, working haptic feedback integrations?
  • [48:28] What does the CTO at Microsoft do?
  • [51:29] Kevin the photographer

There are lessons to be learned at small and big companies alike

Kevin’s software engineering career started at Google, and he enjoyed the many benefits of working in its open environment. But it wasn’t long before he decided to step into an opportunity at a small company that was starting up. It was called Admob. His co-workers at Google joked that he’d be back, either because he’d miss his role at Google or because Google would buy the company he was moving to. The later is what wound up happening.

But during his time at Admob Kevin discovered that the lessons he’d learned working for the giant (Google) were not always directly transferable to what was being done at the smaller company (Admob). The size of the company made a difference, as did the goals the company was working toward. The ethos and culture of his new team of talented engineers made for a different dynamic, and the lack of infrastructure forced him to take on challenges Google had already addressed. Listen to hear how Kevin managed those tumultuous but exciting days at Admob and how he applied the lessons learned there upon his return to Google after the acquisition.

Why mimicking another company culture doesn’t work

I’ve noticed that many new companies are enamored with the stories of the open and self-directed culture at companies like Google – so much so that they often try to mimic those approaches in their new startup. Kevin says he’s seen the same thing and understands why it’s attractive. But he also understands why it hardly ever works.

Every company has its own unique needs, and the company should be structured in a way that will enable it to serve those needs. That sometimes means the intelligence and talent of the team have to be managed more carefully and intentionally. Other times, it means allowing team members to be more autonomous. But it’s the DNA of that particular company that makes the determination. Kevin shares many other examples, in this conversation.

How online advertising paved the way for today’s free internet

Online ads are not a particular favorite of today’s internet user. Few of us even pay attention to the sidebar or display ads we see on our favorite social media platforms. But online ads and the technology that makes them work have played a considerable part in the development of almost every aspect of what we’ve come to enjoy as the free and open internet of today.

Kevin was one of the pioneers of that technology. When he was working at Google, he was among the engineers who were developing the tech behind Google ads, building out the complex systems that sort, identify, and target users with advertising applicable to their needs. He says that the projects he was working on back in the day were the largest of their kind up to that time. Those same patterns and principles have been applied in a variety of ways to the technological advances of today, including AI and machine learning systems.

AI and Machine Learning as teaching tools of the future

Kevin prefers the phrase “machine learning” over the term “AI” – he feels it’s a more accurate description of how technology is being used and developed. And he believes that it’s a technology that is among some of the most promising for the education of the future. The day is coming when Machine Learning will be used to develop educational models that challenge students in new and better ways that accelerate learning and build expertise faster.

Join me for this conversation with my good friend, Kevin Scott. I could have spent hours talking with him about these and other topics. He’s a fountain of information and wisdom you won’t want to miss.

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