Vamshidhar Kommineni

August 17, 2007

Peter Spiro on “Behind The Code”

Filed under: Technology — Vamshi @ 8:32 pm

Microsoft recently started doing this interview series called Behind the Code where they interview key architects at Microsoft in a more free-wheeling fashion about their lives, how they got to working on computers, what drives them, etc. Kind of like Charlie Rose interviewing techie people. They’re up to about 8 interviews now. Their official blurb is:

Occasionally the office of the CTO, David Vaskevitch, sits down with some of Microsoft’s most influential technical employees to capture their stories. Instead of examining specific technologies, BTC takes a closer look at the person, the career and what it takes to produce world-class software.

Anyway, I recently watched a talk online on Peter Spiro (one of the architects behind WinFS and considered to be a very colorful personality):

http://channel9.msdn.com/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=333294 OR
http://www.researchchannel.org/prog/displayevent.aspx?rID=19278&fID=345

Peter is a Technical Fellow at Microsoft, and it was pretty interesting to listen to him. Particularly about his early years with a degree in forestry and "not getting a real job until 30". It’s also interesting to see him talking about the early days of SQL development at Microsoft. Things like having a small team with very little process and the importance of building teams of people in order to execute on software projects. The talk is well worth watching for his insights into people and team building alone. Other gems include his point about long lived software needing to be a set of subsystems and providing enough infrastructure and contracts between subsystems to allow swapping them out over releases.

In the Q & A afterwards, he made some very relevant points as well:

  • It’s all about the people. People skills are very important in technical organizations and will continue to serve people well
  • Being someone who fights against "the system" and tries to induce change is important
  • Finding the right technical leaders who then influence all the other people that they manage is one of the hardest things about building a software company
  • We don’t train new graduates well enough in the software business

The only weird thing about the video is the jarring edits to keep it under time. There are some abrupt transition points that could have been handled better.

Funnily enough, he reminds me of a Professor from UIUC, Steve Lumetta, both in the way he talks and the way he looks (People who know Steve will know what I mean :). Steve would like Peter too, they probably would get along famously on their shared admiration for DEC. The amount of joy in their work and the technical acumen they bring to the table inspires me to continue learning and become better at what I do.

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