050 - Microsoft's Jeff Sandquist talks doubling down on developers

October 13, 2020

As part of Pluralsight LIVE 2020, we chat with Jeff Sandquist, who's Corporate Vice President of Developer Relations at Microsoft.

Jeff speaks about the importance of honestly listening to your customers, how Microsoft is helping enterprises move quickly, and even the similarities between beekeeping and software development.

If you enjoy this episode, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

Please send any questions or comments to podcast@pluralsight.com.



Hello, and welcome to All Hands on Tech, where today's leaders talk tomorrow's technology. I'm Daniel Blaser. This week marks Pluralsight LIVE 2020, our biggest event of the year. This year's Pluralsight LIVE is virtual and completely free, so don't hesitate to register using the link in the show notes if you're interested in attending. As part of our main stage experience, our executive vice president of corporate strategy, Chris Oliver, sat down with Jeff Sandquist, who's corporate vice president of developer relations at Microsoft. Their conversation was insightful and entertaining, so we wanted to bring an audio version to you. Jeff speaks about the importance of honestly listening to your customers, how Microsoft is helping enterprises move quickly, and even the similarities between beekeeping and software development.


Hey, Jeff. How are you? Pleasure to finally meet, and thank you again for carving out time for us. We're really looking forward to LIVE this year and your participation in the event. Why don't we start. It'll be helpful for me, and I'm sure it'll be helpful for folks who'll be joining us at LIVE, just to get a little bit more about your background personally, and a little bit about your professional background as well. So obviously in preparation for this discussion, as I said, we hadn't had the pleasure of meeting before so I had to do a little digging. So social media comes in quite handy there, and social media's always fun. It's like little breadcrumbs of information that help you to kind of piece together a whole story. So I discovered a couple of interesting breadcrumbs, or really, themes that emerged, which we'll dig into here. So one, clearly a love of life, very passionate about life. I saw a lot of great photos and beautiful vistas and a lot of outdoor stuff. Did also see a lot around cooking and baking and grilling, which was great, made me hungry. Talk to me a little bit about the love of food. Where does that come from?


I'm a developer at heart, and I grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan, Canada, about 100 people. Got into computers because cold Canadian winter, and cooking is much like programming. If you follow the right steps, you make sure that they're accurate, you'll get a result. You'll get what you put into it. And I find that often programmers and those of us that are---people will have an expectation about what a software engineer is. And software engineers sometimes have more commonality with how a chef can go work or how a musician can go work. And if you look across my Twitter and who I am, it's always been about that combination of hearts and minds. How do you connect with somebody intellectually? But then how do you make an emotional connection with that? And it's to the creators. So, you'll see a lot of stuff that I'm creating. It's like, hey, how am I with a Glowforge or a photo? And that's who I am. I really appreciate design, and really connecting with people. And so that's, again, why you see a lot of that on social. 


That makes sense. A couple of interesting comments you made. Do you see developers and programming as fundamentally more artistic or sort of more scientific and technical, or sort of a beautiful blend of the two?


If you've met one programmer, you've met one marketer, you've met one developer, you've met one trainer, congratulations, you've met one of them. It's all about who those individuals are. And I think we'll talk about that a lot is that, hey, you know, most engineering problems aren't technical. They're people problems. They're how to bring people together, how to get people to teach, how to remove unconscious bias, how to assume best intent. And much of that work is really about understanding how you relate to one another. Slow down. Listen. What are they saying? And so with that, sure, there are some programmers that are amazing musicians and more in common there. There may be some that are much more in common with a scientist. And what I love about what we do for a living and my team and I, what we do is, I lead developer relations for Microsoft. And that is really changing, refreshing, every day hustling to say how can me make the work better for our software developers around the planet? And that's where we focus on, and that means that every moment I'm like, wait, how do I learn how this person works? Here's a new customer that's not on our stack, not using Azure. And that's about being relatable to them and understanding what drives them. For me, I love hearts, minds. I will wear mine as an executive. I wear my heart on my sleeve, so to speak. I admire, and myself, a programmer, and the ability to solve problems technically, but I love mixing the two. 


Awesome. Great. So we'll, and of course in those comments you've revealed I think why Microsoft and Pluralsight enjoy I think such a natural and tight relationship, in terms of the role that we play to try to provide developers with the skills and tools that they need to create, to solve problems. But we'll talk a little bit more about that in a moment. I want to dig on one more of these fun sort of breadcrumbs, clues, that I discovered through the social media exploration. Explain to me the beekeeping, honey-making deal. That was pretty interesting. Didn't expect that one on the hunt. Fill me in.


Yeah, well, full disclosure, I am the hired hand, laborer on anything on bee or honey related. However, it is a phenomenal story of skilling. My wife has done a really phenomenal thing, her name's Lauri, and she in her childhood had always been around bees in Kansas with her family, and she really admired it. And our youngest daughter is now off in college, and we're home here by ourselves, and so we're not having to do a lot of things that I just, I don't know how people do it. It's like the home study, the home teaching, and we're here by ourselves. And there was, back even in January, she had taken a number of online courses around beekeeping. And we all were going, around March, what are we going to do with that time? How are we going to evolve? And she and I were talking one day, and she said, gosh, what should I go and kind of sink my teeth in? And I said, oh, you like that beekeeping. And she goes, I'm going to be a certified beekeeper. So through online curriculum, she began learning and getting through that. Next thing you know, she got engaged with the community over Zoom. Then 10,000 bees showed up at our home one evening, and she learned every step of this. We have now, I'm going to get the terminology wrong, but like three large hives of bees, probably about 150,000 bees across those. She had her first harvest. And again, she is all in, and she's learning this, the science part of it, different things about even looking at infrared, and how do you great quality honey. It's an ecosystem, and that's what fascinates me. Part of what I do for a living is create ecosystems at Microsoft. And developers, hey, when are you going to create a startup ecosystem here, how do you make it self-sustaining? So it's been fun for me on the ecosystem, first, is just like, hey, here's how an ecosystem works, what are the flowers, how did this all become sustaining? The next part was the skilling part, because one of the essential parts of her learning is community. People learn when they're in community. And watching how this beekeeper community was able to come and connect online and help each other learn, and they quickly adjusted. These are all beekeepers that would go out and go to people's hives and have community meetups in small towns, and now they're meeting over Zoom, and they're helping each other learn this. And so our first harvest, and again, I am the laborer that shows up and I'm incredibly proud, it had close to 50 pounds of honey that she harvested on her first bit. And it turned out great, which is wonderful and doesn't always happen. And so I'm incredibly proud of that. It's been fun. Last night she actually, that group of beekeepers from across the country got together, and they had a honey tasting evening, and they were all sharing their honey through the mail to kind of get this and having them trying it out and _____. And so I will tell you, if you want to learn something, I always tell people, or you want to get a new job, you're out looking, go find the community of people that are amongst that. You cannot learn unless you're connected with community. 


And passionate. 


And passion, yeah, and getting those people connected with community is really what it's all about.


I'm going to, well, two things from that. One is, I'm going to send you my address, and if there's any extra, send some honey my way. I would sincerely love to get some.


We have a fair amount of it around here.


Okay, good, so you're looking to unload it. And I'll talk to some of the product teams here at Pluralsight. Perhaps we need to add some beekeeping courses to the slate. Let's talk a little bit about Microsoft. Microsoft, obviously, as I sort of tallied, it's been about a 20-year relationship between the two of you. In fact, you left for a minute, I believe, and came back. Talk to me about why you have dedicated so much of your time and energy to the company over the years. What makes Microsoft special in that way?


You've got to think it's a little bit more than a job and a little bit more of a calling when you've been doing something for that long, or one company. And there's a bunch of things. First, how did I start at Microsoft? I came to the United States under NAFTA, on a NAFTA visa, which means you're a temp, contractor, you're not a full-time employee. And I moved from a small town in Saskatchewan, Canada, and I couldn't believe that I had a chance to even be a temp. I could not believe that I had that opportunity. I could not believe I was at Microsoft even as a temp. And I just said to myself going to the interview like, I should just be blessed that I got the interview. I moved down here, temp, a temp role at a company, kind of disposable, and that sucks. But I worked my butt off and met a lot of great people, and people opened up doors for me. I always have really I'd say operated with, how do we connect with the customers and how do we try new things? And the thing about tech is, it doesn't tend to reward tenure. It's great I've been at Microsoft 20 years. Really it rewards innovation. It rewards taking care of customers. But I was really lucky because I made this move from a full-time employee, or to a full-time employee at Microsoft, and I was so proud. I mean, I could not believe that I had this chance. And it was a very junior role in the company. 

Fast-forward, and I was able to work on a lot of great projects that were very unique in their way about how we communicated with customers. We had this thing called Channel 9, a year before YouTube, a year before Twitter, when often most companies were communicating through their customers, through PR firms. Me and a few people decided that we should get some camcorders, go around, have Microsoft employees, the engineers behind our products, just talk directly to developers, explain what they're building, why, why bugs are in things, and just communicate. And we put it on the web. It was one of the very first corporate blogs. It was video. And why did that happen? That moment changed me for a really unique reason, is that I got to learn and meet people around our entire company and see the diversity and the difference in how so many walks of life and so many different people with different backgrounds are required to build software for the world. And so part of why I am here is I feel that I have an incredible sense of privilege for the journey I've been on. I started as a temp, and I'm a corporate vice president here at Microsoft. It's a role that we don't give out. There's a very small number of people that have that out of our number of employees. And when that happens, yet you go, wait, how do I do the same that others did for me? Why do I have this privilege? And for me it's been, how do I give people their next start? How do I give people that? How do I help teach the world the cloud? How can I help people to have the training that I've been so blessed to be, I had a lot of luck and timing. If you want to build software for the world, the team has to be what we know the world is made up of. When we do work for skilling and training, I want to see the person that, you know, she doesn't believe that she can be an engineer because of what someone may have told her. And she sees someone that looks like her, looks like him, or doesn't look like them at all, and they learn from them. And so why I'm here at our Microsoft is so that---the company I left was a great company, but the company I returned to is not the company I left, thank goodness. It's a company that, you know, we're encourage to use Microsoft as a platform to do good in the world. We spend time on culture and trying to understand how do we work better with each other. And in these current times, sometimes work's not fun. And so how do I help the team move forward? COVID, in many ways, what we do for a living in training and skilling, and I think people really need to internalize this. In some ways, we talk about how, hey, we've had 2 years of digital transformation in a few months, and some of us work around is probably worth about 10 years of what we've evolved to because of these times. So it's a moment of innovation. And why I'm here at Microsoft is, our company is constantly changing. We don't think we're perfect. We're not, because we're all individuals and humans. And why I love this company so much is that I can use it as a way to do good in the world while doing all of the things that I do for a living, which is really about helping people learn the cloud. And that's what drives me. And as long as I can keep learning and as long as I can have a few days that are fun and they outweigh the other ones, and if I can connect every day with people and learn from them, I'll be here for a very long time. 


Phenomenal. You touched on a lot of very substantive themes there, so thank you for that. Obviously, you've been around for 20-ish and successful, which means you've been able to adapt, you've been able to change, you've been flexible, and certainly as has the company. And you spoke to that very eloquently about how Microsoft has changed and evolved and continued to do so. Talk a little bit about, speaking of changing and adapting, goes without saying, we are in a, frankly, an unusual time, perhaps a time hopefully we don't ever see again. Talk a little bit about the sort of changes or transformations, perhaps, you've seen, you've observed within Microsoft in response to COVID. Because listen, yes, a lot of pain and suffering through all of this, but then also a lot of creativity, a lot of new ideas, a lot of motivations to do things differently to get on the other side of this. So say a little bit about how Microsoft has responded. 


I'd say it's been really interesting about Microsoft. I'm incredibly proud of the people I work with and the level of sacrifice and honestly the privilege that we have. We're all going through the same storm; we're just all in different-sized boats. And we're in a different-sized boat. The changes at Microsoft around COVID, I've really thought about a fair amount of it, and actually there's a few things that I'm just so thankful that had happened prior to COVID. We spent a lot of time on culture. We spent a lot of time on remote work environment. Long before I was a remote-first team, my team is in 25 countries around the world, my team does everything from builds our skilling platform for the cloud, documentation systems, front doors to Azure, our customer connections and community around the world. And so because of that, and even localization. We localize every product, developer product, that Microsoft makes. So my team speaks 64, or writes 64 locales of language. They're across 25 different countries. And that's a really kind of unique view that we kind of have of diversity and inclusion. I have an incredibly diverse team. It's a large organization, probably about 700, 800 people across that I lead, and roughly 56, 60% of our team are diverse in every definition. It's phenomenal. We build better software because of it. Because of the distributed nature, we made a decision on my team two years ago that we weren't having all hands meetings in the traditional sense, you know, bring people in a room, you set the time of it, and we had adjusted the format, kind of a unique format that works. It may not work for others, but instead of like the all hands meeting where you bring 800 people in a room, and this was long before COVID we'd stopped this. What we do is, each month I record a video, and it's kind of talking, it's meant as a pre-read. And we put that video out, and we often will even put a doc on it. if I'm not the right person that month to talk about something that is important to the business, one of my directs of someone junior down on the team, they do it. That's a pre-read. Then we, everybody watches that on Tuesday, and on Thursday we schedule an all-team meeting that's recorded, it's a video, and it is just Q&A on the questions or anything that people wanted to ask. And we started that long time ago because of just the distributed nature of the team. We ensured that, hey, we write everything down. If it's worth doing in your team, if it's worth talking about it, write a doc. If you can't write a doc, don't worry about it. The whole process of writing things down is a really important part of it because you learn together. So we did a lot of those elements that we're learning, and we're working together. 


And a moment happened that I was really close to that I will never forget for my entire career. If I was to write a book, this will happen, and I'll share a bit of that. It was the earliest days of COVID, and I think if you go back in that time, no one even knew quite what was really going on and how were we safe, and we were sheltering in place. It was pretty scary. And one of the things I've done in my career was run events, a lot of work on events. And I actually don't work, like, I work on them, but not at the level that I did a long time in my career. And next thing you know is, I was brought into a meeting, and I look, and there's ­­­­­Satya there. And I'm like, oh, wait, this is not the meeting I thought. And a guy named Bob Bejan, who I know really well, he was there, and it was a little surreal. You know, you're trying to decide, is it Monday or is it Friday, is it Saturday? And I'm like, I am looking at Satya's home, and I mean, it's his house. And there's Bob who's a partner that I work with really closely on our digital events, and Bob was explaining to Satya about how something would work, and he threw to me. And he basically asked me a question, and Satya was looking at me, and I went, I guess I am ready to answer this. Now I am a senior person at our company, but there are often, I still go to meetings that are, sometimes I'm at the main table, and then there's another perimeter around that. We all have that. And I sat there, and I went---and sometimes if you're not at the main table the senior people don't even see you. You're behind them. And so the first thing that clicked for me in that moment is, there's only one table now. And when you're doing a video call like that, there's only one table, and that opportunity that opened up for me to be able to explain a few things, that was pretty special and pretty unique and immediately, literally, I tell you, I went, there is only one table. And it made me ask, what are all the two-table meetings that I have where I have people that can't see things? This moment got even more unique where Satya started asking questions about how are we going to engage our customers, and how will we have Build, which is our quintessential developer event? And he said, what model should we looking, and he said, who has done this already? And I said, well, no one has, sir. I said, we have. We've been streaming live from our events for many years, and we're going to do this. He said, but, yes, but tell me, you know, just give me an understanding of the industry and who's been doing this recently? And I said, well, actually, no one has truly. I said, Google was going to have theirs, and they pushed theirs out. Apple pushed theirs out. And it's on us. 


And an amazing happened, and this is probably one, I've worked on events forever, and this is probably the most special event that I've ever worked on, because we all needed purpose. And what happened was, Bob and I got a group of people together, and it was an all-volunteer army across our company, and we started a writer's room. And we knew that we couldn't just take the previous event that we were going to go do, and in the next 8 weeks, 8 weeks before the event, you've got to remember, like, you guys all put on events, we are going to take our largest event and make it all virtual. And we're going to rewrite the whole thing from scratch like a screenplay. And we decided to write the whole event as a screenplay. And it became this moment where we had two meetings a week where the decisions were made between Bob and I, and we were empowered by the company. And this event was not about us. It was about how our employees and our engineers that care about developers came together with our community, and we did a 48-hour nonstop event that reached millions. Our engagement on it was incredibly long, and it was because we crafted that experience, and we recreated for the modality and the medium. And I still today get goosebumps when I think about those days. The community needed us. They needed us, and we needed them. People in different counties, many of them had been sheltering in place sometimes January, February and so forth, and because of how my teams works in a global nature, I used to be running a 6500-person in-person event every 2 weeks of the year somewhere around the planet. And in January, you started seeing some of those events being cancelled. And so my team, I started diverting them over to doing 2-minute content, 3-minute content. How do we make sure, and these people have, that's their craft, and all of this came together in a way that I think we delivered probably one of the greatest events that we did ever. And it was not about, it was really about connecting with that community. It was this therapeutic event where we went 48 hours around the sun, we had fun, we did community work, we did these things like Missing Maps. And our community joined along with us. When that was over, I felt like it was this way that our company could start working together in a different way. And it's hard out there. I'll just leave with this. I'll just say, it's hard right now to work, and different modalities that you've got to adjust to, different ways that you have to lead team meetings. And what I'm finding is that bringing people together on a lot of the creative tasks and finding a way to help people brainstorm or help people to look at problems differently is really essential. And that moment for us started that wave at Microsoft and how we worked


So again, excellent discussion around transformation and what you and many have been forced to do. Let's sort of continue on that theme of transformation. We'll sort of zoom out a little bit to the topic of digital transformation, or enterprise digital transformation. Microsoft is in a very unique position, because not only are you creating the software, the technologies that enabling transformation, but you also get to see up front and close the transformations that other enterprises are going through globally. What are some of the common pitfalls that enterprises encounter in sort of across this digital transformation journey, and what advice might you have for others who are starting to embark on the journey or are somewhere in mid-flight?


Great question. Digital transformation. If you look at this and what that space encompasses, I'll be honest, when I came back to Microsoft 5 years ago, I was at Twitter for 2 years. I went there prior to the IPO and ran part of their enterprise and their developer business. When I returned, the job I was asked to go do, it was Scott and Satya and a wonderful person named Soma who were working to get me to come back to Microsoft. And they described three jobs for me to go do, but the third one was not necessarily always what I would've thought I wanted to go work on, which working with our technical writing team. And so over the last 5 years, that really kicked off one of the largest digital transformation projects at Microsoft. So historically, we had MSDN and TechNet. These are our large documentation reference system and so forth. But we're the---people would see us in the world as the .NET Windows cloud. Hey, I want to use that cloud. It's .NET Windows. Microsoft is an open source company. We are founded on developers. Bill and Paul, guess what, what did they do? They invented a tool for developers, BASIC for the Altair. What's the first thing they did when they got done building it? They didn't go to the procurement department. They didn't put in a web page to add. They went off to Homebrew Computer Club to share with a bunch of fellow nerds like something they thought that was cool. And the rest is history. And so Microsoft in our founding moment of developers puts us at a very unique place. You think about how companies, that foundational moment. We're not founded as social network. We're not founded in retail. We're not founded in advertising. We're founded in developers. And so digital transformation and where we had to go as a company, we were now, we had open-source .NET, Linux, more Azure. New Azure loads run on Linux than any other platform. People that are the super nerds in the audience are thinking about Node, Kubernetes. We build that at Microsoft, Kubernetes, part of that, and we are connected to those communities. Boy, guess what, our developer communications didn't reflect that. So I came back to the company to go, how did we restart that. And we decided to have, it was a lot, you know, Satya, Scott, how we decided to have that viewpoint, we were going to start differently. We were going to start with docs. And we began with technical documentation and said, you know what, it's 2:00 in the morning, innovation strikes for the developer. They don't go to the procurement manager and say, hey, can I have this? They don't go to our marketing pages. They type in search terms in Google. And some use Bing as well too. And they're trying to solve an answer, and they want code. And we knew then if we were going to be able to seem as the company that was for all developers, we had to be amazing at .NET, of course, and Windows. Oh, and we have to be great at Node. And we've got to color code Python code authentically so that we don't look like posers. And we have to be manically focused on that. And we knew that our investments in our online infrastructure for content and documentation, we had an investment of 10 to 15+ years. Oh, and guess what, we loved it so much, we had it across 17 different websites. We didn't localize it because we wanted to keep it a big secret so that not everybody in the world could go do it. Oh, great, I found out about 8 weeks in after I took the job that the online infrastructure, not only was it not really invested in because our company was a shrink-wrap sell software in the store business. Oh, guess, what, that's 300 on-prem servers that aren't going to have any hope to move to the cloud. Don't even think about trying to shift that over, Jeff. For get about it. And you can't---depreciate those machines. I work in a company that has constraints, and I'll just jump forward 5 years later. Five years later we have a phenomenal team, and our work will never be done. It was around rebooting technical documentation, hiring phenomenal writers, caring for the craft, and making sure that content became the mission of all the people across, what, a 30,000 division, not just dedicated teams. 


We've rebooted infrastructure, meaning completely wrote from the ground up and delivered docs.microsoft.com. Now that website did not exist a few years. There's roughly, about 75 million people every month actively visit that to consume their technical documentation with one place to go. We have a skilling platform partnered deeply with our friends at Pluralsight, but we have a thing called Microsoft Learn. We made some little shifts about how we approach things, and we can talk a little bit about how to maximize on learning. But really this whole digital transformation was, we at the end of the day now have rewritten our entire technical docs stack, caring about technical content. And these were all cultural issues. And I mean, maybe have some questions like that of the things that we saw. But it's really about listening to a customer. And actually what we decided to do after we were going to go down on this mission and say hey, we need to start with technical content, I think we probably talked with 250 customers. We went off and talked to like the best in the industry that were doing things for developers, docs, small startups, twilio.com, stripe.com, and just went out and learned.


It's, again, and it never ceases to amaze that many times the fundamental lesson that you just articulated, which is listen to your customers in an honest and sincere way, is usually the key to ultimately helping to solve their pain point, helping to design a product that does that in the most effective and efficient way. But how many times corporations, enterprises, don't take that fundamental step of having that open, honest dialog and then think openly about how they reapproach what it is that they do. So very, very insightful there. Another component is ensuring that a leader's teammates or employees are adequately skilled to drive the required transformation. What advice would you have for those leaders in terms of making sure that their employees have the requisite skillset and capability? 


I'd say everything in a digital transformation and making sure that you're going to be able to succeed in what you are trying to build here is a skilling problem. It's a skilling for yourself, how are you learning about your product, how are you learning about your employee, how are you learning from the data? When I worked at Twitter, my manager, Jana Messerschmidt, she was a longtime Netflix employee prior to that. And the very first thing she gave me was the Netflix culture doc. And she said, I want you to read this. It's one of the most important documents to ever come out of Silicon Valley. And there's an archive version up on SlideShare. And she said, I want you to really pay attention. It says "manage context, not people." And so the very first thing that I would say, when we embarked within my team on a very large transformation of all these services and systems was, I decided how was I going to act as a leader. And I felt like, let's share information as much as we can. Change is about to happen. People, when they don't know what the change is, and they don't have the context, they're going to get upset because they should, because they don't know what's going on. The rumor mill can take over. And so I just decided, I remember my all hands that I walked in. Somebody had created these slides, somebody had it set up a certain way, asked to be this, it was a large room, and people were very nervous. Hey, they guy's coming in from out of the company, he was here before, are we going to lose our jobs. I'm sure they were thinking that. Some girl was  like, wait, why is he there? I walked in, I took a stool, and I said, I don’t think we need these slides. I just want to get to know you. Hey, I think you guys have had a hard time. Can you tell me what that was like? And spending that time to create the culture where people will share is so important because you're going to try and build trust. And then we did different things where we were like, let's write a doc. Let's write down the plans. You do an all hands very regularly and answer the questions, because I promise you, the question as a leader that you don't want to answer, I think you probably want to answer it rather than the water cooler or the rumor mill, and I'd say the first, foremost, before you even get to skilling your team is decide how you want to communicate authentically and how you want to be able to be up front, and how you're going to bring the team along. Remember, though, it's always about pacing. I find when I'm on a project, and this is a little about me is I guess all excited about it. I'm probably like 6 steps ahead. This is all about bringing people along. And because when they have that context, then they're going to be able to apply it and decide, Jeff, did you know that we had project X, Y, and Z? And when you get the team opening up, you're going to find wonderful surprises. Trust me. You're going to find not just low-hanging fruit; you're going to find fruit across the ground that you can start fixing. And then start getting people to work together. What I find is you get people collaborating, and pick something small. Don't pick the big prize. Pick something and get them a win. Get the context, what we're trying to change, get people across a few teams, and roll up your sleeves yourself. And I'm talking a lot here, but, quiet and listen as a leader and join in with that team to get a win. They're going to see you leading in, and then you're going to learn. And then from there, manage your projects and so forth. But I think that's the first step is decide how you're going to communicate. I use it as a moment to change me and how I needed to grow. And those are so important. We can go next, which is like literally the skilling part, and things around that, but that to me is, like, start there with who you are, what you need to learn about your team and how do you share information with them authentically.


Okay, so let's stay there. You touched on context setting, listening, communicating, ultimately learning, developing skills. Talk to me a little bit about what Microsoft is doing to support each of those pillars, all the way up and through the skilling that organizations need to drive these transformations, but also as we touched on, the communication and the learning and the dialog and all of these things? Talk to me a little bit about the tools and capabilities Microsoft provides there.


Always be a learning first and foremost. Our whole mission is empowering our customers to do more, achieve more, and that, really, learning becomes part of that. We think learning really is a system of learning. Much like you'd think of a CRM system, an SAP system, we think of this as a system of learning. And so that system of learning to us is things that we build, things that Pluralsight does that we go and partner with. And how does that whole system come together to achieve a few things? To me, let's just be pragmatic. I think people want to get jobs. I think people want to improve themselves so that they can do better in their career. And so how do we enable that in a very simple way? Well, at Microsoft, it is that we do all sorts of employee training day in, day out. But we do believe that, oh, it's hard out there. I'll often say, our product Azure is made up of hundreds if not thousands of different services, and people will say, hey, how do I keep up with the change? When did Azure do an update? And I said, oh, probably did one a minute ago. I'm sure we did another one now. I don't know, we updated about a thousand docs the other day. How do you keep up with that? Micro-based learning, picking 15 minutes here, 30 minutes each day. So even that Build conference that talked about earlier, we completely decided, like, hey, guess what we can't be 6,000 people in a room anymore for 4 hours of nonstop presentation. The exit door now is 300 pixels away. It's up in the right corner you can hit So I hope you guys are all still here for this. Well, because of that, because of how we have to adjust and people's time, we've really embraced microlearning. Microlearning for us, we have a site called Microsoft Learn, and it's free. It's about how you can go learn Azure and our cloud. It's, hey, if you want to be certified, go through Azure Fundamentals on our site. It's over on Pluralsight too, because we believe there's many different modalities. But we publish that, and you'll be able to unlock a certification if you do that. You'll do it in 15-minute bits and bytes, and chunking that up, chunking up your materials, looking at the modalities. Gosh, is anybody else tired of a Zoom call? Or they are and they're on a Teams call. I'm kidding. But like, the video calls. Let's shift the things into ways that people can chunk up. So you might do a short video, and this could be on YouTube, you know, let me learn how to do that. Hey, you might do a module and walk-through on Microsoft Learn because maybe it's the best place to learn that for 15 minutes. Let's shift our hands-on stuff. We used to run at our in-person event these massive hands-on labs environments with proctors and so forth, but now Microsoft Learn is that hands-on environment for us. I don't have have to provision machines. When we come back to in-person events, it is the on-premise experience. But people can use that in their home. Last thing is, I talked about this, I promise you, unless you're a part of a community, you aren't going to learn. It's just like literally, I saw an interview with Bill Gates. He's done a fair amount of different things on learning, and he was just like, someone said, what was your biggest thing about learning that you learned? And he said, you got to learn with community. And so we have a thing called the Cloud Skills Challenge. And this was really fascinating. This started as a bit of a rogue project actually in our field. They were like, hey, Jeff, we like this Microsoft Learn thing. We have customers and accounts that are learning. Oh, guess what, every one of our sales force, our technical sales force that goes and connects with customers every day, they use Microsoft Learn as their personal skilling platform as well. So they said, hey, we're using the same platform as our customers to learn. We want to do a challenge with them. Often, central, teams, and things like that when they hear of these projects, say, no, that not on our road map. I just said, go, go, go, go, go. Let's get this done. So they built this, and it was a bit of a hack, to be honest, on top of our system. It was amazing, because basically our account sales teams were learning to be more technical. They were doing and competing with their customers. Businesses were doing this to challenge each other. Hey, can I finish Azure Fundamentals? Can I get I get certified? And we built challenges around this. We had our Ignite event last week, and tens of thousands of people will because certified because of that. And so pay attention to that because the ability to connect with people that way is really, really special. And what we see is, the challenges right now, I'm sure people at home right now are learning, trying to help their kids learn and so forth. We want to make sure that we can supplement that. But we also know that there's many ways that people learn. You may learn from this micro-based content, you may learn from reading something, or you may learn from wanting longer-form specialized content that Pluralsight gets you. All of these things come together as a system of learning. And what I believe you're going to see in the industry is the importance of certification dramatically increase. Some people really get certification; some people misunderstand it. And so at Microsoft, we have rebooted all of our certifications over the year. We partner with you, our great friends at Pluralsight, we do these job task analyses, we look and line up with modern roles. And so Microsoft Azure Developer, Azure Solutions Architect, data science, AI, we have all of these certifications. And what I know, there are people that come from many different backgrounds, some traditional, Stanford grad, some people from other colleges, some people for me, like, oh, gosh, thank goodness I made it through high school. And all of that, that certification is a level set. So we over the last few years as that reboot to content, we've spent a ton of time on our certifications. We said, you know what, we can't assume everybody's got to come to us. Pluralsight has that content, and we want to guide people too. Now it's so important, and if I say one thing is, like, let's help the world. We're in this moment where, man, you know, I said we're all in different-sized boats, and how do we help? We've got to help get training to everyone. And there are people that are displaced. And so on Microsoft Learn, for any of these certifications, go through, and if you follow the learning paths, we'll unlock for you to be able to take a test and get certified, if you complete these entire learning paths.  And through that, when you get certified, those are going to unlock new skills for people. And I think how we have to figure out how to come together is, how do we help through all of us as trainers? How do we get the content to the right people? There are people right now that are losing jobs that have these skills, and if we can bring them online, if we can help them get certified, we can help change the world. We can help advance jobs. The system of learning, we can then connect people on LinkedIn, we can point out jobs that they didn't have the skills before and how can we get to the Pluralsights or the Microsoft Learns? Our Cloud Skills Challenge will challenge people to get together. We're putting really what are called Learn Ambassadors all around the planet across our universities. So it's virtual to help faculty and educators connect to content. We're here to help. Early on in the pandemic, Satya said, hey, we're the first responders to the first responders. And that's what we need to be doing right now, is helping that, and helping the world to heal and transform. And so every day when I get up here is to figure out how we do that. This has been really fun to connect with this community. A Pluralsight event is a really special one because of who the makeup of the audience is. You're all people that are having to training your company, and so help me help you build better products so that we can help the world to heal. And honestly, we can transform the lives of so many.


We share, obviously, that same sense of mission, and of course think about how we create compelling experiences to accelerate that learning journey, to really engage people and to perhaps light that spark around the transformation that you just articulated so beautifully. I'm just going to ask you one more question here, Jeff, though I think you've covered a lot of it. Obviously, we are in what I refer to as the new abnormal, and so we as leaders in industry are challenged to figure out how we continue to drive productivity and maintain some semblance of community, which you have spoken eloquently about during the interview. Is there any kind of advice or a couple of nuggets that you'd like to impart, in terms of how we sort of maintain these things in these challenging times?


You know, if anyone's got it figured out, I would love to hear from them, to be really honest. I remember the very first mail that I sent to my entire org within those early days, and the subject line was it's okay not to feel okay. I was little nervous about sending it out. I'm the leader of the team, I'm going to be positive, I should have this ---, lead with courage.


Have the answers, yep.


Have the answers. And I said, hey, it's okay not to be okay. If you need to talk, I'm here. It was about opening up the doors. There were certain things that I just started doing, Zoom calls, that were, you know, we use Teams, but like those video calls that were really just breakfast. And I was the leader of the org, and some people were like, wait. We're not very hierarchical, we're very open doors, and they're like, and I said, I don't know what to do right now. I'm honestly pretty frickin' lonely myself. And so this can be counterintuitive, and I'd say, you know, over summer I tried to really create some space for the team. And I actually purposely slowed down communications on a few things to just the essential. What I'll tell you is, know that it's okay not to be okay. And I think some of the things that we've found successful may be counterintuitive. There's probably a habit right now because you're on Teams calls or Zoom calls, and you're like, let's get to brass tacks. Let's just talk about what we're focused on. And people are craving for a community at their work, connection. And I would say, sometimes maybe the meeting about the project can be an email or a document. A little bit of going around the room and sharing that context is so important, and that's counterintuitive. Next thing is, hey, don't assume that everything's got to be a Teams meeting, although we'd love you using our product. Don't use a meeting or video call for everything. Don't feel that now that we're in this modality you've got to recreate walking into someone's office. That might be a text, that might be a phone call, that might be, hey, I'm going to catch up to that later. But be okay with changing the format. 


The other thing would be, know that how you work and how you plan to go do things, you probably don't have the margin you once thought. Everybody that attends these conferences is someone that's like going after their career. Boy, I ran a zero margin, like I always did. And then you throw on a large project like our Build one that we did. We were all going through different issues with family, and sometimes, boy, I pride myself in my response rate and my ability to follow up, or my ability to do things on time. And I don't have data to guide my own performance. I don't have data to actually understand my employees' performance. And what I've found is that when we're very open with each, and you have this culture of trust, it gets a lot easier. So I changed up how I lead my team and how we meet. We said, hey, as a leadership team, we're going to have Monday, we're going to do an hour. As a big team that steers a thousand-person org, we're going to do an hour meeting every Monday. And here's how we're going to run that cadence. Wednesdays we're going to do a 15-minute meeting for all of the stuff that is tactical and whatever, and guess what, if you can go, try, But guess, what, we'll do everything in the chat window so you know kind of the key points. It's very tactical. Friday, we meet, and it's another short meeting, and it's meant to be fun. People can ramble, I can ramble, it's just mean to talk and catch up, and if you can't make it, great. That is the format for right now on a few things, but we're going to adjust it. And I'd say, just know that you've got to adjust for the modality. I think the thing that may help, and I am a glass-is-half-full person, I think there was a lot of uncertainty in those early days about what this was, how we work, vaccine timelines, and so forth. And while we don't have all the answers, there's a little more understanding about, like, how we're working from home. And so what I've done for myself is really, and people will be surprised because they've got to be creative is, really strong operating model that I can grab onto with my team for predictability, really opening up communications. And making it so that we as a team can spend time really focusing on getting to know each other and being open and bit more vulnerable. That seems like, I'm not promoting project stuff in there, but it's, know that your employees---we just published some data recently from our Ignite conference. One in three employees roughly is going through some form of burnout. Someone is going through something at home that you probably don't know about. Somebody's probably going through a financial situation right now that you can't assume that all is right, because they're maybe sending more money back home or helping in a way that they haven't been able to. And so I lead this way, and I like to say I lead with my heart. I believe I'm a servant leader. I know that I make a mistake and screw up and don't have my best moments through this. And so what I'd say is, my heart is there for any leaders. If you think there's a way I can help, I would love to figure that out. And I would say, it's not easy out there. Take time for yourself and heal. And there are some days that you're going to go, wow. I had this honestly one day recently where I had 4 hours mapped out. I was so excited that I was going to get these certain things done. And I was going to get X, Y, and Z done, and it was in the afternoon from 1:00 till 5:00. I didn't get through any of that stuff. And honestly, you know what happened, and it did work out is about 8:00 that night because I had to get this stuff done. I got into the zone. And so I often change my schedule. And my last advice to everyone is always be learning. Change invigorates the soul. Change helps you kind of get ready for your next step, and change creates opportunity. 


Right, even though it's daunting for many. You're right.


Yeah. Take care of yourself, take care of one another, take care of your communities and your people, and we'll get through this together. And we'll get through this by playing such a role as people that care deeply about skilling because we help people learn.


Excellent. Jeff, I want to thank you. Really, really insightful discussion. You shared a lot. A lot came out about who you are as a person and as a professional. Actually, it's quite interesting. Very interlinked. In fact, I would argue maybe there's very little if any daylight between who you are as an individual and what you bring into the workplace. So I thank you. Really interesting conversation and being extremely generous with your time.


I appreciate you all too. I learned a long time ago. It's a lot easier just to be yourself 24 hours a day than figuring out how to be somebody else. So thank you, Pluralsight. Thank you for having me, and I hope everybody has a great show.


Thank you for listening to All Hands on Tech. As I said at the beginning, you can register for Pluralsight LIVE 2020 for free now. Just check out the link in the show notes. Thanks again, and have a great week.