Feeling like ‘a kid in a candy store,’ CTO Kevin Scott’s job is to keep Microsoft focused

Kevin Scott was named Microsoft’s chief technology officer in January. He explains his new role in an interview on the sidelines of Microsoft’s Build 2017.

New Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott doesn’t mind the trip from his Los Gatos home in the San Francisco Bay Area to the company’s Redmond campus that he makes at least once a week.

“The funny thing is, the commute is about the same as the commute to San Francisco from Los Gatos because the traffic has gotten so phenomenally bad in the Bay Area,” he said.

Scott finds himself on planes frequently after Microsoft bought LinkedIn, the company he worked for during the prior six years. In January, Microsoft named him chief technology officer, the first person to hold that role at the company since 2010. He splits his time now between Redmond and LinkedIn’s Mountain View, Calif., offices.

Scott, 45, has spent much of the last few months getting up to speed on what the company’s army of roughly 37,000 engineers are working on, he said this week in an interview on the sidelines of Microsoft’s Build developer show.

“It’s very much like being a kid in a candy store. Part of the challenge of the job is there is so much going on,” he said, pausing before firing off a list of Microsoft’s major lines of research and development. “Consumer electronics, quantum computing, silicon, communication and collaboration software, operating systems — plural — a cloud platform, artificial intelligence. It’s just all this cool stuff.”

Scott isn’t overseeing any of those Microsoft engineers himself, though he continues to supervise a group of LinkedIn software engineers.

Instead, he’s a member of the company’s senior group of advisers working with Chief Executive Satya Nadella. His role, he said, is to help coordinate the long-term work going on among Microsoft’s four main engineering groups — broadly, Windows and hardware, Office, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence and research.

“I’m one of those people who’s trying to help with all that complexity, to make sure we’re making good decisions,” Scott said. “It can’t just be Satya sitting at the top trying to connect the dots.”

In that regard, Scott plays an important role at Microsoft. As the company was growing up in the 1990s, Bill Gates did much of the coordination among engineering teams himself, refereeing disputes and aligning product development from the chief executive’s chair.

Some former employees say Microsoft’s missteps during the 2000s resulted from a void of technical leadership, as Gates stepped back from the company and his successor as top technologist, Ray Ozzie, couldn’t fill his shoes. Product groups subsequently wasted time on competing, or redundant, engineering efforts, bringing about more than one destructive intracompany clash.

It falls to Scott, a technologist with a deep background in the weeds of software…

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