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February 20, 2019

3 Things To Learn From Microsoft's CTO, Kevin Scott


3 Things to Learn from Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott

Kevin Scott has been a software developer, an engineering executive, researcher, angel investor, philanthropist, and now the Chief technology officer at Microsoft. He is a self-identified “geek," and has a lot to teach people about the power and responsibility of software engineers. Scott believes that technology is playing a key role in the shaping of the world and future. He puts a large emphasis on supporting others in the tech industry, and supporting people and businesses through technology. He says,  “our role, as a technology company that is building things that empower individual and businesses, is to democratize access to the technology as quickly as possible and to do that in a safe, thoughtful, ethical way.” Scott has a lot to teach, especially for developers and engineers. 


1. Engineers Have More Power Now Than Ever

Code is getting more and more complicated, and it has come a very long way in the past 25 years. Students must learn a staggering amount of information to be successful in today’s development world, and it seems like there is always more to know. But, in Scott’s words, the flip side of that is a situation where individuals or small teams of engineers have much more power through open-source software and computing, and access to much more sophisticated tools that allows them to build systems and products. Engineers have the ability to do amazing things with much fewer resources and more quickly than ever before.

It’s a dichotomy, but as Scott notes, it might be the right trade, “if you want to go make something and you’re comfortable navigating this complexity, the tools that you have are just incredibly good. I could have done the engineering work at my first startup with far, far, far fewer resources, with less money, in a shorter amount of time, if I were building it now versus 2007.” Engineers should embrace this changing landscape of technology to continue to push the boundaries of creativity. 

2. It's Not About IQ, It's About Putting In the Effort 

Scott grew up in an economically depressed part of rural Virginia, in a town of 250 people. Neither of his parents had gone to college. By chance, he got into a science and technology high school as a senior, which sparked his love for computer science. By the time he was finishing his PhD program, he found a deep passion for computer science publications. He served on committees with oversight over those types of publications, and developed a great skill at proving useful feedback for people trying to submit their own work for publication. “That is an awesome, awesome, like, super valuable skill to have when you’re an engineering manager, or if you’re a CTO, or you’re anybody who’s trying to think about where the future of technology is going.” Hours of academic training is one of the most valuable skills in an engineers’ arsenal, says Scott.

Scott says that much of his research during his academic years did not have a huge or lasting impact, but he did create something invaluable during his time in graduate school: an ability to “very quickly read and synthesize a bunch of super-complicated technical information.” Scott says it’s less about IQ than and more of a skill you learn when life demands it. By putting in the effort to understand complex and difficult concepts, engineers can keep building on established knowledge, and therefore grow their own understanding and expertise. 

3. Maximize the Impact Of Your Work 

This is best time for someone to pursue a career in computer science research, or to become an engineer, according to Scott. The advice he has for engineers and tech people is to, "look for ways to maximize the impact of what you’re doing." Whether it's someone looking to start their own company or engineers looking for the next thing they should build, Scott suggests they, "find a trend that is really a fast growth driver, like the amount of available AI training compute, or the amount of data being produced by the world in general, or by some particular subcomponent of our digital world." By picking a growth driver directly in the growth loop, opportunities typically have more potential, and accommodate more simultaneous activity and contributions from individuals. 

The Takeaways For Growth

Kevin Scott's career has taken on many forms and many roles, but his success and expertise isn't an accident. Scott has cultivated a passion for technology and bettering lives, which is exemplified throughout his various career roles. Just a few pieces of advice for admins, engineers, and developers, is to harness the trends and availability of technology to grow their own skills and capabilities, to focus on maximizing the work and opportunities, and to provide useful feedback to others once that expertise is established. There's no wrong path, but as Scott demonstrates, success came to him when he put in immense effort, embraces his passion, and emphasized lifting others in the industry to reach for progress as a whole. 

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