Wilbour Craddock of Microsoft Ireland on the Making of an Architect Evangelist

On a recent visit to Microsoft Ireland at their headquarters in Sandyford, Dublin we made a series of interviews with Josh Holmes, Enda Flynn and Wilbour Craddock. While speaking to Wilbour for a few moments between demonstrations I asked him how he managed to get such an interesting job at Microsoft as an Architect Evangelist.

What does an Architect Evangelist do?

My job as an architect evangelist is to go out and talk to people about the possibilities technology provides to solve problems, whether those problems are business problems or consumer problems or not necessarily problems but looking to become more efficient.

Resolve how people interact, that’s what my job is, its just to have those conversations and really make people think about the possibility that technology provides. And then based on that, it’s not a product it’s a concept, and then from that we build off a solution, and the solution is what we’re trying to achieve.

How did you get your job?

I sought out this job. Five years ago, I made a choice to become an evangelist, and I’ve worked for the past five years to find a path that would get me to that role. This is what I wanted to do. The job is made up of consumption, you consume as much technology as you can, ours and competitive technologies, to see where people are using technology, what new pieces are coming into the market, and then how those two can be melded together to build solutions.

Then it’s disseminate; go out and talk to as many people as possible about that potential, and try to excite people into creating these new solutions that are utilising all these great technologies to keep things advancing.

What excites you about the work you do?

What doesn’t excite me?! To be honest, I live in a pretty digital world. Everything that’s evolving that we see in today’s world is stuff that we are excited by, whether it’s social media, whether it’s the prevalence of online services, hardware technology, the next evolution, the next wave, the convergence of technology where you start to see the cellular space, and the smartphone space, and the tablet space, and the laptop and the desktop being converged into single devices; that excites me.

It’s the potential that it provides, that’s what really excites me. How can these things radically change the way that my kids interact? Why do my kids’ book bags have to weigh 50 pounds when they drag them to school every day? Technology avails of us a way of solving that problem. Those are the things that excite me.

What skills do you need to be an Architect Evangelist?

You figure out what it is that is important about this job. The big parts of this job are, being able to stand up on a stage and expel a story, so a commanding presence, so you have to be good at that component. Parts of it are going to be digesting that information, and also having vision; you have to be able to take in all of these components and see the wider picture and say, “well here’s the potential and here’s the opportunity”, so you’re doing a lot of market research type stuff, you’re consuming as much information as you can on a daily basis.

People are amazed by my inbox on a daily basis is probably between 1600 and 2400 pieces of information whether it’s rss feeds whether it’s internal emails, or whether it’s internal product discussions about specific technologies or next generation technologies. So, that’s a lot of information that you’re digesting on a daily basis. That’s what’s going to get you to be able to go out and have those conversations because you are able to speak with a fairly authoritative answer on how the industry is evolving, and how technology is evolving and how people are consuming that.

Can you describe the path you took to get where you are now?

So, the more conversations you have with people, the better, and then as I look at the path that I went through to get here, it started by doing a lot of community involvement, getting out and speaking in my community, getting out and working with user groups, talking to as many people who are using technology as possible, which then led to what Microsoft call an MVP or Most Valued Professional, which is a programme to foster people globally, there’s about 5,000 of them, who are product experts in any given area, and build out a community of people that are having these conversations with people, and from that then, it’s a path.

You get yourself recognised by Microsoft, you work with Microsoft and then you start to look at how you can get in.

From a research perspective, Guy Kawasaki was the first evangelist in the industry. Today he is a social media vanguard in terms of how he uses Twitter and Facebook and all the other social media services to share information, and he’s sought after, he’s got ten books in the market, he speaks on a regular basis.

You follow the guys that are vanguards in the role and see the successes and the failures and do what you can to succeed. It’s like any other job, I mean if you want to be something, you research it and search it out and you set a plan in action to do it.

Inishtech: Protecting your Intellectual Property

For many startups and small enterprises it can be enough of an achievement to come up with an idea for a product, get it made and then ship it out the door. However, there is the thorny problem of getting paid. While many web applications can be sold directly to the user from the site or via a third-party such as iTunes there is still plenty of software whose preferred business model requires licensing the product out.

Licensing agreements tend to be manifold in nature. There are variations in how many people can use a given piece of software, how long they can use it for and also where and how it can be used. Also provision has to be made for both renewals of terms and the expansions of agreements.

Inishtech is an Irish company set up to allow software vendors to better manage the protection of their intellectual property.

Aidan Gallagher has spent over 30 years in the Information Technology industry. Aidan, along with two other founders of InishTech, Chief Technology Officer John O’Sullivan and Chief Operating Officer David Smyth, was approached by Enterprise Ireland to look at a technology that Microsoft had that they were considering licensing out.

The software in question allows companies to license their applications and their products so they can sell them more flexibly.

Aidan explains in more detail, ”If you developed an application for instance, you might want to sell it cheaply in a cut down version, or you want to sell the full version at a higher cost. We can do all that for the software developer through a service.

“They can basically put license points in their software and we can control how it’s used and accessed.

“Our clients are primarily dot net developers but we have some large scale enterprise customers as well. They develop software for corporate use and then distribute it around the world. They also want to license it and protect their work.”

“We now have the service up and running in Azure which is the Microsoft cloud platform and we work very closely with Microsoft who have stayed involved in the business as shareholders.

Inishtech now has 10 staff and over a hundred companies as clients.

“What we feel from our point of view is different about InishTech is that, in a very tough recessionary climate, it is increasingly difficult for a start-up to take an idea, commercialize it, get sufficient funds on board to do the development and the commercialization, invest in the sales and marketing, roll it out worldwide etc.

“Anything you can do to short circuit that process in these kind of pressured times is going to be an advantage.

“So, the idea of spinning out a technology that had effectively $30 million invested in it from Microsoft and having that as your starting point makes a lot of sense.

“What we’re really doing is taking something that is already up and running and the challenge now is to commercialize that and get it out in the marketplace.”

Aidan is looking forward to taking part in the 4th Annual Silicon Valley Technology Leaders Awards on April 5th, 2011. It is being held at Stanford University and is sponsored by the Irish Times.

“The ITLG for me is a fantastic forum for us to showcase ourselves as a company in Silicon Valley. It’s obviously a group of very high-powered entrepreneurs. They are very successful guys with a great network of people.

“It’s a way for us to showcase the company, accelerate access to market, access to individuals, access to potential VCs (venture capital) and investment and just accelerate our entry and growth in the US marketplace.”

Interview: Nova Spivack On Facebook, Google And Microsoft – Who Will Triumph?

Nova Spivack was an initial angel investor in Klout, a social networks analytics tool, which quantifies people’s interests by measuring their influence on others and also who in turn influences them.

Nova is now working on Live Matrix which is being designed to navigate the Web by time instead of space.

“Basically all these things at the moment are happening in a perpetual present. There’s no sense of time on the Web. What Live Matrix is doing is trying to index what’s happening when at different times.”

With the increasing amount of video on the Web and expansion of such services as Ustream, more and more scheduled events, lectures, sports, and so on are being fed out onto the Web. Therefore it is becoming increasingly important to find out when these items start and finish. As more content appears with a temporal dimension, there is more of a need to find that material.

Nova adds, “The past two decades have been spent on the space dimension of the Web. That is, what’s where? What keywords are on what pages. What people are at what sites. What content is where. But now we’re looking at what’s when. I think that’s a huge, open, uncharted piece of the Web. It’s a big opportunity.”

In the first part of our interview with him, Nova talks about the potential winners and losers as Microsoft, Google and Facebook duke it out for world domination. In the second part of his interview, Nova discusses the fragmentation of Semantic Web technologies and what that means for all of us.

It is clear that Facebook and Google are stepping on one another’s turf and there is no way for them to avoid that happening. Nova thinks that Facebook will eventually triumph, but Google may not be safe in the number two slot.

Facebook will be the dominant player on the Internet because it already has a social networking structure on its side. Nova points out, “Neither Microsoft nor Google has a strong social networking brand that people use. They are both in this difficult position as being viewed by consumers as tools rather than as places. Facebook is a place. It’s a place where people are spending an increasing amount of their time.”

It is a lot easier for Facebook to build a search engine then it is for either Microsoft or Google to build a social network, let alone a social network of 500 million users. Also, Facebook has a social graph, and by using their ‘like’ system, they can gather even more information about what people are interested in and value. If they do it right, they could build a search engine far superior to either Google search or Bing. The only reason Facebook haven’t done it already is because they have been too busy trying to get their house in order.

But coming second is not the same thing as being safe. Google will need to watch themselves. As Nova warns, “If you look at Microsoft… they have people and senior executives who have a lot of experience in looking at a market they want to enter that has another leading player, and going in there and winning from a number two or number three position. In a way that’s what Microsoft is actually best at.”

What happens with these industry giants is very important for all of us. It is more than a drama being played out in the techy news services.

“I think it’s important to everybody who has an internet company and of course every user of the Internet. For those of us in the internet business, I think it’s interesting to see where these are going because it affects who we might partner with or what services we ought to be focusing on for integration of special features. Should we spend a lot of time SEOing into Google or should we spend more time SEOing into Facebook through the likes [system]?”

As it stands now, it is for Facebook to lose. Google and Microsoft are handicapped by being perceived as tools instead of places. Fortunately, they cannot make real use of the data they have acquired about us through Gmail and Hotmail without our permission. But as long as they stay in the game and can use the information and experience that they do have, they will always have a chance.

Interesting times.

The second part of this interview is also available. Nova Spivack also spoke at the BlogTalk event held in Cork in 2008. BlogTalk is returning to Ireland on 26-27 August; check out the speaker list.