Kiwi SharePoint expert thrives in Redmond

Working on the Redmond campus is full of surprises

Chris Johnson traded life in Wellington for a career at Microsoft’s Redmond campus — and he’s loving it.

Johnson has been a programme manager on Microsoft’s Redmond SharePoint team since last year.

“I focus on the developer platform aspects of SharePoint,” he says. “That means I help manage the process of bringing features and capabilities to life in our SharePoint products. That includes managing the planning, specification building, development and testing of specific features.”

Computerworld met Johnson at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles in the end of October.

Johnson started out with a BSc in Computer Science from Victoria University. He launched his career at a small Microsoft software development company called Glazier Systems, now known as Intergen, where he started building Microsoft software.

After a couple of years in the UK, where he joined a large bank and ran a team of developers who worked on what was spun-off into a startup during the dot com-boom, he returned to New Zealand and joined Microsoft here in 2002. He took up his new role in Redmond last year, he says.

While working in New Zealand most of Johnson’s time was spent working with customers, helping them plan and implement SharePoint technologies, he says.

“That evolved into a role that had me working with customers all over Asia. My wife and I decided we wanted to go and live overseas and the natural choice was to go somewhere Microsoft was,” he says.

“The Redmond campus is a fantastic place,” he says. “I visited [it] in 2000 and was taken aback by how different it was from what I was expecting.”

The campus is very green with lots of parks and tree-lined streets, he says. It is an open environment with low rise buildings and no gates or fences, he says.

“Redmond is where the vast majority of development happens for Microsoft,” says Johnson. “Every day I get to work with incredibly talented people from all over the company. Being at the centre of Microsoft’s operations is a very energetic place to be. There is no shortage of ideas and teams working to make Microsoft successful. It’s a very uplifting and motivating place to work,” he says.

In Johnson’s view, the US is a very convenient place to live and work. Shops, for example, are often open late, making shopping after work easy.

Housing is generally affordable and very comfortable, he says. “For example, we have a large four-bedroom house that we just could not have afforded in Wellington.”

Also, the “tall poppy” environment is non-existent in the US and success is applauded. “I don’t think we do that enough in New Zealand,” he says.

But there are drawbacks as well. The greater Seattle area has around four million people, “so traffic is not always great”, he says.

The environment and scenery do not compare with New Zealand, he says, although he considers himself lucky to be living in the Pacific Northwest, which is “a green area of the States”.

“I really miss being surrounded by the Kiwi inventive attitude, too,” he says.

What Johnson enjoys most about working in Redmond is the large scale of the projects. SharePoint is now worth well over US$1 billion and is used by thousands of the world’s largest and smallest companies, he says.

“You just don’t get the opportunity to work on a product with that kind of impact elsewhere. Every day I get to work on a product that really is changing workplace productivity, delivering large internet sites and helping organisations all across the globe be successful,” he says. “It is very fulfilling knowing the work you do is having such a great impact.”

Johnson would like to move back to New Zealand at some point, he says. “Our first child was born in May and I would like to have him grow up for at least part of his life in New Zealand.”

• Hedquist attended PDC as a guest of Microsoft

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