As it did for many folks in my position, the news that S. “Soma” Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Developer Division, was stepping down after 27 years at the company, hit home and hit hard. Immediately I knew I’d miss him.
I began to get one-word notices and texts simply saying: Soma! He’s been that kind of presence in the Microsoft developer world. His passion and enthusiasm for shaping and then sharing Microsoft’s developer strategy was contagious. And his compassion and humanity enabled him to rally troops of supporters even when Microsoft was not cool.
Yet Soma embodied “cool” for the Microsoft developer world, particularly as he early on championed Microsoft’s adoption of open-source software and practices. Many folks found it hard to believe that Microsoft was serious about open-source or supporting developers not on the Windows platform. But Soma persisted, wooing open-source developers like Miguel de Icaza, CTO of Xamarin and founder of the GNOME and Mono projects, to join forces with Microsoft.
At Microsoft’s Build 2015 conference last spring, I asked Soma about the most recent transformation Microsoft was making. He said the transformation required a cultural change that Microsoft had initiated a few years ago.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen is whatever constraints we thought we had, we’ve created an environment where people no longer view them as constraints,” he said. “We internalized the world view, and the world is a multiplatform world. Developers are voting with their feet; developers want the choice. And either we can be there with them and give them the choice, or we can be in our own world.”
Soma explained that Microsoft has super high aspirations for Windows 10 as an exciting developer platform.
“We want to make sure that the developer community is enthused about the platform,” he said. Yet “one of the areas that we have an issue today is how do we get more of the apps that are working on other devices to also be available for our platform. We wanted to think about what kind of bridging technologies we could be working on that make it easier and somewhat seamless for somebody who has an existing app to bring it over to our platform.”
That was the impetus for Microsoft building a series of “bridging” technologies to enable developers to bring their existing iOS, Android, Web and desktop code and skill sets to the Windows Store.
But that’s not even the half of it. Soma also embodies the concept of inclusion. He looks for resources wherever they are and positions them for success—whoever they are. I watched Soma run a “ship room” meeting where he pulled together a group of varied talents to push through on a key release of SQL Server.
A decade ago, Microsoft invited me to come out to Redmond and sit in on ship room meetings for the upcoming version of Visual Studio and SQL Server. After signing the requisite NDAs, I got to see how the sausage was made up close and personal. It was amazing. I don’t know that it was Soma’s idea, but he had to sign off on it. What I do know is that it will never happen again, at least not for me. For one, today, the meeting would probably be a 10-minute standup, as more builds are coming right behind.
Microsoft Developer VP’s Departure: The End of a Legend
However, Soma is more than a technologist; he’s an exceptional human being. Before we got into the meat of our meeting at Build this year, Soma took a moment to simply ask how I was doing. He asked this because he knew I am from Baltimore and rioting associated with the death of a young black man in police custody had overnight torn portions of the city apart.
Tech could wait. He was genuine. He was empathetic. And he recognized the dilemma I faced as I was on the opposite side of the country while my hometown was in flames and I explained that parts of my family live just a few miles from key areas of the unrest.
I was honest and told him I was concerned about my parents who still live in the house I grew up in in the northwest quadrant of the city. I also was worried for other relatives in law enforcement as well as those few on the other side more likely to be in the mix. I recognized many of the streets where bricks were being thrown and fires lit. It wracked me. Though I was in San Francisco, one of the most vibrant cities in America, when I was not at the conference, I was in my hotel room working and watching CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, among others. But Soma reached out, showed true concern and offered words of encouragement.
Ironically, at the end of that meeting, I joked with Soma about how much longer he would be sticking around to see additional Microsoft transformations—as the journey’s been long for us both. He laughed his hearty laugh and said he’d stick around for as long as he was still having fun and helping Microsoft to be all things to all developers.
When the news of Soma’s departure broke, one of the first to comment was my buddy and former member of Soma’s team, Prashant Sridharan. Now at Twitter, Prashant has done developer marketing at Sun, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook (and I may have missed a couple of companies).
He called Soma “a legend, a role model and one of the absolute best people you will ever meet!”
Prashant is right there. Soma truly is unique, particularly in the industry. He represents the very best of us. And he will be missed.