With the abrupt departure of Steven Sinofsky as head of Microsoft’s Windows division, the spotlight falls on another longtime Microsoft employee who has risen through the ranks to prominence: Julie Larson-Green.
On Monday, Microsoft announced Larson-Green will lead all software and hardware engineering, responsible for all product development for Windows and Windows Live, in addition to the Surface tablet.
That makes Larson-Green — already one of the highest-ranking women at Microsoft and in tech — one of the few women at a tech company of this size to directly lead product development.
Larson-Green will be splitting leadership of the Windows team with Tami Reller, chief financial officer and chief marketing officer for Windows, who will now also lead business and marketing strategy.
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Larson-Green, 50, a 19-year Microsoft veteran with deep local roots, was praised by CEO Steve Ballmer in a memo to employees for her ability to “effectively collaborate and drive a cross company agenda.”
“Leading Windows engineering is an incredible challenge and opportunity, and as I looked at the technical and business skills required to continue our Windows trajectory — great communication skills, a proven ability to work across product groups, strong design, deep technical expertise, and a history of anticipating and meeting customer needs — it was clear to me that Julie is the best possible person for this job, and I’m excited to have her in this role,” Ballmer said in a statement release to media.
Those traits stand in marked contrast to her predecessor, Sinofsky, who was perhaps known as much for being difficult to work with and prone to establishing fiefdoms as he was for delivering products on time and helping restore the reputation of Windows after the bug- and delay-laden Vista.
But collaboration among Microsoft’s various divisions seems to be Ballmer’s focus going forward as the company moves toward being a devices-and-services company, where integration between, say, Xbox and Bing or Windows and Office, is increasingly important.
“The products and services we have delivered to the market in the past few months mark the launch of a new era at Microsoft,” Ballmer said in his statement. “We’ve built an incredible foundation with new releases of Microsoft Office, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Microsoft Surface, Windows Server 2012 and ‘Halo 4,’ and great integration of services such as Bing, Skype and Xbox across all our products. To continue this success it is imperative that we continue to drive alignment across all Microsoft teams, and have more integrated and rapid development cycles for our offerings.”
Larson-Green’s local ties go way back.
She grew up in Maple Falls, Whatcom County, according to Window, the magazine for Western Washington University, where Larson-Green earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
(Larson-Green’s grandfather was a maintenance worker at Western and her father attended the university as well. In 2010, Larson-Green’s daughter began her freshman year there, according to the school magazine. Larson-Green is a member of the Western Foundation’s board of directors.)
After graduating from Western, Larson-Green received a master’s degree in software engineering from Seattle University. She has participated in focus groups for the university’s new science and engineering building. And her husband, Gareth Green, is an associate professor and chairman of the economics department there.
Before joining Microsoft, Larson-Green worked at Aldus, a pioneering Seattle-based company that helped develop desktop publishing software and is best known for making PageMaker.
She started at Aldus as a technical-support person, “which I always think is a good place to start to get a sense of customer needs, to get a good grounding,” said Paul Brainerd, founder of Aldus and now head of the Brainerd Foundation.
She was a rising star at Aldus, quickly becoming a junior developer, then was promoted into senior technical and managerial positions.
“We obviously thought highly of her capabilities. And she had an ability to work with people from the very beginning,” Brainerd recalls.
Larson-Green joined Microsoft in 1993, focusing on technical design and development. She was instrumental in several releases of Microsoft Visual C++ for 32–bit operating systems, was responsible for the Internet Explorer 3.0 and 4.0 user experiences, and led user interface design for Microsoft Office 2003 and the 2007 Microsoft Office system, among other accomplishments, according to Microsoft.
Most recently, as corporate vice president of Windows program management, she was responsible for user interface design and development, leading a team of about 1,000 people designing and building Windows 8.
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @janettu.