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Ten Questions With Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft's New Chief Experience Officer

The first woman to run Windows is shifting to a new role creating "mobile first" experiences.


Julie Larson-Green has had many jobs in her 20-plus years at Microsoft, most notably becoming the first woman to run the Windows organization.

With the departure of longtime colleague Steven Sinofsky last year, Larson-Green was moved to head the devices group — a unit that includes Surface and Xbox. However, her future has been up in the air since Microsoft made public its plans to buy Nokia. As part of that announcement, Microsoft announced that then-Nokia CEO Stephen Elop would return to Microsoft and lead an expanded devices team.

This week, Microsoft announced Larson-Green would take on a new role, as chief experience officer in Qi Lu’s services group — a unit that includes, Office, Bing and Skype.

The new job will get Larson-Green closer to her passions around product design, working on various “mobile-first” services.

“It’s fun, it kind of brings together all of my past background — apps, Windows,” Larson-Green told Re/code in an interview at Mobile World Congress. “I’m excited. It should be fun.”

Here’s an edited transcript of the interview.

Ina Fried: Why did you decide to take on this role?

Julie Larson-Green: I like the hardware stuff. It’s not quite as close to product design as I’d hoped. I knew that after Stephen Elop came in I would have an opportunity to rethink my role and what I wanted to do.

Were you offered other positions?

Oh yeah. There were other things, staying and working for Stephen, other things. I thought this was exciting and new and part of the strategic direction of where Satya [Nadella] is taking the company. It’s kind of his first strategic move. It’s fun to be that person.

You’ve been there 21 years. It is a time of big change for Microsoft. What are your thoughts on where Microsoft is?

I think it is a time of reevaluating and rethinking what we stand for and how we are going to help customers in the future. It’s a good team atmosphere.

When people are talking about companies leading the technology future, increasingly Microsoft isn’t the company named by outsiders. Does that bother you?

Of course. But I just look at the customer impact that we have. We have a lot of impact, maybe not inside that, call it technorati bubble. But we have a lot of impact around the world.

What was it like to be the first woman to lead the Windows team?

It was really fun. I worked closely with [Steven] Sinofsky over the years in developing the strategy. I had driven a big part of the team to start with so it wasn’t a huge leap. I had to take on dev and test and those things. There is a different communications style you need when you are driving a giant team versus a small one.

Within a fairly short time Microsoft is going to be a maker of phones, tablets and wearables. What do you think of Microsoft’s prospects in those markets?

I think the vision of a computer on every desk has just evolved to be in every hand, in every pocket and every surface around you, no pun intended. We are going to be there with things you care about. That’s one of the things that was nice about hardware.

Do you anticipate in your new role you will be working not just on things for Windows devices but on creating things for iOS and Android?

Sure. People need access to our services and their data on other devices as well.

Is that going to be new for you? Do you have to go out and get an iPhone or an Android device?

You know me. I always use everybody’s everything. I have an iPhone, I have a Galaxy Note. I have an HTC One. I am a gadget girl. I have a FitBit, a FuelBand, all that stuff. You should see my living room. I have it all — TiVo, PS4, Xbox One.

I think you have to live the life and understand how people are using technology and how it is fitting into people’s lives and what benefits it is providing for folks. I use my Nokia phone most of the time.

One of the comments you made that got the most attention was suggesting that three versions of Windows (Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone) was probably too many. There are still three operating systems. Is three still too many?

[Windows head] Terry [Myerson] has been talking a lot about how we are going to bring things together and how the experience is really continuous, from phone to tablet to a PC. People kind of misconstrued it to mean it is the end of ARM[-based] Windows or Windows RT, but that is certainly not the case.

Windows 8 was such a big project in trying to bridge the past — everything Windows had been — and an app-centric mobile future. Yet people seem ready to write it off.

Change is super hard. … There’s definitely things I would think about doing differently to ease that transition. I think change was needed. … I don’t know that building just another Windows 7 would have been helpful.

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