NWC Interview: Mark Russinovich, Microsoft

With his company--Winternals Software--recently acquired by Microsoft, Mark Russinovich has joined the MS Platforms and Services division. He discusses his goals within his new company and what he hopes to

September 22, 2006

3 Min Read
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Mark Russinovich, Microsoft

In the years you ran Winternals, what was your relationship with Microsoft?

My relationship with Microsoft began about 10 years ago. I published tools that exposed bugs in Windows and consequently had many discussions with the Windows team on how to fix them. The tools were developed completely independently of Microsoft. Up until a few weeks ago, I never had access to Windows source code.

In the late 1990s, I worked actively on building a good relationship with Microsoft and was given a great deal of access to the Windows team when I co-authored the Microsoft Press book on Windows internals.

What do you hope to achieve at Microsoft?I've essentially been given the open-ended task of making Windows and the platform better. It's hard to be specific at this point, but I want to help make Windows better in direct ways. That might mean making it more secure, able to run faster on new hardware platforms, more resilient to software errors, or easier to diagnose and manage.

Winternals employed about 85 people when it was acquired. What's it like going from there to one of the largest tech companies in the world?

It's definitely a different environment. It was relatively easy to always have a good idea of what was going on across Winternals, but that's not always possible at a company the size of Microsoft. The downside of a small company is that you can have the best technology and products in the world, but you have limited resources to get the products into the market.

At Microsoft, the influence I have on Windows will impact most of the civilized world, and the platform products I work on will likewise have much broader reach.

That's heady stuff. Do you find it intimidating, or invigorating?It's both at the same time. While I can work on basically whatever interests me, I have to determine the areas where my energy can yield the biggest impact. That's not always an easy task when there are so many important problems and projects to choose from.

You posted a blog about how it took a week to get your Microsoft e-mail account because of some bureaucratic complications. Is there a correlation here to software development?

With any large company, you're going to experience a certain amount of established procedures. However, unlike other companies of this size, at Microsoft there are always ways to cut through the processes provided you have good justification.

Your blog has always been very technically descriptive. Will you have the same freedom as a Microsoft employee? For instance, if you come across something like the Sony DRM rootkit, will you be able to discuss it as freely as you did before, or might there be legal or PR considerations inhibiting you?

I believe I will continue to have the ability to affect change, but it will likely be through different channels than before.Have you met Bill Gates?

I first met Bill a few years ago for a meet-and-greet session and it was a surreal moment.

What's surprised you most about being a Microsoft employee?

It surprises me every day how openly self-critical people are. No matter where you are or what you work on there's always room to improve things. Each time, they tune and tweak based on lessons learned from past iterations.

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