Meeting Paul Bowden

Just a little more than a week ago, Paul Bowden introduce himself in the #microsoft-office channel of the Slack MacAdmins team:

Thanks to @talkingmoose for introducing me to the group. I was going to set my slack username to “Mr sudo $USER” but I’ll just have to plead for forgiveness from all of you and make it up by fixing this stuff. Do feel free to ping me with your top 3 wishes for installers and/or MAU. Thanks! Paul.

It was a perfect mix of levity, humility and outreach that started some amazing dialogue between Mac admins and Microsoft.

MVP Summit 2015

MVP logoI’ve been a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for 13 years. Microsoft started the MVP program more than 20 years ago to acknowledge community members who contribute their time and expertise helping others with Microsoft products. My current area of contribution is with Office for Mac.

As part of this program, I get opportunities to meet with product managers, developers, testers and others responsible for everything around Office for Mac at an annual MVP Summit held on the Microsoft campus in Redmond. This year (the first week of November), I went on a mission to find someone who’d listen to a list of pain points Mac admins have had with Office 2016 for Mac installers and management.

Generally, the Office for Mac developers have taken more interest in feedback about applications and features during our summit sessions rather than installers and management. But in a few sessions where I mentioned my concerns, most every time I was told, “You should see Paul Bowden.” One of my contacts put me in touch with Paul via email and he responded:

Sure – I can help with your list 🙂

We set a time and he invited me to his office later that week. I copied Paul on a list of 10 issues I’d put together, including some links to blog posts by Mac admins, with #10 being “This space reserved for more stuff later.” I emailed Paul additions to the list throughout the week.

Meeting the Architect

The sun was out that afternoon after a foggy and drizzly morning on the last day of the summit. I walked over to Paul’s building with a fellow MVP after visiting Microsoft’s campus store and buying tchotchkes. Paul met me in the front lobby and walked me to his office. No cubicles here. Everyone I’ve met at Microsoft has an office.

Paul gave me some of his background. He’s been with Microsoft 19 years with 14 of those years working on the Exchange team. He later joined APEX, which is Microsoft’s Apple Platform Experiences group, and worked on the team that developed Office for iOS before working with Office for Mac.

My first thought was, “He’s giving me an hour of his time—that’s not going to be enough to discuss everything! Hit the high points.” I started with, “I’m not sure whether you’ve had time to look at the list I sent you…” and he responded to the effect of, “I’ve read it. And the blog posts too. I’m responsible for the installer and we’ll get things fixed.”


Something about Paul’s quiet demeanor, simple response and maybe his British accent too, put me at ease. He went on to say he’d read the escalations from enterprise customers who had also reported issues with installing and managing Office for Mac, mentioning he was currently fixing the issue with installations using Apple Remote Desktop. He’d already heard much of what I was telling him.

Over the course of my hour with Paul, he told me about the feedback Microsoft was receiving and about very specific problems. He asked my opinions, offered suggestions about how to improve the admin experience as well as the user experience and talked through timelines based on how easy some fixes were versus fixes that would take longer.

Kind of like Neo meeting the Architect, I felt like I knew so much more about why things were the way there were and I was looking at the person where everything started. And ended.

Maybe that’s a little too dramatic, but this is my story not yours. 😉

Invitation to Slack

Paul answered questions I had about “telemetry” and what it means to Office. He was open and honest about how it worked and how it was used. I appreciated that. He went on to tell me about the upcoming First Release program for testing Office for Mac updates and the review and testing process for new releases. I kept asking, “Is this under NDA?” and he often responded, “I don’t think so, but I’ll find out.”

Before leaving, I had one more goal to accomplish—I wanted Microsoft to maintain a pulse on the Mac admin community and the best place for that was the #microsoft-office channel in our Slack MacAdmins team. As we were wrapping up, I found Paul was already familiar with Slack and so I had him open the sign-up page. He promised he’d take a look. My ask of him was to lurk and see what Mac admins were saying about Office for Mac.

Mission accomplished. I’d done as much as I could. On our way out, Paul showed me a framed board celebrating the release of Office for iPad and signed by everyone who contributed to the project. He pointed out his name and was deservedly very proud of the product.

Paul Bowden

Meanwhile, back in the channel

That evening was my last for the MVP summit this year. Back in my hotel room I posted a quick note about my visit with Microsoft:

Productive day today. Spoke with Schwieb who always gives me great insight into decisions and what drives their thinking. Also, spoke to the person responsible for the installer (and its issues) and the MAU launch after installation or first app launch. He gets it. Great guy, open, honest and listening.

I mentioned I’d pointed him to the channel and had asked him to take a look. Much of what I could say about the information Paul had given me, I posted there.

The next evening took me by surprise. Paul introduced himself in the channel. I really wasn’t expecting that.

The community welcomed him and praised him for stepping into the lion’s den. He hung out for a couple of hours listening and responding to questions, offering solid answers that weren’t dipped in Marketing-speak. What was refreshing to hear was Paul accepting responsibility and taking ownership of our issues.

Late that evening I privately thanked Paul and said, “You’ve turned folks from cynical to excited.”

A week later

We’ve seen a lot of Paul in the #microsoft-office channel during the past week and I’ve watched its membership grow by at least 50 people. I’m hoping that’s because folks are excited by this new unfiltered relationship between a major software developer and the Mac admin community. I’ve personally only seen this once before with Jody Rodgers while he was with Adobe. He too made a big effort to reach out, listen and sincerely try to help us with our concerns.

And Paul has said he’s inviting others from Microsoft to join the conversation. His focus is squarely on deployment, updates and administration. If he’s able to broaden the outreach from Microsoft then I’m sure the Mac admin community is ready to offer constructive feedback about how it administers Office for Mac in the enterprise and education. More importantly, I’d like to see this comment Paul made in the channel come true: “My goal is to some day read a blog post from you telling how you helped MS fix these problems, and we really do listen.”

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