Ch-ch-ch-changes

by {"name"=>"Aaron Gustafson", "twitter"=>"AaronGustafson", "googleplus"=>"AaronGustafson"} on 30 January 2015

Monday, February 2nd will be the start of a new chapter in my professional career: I will joining Microsoft as a standards evangelist.

Wha?!

The reasons for the move are manifold, but I will do my best to summarize by taking you on the journey I’ve been on and hopefully that will help you understand why I will be leaving agency life behind and joining a browser maker (and the makers of Internet Explorer at that).


I’ve been working on the Web since 1996. That’s nearly 20 years of building everything from simple marketing campaign sites to emails to complex transactional websites and custom content management systems. In that time, I’ve gained skills on both the front end and the back end and rolled the 10,000 hour odometer at least a couple of times.

It’s been great. I love building things and I love helping our amazing clients put awesome information and services on the Web. But at the same time, I’ve enjoyed working with teams to help them solve their own problems even more than I’ve enjoyed solving them directly. It’s why I love speaking at conferences and running workshops: I love to see the lightbulbs come on over people’s heads!

Over the last few years, Kelly and I have made a conscious effort to reduce the amount of production work we’ve been doing in favor of more consulting. And early last year we came to a sort of crossroads: We knew we could keep doing what we’d been doing and things would be good, but we weren’t feeling challenged anymore.

And so we began to brainstorm ideas of what we’d like to do in the next phase of our lives.


Kelly came to the Web from an education and community organizing background, so she wanted to find a way to incorporate those with her technical knowledge. And about two months ago, she got that opportunity and she took a position as the Program Manager for Tech Goes Home Chattanooga, an organization committed to bridging the digital divide in our fair city.

When I close my eyes and think about what makes me happiest, it’s writing, speaking, and spreading the word about web design best practices. The folks I know who get to do that full-time tend to be developer evangelists (or Jeremy). And so I began pondering that possibility.

As I went through the list of browser makers in my mind, Microsoft stuck out.

Some of you might think that’s odd. I mean come on, IE has been the red-headed stepchild of the web design world for the better part of a decade. Why on earth would I want to work there?

Well, I’ll tell you: Despite its market largesse, IE (and in many ways Microsoft) is operating like the scrappy upstart. And I root for underdogs.


I think back to the early days of the Web when I would need a Windows license for every virtual machine I wanted to run in order to test each browser version. It was a pain in the ass and made me curse Microsoft on a regular basis.

But things have changed. A lot.

A few years back, the IE team launched modern.IE, an awesome resource with VMs that were free for the taking. They also launched a free tool for identifying coding issues and checking cross-browser interoperability. Then they opened up the roadmap for standards implementations in IE. And just recently they gave us RemoteIE and did away with the need for VMs altogether (at least to test our stuff on the latest version of IE).

This is a very different Microsoft.

Now sure, there’s still more they could open up, but this is progress. Big ships are slow to turn, but this ship is turning.

I want to be a part of that.


I will be joining Microsoft as a “Senior Program Manager”, but titles don’t matter much to me. I see my job boiling down to a few key things:

  1. Helping web designers and developers better understand the possibilities of the Web;
  2. Advocating for interoperable, accessible web design best practices;
  3. Being a voice for the web design and development community to communicate their needs to the IE team in order to improve the browser; and
  4. Being an internal advocate for Web standards implementations in other Microsoft products (think Visual Studio, Outlook, Word).

Microsoft is not hiring me to be a salesman—thank god, they’d be pretty disappointed—they are hiring me to continue being me. I will continue writing, I will continue speaking, and I will continue educating. The only thing that has changed is that I can spend all of my time doing that, rather than having to balance it with client work.


So Monday starts a new chapter in my career. It’s a little scary (I haven’t worked for someone else for over a decade), but it is also exciting. I am comforted by the fact that I am joining an amazing team: As he announced yesterday, Christian Heilmann will also join Microsoft on the 2nd and the charismatic Rey Bango will be leading our merry little conga line.

I’m excited about the future and I’m thrilled to be given the opportunity to focus on making the Web better… for everyone.