B.S. Mathematics, 1985
B.S. Computer Science, 1985
Honorary Doctorate, Engineering, 2011
Former Corporate Vice President, Microsoft
Social Activist Seattle, Washington
Although most people who use Microsoft products on a daily basis probably won’t recognize his name, Jon DeVaan has had a huge impact on their lives. After graduating from Oregon State, he went to work for what was then a relatively unknown Seattle-based software company. During his nearly 30-year career at Microsoft, he was instrumental in building Windows® and O ce, and developing the company’s core engineering practices.
DeVaan began his career as a programmer on a database product called Microsoft File for the Macintosh. He uses the analogy of a grazing herd to describe the development model Microsoft used at that time: the engineers all worked on one thing for a while, before moving en masse to build a different product. Multiplan, which became Microsoft Excel for the Macintosh, was his herd’s next new pasture.
During that time, computer applications were transitioning from character user interface programs, such as Lotus 1-2-3, to graphical user interfaces. e code complexity created by that shift caused several projects to fail. After his team finished optimizing Excel for the Windows platform, he began to seek a better engineering system.
“We had worked crazily hard — hundred-hour-plus weeks for months-long stretches,” he said. “We were very proud of the result, but we also realized that there was no way we could keep up that kind of pace.”
He started asking some key questions: “Did that old approach work? What could we do differently? It was the first time I realized that how you do things — improving the processes and practices
— really matters. The notion of a development herd is an engineering system choice — an alternative is to create domain experts that improve on a technology over a longer period of time.”
As computer speed and memory capacity evolved, DeVaan was on
the leading edge of adapting work processes to keep up with changing possibilities and expectations.
He was instrumental in creating the vision and the processes that brought many fiercely independent engineering teams together to create the integrated product now known as Microsoft Office.
“Strategies have to match the times, and to create a product like Office, the engineering system has to evolve also,” he said.
By 1999, he was seeking new challenges, moving on to work on Microsoft’s online and television presence. Over the ensuing years, the company had several software project failures, and in 2002, Bill Gates tapped DeVaan to improve the company’s software engineering practices.
“I was able to take a step back, look at how the engineering was done, and lead people on the discovery journey to make the right kind of adaptations so they could be successful with their software engineering again,” he said.
In 2006, DeVaan brought the new engineering principles to Windows as leader of the Windows Core Operating System Division, and led development for Windows 7, 8 and 8.1. He left Microsoft in early 2014.
After a full and successful career at Microsoft, DeVaan is not retired. Having become a software engineering expert, he is on to new passions. Today he calls himself a social activist. He is working on what he calls, “the most important issue of our time — to get money out of politics,” and on improv- ing higher education. He recently joined the board of Represent.Us, and serves as chairman of the Oregon State University Foundation board of trustees.