Constant Improvement

Microsoft's Jon DeVaan

As a boy growing up in Minnesota, Jon DeVaan played some of the world's earliest computer games. But he played them on $5 million mainframe computers when his father, a salesman for Control Data Corporation, occasionally took his children to the office.

DeVaan's father was not an engineer, but he "always showed me how things worked," DeVaan says. He also impressed upon his son that the engineers at his company were the people who added "tremendous value" to the final products.


Jon DeVaan, a senior vice president at Microsoft and an OSU alum, says success–at OSU Engineering and at his company–is all about people working together in teams to make constant improvements.

Today, DeVaan is a senior vice president at Microsoft and has added plenty of value to a wide range of Microsoft products. During his 18-year tenure with the company, he has led the teams that developed Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Office, and other products.

But the soft-spoken DeVaan plays down his personal contribution to the popular software packages and is quick to point out that his accomplishments were all a "team effort." The team he led on the Microsoft Office project was 2,500 employees strong--more than four times the total size of Microsoft when he joined the company in 1984 as a fresh OSU grad equipped with a BS in both computer science and mathematics.

When DeVaan signed on with Microsoft, the company employed fewer than 600 people. Today, the software giant's ranks have grown to more than 50,000 worldwide, and DeVaan is one of the top managers.

He is proud that Microsoft is helping bring technology to the world, and in the process improving the lives of people from all walks of life. Once during a flight across the country, he sat next to a businessman who learned DeVaan had helped develop Microsoft Excel. The man suddenly grabbed him, exclaiming "You worked on Excel? I love Excel!"

"That program had changed this man's life," DeVaan says. "It let him do things he'd never been able to do before."

Another time, on the streets in Beijing, DeVaan's taxi driver told him that he had just taken the exam to become a Microsoft- Certified Professional, and that this was going to quadruple his standard of living.

"People all over the world are being touched by technology," DeVaan says. "You travel around Asia now, and although there still isn't plumbing in many parts, everyone has a cell phone and you see a lot of satellite dishes."

DeVaan says that's a big part of what touches people who work at Microsoft--changing the world and making lives better. But at a company the size of Microsoft, accomplishing this takes immense team effort.

"It basically boils down to the fact that nobody is accomplishing anything individually," he says. "Your accomplishment is as a team, and the team has to work together." His management philosophy is based on the golden rule, and a principle he calls "constant improvement."

This same principle can be applied to the College of Engineering's pursuit of a top-tier ranking, he says, which is ultimately based on achieving quality across the board: faculty, students, facilities, and overall curriculum.

"And the way you achieve that quality is that every day you're figuring out how to improve. I don't believe in big magic plans. Instead, every day you're trying to find what's working and what's not working and making the necessary changes. And before you know it, you've done amazing things."