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An open e-mail to Ray Ozzie: Welcome back! (And some 'to dos' for you)

Posted by Scott Kirsner  January 20, 2011 08:01 AM

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Ray Ozzie
Former Chief Software Architect, Microsoft
Founder, Groove Networks
Developer, Lotus Notes

Dear Ray:

Speaking for all of us here in Boston, we're kind of glad that you didn't become a Microsoft lifer. When you announced your plans to leave last October, to be honest, no one was surprised that the cultural Super Glue hadn't set. Bill Gates had once described you as one of the top five programmers in the world... you parachuted into a 90,000 person company, knighted as Gates' successor...and then you talked about how the company needed to act more like a start-up. Ha ha, that was funny.

I'm not sure when you changed the LinkedIn description of what you did at Microsoft, but the current explanation is pretty funny: "Overhead." I'm sure that's how many Microsofties viewed you, despite your tireless efforts to nudge the company's strategy in the right direction, and build prototypes that would get people there thinking about cloud-based services and the future of social interactions online.

I'm told that you've wrapped up your involvement at Microsoft, and that there's not much reason for you to stick around Redmond anymore. I hope that means you'll be spending more time here in Massachusetts, at your humble single-family abode in Manchester-By-the-Sea.

(I'm a bit worried about the fate of the Cambridge office of Microsoft, known as the NERD Center, which you helped build up. What'll happen without your sponsorship? Who knows. The new "executive sponsor" of NERD is Qi Lu, someone without strong ties to the Boston area, and several other key players at NERD have departed recently.)

I've heard that you're informally advising at least one local CEO of a software-as-a-service start-up, but no one I spoke to seems to have any idea what you're thinking about doing next. (Most of the technical all-stars you'd recruit if you were already laying the groundwork for a new company are still working at Microsoft, I'm told.)

My bet is that you'll compile some of your thoughts on the future of technology into a book, maybe make some angel investments or join some boards, and then perhaps start your next company. I'm sure any of our fine engineering schools locally would love to have you as an adjunct faculty member, but I'm not sure that'd be up your alley. And while it's always an alluring economic possibility, I can't really imagine you becoming a venture capitalist.

But here are a few areas where you could help out the community locally, with your experience in software development, start-ups, bigger tech companies, cloud computing, and online collaboration. Call it a to-do list for your re-entry. I know you've never been especially big on public speaking or schmoozing (aside from participating in the annual, invite-only Foo Camp East gathering, I am not sure you spoke at one Boston event during your entire Microsoft tenure), but it'd be nice to see you get plugged back in to Boston. A lot has happened since you joined Microsoft in 2005.

- Perhaps you'll consider serving as a mentor with TechStars Boston or MassChallenge, two great programs that serve as petri dishes for promising new start-ups.

- Since you live up north, I know the North Shore Web Geeks would be thrilled to have you drop by one of their monthly meet-ups in Newburyport. In Cambridge, OpenCoffee brings entrepreneurs to Voltage Coffee in Kendall Square each Wednesday morning. It was started by venture capitalist Bijan Sabet (who serves on the board of Twitter and Boxee) and Nabeel Hyatt, now running the Boston office of Zynga.

- I heard that you were at Microsoft Research's Social Computing Symposium in New York last week (listing your company affiliation as "none.") Though you were one of the first CEOs in the Boston area to blog regularly (while you were running Groove Networks), you've been pretty quiet on the social media front lately. You jump-started your blog only as you were on the way out at Microsoft. Though you have an account on Twitter, your messages are "protected," meaning someone (me, for instance) needs permission to see what you're tweeting. Maybe you could share what you're thinking a little more frequently, and openly?

- Boston is home to lots of unconferences, but two really stand out: BarCamp Boston (happening April 9th and 10th) and the Mass TLC's Innovation Unconference, in October. I know people would be eager to have you lead a session — or just be part of the mix.

- I consider the quarterly Web Innovators Group shindigs "must go" events, at least twice a year. The demos from not-yet-funded (and some angel-funded) start-ups are interesting, and the schmoozing is even better. There's a cash bar, but I'll buy the first one.

Whatever you choose to do, it'll be swell to have you contributing once again to the innovation economy here — as opposed to trying to nudge the rudder at the S.S. Microsoft by a degree or two.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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