REDMOND, Wash. — June 2, 2011 — Have you ever wondered about the people behind the products at Microsoft or wondered who gives us that “aha” moment when we see new, innovative technology? Well, the Windows Embedded News Center (WENC) editorial staff thought we would provide a sneak peek into the lives of the people who work behind the scenes at Windows Embedded to see what makes them tick and how they’re working to continually evolve the platforms that enable original equipment manufacturers to deliver the latest devices that are woven into our lives. Their work spans homes and cars to offices and retailers and beyond.
Our most recent interview took place with Microsoft Windows Embedded senior product manager Walter Sullivan to discuss what led him to his current role at Microsoft, as well as all the exciting new happenings within the Windows Embedded Automotive group.
Q: What brought you to Microsoft and the Windows Embedded Automotive group?
A: My tenure at Microsoft began more than 20 years ago after graduating from a small college in Seattle, where I grew up. Throughout my first 13 years, I was building developer tools in Microsoft’s C++ group, and cars were just a hobby — I’ve probably owned 20 or so cars to date! When I was given the opportunity to join the Windows Embedded Automotive group, I was able to spend more time with my hobby while being challenged by working with more consumer-oriented technologies and constrained hardware environments on a daily basis.
We’re in a very dynamic period within the automotive industry. Technology is changing quickly, and I believe it is the best time for a technology-oriented person to be working in the automotive industry.
Q: What are some of the latest features of the Windows Embedded Automotive platform, and how are these capabilities creating enhanced infotainment experiences?
A: We are at an inflection point for infotainment in automotive. In just the past few years, consumer technology has taken a front seat and really driven automotive evolution, moving vehicles beyond the standard radio and CD player. Microsoft has a lot to offer in this space. Particularly, and most recently, we have been focusing on user experience tools and technologies. For example, speech systems are becoming more widely adopted in the automotive environment, so we are continuing to provide more Microsoft speech technology in Windows Embedded Automotive 7 — and it’s receiving great feedback.
Also, we’re bringing innovative new graphics technologies from the Web to cars operating with Silverlight for Windows Embedded — another example of how we are providing the tools that will enable more engaging and usable automotive experiences.
Q: Is there a specific feature, functionality or capability that the Windows Embedded Automotive platform provides that you find most exciting?
A: One area where we are pretty unique is our tools and platform support for creating updatable infotainment devices. Because of the discord between automotive and consumer technology lifecycles, an infotainment unit that cannot be updated will always be out of date just a couple of years after the vehicle is purchased. We’ve worked hard to provide great Bluetooth implementations to connect mobile devices with the car, as well as industry leading connectivity to mobile media devices. This showcases our ability to continuously update our infotainment systems, which is a big advantage to the market and our consumers.
In addition, updated functionality can be added to an existing infotainment system through new applications, as Fiat and Ford already have shown. Our updatability and extensibility are what I find most exciting because I think they offer the greatest potential for us to explore scenarios we have yet to unlock.
Q: What is one thing that keeps you coming to work every day? What about Windows Embedded gets you out of bed every morning?
A: Well, I need to pay my mortgage, but I suspect that isn’t the real question! I love cars, I love the engineering process of creating cars and I love what sometimes seems like impossible challenges in the automotive industry. It’s a really fun industry for me, and I’m regularly impressed by the creativity and engineering brilliance I see in different automotive companies. In a way, combining my love for software engineering and my passion for the automotive industry is a dream job.
The other aspect that I truly enjoy is the international nature of the business. Automotive consumers vary wildly, and automotive companies are truly global in a way that is rarely found today.
Q: What is something that the Windows Embedded team would be surprised to know about you (Keep in mind this will be posted on the Internet)?
A: Many are surprised to know that I have a 1952 Bentley Mark VI, which is one of the really classically shaped post-war Bentleys. It’s not a “driver” though, has only been to Microsoft three or four times in the last 10 years. The other thing the Windows Embedded team doesn’t really know is that I’m an avid motorcyclist. I don’t ride to work much, but I still ride 6,000 to 8,000 miles a year around the Western U.S. I think I may be happiest on two wheels, on a two-lane road, with the sun beating down and the weekend in front of me.
Q: If you weren’t a part of the Windows Embedded team, what would you be doing instead (careerwise)?
A: Originally my intention was to make a living flying planes, which I am licensed to do. That would have been my choice if I hadn’t gotten into the software industry 21 years ago.
Be sure to check out Windows Embedded senior product manager Steven Bridgeland’s recent interview on Press:Here for in-vehicle infotainment news.
For more information on Windows Embedded Automotive and all Windows Embedded platforms, check out the newly redesigned http://www.windowsembedded.com website, and don’t forget to visit the Windows Embedded Newsroom and follow the @MSFTWEB Twitter handle for the latest Windows Embedded news.