February 10, 2012

An Interview with Ben the PC Guy

Ben Rudolph isn’t your ordinary man on the Microsoft campus. A Microsoft “evangelist” for the past three years,  Ben stands out in the crowd.  It’s easy to be called a PC guy, but how about being called Microsoft’s PC Guy? The nickname isn’t a misnomer: Ben can name the best and brightest of new Windows laptops on the turn of a dime. Being the PC Guy isn’t easy, but Ben has also been the face of Microsoft’s latest “Smoked by Windows Phone” campaign. No one can scoff at these credentials, but if someone did, then Ben would just have to use his Jujitsu black belt and Krav Maga skills to set them straight.
That’s right, he has a black belt in Jujitsu.
Techblitz met with Ben in his personal dojo sat down with Ben to discuss his career at Microsoft, the “Smoked by Windows Phone” videos, Robert Scoble and his incredible prowess at the art of Jujitsu and Krav Maga.

TECHBLITZ: How’d you get your start as a Microsoft evangelist?
BEN: I got my start at Microsoft in an interesting way. Before I was at Microsoft, I was one of the original members of the Parallels team. (You might know them as the Windows on Mac virtualization client.) I came over from Parallels and was put on the Windows team, doing PR for the Vista Enterprise. That grew into a more consumer role, and about two and a half years ago, I was selling the whole widget; not only the software but the hardware that comes with it as well. The software is undeniably amazing: Windows 7 is incredible, we’ve sold hundreds of millions of copies. imageIt’s fantastic stuff! However, not a lot of people go out to buy a copy of Windows. Rather, they go out to buy a new PCs. So I thought, “Well, let’s explain all the technology in the PC, let’s open people’s eyes to all the beautiful hardware that is out there.” People really took to it! My nickname is Ben the PC Guy just because it’s my Twitter handle and I thought it would be funny. But everyone began calling me Ben the PC Guy and now I’m Ben the PC Guy. I came over to the Windows Phone group in September and I jumped right into things. Now I’m doing things that I did at CES!
TECHBLITZ: What’s a normal day to day working for Microsoft?
BEN: A normal day to day at Microsoft varies widely depending on what you do. My job is unique in that I get to spend a lot of time playing with toys, new PCs, new phones, and downloading apps for phones. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, talking to the community. I almost have 11,000 Twitter followers right now and they’re very active: they’re rabid fans that love our stuff so much. I spend a lot of time answering questions, talking about what’s happening in the industry. I talk a lot about Windows Phone, what’s going around in the company and I talk about lots of different, exciting products. Social media is a lot of my time, and obviously there are meetings with my coworkers. The time I get to spend talking with the community and playing with gadgets is my favorite part!
TECHBLITZ: Do you ever find the urge to perform speed tests against your friends and family’s phones? The gloating possibilities are endless!
BEN: At this point, no one wants to challenge me! I am, by far, the most technical person in my family and they’ve all seen the [Smoked by Windows Phone] videos. A lot of my family uses Windows Phone. My friends who don’t use a Windows Phone yet, given the videos they just saw, know their phones aren’t as fast as my phone so there is really no point in to racing them! I do, however, love showing them what you can do on a Windows Phone. I have friends who have Android phones, I have friends who have iPhones and when they say “I wish my phone did x, y, and z,” chances are that there is something built into Windows Phone that takes care of that! We’re really good at the everyday stuff; i.e. the real stuff that you do on your phone every day.
TECHBLITZ: I agree, I love what you guys have done with Windows Phone.
BEN: It’s really cool stuff. Part of the reason I came over to Windows Phone was the fact that I was using the product since the very beginning. I had one of the developer phones and when I saw it, I said “It’s just so different!” In so many ways it’s better than anything out there in the market. My wife is the person I talk to the most, so why should I go through an app and search for her name, just to check her Facebook status? It makes more sense to have as a Tile right on my home screen. If she updates something, I know it! Additionally, it makes more  sense for me to have my weather as a tile. That stuff just works better on a Windows Phone. There was just so much potential that, when this job became available, I was the first in line to say “You know what, I want to go do that. I believe in Windows Phone and I want to go make it successful.”  
TECHBLITZ: What phone and laptop combination gets you through a work day?
BEN: I’m in a very unusual circumstance, because I have a a whole bagful of phones everywhere I go. I have a bunch of laptops, too! My day to day work machine, which I’m talking to you on right now, is a tower that I custom built is sitting in my office.  I’ll run you through what it is, because I think you’ll like it. Inside my custom built, I have a Core i7 920 processor, 32 gigs of gaming RAM and dual hard drives. The first hard drive is an OCZ Vertex 3, 240 gigs SSD for my apps and OS. Then I have a Western Digital two TB data drive backing it up. I’ve got an AMD 6900 Series graphics card that has two GPUs on it. I’ve got three 27 inch, 1920 x 1080 monitors at my desk.
TECHBLITZ: Wow, that’s amazing!
BEN: It’s pretty amazing. Laptop wise, I alternate between two laptops. My workhorse PC is a Lenovo Thinkpad x220. It’s their 12.5 inch ultraportable. It has Core i5, eight gigs of RAM, I’ve actually have dual SSDs in that one as well. You can beat that thing silly and it will keep on running, and it has great battery life. My beautiful, sexy PC is the new Sony Vaio Z. It’s less than a half an inch thick! It’s a 13 inch PC that weighs under three pounds and has 1080p display. It is just gorgeous!  That’s what I have on the PC front. 
I spend most of my time, phone wise, on an HTC Titan. It’s a big 4.7 inch phone, it’s just massive. I also have a Samsung Focus S and a Nokia Lumia 800.
TECHBLITZ: What apps, mobile or otherwise, could you not live without?
BEN: Obviously, the big one is Microsoft Office: I live and die by my Outlook Calendar. My wife jokes that if it’s not on my Outlook Calendar, then I don’t show up to it! I’m terrible about being at the right place at the right time unless an Outlook notification pops up on my phone and says “Hey, you need to be here in fifteen minutes,” and then I’m there. On my phone, I use Geekbits a lot. It’s great technology news app. I use rowi, an outstanding Twitter client. Of course Windows Phone has a built Twitter client and it has great basic functionality, but if you want something deeper, rowi is an outstanding app with great Live Tile support. I play a lot of Bye Bye Brain, a tower defense game where you’re fighting zombies. It’s really cool.  I also play Physi Bricks, which is an awesome puzzle game.
On my desktop, there’s nothing out of the ordinary: IE9 and Office 2010. My Twitter app on my desktop is Metro Twit, which is a really awesome Metro-style Twitter application.  I currently use it in the dark theme with tons of columns for searches. I’m a heavy Microsoft Link user, our enterprise communication platform. I also use Windows Live as well: Windows Live Writer to write all my blog posts and Windows Live Mail.  I don’t use anything that even remotely taxes the desktop I have sitting in my office.
TECHBLITZ: Can you use the art of Jujitsu in the workplace, or are martial arts frowned upon in Microsoft offices?
imageBEN: Violence is typically frowned upon in the workplace, so I save my Krav Maga and my Jujitsu for the gym!
TECHBLITZ: Robert Scoble has raised some heat over Windows Phone’s actual market acceptance and the “big name” apps. As a Windows Phone evangelist, what would you do to persuade Scoble to join team Windows Phone?
BEN: I have a lot of respect for Robert. I follow his Twitter and I’ve talked to him a couple of times. Windows Phone is just getting started. The app marketplace is growing and we already have about 60,000 apps. We have a lot of big names like Angry Birds and Spotify. There’s also a lot of great, unique content as well. If you play any game unique to Windows Phone, like Wordament, you realize it’s an awesome exeperience. Thousands and thousands of people play Wordament and it’s not available on any other platform. I believe we [Microsoft], as a company, engage developers better than anyone else in the world. We’re working with people all over the world to build beautiful Metro-style apps that have Live Tile support. It’s far too early to call us out of the race, to say Windows Phone isn’t making it. You just said yourself that you love what we’ve done with Windows Phone. I love Windows Phone. If  you tweet about Windows Phone on Twitter, you’ll get hundreds, if not thousands of responses that chime in on how much people love this platform. The user population is growing fast, as well as the app marketplace, so this is just the start of something really amazing.
TECHBLITZ: Will you upgrade to the Nokia Lumia 900 when it comes out? Could you slide one under the table?
image BEN: Right! The 900 is a really special phone. What’s interesting that people don’t know about me is my education background is not in technology but in art. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Lumia series (the 800 and soon the 900) is extremely exceptional in terms of industrial design. The way they are built, the way they are weighted, the way they are balanced, it’s all beautiful! For the Lumia 900, the guts are great, the LTE is fast and it will be incredible. Will I have the 900? Absolutely! When it’s ready to go, I’ll have one.
It’s also important to note that as amazing our partnership with Nokia is, they aren’t the only partner we have. The 800 is a work of art, and I have one in every color (cyan, magenta and black) sitting on my desk. They’re gorgeous, the Lumia series is a work of art. It’s stunning! But HTC and Samsung are making great stuff too! The HTC Titan II is a beast, it’s a big piece of glass with a 16 megapixel camera on the back! The Samsung Focus S is thinner than a #2 pencil! It has an incredibly vibrant Super AMOLED LED display. What I love about Windows Phone right now is similar to what I love about the Windows PC world: it’s all about choice and personalization. No matter who you are or what you’re into, how big or small a person you are, or how much you want to spend, there’s a Windows Phone that’s perfect for you. You aren’t getting shoehorned into a single piece of hardware at a single price point where you’re doing it their way. The phone is going to work for you and make it personal to you, rather than make it the same phone that millions of other people use! You can personalize it and make it your phone! 
TECHBLITZ: What Microsoft project, current or future excites you the most?
BEN: There’s so much that’s going on [at Microsoft], but one thing that makes me wish I was imagestill at the Windows team is Windows 8. You see the stuff that’s coming with Windows 8, how it’s optimized for touch and how touch is going to span off from the desktop. There are going to be touch-centric form factors. The Tiles and Metro interface are exciting. We’re calling Windows 8 “Windows, Reimagined” for a reason.  I think it’s going to change a lot of people’s perception on what you can do with a desktop, with a laptop, with a slate. I‘m really excited to see what the Windows team cooks up for Windows 8.
TECHBLITZ: The Zune fan in me wants to know about Windows Phone’s future. Will WP7 ever make it to non-phone devices, like the Zune HD2?
BEN: Honestly, I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not! I was a Zune fan for a long time. I have a 32 GB Zune that I strap to my arm every day when I go to the gym. What's cool about Zune itself is that the need for a standalone player isn’t as necessarily as great as it was two years ago.  Now you have Windows Phones with 16 GBs of storage with a built in Zune player and the Zune Marketplace; now you have an all-in-one Zune device. When I travel, I don’t bring my Zune HD; it’s one less thing that I have to lug around. I have playlists for the gym and I have 50-100 songs on my phone, so I won’t be bored for a couple of days. When I’m home and I’m at the gym,  I have my Zune HD 32 GB.  (ED. NOTE: Sorry, Zune fans!)

Thanks to Ben Rudolph for agreeing to do this interview! You can follow Ben on Twitter, like his page on Facebook and read his blog posts on The Windows Team Blog.
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