Picture 1986. I'm doing work for Jon Lazarus, who's created his own consulting company (which he colorfully named H. Roark and Associates as a goof) after leaving Ziff-Davis. At Ziff he'd been the Editor of PC Magazine when it was 800 pages an issue, and developed new titles such as PC Week. Now he's consulting with Microsoft and one of the projects they've suggested he should tackle is their idea to produce a high-quality developer publication. A natural fit since he's already buddies with writers like Charles Petzold from his PC Magazine days.
Since I know nothing about developers, Jon fills me in on what we need to do and why. He explains that "Bill" and "Steve" feel that up until now, the industry has taken developers for granted; the material they're offered isn't very carefully thought out or presented.
We're going to change that, he says. We're going to give them a high-quality, professional-level, no-BS publication that will feature code. Code, he explains, gets no respect in 1986-era publications; he shows me how it's kind of squeezed in around other stuff in the publications of the day. We'll call the new publication Microsoft Systems Journal.
So we spend a couple of months working on a prototype for the first test issue with a design that gives code free reign. The first issue is devoted to Windows 1.0, which Jon's sure is going to be a winner. It's a cliché, but it does seem like yesterday that I was packing up that prototype at five in the morning, after working all night, so Jon could take it to Redmond on a 7 A.M. plane. Have I mentioned we're in New York?
After that comes 15 years of working on MSJ, Microsoft Internet Developer, and MSDN Magazine with that same basic game plan of giving developers straight-ahead information in the most coherent format we can come up with. There have been lots of format tweaks and tons of improvements in the software and hardware we use (to say nothing of the Web!), but the most important part has remained that commitment to excellence and utility (Jon expanded the idea exponentially with the 1991 creation of MSDN).
Working at Microsoft has been a thrilling experience. Creating presentation materials for Bill's 1990 Comdex keynote, "Information at Your Fingertips," was a huge rush. Launching Microsoft Internet Developer in 1996, ten years after MSJ (and learning HTML and making a Web site in a week!) was exhilarating. Becoming Editor-in-Chief in 1999, and revamping both publications to create MSDN Magazine in 2000 was a singular chance to bring everything we'd learned together in a better, richer iteration.
In 1986 I knew nothing about developers, but since then I've learned a lot. Developers are passionate and committed, they like to be challenged and they're a lucky group who really love what they do. I've done publishing about everything from fashion to fishing in my career—the developer audience has been unique in its passion for content. Meeting readers has been one of the great perks of working for MSJ, MIND, and MSDN Magazine, because they don't have a casual relationship to the publication—they cite vivid examples of when the magazine brought them some piece of vital information; they get excited telling you about it. It's an awesome feeling to realize that you've worked on something that made someone's job easier.
Since the early days, the magazine crew has had a great cast of characters. Jon Lazarus went on to larger things at Microsoft and beyond. As editor, he was followed by Eric Maffei, who taught me even more about how developers think. Eric had unfailing vision for clarity and precision as well as wacky fondness for SciFi crossed with HomeEc. Laura Euler, crack wordsmith, once tried to convince the e-mail folks to let her change her e-mail alias to "kitten" "because" she'd gotten married! Gretchen Bilson, as tech editor for MSJ and MIND, would let no article be printed before its time, no matter how much we begged and pleaded.
Many of the early crew still work on the magazine. Joanne Steinhart came on in 1987 and has been the level-headed, make-it-happen anchor for the magazines ever since (more about Joanne in a minute). Val Myers helped put together the prototype in 1986 and, when excited, can be mistaken for Rosie Perez on a rampage.
So if you're still reading, you've long since guessed this is a farewell note. After 15 years, it's time for me to look for new challenges. As proprietary as I feel about it (did I mention I designed the first MSJ in 1986?) I'm leaving the magazine in very good hands. I'm handing off my job to Joanne, who's been here since the third issue of MSJ. Joshua Trupin, who's been the developer sensibility-in-residence since the mid 90s, will continue to work with our world-class authors to make sure the article and column mix is fantastic and the topics are dead on, while the rest of the crew will keep doing the excellent job they do month in and month out.
A final thank you roundup: thanks to the great folks at CMP who partner with us to get the magazine made and distributed; thanks to Vic Gundotra for the opportunity to make something new; thanks to Amy Iorio for being so fast on the uptake and such a mensch; and a big hug for my daughter Vanessa at MSTE.
From the September 2001 issue of MSDN Magazine.