September 29th, 1997 - I walked in the door of a Microsoft office build named “Hilltop” in Las Colinas (Irving), Tx as a full time employee.
My original badge
Since then, I have been fortunate enough to have contributed a very small part in helping build one of the greatest companies in history. But my real history with Microsoft actually began in the early 1980’s.
In 1982, I was attending Edgewood High School in Edgewood, MD.
This school knew that computers were going to be some big and invested in some brand new Apple ][ machines. I was already a nerd having played Dungeons and Dragon’s in the 70’s and had some experience working with TRS-80 machines. But after getting exposed to the Apple ][ in this class I knew that I wanted to work with computers for the rest of my life.
I began doing a little programing and actually programmed a Rubik’s Cube simulator in machine language on the Apple. But I also spent hours after school playing Microsoft Adventure – my first exposure to Microsoft (though I didn’t know it at the time, all I cared about was the game itself!)
Later that year, my family moved to Arlington, Tx. We didn’t have a computer in our household, but fortunately for me, just walking distance away was Hardin Computer. This was a newly opened computer store in a strip mall not to far from my house. I used to ride my bike over and hang out at the store for as long as they would let me. I befriended one of the salesmen there and he let me actually demo programs to customers now and then. One of my fondest memories was being invited to the store and being allowed to unbox the very first Macintosh computer they received. Ultimately, after graduation, ended up doing some part time consulting for them installing Macintosh systems and configuring AppleTalk networks.
Fast forward 10 years to 1993.
I had been working full time for Frito-Lay as a Packaging Specialist for about 6 years. Computers were still a major part of my life and I was running a BBS on my Apple //gs using GBBS software. But I was also heavily involved in social chat BBSes. One in particular in the Dallas area called Talk Channel was a 32 line TBBS system where I spent a LOT of my free time. The owner of the system mentioned selling the system once and after a discussion with a fellow BBSer (Eric Sindelar), we decided to partner up and buy the system. This was my first exposure to an IBM machine and DOS. I had never owned anything but Apple products until this time. I dove in and learned DOS but basically ignored Windows because it wasn’t used for anything in the BBS business. I kept my Apple //gs (which I still have to this day) and my Mac IIsi and did all of my personal an business work on those systems.
In 1994, I was tired of working 80 hours a week in a food processing plant and starting looking for new work to do. I knew I wanted to work in the computer industry and the “information cyberhighway” (The Internet) was just starting to become a word everyday people were using. I had a side-business doing computer repair on Apple and IBM PC’s but wanted to learn more about the IBM side. One of my BBS friends suggested I apply at Microsoft. I honestly did not know what Microsoft was at the time. I was still using Apple products at home and my only dealings with DOS were just to make sure it ran. I was playing a little bit with Windows 3.1 at the time, but to me it was just Windows….not Microsoft.
A few people I knew were working at Microsoft as contractors and got me an interview with one of the vendor providers. I am not exactly sure why the hired me looking the way I did -
wow……but they did.
My First Job at Microsoft
I was supposed to be a customer service representative talking front line calls for the Windows 95 Launch. However, they called me about 3 weeks before I was supposed to start and asked if I could start early. I did, but when I reported to work, the receptionist directed me to the loading dock area. I was very confused about this because I didn’t think that answering customer support calls would be talking place in shipping and receiving, but I went back anyway. Turns out they needed someone to drive a shuttle bus back and forth between the Microsoft “Hilltop” and Microsoft “Canal” buildings. They were about 1 mile apart and it took about 2 minutes to drive between buildings.
At 8:00 I would wait for 3 minutes for people to get in the shuttle or for the mailroom to bring out inter-office mail and log how many riders were on-board.
At 8:03 I would drive to the other building. (2 minutes)
At 8:05 I would wait for 3 minutes for people to get in the shuttle or for the mailroom to bring out inter-office mail and log how many riders were on-board.
At 8:08 I would drive to the other building. (2 minutes)
At 8:10 I would wait…….well…you get the picture
I did this job so well they held me over for an extra week.
When this shuttle job ended I started my job as a Pilot A Customer Service representative. I literally answered hundreds of phone calls a day – “This you for calling Microsoft customer support services…my name is Chris…..may I have your phone number please?”. I would then route them through to whatever department they needed. I did this job for 15 months before I had to take time away from contracting. But in that time I figured out exactly what Microsoft was. I figured just how big of a game-changer the Internet was. I knew I wanted to work for Microsoft.
I continued to apply for positions at Microsoft but didn’t get any traction. So started contracting with other companies to increase my technical skills. In early September of 1997, I received a call from a Microsoft recruiter saying they had seen my applications and noticed that I was just shy of the technical qualifications they were looking for. But they were starting a new program – a boot camp of sorts – called Service Academy. They were hiring folks that were right at the edge of the technical skills needed and were doing all the training to put people over the line and then place them in technical support roles. I actually didn’t hear any of that stuff on the phone because I immediately told the recruiter YES! before she could explain much of anything.
I did a 10 week crash course that was delivered by a then external Microsoft Certified Trainer named John Weston, who later became my manager some 4 years later. John also inspired me to pursue my own MCT certification (Thank you John!) and I did some moonlighting in the late 90’s teaching Microsoft MCSE NT 4.0 courses while working at Microsoft. Fast forward 16+ years and here we are.
From Shuttle Driver moving mail from building to build, to Technology Evangelist speaking to thousands of people a year.
Computing and in particular, Microsoft, have changed my life.
There were a lot of paths I could have taken in life. I was fortunate enough to have chosen to pursue computing early in life and dove in during the 1990’s when computing was something that everyday people were starting to embrace. The Internet was booming, and the industry was hiring like mad. I got my foot in the door and I have thrived since then.
I can’t begin to express just how special my time at Microsoft has been. The countless people I have met (some I have spoken to for years only in email and never met face to face), the technologies I have been exposed to, and the things I have learned. I am proud to have worked for this long with some of the smartest people I have ever known and for one of the best technology companies……evar.
My last 12 years as a Technology Evangelist for Microsoft have given me some of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences a person could ask for. The vendors and customers I have met, the communities I have been a part of, and the friendships I have made. Thank you all for giving me this time and the memories.
Chris E. Avis
personal email – Loper@Lormesa.com
cell phone – 425-647-3440
Thank YOU for being one of the many and most welcoming of friends and coworkers when I joined the team 10 years ago. I'm glad you and I will still be able to connect now and then, whenever I get opportunity to come out west. I look forward to catching up over a beer and a Karaoke song selection book. And I wish you all the best, my friend.
I know you since 2004 in the California events and you always give a huge and the most important every time a piece of your knowledge, Is an honor to knowing you and was an adventure attending all those event with you as speaker, you give meaning to the it evangelist status and good luck in the future, you will always have a friend here in Tijuana, the cohibas are here everytime you want one.
Great post and it's been a pleasure working with you since Day 1 fielding calls for a little product known as SBS 4.5. Thanks for making that a better time by making it fun (and I still own you in Cased Closed....<door slam>). Good to see you ended up with us in the speaking gig. You'll do well and thee is life after MSFT.