Exit Interview: Dave Mendlen, Senior Director of Visual Studio
During his 15 years at Microsoft, Dave Mendlen has become something of a fixture in the development tools business at Microsoft. At one time a speechwriter for Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, Mendlen first got his start in Redmond as a product manager for Visual Basic. He most recently served as senior director of the Visual Studio business at Microsoft, where he helped shepherd the launch of Visual Studio 2010.
Today, I learned that Mendlen is moving on to serve as chief marketing officer of.NET component and tools maker Developer Express. His first day on the job will be September 10. I caught up with Mendlen briefly and asked him a few questions.
Michael Desmond: Looking at your time in the Visual Studio group at Microsoft, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
Dave Mendlen: I'm most proud of the work I did in Visual Studio 2010 to simplify the product. We changed everything from the logo to the Web site to the product to the product lineup and everything in between, and all of it was focused on one thing -- simplicity for customers. We changed our product lineup from 14 products to 3 (Pro, Premium and Ultimate). What I've heard from customers consistently is, "Thank you for making it easier to choose the right product!"
MD: You wrote speeches for the both Gates and Ballmer and drove marketing strategy for a host of platforms ranging from Tablet PCs to Windows. Looking back, if you could describe one experience that defined your tenure at Microsoft, what might that be?
DM: I remember doing a VBITS speech with Steve Ballmer -- his first speech as CEO and my first time demoing Visual Basic.NET. The demo crashed and Steve looked at me and I knew this was not good. I tried it again and the demo worked. We high fived and the audience went wild. That was very symbolic of my career at Microsoft.
MD: Both Gates and Ballmer are widely known as demanding bosses. What was your approach to "managing" these executives, as it were?
DM: Bill is actually very, very funny. Most people don't know that. Steve is too, but it takes a little while to prove yourself to Steve. The key for me was standing up and telling Steve and Bill my opinion and defending it strongly. Once they knew I'd stand my ground, I earned their respect and then later their friendship.
MD: Obviously you bring years of experience at Microsoft to the table. How do you figure this background will benefit a major .NET component maker like DevExpress?
DM: Understanding the developer ecosystem and how Microsoft builds software provides me the opportunity to guide DevExpress and hopefully the industry in a new direction. What the industry needs now is a big shift to simplify the experience for customers. That's been the direction I've steered Visual Studio over the last few years and it's the direction I'd like to help shift the third-party ecosystem as well.
MD: With Windows 8 and an update to the .NET Framework on the way, we're reaching another important inflection point. How is DevExpress poised to engage the market as these new platforms emerge?
DM: DevExpress is hyper-focused on enabling bridges between technologies. That's what is so exciting about their products. They are known for their world class support and high quality extensions, but what is often lost is the bigger picture. DevExpress focuses on helping customers make technology shifts and supporting customers even on what many consider legacy technologies. With the shift to Windows 8 and Visual Studio 11, there is another shift about to occur and DevExpress stands poised to uniquely help customers make that shift.