The magazine for Western Washington University

The face of Windows

Julie Larson-Green ('86, Business Administration), Vice president of program management for Windows

Story by Mary Gallagher

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Julie Larson-Green | Photo by Mark Malijan ('09)/The Emerald Collective

The Microsoft executive in charge of the Windows operating system first learned how to help people solve technology problems while working in Western's computer labs in the 1980s.

"Working in the microcomputer lab, that's probably where I first learned to do tech support," says Julie Larson-Green, "That and waiting tables."

Today as corporate vice president of program management for Windows, Larson-Green leads a 1,000-person team designing and building Windows 8, They're "re-imagining" the world's most commonly used operating system to harness the power of cloud computing and the proliferation of mobile devices.

"Computing is changing, and what people want to do with a computer is changing," Larson-Green says, "We started out on a desktop; you had to go to a place to use a computer, With a laptop, you take it with you and set it down, Now while you're walking around and moving from place to place, you want a different way to stay connected."

Leadership track record: Larson-Green's first big project at Microsoft was to lead the team that designed Office 2007. They threw out the traditional tool bars for "ribbons" and produced the best-selling version of Office ever. Her next job: creating the vision for Windows 7. It meant a jump from leading 13 people to 450, but the result was also a commercial success.

Managing change: "I think change for change's sake is what gets people into trouble," she says. "We're making changes based on observations on how people are using computers. We've tested these observations with real humans and we think we're on the right track We'll continue testing until we release - that's the real test."

Handling criticism: Reviews are already coming in on Windows 8, before its release, "I definitely read it all. What I mostly look for is, is there something I haven't thought of? Is there a complaint I didn't expect? A fault I didn't foresee? That's what worries me."

Thriving on challenges: "My personality is, I like to go to the thing that scares me and overcome it," she says, "If I know I can do something, I know I'm not going to put my best into that because I know I can do that."

Western connections: Larson-Green, who grew up in Maple Falls in the Mount Baker foothills, has many family connections to Western, Her grandfather was a maintenance worker at the university and her father attended Western in the 1960s. Her husband, Seattle University Economics Professor Gareth Green, was a visiting assistant professor at Western from 1999 to 2000. And last year, Larson-Green's daughter began her freshman year at Western. Both mother and daughter spent their freshman years living in Fairhaven Hall. Larson-Green is also a member of the Western Foundation board of directors.