THROWBACK THURSDAYS: A Day in Life as a Tech Evangelist with Katherine Harris and Dave Voyles!

Welcome to the second throwback interview series! Every Thursday at 7PM EST, I will be releasing one of the older blogs (until I run out eventually) that I have released before on my previous platform. 

I am super excited to release an interview with Dave Voyles and Katherine Harris, both superstar Tech Evangelists at Microsoft! Within, this interview, you'll be able to know what a it means to be a Microsoft Tech Evangelist.

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Katherine Harris is a Microsoft Technical Evangelist with expertise in game, virtual and augmented reality development based out of Los Angeles. As an evangelist, Katherine is a frequent public speaker and runs a developer blog about how to develop interactive 3D applications with the Microsoft Platform. She is the co-host of ImagineThis, a web series for students to learn about the tech industry, and The Game Dev Show on MSDN’s Channel9 network. 

Katherine was the first woman in the world to become a Unity Certified developer, and has been developing games since college. Before becoming a game and VR/AR evangelist, Katherine worked with several Microsoft partners to port iPhone and Android applications to Windows.

Dave Voyles is a construction worker turned Technical Evangelist at Microsoft and based out of Philadelphia, PA. His biggest biggest passion is in working with students and startups across the country, to help get their projects off the ground.

His work frequently has him building projects on game consoles, the web, and high performance mobile applications.

Thank you so much Gabe for interviewing with! Let's begin.

I think the biggest question that people have for those who are not familiar with the tech community is - what is Tech Evangelism? Could you give an example of your day-to-day basis? 


Yes, this is one of the more difficult questions to answer, since what I do day to day is always different. As a technical evangelist, it's my primary job to talk about the Microsoft platform and educate developers on how they can use the platform for their applications. Day to day that can mean, writing blog posts, working on code with companies, going to developer events, speaking with students, or writing sample code for projects. 


The best description I've heard yet is that we are developers who talk to developers. Picture the programmers in your office, but the ones who are social, outgoing, and always looking to share what they learn. 

Day-to-day will vary wildly by the person and how they handle the role. Fortunately, Microsoft gives us a lot of flexibility, and we're free to operate towards our strengths. I fly a lot, while others do not. I'm also a morning person, so I like to start with e-mail or programming at 7am, so that I can take breaks throughout the day, either go to the gym or super market, or visit friends, then finish my work in the evening at a user group or meetup. 

Typically, we split our time between programming projects and community events. Those programming partners can be everything from a startup to a Fortune 50. We try to open source everything we possibly can as well. 

My background is in game and web development, so I spend a lot of my time at game development user groups, GDC, PAX, or large web developer conferences. We also partner closely with middleware providers, such as Unity or Epic Games.

How did you find out about this position and knew that you wanted to be a Tech Evangelist? 


I became a Technical Evangelist right out of school. My university recruiter selected me for the position. She didn't really know what it was, but knew that it involved stage speaking and a diverse technical background. 


I was a construction worker in NYC several years ago, and saw a meetup group was being held at the Microsoft office in the city, so I attended one day and met Jesse Freeman, who was a TE at the time. He was new to the role, but very friendly and knowledgeable about games and web development, so I found him to be very welcoming to someone like myself, who had never coded before. From there, I met others in the community, including evangelists, and stayed in touch. When a role opened up to become an evangelist, they reached out to me and I jumped at the opportunity. It's all about making your own luck. 

I was carrying a bag of tools and covered in saw dust and sheetrock, but they welcomed me at every meeting, despite having never coded. You'd be amazed at how welcoming a community can be when they see you are willing to put in the effort to attend, and give back 

What is your favorite aspect of working as a Tech Evangelist? 


As an Evangelist I get the opportunity to go to many technical events and meet amazing developers. It's literally our job to get to know the community and see how we can wrk with them and help in any way we can. A big part of evangelism is having the drive to help and educate others. 


There is no single favorite aspect. Several stick out to me, though: 
  1. Flexibility
  2. Travel
  3. Giving back

(For the most part) I have the flexibility to work when I'd like to, and often where I'd like to. As long as you get done the things that are required of you, no one asks questions. You also have the flexibility to use the tools that you want. I usually cycle between my Mac Book Pro and Surface Book for programming, and always write cross platform applications. That means Android, iOS, and Windows. I get to travel frequently. I'm on a plane to Raleigh, NC right now to visit Epic Games and give a talk at a web conference. Last week I was in Seattle, and then Cornell University in upstate New York. Before that, I flew to Denver on a whim, to visit some friends, and worked out of a coffee shop until they got off work each day. 

Like I said before, I try to open source everything that I (legally) can. I've learned so much from others, so it's only fair that I make everything I write available to others, and explain what I'm doing along the way. My blog and GitHub are my two most powerful tools. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you encounter? 


All the challenges of this job are also all some of the most enjoyable parts of this job; learning new technologies, traveling, talking and working with developers, working on new projects, and sharing our knowledge with others. The wide arrange of activities always keeps the job interesting, however balancing your time between them all is tricky. I guess the biggest challenge is constantly adjusting that balance as new projects, technologies, and events arise. 

This job is all about passion, so finding creative ways to mesh work with areas that you are interested in is crucial to finding that balance. 


The biggest challenge for me is having to constantly learn something new. If you aren't learning something new each week in this role, then you are doing something wrong. There is a tradeoff to this though -- you seldom have the opportunity to go deep in one specific area, unless you start to carve out person time for it. 

But on the other hand, we are fluent in a variety of languages, frameworks, tools, and technologies. It's a lot to learn, but your confidence grows over time, as you begin to realize "Well, I didn't know what this tool was the previous week, but now I'm confident in teaching others about it." Do that several dozen times, and you'll not only start embracing new technical challenges, but you'll actually seek them out. We have teammates who are actively programming 6502 Assembly programs for the NES, simply because they enjoy the challenge of it. 

It's awesome to work with people who love what they do so much, that they try to find the path of most resistance just to see if they can push their way through it. 

Azure is one of the biggest pushes Microsoft is making currently - especially to schools as Microsoft Imagine (formerly known as DreamSpark). But with all the other cloud competitors out there such as AWS and Google Cloud Platform, what do you do differently to capture and engage your audience into using Azure? 


Microsoft is a Mobile First, Cloud First company; and one of the ways that we are embodying that statement is through Azure. Azure is Microsoft's cloud offering, it provides a wealth of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions for developers. Other companies such as Amazon and Google have their own cloud solutions for developers. 

Azure is a great tool that enables developers to easily spin up servers and maintain their own application infrastructure. However, the aspect of Azure I love most is the PaaS part. I don’t have to spin up my own VMs to host my products; instead, I can use bits and pieces of the Microsoft Platform for my application, whether it’s a web app, a simple web job, or some backend business logic. 

The other great part about working with Azure is that Microsoft is always trying to make it better. We have dedicated teams out in the community working with developers, listening to their needs, integrating new solutions, and creating easier to understand documentation. 


Azure is Microsoft's cloud offering. The cloud is the future for the tech industry. Don't believe me? Look at Amazon's stock value over the last decade. That money doesn't come from their digital store, believe it or not -- it comes from their cloud. And nearly every dollar they make goes right back into the infrastructure. Now, every other company is trying to play catch-up: Google, Apple, Oracle, etc., because they realize it is the future as well. 

It's difficult to compare / contrast each of the platforms because they each grow so quickly. My advice is to learn the underlying concepts of how the cloud works, any company's cloud, and go from there. If you want job stability, the cloud would be where I'd place my bets. Start with something simple, like hosting for websites, see how they work on each platform, and then gradually build from that. Use blob storage to host your .mp3 or .mp4 files, or perhaps images. 

The problem most companies face right now is that they can't find enough technical people to hire for their cloud team. I have two friends who recently left one large cloud company for another, after company #2 offered to double their pay because cloud engineers were so rare. 

If I have a pitch as to why I'd pick Azure over a competitor, it would come down to this: Who do you have a relationship with? You met me from community work I've done. You also have Kat Harris on here, whom you've come to know through her work in the community. There are more than 80 technical evangelists in the US alone, and all of us building with the community, not trying to sell you something. We're trying to grow the technical knowledge of our local cities, highlight projects in our region, and rising the tide to bring up all of the ships. How many other companies are doing that as actively as we are? 

Working in the industry with many different audiences, what sort of trends do you see within the tech community? For instance, which technologies are most popular with the community and how do you, as a Tech Evangelist, react to that? 


Working in the VR/AR/MR and gaming space, I get to see all the amazing advances in headset and peripheral technology. Virtual Reality is rising in popularity and with hardware becoming more affordable, consumers have a chance to experience VR with just their phone and cardboard. As an evangelist I get to work with these developers and find new opportunities where Microsoft can help; either from a back-end cloud solution, IDE, or working with one of our partners. 


For tech trends, see above: cloud. 

Learn how it works, adopt it, and grow from there. The tech blog does a fantastic job of illustrating what the cloud is, as well as go deep with tech trends. Ben Thompson is an incredible analyst who can really help to make sense of it all. 

Other than that, I'd say cross platform development. Understanding how to write an application that works across a variety of platforms so that you can reach the largest audience possible, within the least amount of time. Technologies like Xamarin, which allow you to write C# code and have it work across Windows, Android, and iOS are fantastic. Cordova is equally as valuable if you are familiar with JavaScript. 

I have to ask - what is your favorite video game? 


Kingdom Hearts. I've loved it since I saw the opening scene. How can anyone not love Disney characters and FF ones in the same universe! 


As a lifelong gamer, I could never name one, so I'll give you my top 5, without any long context: 

  1. Resident Evil - PS1
  2. Final Fantasy VII
  3. Mega Man X - SNES
  4. Everquest - PC
  5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Any advice or parting words you would like to give? 


Anyone can be an evangelist as long as they have enough passion for what they are talking about. It's a great time to be in the tech industry and I can't wait for what we see in the future. 


My advice would be short and sweet: 

  1. Learn the cloud
  2. Blog about everything you are doing
  3. Open source your code, and post it to GitHub as soon as you start the project

Do those three things, and I assure you, the opportunities to work in the tech industry don't come walking towards you, they come running. 

Please share to any social media of your choice if you like the interview! 

If you want to be interviewed for your awesome startup, job, project or even have any inquiries about anything, please reach out to me at Thank you for reading!
THROWBACK THURSDAYS: A Day in Life as a Tech Evangelist with Katherine Harris and Dave Voyles! THROWBACK THURSDAYS: A Day in Life as a Tech Evangelist with Katherine Harris and Dave Voyles! Reviewed by Tae Hong Min on 8:44 PM Rating: 5

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