At Microsoft Build, a talk with the vice-president of the developer and platform group

SAN FRANCISCO — Technically, Mary-Ellen Anderson is a Microsoft Canada evangelist. She just doesn’t like to use the title.

Her official title is vice-president of the developer and platform group. Which sounds stuffy.

“My job is to basically to talk to Canadians, media companies, startups, students, hobbyists about developing incredibly exciting experiences for the Windows platform,” she said in an interview here during Microsoft’s Build conference for developers.

“I go out and I talk to people about their biggest problem, and I become the trusted advisor. I’m like a matchmaker – I go out and I say ‘you want to build X, I’ll go and find the right people in Microsoft so they can come in and create the experience you want. We’re about helping people discover their dreams.”

She says she and her staff don’t point people in a direction as much as show them tools and technologies Microsoft has they might use to solve problems.

For example, the team recently worked with e-book publisher Kobo to take its year-old Windows 8 app to the next level. They worked with the CBC to create a TV app, but when the broadcaster asked it would help build a Web site for the Sochi Olympics recommended an Italian  Microsoft partner that specializes in streaming sports. They helped Vancouver’s Victory Square Games learn how to build games faster, allowing it to release more games and grow to a staff of 20 from three in less than six months.

“You just can’t go in and say ‘Hey, do you want to use such and such?'”, she says. “You have to go in and say ‘How can we help you?'”

“To me what’s fun is we get to build a lot of different things.”

Anderson and her staff of 35 are roughly divided between experts on Microsoft’s Visual Studio development environment and evangelists/marketers/business development personnel on the other.

Like any other executive of a technology company, evangelizing is part of the job. So any questions about the success of products are turned aside.

Windows Phone sales in single digits globally, as reported recently by IDC? “We are now considered the third player,” she replies, having displaced BlackBerry. “What’s changing now is the operating system is being given away for free (to manufactures of devices with screens smaller than 9-inches, as announced here this week), which means more and more people will use it.”

Windows 8 sales still slow to Canadian enterprises? No, sales here are “very good.” No organization says they’re not interested, she says, adding that it does take time to upgrade an entire company.

Some have told me that the new Win8 interface is the reason they’re taking time upgrading. Not now, she replies, with the recently-released Windows 8.1 update and another update coming shortly adding features like the ability to right click on Win8 tiles to get context menus.

Users have a choice between booting to the regular desktop as well as to the new tile-based Modern interface, she says.

WindowsRT tablets being scorned by the enterprise? No. First, it’s hard to keep them in stock in Canada. Second, after the release of the Surface 2 tablet with a version of Office organizations are taking a closer look at it.

She’s not a technical person –trained as a journalist, she spent 18 years producing media and building Web sites for CBC and CTV before becoming executive producer and launching Microsoft’s MSN.ca portals in English and French. Which frees her to dream about the possibilities of technology.

Still, she admits to being a bit of cynic, a legacy of her journalism – although that evaporated quickly after hearing new CEO Satya Nadella speak at a Microsoft priorities meeting about future trends. “When someone can sort of wow me with my cynicism, that’s really cool. I was really impressed.”

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