A farewell to Brian Harry, the father of Microsoft source control

A farewell to Brian Harry, the father of Microsoft source control

The news that Brian Harry is moving on from Microsoft has been bitter-sweet. I’m happy for him, of course, but I’m also sad for those of us he leaves behind. He has been a wonderful friend and leader for many years.

Brian has been integral to Microsoft for a very long time. He created VSS (Visual Source Safe) and was one of the core members who invented .NET. He then invented TFS and then moved to become one of Microsoft’s first cloud services for developers.

Most recently, Brian has been head of our beloved Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS). The VSTS team is huge, with many amazing people that do the magic for us developers to enjoy every day. It’s made up of so many really cool individual products (such as version control, work items, builds, releases, packaging, and many more), and they all work better because they’re packaged under one umbrella. Brian was the person who held it all together.

As well as his internal work with the Microsoft teams, he was also the external spokesman for what the TFS team were up to. Brian’s blog was the place where he announced stuff, and also where he explained problems… with candor unbecoming a big company. It felt like Brian put a human face on the product, and gave insight and visibility into a mysterious corporate world.

As an MVP, I feel worried because I can’t think of any one individual who could replace Brian. I’ve loved our internal (Microsoft NDA) ALM email list. You could raise any topic on any product, and Brian would reply and add 2 words: “adding <name>”.

Brian was like an amazing AI router, knowing effortlessly and instinctively the right person to help you out. Many of us who installed the first betas of TFS have had close to a 15-year ride with Mr Harry. For many MVPs using fresh features for our clients, he has quickly routed issues – we might be stressed with a client and he’ll immediately know who can help.

Along the way, there have been many over boisterous threads. Mr Harry has helped us resolve hostile conversations with some additional context, which helped everyone lower their blood pressure. I’ve been on the end of phone calls or emails where he asks lots of different groups for input before he makes a big decision. His memory is crystal clear (probably because he doesn’t drink any alcohol 😝).

Nat Friedman is taking over Brian’s position as the head of VSTS. Nat has a rich history with mobile development and is deep in the valley culture. I am really looking forward to the fresh perspective he brings us, and am excited to see where he will take the product next.

Below is a non-technical interview I did with Brian while I was visiting him on his farm in Raleigh, North Carolina. Watch us discuss some of Brian’s achievements and highlights at Microsoft, his lessons learned and advice to upcoming managers, plus why he’s decided to retire from our VSTS team after 23 years at Microsoft.