Bob Metcalfe, professor of Innovation at UT Austin interviews Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Publisher of Silicon Hills News

Two tech giants took the stage at Hogg Memorial Auditorium at the University of Texas at Austin on Monday afternoon to talk about technology and Microsoft.

UT President Gregory L. Fenves introduced them.

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella visited Austin to meet with students, entrepreneurs and business partners. Bob Metcalfe, professor of Innovation and Murchison Fellow of Free Enterprise at the Cockrell School of Engineering and McCombs School of Business, inventor of Ethernet, co-founder of 3Com, interviewed Nadella on stage in front of a packed auditorium filled with students and faculty.

“I visited Microsoft in 1979, met Bill and Paul and I think some progress has been made since then can you summarize Microsoft’s position in the world these days?” Metcalfe asked.

Nadella said he had grown up at Microsoft for 25 years and he thinks a lot about what makes companies successful. Technologies will come and go, Nadella said.

“We, at the core, are a company that is born to create technology so that others can create more technology,” Nadella said.

Microsoft is among the top five largest companies in the world by market capitalization, Metcalfe said.

Microsoft first showed up on that list in the ‘90s and most of the other companies back then were oil companies, Nadella said. And in the 2000s, Microsoft was still in the top five and many of the others were large industrial conglomerates, he said. And now the top five are all tech, he said. That doesn’t mean the top five will remain tech companies ten years from now, Nadella said.

“There is no such thing as a franchise that lasts forever,” Nadella said. “We have to reinvent ourselves.”

Now Nadella is referred to as the “re-founder” of Microsoft filling the big shoes of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, Metcalfe said. He asked Nadella to talk about how he became CEO of Microsoft in 2014, the third CEO in the company’s 42-year history, following Gates and Ballmer.

Nadella said he’s a product of American technology reaching where he was growing up in India and the U.S. immigration policy allowing him to move here and live the life he has lived. One of the things that make the U.S. competitive as a nation is the ability to attract and retain immigrants, Nadella said.

Nadella arrived in the U.S. in 1992 and received a Master’s degree in computer science and an MBA. He joined Microsoft in 1992.

“A lot of what kept me at Microsoft for 25 years is this ability to stay in one place and reinvent yourself,” he said.

What role do startups play in Microsoft’s business, Metcalfe asked.

“What makes a startup scale-up is the concept that you come up with has become a hit,” Nadella said.

At some point, the concept runs out of gas, and a company needs a new concept and that’s where a company’s culture matters, Nadella said.

The startup mentality and the ability to come up with new ideas and question status quo is extremely important, he said.

Nadella said he’s learned from Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck and her work on developing growth mindsets.

As a result, Microsoft pushes itself to become a workforce comprised of learn it all’s and not know it all’s, Nadella said.

Microsoft also buys a lot of companies and startups that teach and reshape Microsoft’s culture, he said.

“It’s a huge part of what we want to do with startup communities outside but also startups that we acquire,” Nadella said.

Recently, Nadella wrote a book: “Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone.” It’s a book about philosophy, Metcalfe said.

In the book, Nadella reveals the source of innovation is empathy, he said.

“Innovation is about meeting unmet, unarticulated needs,” Nadella said.

Next, Metcalfe asked Nadella about artificial intelligence and the impact of Microsoft’s technology on society.

“AI is threatening jobs and life as we know it, how do you feel about that?” Metcalfe asked.

AI will be a defining technology in our lifetime, Nadella said.

AI is an empowering tool, he said. For example, Microsoft has developed Seeing AI, a smartphone app, that narrates the world for visually impaired people, Nadella said.

AI will also create new jobs, Nadella said.

Metcalfe also asked Nadella if AI is the killer app for quantum computing.

Nadella said he’s excited about quantum computing’s ability to speed up and solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

During the question and answer session with students, a student named Patrick said he had just interviewed at Microsoft and the final question was what question would you ask Satya Nadella so he asked him about when he uses growth mindset in his everyday interactions.

“I used it this morning in a meeting with Michael Dell,” Nadella said.

Every day, Nadella said he gets plenty of opportunities to confront his fixed mindset.

In addition to his talk at the University of Texas, Nadella also met with Dell in the morning and in the afternoon, he traveled to Capital Factory for a talk with Joshua Baer and a question and answer session with entrepreneurs.