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Photography is its own reward for busy Microsoft executive
Seattle Times technology reporter
David Vaskevitch has written a computer book, climbed to the heights of technical leadership at Microsoft and endured the rigors of working at the software giant for two decades — longer than all but a handful of senior executives.
But his proudest accomplishment is how he has balanced his Microsoft career with his life. In addition to being Microsoft's chief technical officer, Vaskevitch is a father willing to learn horse-jumping at age 40 in order to spend time with his kids; a friend who organizes lavish trips to distant corners of the world; and a photographer who caught the digital wave in the mid-1990s and will show his work publicly for the first time beginning this weekend.
Vaskevitch, 53, is still achieving that balance even during "the busiest year in my life at work." For the past five years, he worked directly for Chairman Bill Gates. But with last week's announcement that Gates will taper his day-to-day role with the company, he now reports to newly promoted Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie.
Vaskevitch is playing a major role in the transition planning but expects his responsibilities to be largely unchanged.
He spends most of his time on broad technical strategy at Microsoft, overseeing an organization of about 60 people and working in-depth with other technical leaders throughout the company.
"I think Microsoft is first of all as exciting as it's ever been, but in the process of reinventing itself," Vaskevitch said. "My main focus is driving that reinvention process."
Vaskevitch holds forth from a corner office formerly occupied by Gates in one of Microsoft's older buildings. The walls are covered with framed photographs, and a giant plasma display is constantly cycling more pictures.
Tenure at Microsoft: Approaching 20 years, making him one of the longest-serving members of the company's senior leadership team.
Proudest accomplishment: Achieving a work-life balance that has enabled him to endure at the company and rise to its highest ranks. Outside of work, Vaskevitch is an avid photographer, equestrian, oenophile and, with his youngest daughter, a budding exotic-car mechanic.
Source: Seattle Times reporting
His photography, including many poster-size prints, will make an appearance off campus and outside his immediate social circle beginning Saturday at Pogacha, an Issaquah restaurant. The show, a birthday present from his wife, moves to Pogacha's Bellevue location in August.
Vaskevitch took up the camera — his first was an all-manual Minolta SR-T 101 — in his late teens. He stopped shooting in his 20s, frustrated with the "prosaic problems" of photography, such as the camera coming between him and the world, not knowing what to do with accumulated prints and a general dislike of working in the darkroom.
When digital photography emerged in the mid-1990s, a skeptical Vaskevitch delved into the nascent technology anyway.
He found it could remove many of the barriers that caused him to put down cameras, and it gave instant feedback. Plus, it now had a direct connection to his work at Microsoft.
Digital photography uses mountains of computer memory, requires substantial processing power, warrants a high-resolution display, drives demand for multiple computers and generally stresses PCs.
"I thought, 'Wow, OK, this is going to be a transformational application for the industry,' " Vaskevitch said.
He worked his way through several digital cameras while striking up friendships and learning from big names in the profession.
Vaskevitch organizes regular expeditions for himself and a handful of professional photographers to such places as Yellowstone and Arches National Park in Utah. Among them were Washington, D.C., photojournalist Kevin Gilbert and well-known nature photographer Art Wolfe, who taught Vaskevitch much about the craft on these trips.
Gilbert, a five-term president of the White House News Photographers Association, said Vaskevitch has grown tremendously as a photographer during their six-year friendship.
"He just dives into things," Gilbert said. "He does it right and really throws himself into it."
That means turning off whatever he's not focused on at the moment.
"He finds a way to compartmentalize his time," Gilbert said. "When he's being a photographer, he's 100 percent a photographer. When he's being a [chief technical officer], he's 100 percent a CTO."
Digital photography is a common interest among many techies. In 2005, Nikon held a private session of its photography-seminar series on Microsoft's campus, and more than 1,800 employees participated, said Gary Voth, a professional photographer who works under Vaskevitch at Microsoft.
The Windows PC, however, has long trailed Apple Computer as the platform of choice for photographers and other creative types.
That's starting to change, in no small part because of Vaskevitch's interest. Under an initiative he launched several years ago, Microsoft is emphasizing communications with professional photographers.
Gilbert said Windows XP was a vast improvement in features that photographers look for, and he's expecting improved performance in the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system.
Next week, Gilbert and hundreds of other photographers will descend on the Redmond campus for a two-day conference. Vaskevitch is giving one of the keynote presentations.
With photography, Vaskevitch seems to have struck that work-life balance by merging the two together.
Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company