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Why a Microsoft Engineer Decided to Join Blackbaud (Part 1)

My name is Chris Mitchell and I’m a proud to be a Blackbaud Engineer. I’d like to tell you a little bit about my path to joining Blackbaud. It was the end of 2015 and I was eager to work at a company whose sole focus is to help social good organizations make the world a better place.

I spent the majority of my career at Microsoft (20 years) working on some very well-known products and services including Windows and MSN.  I dealt with all sorts of complexities on a daily basis, while also satisfying the most difficult and challenging technical leaders (I even argued with Bill Gates and won – my little claim to fame!).  It was all these experiences that helped me finally get a job I had wanted for years, a job that would allow me to positively impact the world.

At Microsoft, I was leading the Windows Insider Flighting and Feedback team using customer feedback and real usage data to manage the release of Windows 10.  I loved my work; in fact, I was in the midst of transforming how Windows was built. This aside, the idea of being able to work directly with organizations who are striving for social good and solving society’s biggest issues and where my work would go beyond effecting the bottom line was even more exciting. Before joining Blackbaud I visited the company’s headquarters in Charleston, SC and met with Chief Technology Officer Mary Beth Westmoreland, distinguished engineer Paul Gibson, and VP of Engineering Andy Snyder, to explore how I might be able to contribute.  Originally, I had been enticed by the mission of its customers and the belief that I could help them and have some small part in changing the world, to my surprise, I found so much more.

During the time of my visit, Blackbaud was in the middle of a big vision shift from what I call “traditional” software products to the “cloud.”  There were so many opportunities for me to help and lead through the change. For example, we discussed standard tools for deploying cloud service, how customers discovered, purchased and learned about their products, and how to transform products over time.  I left feeling inspired and excited, with ideas running through my head about the challenges, opportunities and potential Blackbaud could offer.

For Blackbaud to be successful in its transformation, it would need to align product strategies, and build common development, operational and business tools.  Processes would need to change and a great deal of strategic technical decisions would need to be made.  I knew that I could help and I was dying to get started. After just a few months on the job, I was promoted to Director of Engineering, leading a new team focused on the core services that we would need to make our products and solutions easier to discover, buy, extend and use.  While the vision around core services was well understood, the strategy and tactics were still being developed.  Stepping into this role required more than just drawing on my previous experiences where mandates were often used.  Our team had to bring people and groups together from various product backgrounds, locations and technology stacks to solve common problems like identity, access, provisioning, billing and the developer tools.  We had to bring people together and achieve better results together.  Two years have now passed since my first day, and the opportunity to solve big, critically important challenges for Blackbaud, our customers and their missions continue to present themselves.  I’m proud to be a part it.

As engineers at Blackbaud, we get to engineer scalable architectures, build world-class engineering systems and push the boundaries of the cloud. Our reward for this work is the opportunity (in our small way) to help organizations that provide clean water, find a cure to cancer or heart disease, or provide better education to kids around the world. In fact, this is Blackbaud’s higher purpose.  It’s that purpose and the way “We Work As One” that has made it possible to bring so many teams together and achieve what we have and continue to.  We continue to come together to solve problems on behalf of our customers. We are moving toward a common cloud provider, building a common “Paved Road” community-based engineering system, continuous integration and deployment pipeline, a developer platform for partners, common self-contained services that can be reused in multiple “products”.  We are building out expertise with data, analytics and machine learning via our Sky Intelligence platform.  We are working across teams, across regions and what used to be Product lines to put our customers and the cause before code.

In my next post, I’ll talk more about how we are transforming our engineering process and tools to be more open, collaborative and extensible for all our engineers and our partners.  We believe this is fundamental to helping our customers achieve their missions and to be more than just their software solution provider, but to truly be their partner.  This is something that I couldn’t get working just anywhere; it’s unique and why I joined and why I stay at Blackbaud.

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