Microsoft Hires Two Open Standards Warriors (And Ex-Foes) For Its Developer Evangelism Unit

Microsoft has hired two well-known longtime advocates of open standards, in the latest sign of its efforts to work with a community it once shunned.

Christian Heilmann, principal developer evangelist at Mozilla, is joining Microsoft as a senior program manager in its Developer Experience group (DX), a 14-year old organization that works with developer ecosystem partners.

Aaron Gustafson, a well-known web design consultant and web standards advocate, is also joining Microsoft's DX group as a senior program manager.

Both Heilmann and Gustafson will both start at Microsoft on Monday. A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed their hires to CRN Friday.

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These are interesting hires for Microsoft because both Heilmann and Gustafson have spent years advocating for open standards for web technologies, a role in which they were often at odds with Microsoft.

[Related: Red-Hot Xamarin Hires 15-year Microsoft Developer Exec To Run Sales Strategy]

Heilmann, who is based in London, said his Microsoft role will focus on helping the software giant "understand the open source world and play a bigger part in it," he said in a post to his personal blog Thursday.

Microsoft used to be "the bane of my existence as a standards protagonist" during the early days of the web browser wars, Heilmann said in the blog post.

But Microsoft's Windows 10 event earlier this month was "interesting" and Heilmann is "intrigued about making this work," he said in the blog post.

Heilmann had been with Mozilla since 2010 promoting JavaScript, open web technologies and cross-browser support. He also spent four years at Yahoo in various developer outreach roles, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Gustafson, in a post to his personal blog, described how frustrating it used to be years ago to work around Microsoft's policies when testing web browsers on Windows.

"I think back to the early days of the Web when I would need a Windows license for every virtual machine I wanted to run in order to test each browser version. It was a pain in the [butt] and made me curse Microsoft on a regular basis," Gustafson said in the blog post.

Things are very different at Microsoft nowadays, Gustafson said in the blog post. "This is a very different Microsoft. Now sure, there’s still more they could open up, but this is progress. Big ships are slow to turn, but this ship is turning. I want to be a part of that," he said in the blog post.

One Microsoft development partner told CRN hiring people like Heilmann and Gustafson will help Microsoft attract more developers to its products.

"These new ’big gun’ strategic hires are the latest example of Microsoft’s goal of bringing high quality developer evangelism talent and leadership into the DX group," Tim Huckaby, CEO of InterKnowlogy, a Microsoft partner in Carlsbad, Calif., told CRN.

Microsoft executives used to see open source as something to be eradicated, but the software giant's stance has changed dramatically in recent years. Microsoft’s worldwide Commercial Software Initiative (CSI) team, which used to focus on bashing Linux, now works closely to attract open source developers.

Since Satya Nadella took over as CEO nearly a year ago, Microsoft has open sourced the server side .NET stack and partnered closely with Xamarin, a mobile startup that's now a big part of its cross-platform development plans.

Heilmann, in his blog post, said his role won't be about trying to get people to switch to Internet Explorer -- a battle that Microsoft is still fighting even today.

"This is not about peddling a product. This is about helping Microsoft to do the right thing and giving them a voice that has a good track record in that regard," Heilmann said in the blog post.