Gabriel Aul has been at Microsoft since he left the University of Washington 23 years ago. Since then, Aul has climbed the ranks and he’s now one of Microsoft’s most beloved executives.
Aul’s title — Corporate Vice President for Engineering Systems — makes his job sound far less exciting than it is. What Aul gets to do is push the “big red button,” as Microsoft-focused blog WinBeta put it, on releasing the next “build” (version) of Windows.
When Aul pushes the button — or, as is more likely, the series of key-presses — the next version of Windows is sent to anyone who signed up for the Windows Insider programme. At the last count, that was over three million people.
Every day Aul interacts with members of the Insider programme on Twitter, replying to questions, bugs, and general information about how Windows is working for them.
As of today, Aul has almost 115,000 followers and has sent over 7,500 tweets. In comparison, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has sent just 384 tweets since 2009. Terry Myerson, the head of Windows and Devices (which makes him Aul’s boss), has sent 71 tweets since 2007.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
— Gabriel Aul (@GabeAul) November 26, 2015
Engaging with the Windows community is important for Aul. In an interview with Windows Weekly, a podcast about Microsoft hosted by Paul Thurrot, Mary Jo Foley, and Leo Laporte, Aul described the programme as “remarkable.” He then went on to laugh and joke with the presenters about an upcoming build.
The Insiders programme was created in early 2015 as a way of engaging with Windows users — especially hardcore users — and finding out what, exactly, they wanted to see in the operating system. For example, Windows 8 removed the Start Menu but Windows 10 brought it back because users complained.
Aul got his start working on the internal reporting feature for Windows, according to his LinkedIn. From here, he gradually moved up the company and became a manager for Windows 7, and then 8, and then, finally, 10.
The way Aul approaches users — listening, replying, working out solutions — is unique among top executives at big companies. To put it in perspective, Aul is two steps away from Satya Nadella being his boss. There is no one at Apple, Google, or any other massive technology company that has that kind of visibility for a high-level executive.
“On a weekly and sometimes daily basis, King of the Big Red Button Gabe Aul gives and takes feedback on the status of Windows Insiders and general Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile builds,” the post reads.
“He works hard to bring us the info and to support us as we fight through bugs and build release issues and help build out Microsoft’s newest and most important operating system.”
The post concludes with the line: “Seriously, Gabe is one of the hardest working people at Microsoft, and we do appreciate all of his hard work.”
Of course, it’s unfair to give Aul all the credit: There is a massive team behind him that builds, tests, and releases new software for Windows users — but the visibility that he encourages upon himself is still unusual and, ultimately, a positive for Microsoft.
Windows 10, which was announced last April, has been growing faster than both Windows 7 and Windows 8, reaching 200 million users in just a few months of general release. The reception of the operating system has been positive, with businesses changing upgrade cycles — which traditionally happen over years — to get on the Windows 10 bandwagon.
Windows Insiders often take to Twitter to moan at Aul, but he responds quickly and politely, taking the problems of each user into account.
Aul’s every movement, such as the operating system build he is running, is covered attentively and his name often appears in headlines.
It’s not unusual for executives to be loved internally within a company, but the love of outsiders — especially those who work in IT — is rare.