Jim Allchin is the man who led Windows from Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Vista. He was responsible for leading and building the Windows client and server business at Microsoft and was Group Vice President for Platforms. He eventually retired in 2007, after Windows Vista was released.
From Microsoft to Music: Jim Allchin
After having a successful career in the information technology industry, Jim Allchin decided to pursue his lifetime passion for music. His first album, Enigma, is not only receiving rave reviews from the public, but he tells me that for him, it signifies a personal journey of passion and persistence.
The former Microsoft executive, who is best known for developing the Windows operating system and growing and developing Microsoft’s server business, is no stranger to music. Allchin’s passion for music began in his teens and has been a constant in his life for over forty years.
Allchin grew up poor in a remote rural area in the South. “It was in the middle of an orange grove in the middle of Florida—no town, just phosphate mines,” he said. His first musical instrument was a trumpet. He learned to play jazz tunes well, but it did not take long for him to realize that the trumpet would not be his calling. It turns out that playing the trumpet became too painful of an experience, especially when his lips tightened and the trumpet squealed. His teeth became loose and kept cutting into his lips, which made him bleed often. He decided instead to save money for a year to buy a guitar.
During the next several years, Allchin started playing the guitar and writing music. He felt inspired by blues and Latin musicians such as the Allman Brothers and Santana. “My heritage is more blues than anything else. I grew up in the South, and that is what we played. I do like all styles of music though—anything that is intellectually stimulating,” he noted. Allchin followed bands around the South, learning from them and improving his guitar skills.
Allchin decided to attend college, after his father insisted. While enrolled in graduate school at Stanford, he fell in love with mathematics and computer science. He became a skilled programmer in networking languages and operating systems, eventually accepting a position with Microsoft, where he became a world-renowned leader in the industry. He earned the Technical Excellence Person of the Year award in 2001—and joined the ranks of visionaries like Steve Jobs. During his time at Microsoft, Allchin made some great contributions to the development of the Windows operating system. He also helped Microsoft expand its server technology presence, which led to a position of dominance in that market among business and corporations of all sizes.
I asked Allchin what happened to his music while he was at Microsoft. “It took a back seat,” he answered. A light day for him was about twelve hours, and finding the time to play his guitar was extremely difficult. I asked him why he retired from Microsoft. He had a bright future and could have made more contributions in that field. I was surprised to learn the reason was of a personal nature, which he openly shared. “I love computer science, but I ended up with a health problem. I had cancer. It was a wake-up call for me.” Allchin has recovered now, but he admits that this wake-up call made him realize that there were many things he loved but had not yet pursued—especially his passion for music. It became apparent to him that he wanted to focus on music. Since leaving Microsoft in 2007, he has been working on composing, playing, singing and producing.
His new album, Enigma, is very unique. It has a diverse collection of music styles and techniques that Allchin has picked up over the years. “I always get asked to say what the genre is, but of course I can’t say what the genre is for the album. I have to say what the genre is per song,” jokingly added Allchin. His album contains metal, country, pop, rock, blues and some Latin. He wrote and produced Enigma, and he also sings and plays the guitar. The acoustic and electric guitar renditions are simply stunning, especially in tracks like “Rockin’ Chair,” “Kick it” and “Enigma Machine .” “I’ve always done compositions, but they were very complex. This is the first time that I’ve ever tried to do something more commercial,” he commented when referring to Enigma. For Allchin, Enigma was also a learning experience. “I got a lot of feedback on the first one. I learned a lot from it, and some things I will not do again.” I asked him if there is going to be a second album and learned that he is currently working on material for this. He believes that you have to take risks and learn from your experiences. “You are going to have people out there that love it and some that don’t. If you really want to improve, you have to put yourself out there. If you believe in it, you just go for it.”
Allchin has a tremendous talent for music that is apparent the minute you start listening to his album. His persistence is a true testament to finding your passion, working hard and accomplishing your goals. His departure from computer science did have a tremendous impact in that industry, but now that he has embarked on a new chapter in his life, success has clearly followed him.