Making a Scene Presents the interview with Jim Allchin!
Jim Allchin is an American blues-rock guitarist, computer scientist, and philanthropist. He grew up on a farm in the deep South, left to earn Masters/Doctorate degrees from Stanford University and Georgia Institute of Technology and went on to become a world recognized leader in Computer Science and software. While growing up in the south, he fell in love with the Blues. He has played it ever since. He has written, performed, and recorded throughout his life.
His newest album, Prime Blues, is his fourth widely-available solo album and second produced by 2x Grammy-winner Tom Hambridge. It was recorded, mixed, and mastered in Nashville. Prime Blues features 14 new tracks performed by an all-star group of musicians including bassist Glenn Worf, rhythm guitarists Rob McNelley, Bob Britt and Kenny Greenburg, keyboardist Kevin McKendree, drummer Tom Hambridge, vocalist Mycle Wastman, The Memphis Horns and special guest vocalists Grammy-winner Bobby Rush, and Blues Award winner Mike Zito.
I worked starting at an early age doing whatever needed to be done. Sometimes we missed a little school because we had to pick strawberries, okra, etc, or disc the grove. We didn’t have that much, but I had a fantastic childhood. This is me when I was young.
LESSON 1: MONEY DOESN’T REALLY MATTER FOR HAPPINESS.
I grew up in the deep south. I learned to play by listening to blues players and latin players or even new groups at the time (e.g., Allman Brothers). I traveled around playing in bands and writing music — mostly blues rock. I met some amazing musicians. I played 16+ hours a day. And I learned a hard lesson in the music business: being good matters, but there are lots of great musicians — luck matters too. money and bought a acoustic guitar. Here’s me singing (on the right) at a studio when I was a teenager.
I decided to go back to school for good after an extended stretch of only corn flakes without milk for 3 meals a day (food stamps run out each month!). But, I kept on playing. And I played gigs now and then — just to keep playing. I even taught guitar at a junior college at nights for fun.
Neither of my parents got the chance to go to college. But, they insisted my brother and I go to college. My father died when I was a teenager so he never lived to see me complete college — something he would have been very proud of. Schooling came easy for me, especially mathematics, but I did as little school work as possible while I practiced guitar.
I didn’t appreciate schooling until much later in life at Stanford graduate school when I realized that there were so many smart people in the world; I finally had to work in school. I fell in love with computer science (back then it was an offshoot of Electrical Engineering). And I loved it, loved it, loved it.
And I fell in love with discrete math — in my undergraduate studies I had taken virtually every math course but most of it was continuous mathematics (and just how many partial differential equations can YOU memorize?). I especially loved recursive function theory and still today Rogers’ book Theory of Recursive Functions and Effective Computability is one of my favorite books. I ended up with a Ph.D. in Computer Science. My Ph.D. thesis was An Architecture for Reliable Decentralized Systems, ISBN B006YIFDY.
LESSON 2: THE MORE YOU KNOW, THE MORE YOU KNOW YOU DON’T KNOW.
My core background is in networking, languages, and operating systems. I love programming. I especially love being close to hardware and even building hardware. I looked funny for an engineer in the early days, but luckily I met an amazing mentor (Dick Kiger) who looked beyond my wild hair and moccasin footwear and I programmed my fingers off.
Through the years I have written compilers (from system programming languages like C to old business languages like COBOL), operating systems, SMTP systems, file systems (for my Master’s thesis I built a rich, portable file system), distributed directory systems, and tons of networking and distributed computing code for replication coherence, etc.
I love managing small teams, but I have also managed 20,000-person organizations covering a multitude of products with all the engineering, marketing, sales, and business functions. My last position was co-President of the Platforms & Services Division at Microsoft. My heart lies with small teams with a common vision and passion. … And the belief that they can do something epic.
My biggest accomplishment at Microsoft was helping create from scratch and grow the Server business which today is one of Microsoft’s largest businesses.
I was diagnosed with cancer in late 2002 and I took a leave of absence. I was treated and fully recovered in 2003, but the overall experience changed me forever. I decided to leave Microsoft at that time, but because of loyalty and commitment, I stayed until the end of 2006/beginning of 2007. I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2015 and again I have fully recovered. My childhood years on the farm working in the sun hoeing orange trees without sunscreen is undoubtedly the culprit.
Since Microsoft, I have focused on music, family, continuing to learn, and helping others. And, of course, I still write code!
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