Tim Huckaby is a mover and shaker in the Microsoft consulting world. He can tell you stories about the early days at Microsoft, where he was a product development lead for many years, as well as stories about the near-future technologies he is working on. Besides being a Microsoft MVP, he is also an RD (Richard Campbell describes him as an “RD’s RD”), a body of business leaders who provide independent feedback to Microsoft leadership about technology trends and strategic direction. In that role, Tim has been a forceful advocate for Microsoft’s transformative technologies like the Surface, Kinect, Perceptive Pixel, and now HoloLens, Mixed Reality Headsets and the Cognitive Toolkit (CNTK), Microsoft’s deep-learning AI stack.
Tim is the chairman and founder of Interknowlogy and Actus Interactive Software. They do interactive work across multiple industries, but the piece you will probably be most familiar with is the CNN Electoral Map touch screen used by John King.
Tim is also an avid fly fisherman.
What movie has left the most lasting impression on you?
All those comedies before we got “politically correct”: Animal House, Caddy Shack, Austin Power’s Goldmember, Arthur (with Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli), Spaceballs, Blazing Saddles… I could go on and on. I’m all about humor. Life without humor just isn’t life. When we get so serious about software that we lose humor then we are plain losing. I try not to be that guy. And it’s hard sometimes. The CEO job can be a lonely one.
I know you were probably looking for something more thought provoking but, really, the human race is insignificant without humor. The absolute smartest humans I know are also some of the funniest.
What is the earliest video game you remember playing?
Well, I’m 55 years old. I go back to pong. In fact, my younger brother Tom and I were so competitive in Pong we’d get in fist fights and screaming matches over it. It drove my parents nuts; constantly grounded from Pong.
But, my most fond memories were of Choplifter. I built myself a black market apple 2+ in my teens. I illegally downloaded Choplifter from a BBS (this is before the internet) and played that game for hours on end. It was so creative and the graphics were spectacular. So ahead of it’s time. And, of course, in college I used to hack on a few games. I’d put my roommates into the games to make them giggle. Good times.
One of my fellow founding members of the RD program, Don Awalt, was the guy that built Castle Wolfenstein. A truly brilliant guy. He’s retired now. He told me that the biggest engineering challenge in that game was the sound bytes… remember the German guards in the game saying, “Achtung!” ? Well, games back then didn’t have sound. The OS’s didn’t have sound APIs. He had to build all that in software.
Who is the person who has most influenced the way you think?
I love the process of aggregating role models though a lifetime. I have a lot of them; People who have helped me so much through the years. But, in all honesty the most influential person in my life is the exact same as most people: my dad. My dad was an English Teacher and super smart and wildly eloquent. He spoke a version of English that is long gone. His command of the English Language was impressive and his knowledge was extensive. I lost him almost 3 years ago. In today’s terms my dad would be called a “bleeding heart liberal”. He was a loud, eloquent voice for social and environmental causes. “Selfish” were the people that he despised the most…..well, those and racists. He would not stand for racism in any form; even in humor. And that is saying something for someone born in 1937. Sacrifice was what my dad taught me the most about, though. and how you are always rewarded by sacrifice. My youngest brother, Kevin, was a totally normal kid until at age 3 he started having grand mal seizures…the onslaught of epilepsy. It was terrifying. Still is. And the disease back then was so not understood…it took a toll and severely handicapped my brother. Today my brother would be totally normal because of technology. My parents know what sacrifice is because of 50 years of my brother Kevin. I am the man I am today because of witnessing that lifetime of sacrifice. My independence, fear management, confidence, etc. comes from being there and still continues to this day.
When was the last time you changed your mind about something?
I pride myself on a statement I always say at work, “I could be wrong; I often am.” I have surrounded myself with such brilliant and talented people. Not all of them; but they are typically younger than me and have awesome ideas. Many of the ideas are contradictory to mine. And I’m wrong a lot. Of course if you have been married as long as I have, 28 years, you get used to being wrong a lot.
My favorite story about changing my mind on something I thought was a terrible idea was a number of years ago at InterKnowlogy. The technical side of the management team came to me all excited about this great new idea, “RECESS” (Research and experimental coding to enhance software skills). The idea was simply a creative stab at a formal R&D program. But, InterKnowlogy is a service company. So to make a long story short they did their pitch to me, all excited, and a little bit of “asshole tim” came out. I said, “So, every week for 4 hours you want to pull engineers out of revenue so they can play with technology toys.” I immediately saw the look in their faces that I had made a management mistake. So, I backed up and was more professional about it. But, I still thought it was a terrible idea. But, I agreed we’d try it. and, of course, I was totally wrong. Best program ever. Pulling engineers out of revenue each week for 4 hours has produced so much innovation, so much IP, so much camaraderie. We do the high tech stuff we do (3d, gesture, holographic, etc.) because of RECESS. Awesome program…that I was totally wrong about.
What’s a skill people assume you have but that you are terrible at?
Well, I wouldn’t say I’m terrible at it, but most people assume I’m a god-like programmer. I truly am not. And I really never was. I used to be a good programmer, but I was always forced into a dev lead position or a PM position or an architect position in my career. And the dev lead doesn’t get to slay code like all the brilliant people that work for you. These brilliant people here at InterKnowlogy run circles around me in terms of programming. In fact, I haven’t written production code in years. I can still build a mean demo and recently built a proof of concept in computer vision that is going viral within msft. I can’t go into details because it’s currently slated as the flagship demo for Satya Nadella’s keynote at ignite. It’s jaw dropping awesome. my new found love for the last couple years is computer vision.
What inspires you to learn?
Can I turn that question around a bit? The older I get the more inspired I am to learn…about everything…..especially science. I barely watch tv for entertainment anymore. It pisses my wife off because I tend to mostly watch documentaries or television I can learn from. I feel like growing up in college and then in the software industry I got so enamored with software that I missed out on a lot of the world. I was so sheltered in the software community for so long. The business part of the business was a welcome respite when I got older. But, it was not enough. It took me until my mid 30s to discover nature and science. And now I’m obsessed with it. I have been told that I have obsessive personality traits; not obsessive/compulsive. When I am interested in something I go all in. I started fly fishing in my early 30s…and read everything I could about it without actually doing it. I still do. Now, I write, guide and tie professionally in the fly fishing industry. It’s a sickness. I know more about the bugs that trout eat than any other human you know.
What do you need to believe in order to get through the day?
I don’t think that is the right question for me. I don’t “get through the day”; the day simply is not long enough for me. Typically, my day ends with me saying this to myself: “my god it’s dark and I’m exhausted and I have to sleep because I can’t wait to do this all over again tomorrow.”
What’s a view that you hold but can’t defend?
My political views….especially that I’m a bleeding heart liberal…people think I am, but, I really am not. Nor am I a conservative; nor am I a libertarian. And now I feel I find myself more and more conflicted on issues. So, really I am a mish mash of what I believe are the best parts of all sides. Which means sometimes I catch myself in a hypocritical political view.
Also I believe the big bet on Unity has huge risks … risks that can be overcome by brilliant engineering and brilliant business….and Moore’s law….
What will the future killer Mixed Reality app do?
It’s funny you ask this. About six months ago I was doing an industry keynote (as opposed to a developer keynote) and saying things like, “…imagine a world where…” I tend to use that strategy in keynotes: show a killer demo and then talk about how and why it’s going to be better in the future. I strongly believe the future of entertainment….especially movies…lies in mixed reality. Imagine a world where you are sitting in a movie theatre yet totally immersed and actually interactively part of the movie. That is the killer MR app: Interactive holographic in the Movie theatre. We’ll couple in the AI for vocal interaction… If we can figure out some tactile reinforcement even through haptic methods … oh man, what entertainment that would be. Couple in some Virtual Olfaction and that is a world I want to live in. Let’s face it. No matter what Hollywood says they just are not making the money they did a few years ago yet spending at a much bigger rate. Getting people into the theatres is a huge problem. Millennials actually prefer watching movies on their computers. It’s an interesting challenge. Well, Imagination Park entertainment caught wind of my comments and contacted me. I was honored. These are the brilliantly creative Hollywood people with Oscars. They put me on their advisory board and it went quickly. Now, we just completed the most exciting joint venture in IK history. There has been plenty of press already… and I can’t disclose the roadmap just yet. But it is going to be jaw dropping awesome.
What book have you recommended the most?
It has nothing to do with technology; software as you well know is not my only love. This book has everything to do with another one of my loves: running and endurance sports. It’s called, Born to Run. Actually now that I look it up the actual title is: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. It goes from science to this amazing tribe of Mexican Indians, The Tarahumara, who live in Copper Canyon, Mexico—pretty much hell and desolate and devoid of almost everything—where they thrive, and back to science. Everyone should read this book. It’s riveting. And it’s all true.
What question did James fail to ask you but you really wanted him to ask?
Tim what are you currently most proud of?
Well, my current joke is that after a career of writing 3 books, hundreds of magazine articles and probably over 500 published works in the technology industry I have never been more proud than of writing a regular column for California Fly Fisher Magazine called, “Fly Fishers who backpack.” 🙂