%892%right%How does a poetry-writing, literature-loving, English-philosophy double-majoring, Pequod-editing soul find himself nearly 30 years later wiling away his work days in a small office in Building Number 1 (of 36 buildings) at the mammoth, manicured campus of the world's most renowned corporation?
Ask Peter Wise '77, group program manager in the Connected Systems Division at software giant Microsoft, headquartered in Redmond, Washington. "Bob Gillespie, an English professor and my advisor, encouraged me to think about complex issues and go in new directions," he said. "I loved trying to distill knowledge and meaning from Moby Dick and reading the works of Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. I wrote a book of poetry as an independent study, which helped me delve into complex feelings. And Mark Benbow, who taught Shakespeare, was terrific."
Microsoft? "A lot of my job entails making sense of very complex issues, communicating well, and feeling free to go off in many different directionsall skills I learned at Colby."
So how did Wise get from here to there? The path from Waterville to Seattle, while not exactly direct, does make some sense, in retrospect. After Colby, Wise moved through a series of reporter-of-all-trades newspaper jobs in the Boston suburbs, highlighted by his on-site reporting of the infamous Blizzard of '78.
Wise's newspaper journey coincided serendipitously with the onset of the digital age in the publishing business. By 1985, then production editor for a group of Essex County newspapers, he proved to be an apt student of the efficiencies afforded with electronic pre-press systems. Fascinated by technology and looking for new growth avenues, he took a job with a high-tech firm, ATEX, assuming the responsibility for training customers and employees in the new technologies.
From there he moved on to Digital Equipment, where he served as a trainer and a consultant on the UNIX operating systems. "But I'd had it with being at a big company," Peter recalled, "so I moved to a small consulting company where I did everything from selling the service to delivering the service to bill collecting."
%893%right%Along his career path, Wise discovered that software, with its challenge of distilling complex issues in a way that a normal person would understand, fed his creative passion. So he moved to Seattle in 1995 to work for Microsoft, the New York Yankees of software.
Wise's first stint at Microsoft proved a great fit. He worked in the Executive Briefing Center, presenting company strategy and addressing questions business executives posed, such as "How is the growth of the Internet going to affect my business?" and "What is Microsoft going to do to help my company adapt?"
"That was a pivotal time for Microsoft," Wise reflected. "Not only did we have to educate our customers, we were behind Netscape in our server software."
Today Wise works primarily with field-based Microsoft employees, helping them better understand and serve their customers. His creative communications skills often generate special assignments. Three years ago, for example, he was charged with developing an opening for the Global Summit, a meeting of 7,000 Microsoft sales people from around the world.
Eager to step outside the boundaries of the PowerPoint culture, Wise wrote a skit about a sales presentation and hired actors to play the parts of potential clients and competitors. The raucous roars of approval from Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, confirmed that Wise's creative gamble had hit the mark.
"You can be successful as a liberal arts major," said this poet-turned-software executive, "if you just follow your interests."