Rodney Clark helps deliver the future.
As the vice president of the Microsoft Azure Worldwide Internet of Things and Mixed Reality Team, Clark and his crew work with more than 8,000 partners and clients to connect billions of everyday devices to the cloud.
Sensors on stop lights, cash registers, automobiles, home appliances, exercise monitors, video doorbells. They all generate information and data that allows organizations to take action on that data and insights.
“It’s a wave, it’s a reality,” Clark said.
It’s no longer “the future.”
“The job that I have and the privilege that I have is working with companies who want to participate in this new reality and new opportunity of building solutions that connect everyday devices and experiences to cloud and data,” Clark said.
Microsoft calls it “edge to cloud,” and Clark said the company believes that cloud computing is “the here and now.” He acknowledges it’s a lot to process.
As a real-world example, consider a Fitbit exercise monitor.
“When I think of Fitbit, I think of personal cloud,” Clark told Check It Out! podcast host Ken Harvey, Director of Communications for Sno-Isle Libraries. “So I always ask the question, ‘How many personal clouds, Ken, do you have, or do you think you have?’ Do you think you have zero, or do you think you have 10?”
Harvey thought he might have as many as 25 personal clouds. Clark said that’s probably right.
He explained how personal clouds work, with Fitbit, SimpliSafe alarms and Ring video doorbells as examples.
Fitbit tracks your steps, heartbeat, pulse and more, and stores that data in the cloud. It’s powerful information for your health provider, Clark said. The SimpliSafe alarm and Ring doorbell camera in his home send notifications directly to his smartphone, so he knows if his son is trying to get in the house because he forgot his key, or if it’s something bigger.
“I can control my home from the other side of the state,” Clark said.
SimpliSafe and Ring devices collect household and neighborhood data and images. The companies can share that data with consumers, potentially to improve neighborhood security.
“All of those are just real practical examples of the Internet of Things at work,” Clark said. “We don’t realize it every single day but it is the reality that I mentioned.”
During the interview, episode co-host Lynne Varner, Associate Vice Chancellor at WSU Everett, said she got a phone notification about her dogwalker’s location in her house.
As a self-described technologist, Clark thinks constantly about the internet of things and the insights its data provides to numerous industries.
“You name it, there’s an industry at play for the internet of things,” he said.
Clark has been fascinated by the possibilities in scientific solutions since he was a student, but he’s no engineer. He worked for IBM for nine years in sales and marketing. He came to Microsoft 21 years ago so he could answer all of his “What if?” questions.
"I saw an opportunity about six years ago for these devices that were embedded and fixed, and at the time we were building our cloud business,” Clark said. “I asked, ‘What if we were actually talking about cloud for those things that are traditionally fixed-purpose devices?’ It wasn’t the birth of our internet of things business. But it was for me the continuation of this fascination of technology.”
“But it all started with you being curious and asking, ‘What if?’” Varner said.
Now he tells STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students and young professionals to focus less on what they want to be when they grow up. It’s more important to be flexible.
“You have to allow yourself to experience different things,” Clark said. “If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here in this podcast and I wouldn’t have the role that I have today.”
Varner says WSU emphasizes that kind of flexibility with the use of interdisciplinary instruction and broad communication skills.
“I tell our students to prepare yourself to be flexible and to be nimble,” Varner said. “What you get your degree in may not necessarily be what you work in.”
That’s good advice for workers today and tomorrow, Harvey said. To remain relevant, they'll need to keep adapting to new jobs as emergent technologies alter the traditional workplace.
In an increasingly digital workplace, Clark said, “you have to have some minimum level of digital competency in order to stay relevant.”
It applies to all positions, all the way up to chief executive officer.
“Because tomorrow’s CEOs are today’s technologists, it’s ever so important that we accelerate STEM programs, that we have our females, our students of color, even that mid-career person thinking about, ‘What impact do I want to make in the business?’” Clark said. “Not every person mid-career or every student has an ambition to be in C-suite, the point is to stay relevant and in the game.”
“We think every student needs to have comfort with technology, whether you’re going into retail, whether you plan to be a writer,” she said. “You need to be able to explain ideas that are technical in nature. You need to be able to communicate with software engineers, software designers. So, everyone has to have some capacity in STEM, no matter where you happen to end up in your career. We try to encourage our students that way.
“Not everyone wants to major in engineering, but you do want to understand how engineers think and how to convey possibilities to them so they can actually create it for you.”