I got some sad news this week, as Scott Avery, one of the first people I met at Microsoft, passed away.
Scott was part of the “Office Configuration Management” team that I joined straight out of college in 1996. The “CAMP” team, as it was called, was really just the Setup team, responsible for Office Setup. Scott was one of the “authors” for setup – one of the folks writing the setup scripts themselves.
At first, he was very intimidating to me, but that wasn’t his fault really – about two-thirds of the people I met back then made me feel that way. I was an uncomfortable sort back then. Over time I learned that Scott wasn’t all that different really – we were just big nerds with big toys and soft souls.
Scott and I were never so close as to call each other best friends, but as I reflect, I realize that few people were as much of a recurring FIXTURE in my life as him:
I remember him as Jakes Griffins, the juggernaut fantasy football team that ran roughshod over my teams in ‘96 and ‘97. The good-natured scorn heaped upon me led to me discovering the magical “Vale Based Drafting” article (note: that link is to the revised version, not the original)
That article led to my Excel and BI career (no kidding!), and allowed me to turn the tables on the mighty Griffins (a certain Monday Night performance by Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe marked the turning point in the fortunes of my BoBobBitchin’, vanquishing the Griffins in dramatic fashion).
I am where I am today, in part, because Scott Avery made fun of me
I remember him as a founding member of Garage Hockey Incorporated, where a group of us played unsanctioned roller hockey in the bowels of the MS building 25 parking garage, every Tuesday and Thursday night, year-round, from 10 PM to midnight. None of us had ever played hockey before, and most of us didn’t even know how to skate. But when I asked Scott he basically said “I get to buy hockey gear and skate around crashing into people? I’m in!”
I remember him as my introduction to organized roller hockey. Several years after Microsoft outlawed garage hockey, and Scott and I had moved on to work for different MS teams, out of the blue Scott resurfaced with an email saying “hey Rob I’ve been playing organized roller hockey and our team has an open slot for the coming season, wanna join?”
Boom, I was in. I was nervous as hell, and Scott was the only person I knew on the team, but that was enough for me to take the leap. Boy am I glad I did.
I searched my picture archives yesterday and found this:
As You Can See, Scott, LITERALLY Had My Back
I want to stress that growing up, I was convinced I would NEVER learn to SKATE, period. To find myself in an organized roller hockey league in my late twenties felt like fantasy land. Every time I went out there to skate during warmups, I felt a sense of elation, JUST TO BE THERE.
Playing roller hockey, and becoming good at it over time, probably remains my proudest lifelong achievement.
Thank you Scott.
It didn’t stop there. Scott’s hockey legacy extends much farther than he probably realized. I ended up recruiting a bunch more people to play as well, eventually enough to form a second team. Even in the picture above, we already had two more folks involved:
Both of These Guys Work on Things We Care About,
and Both Played Hockey Because Scott Avery Got Me Hooked
That’s right, the Data Junkie Monkey himself, my Pivotstream colleague and longtime friend Scott Senkeresty, joined up after my first couple seasons. As did Chris Seitzinger, who eventually came to work as part of the “Data” crowd at MS, joining the Access and Excel Services teams.
It doesn’t end there. Ben Chamberlain, who now works on Excel Services. Maurice Prather of SharePoint fame. Allan Folting, the master of PivotTables on the Excel team and now member of the PowerPivot team. David Gainer, my mentor and the person most responsible for Excel’s revitalization in the 2007 release. All of these guys joined. It was a glorious few years. At one point, more than half the team was made of Excel people.
Then, when the arena company decided to convert all of their hockey rinks to artificial grass for soccer, like nomads we migrated to ice hockey. After a half season of that I gave it up, but Scott continued to play, often on a substitute basis. That’s how I heard this week of his passing actually – through the ice hockey crowd.
Scott Avery, Pivot Pro!
One last example of how Scott kept weaving in and out of my life. In 2006, while Allan and I were overhauling the PivotTable experience for Office 2007, Steven Sinofsky came to us and said he liked the changes but was nervous about them. He wanted us to conduct a last-minute “sanity check” with some heavy pivot users.
You don’t tell Steven no. So we said yes. Allan then conveniently went home to Denmark for a month, leaving me with the task. I ended up “building” and delivering 10 computers to various MS employees on campus. I think I even borrowed a truck from one of my hockey teammates to do it.
10 participants. 9 of them were from finance and accounting teams at MS – people whose job was to count the money coming in. 9 business types.
And 1 engineer. Scott Avery volunteered too, because he used pivots to report on bug stats.
So late one Friday evening I found myself in Scott Avery’s office (I believe on the MSN Messenger team at the time) delivering a huge boxy computer.
Scott Avery: FFL juggernaut, hockey convert (and converter), launcher of data careers, and pivot pro. You are gone far too early, and many people miss you. Even in distant lands like Ohio, where I’ve lived these past three years, your passing is felt.
Rest easy, Griffins.