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The Immigrant Entrepreneur

062 Otto Berkes – Cofounder of Xbox and CTO at CA Technologies

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062 Otto Berkes – Cofounder of Xbox and CTO at CA Technologies

March 2nd, 2017

  Otto Berkes is Chief Technology Officer at CA Technologies, a 4 billion company with 13,000 employees in 40 countries. CA Technologies helps companies build software, run their applications, manage their cyber-security, and much more. Today he manages engineering teams, people like himself when he co-founded Xbox, the game console on which 40 million people still play hundreds of games today. Like many engineers, Otto is a curious tinkerer, interested to build, take-apart and put back together again, to not leave a problem alone until he can at least understand it better. He may have had an advantage over other engineers in his determination to grapple with a problem, to persevere – which came from the appreciation of having escaped a totalitarian communist country at ta young age. Otto’s father after seeing the stress to his children as they were indoctrinated at school, and the severe censoring his wife endured as a teacher, carefully planned for years, their escape. Finally, leaving all their possessions behind, they crossed the border to the West, where without language skills, friends or family, they built their lives.  Otto began school in Buffalo, New York, and moved around many times as his family tried different ways to succeed. During these years, Otto spent many hours at Radio Shack, learning how to build all kinds of electronic gizmos. And began to think like a programmer. Otto explained how he came to lead the team at Microsoft on Open GL and DirectX: “I joined a team that was working on a graphics standard called Open GL, that was focused on the engineering space to be able to do Cad-Cam.  The cost of the hardware technology decreased, so that it became possible to use 3d graphics hardware for games.” Xbox is short for Direct Xbox.  WE were looking for a way for some of the technologies that had been developed on the PC, and free it from the constraints of the PC.  You put a DC in the den or in your office, but not under a TV. How to resynthesize these technologies in a living-room-friendly environment.” I asked if game developers get to spend much time playing their games? “It’s a little bit of a myth, that developers in the game space, that all they do is play games. When you look at the science, it is hard software development. They either have a bunch of code in front of them or trying to overcome some glitch. It’s serious computer science and hard work. What is an intrepreneur? As an intrepreneur, one drives innovation from within.  You’re not starting with a clean slate, and you work inside organizational boundaries. How do you create something totally new in the context of something that already exists? There is not a single right answer, but a common thread is having a strong degree of teamwork. You need to build grass root support, to find people who want to come on board, and exert force as a force multiplier. You must look to the company to fund your investment.  Engineering help, to prove out the thing you are trying to build, and executive sponsorship. How did they approach Bill Gates? “Bill Gates has a strong belief in platforms, and Xbox is a strong platform for the living room. Certainly, that was our pitch, but we also pitched the underlying technology.  The DirectX graphics, the fact that we were strong with the developer community, and we knew how to build APIs, that is, we had operating systems as a core part of our DNA.” We took a very developer-centric approach. Our core competency was software, which made it easier for developers to create great content. We had an intense focus on the customer. That allowed us to anticipate the rise of the internet-related games in Xbox live. What is he working on today at CA Technologies? Otto created an accelerator, to incubate and fund 10 ideas inside of CA Technologies.  They project creators will be funded to focus only on their project.  Then those that show promise,