Today we have the pleasure of profiling for you another member of our CTS community – J.C. Hornbeck, a Knowledge Engineer with System Center Support. Read below to find out more about J.C.'s role and how you can learn to follow in his footsteps!


Name: J.C. Hornbeck


Title: Knowledge Engineer


Organization: CTS – System Center Support


Microsoft anniversary date:  I was hired on May 11, 1992, and boy have things changed.  Back then the company had a grand total of around 11,000 employees.  Today we have roughly 8 times as many.


Office/campus I work at: I work at the Las Colinas campus in Irving, Texas, which is a suburb of Dallas.  This is the campus I was hired into and back in 1992 we had maybe 150 people working here at the time.  The last numbers I saw for the Las Colinas campus today put us at somewhere around 1700 employees so it’s been quite a transformation.


My current role in Microsoft: Right now I am the Knowledge Engineer for the System Center specialty in CTS (Commercial Technical Support).  Really that’s just a fancy way of saying I’m the content guy who manages the engineer driven technical documentation and processes for the products we support.  I also oversee many of our online and social media properties like our blogs, our Facebook fan site and our Twitter feed.  Ultimately my goal is to provide engineers with the content they need to successfully support our customers, and to provide customers with the content they need to successfully use our products.  That could include publishing technical solutions, tips, updates on known issues and even general education topics and best practices on how to implement System Center solutions.   


Current projects: In my opinion this is one of the best things about working for Microsoft and specifically CTS – there are always a bunch of interesting projects available for you to work on.  One thing at the top of my list right now is working with some of the Knowledge Engineers (KEs) and managers in other specialties to unify our strategy and vision for the work the KE does and how we can better and more consistently serve the customers and engineers on a global basis.  Currently the mission of each KE is largely defined by the particular specialty that a KE happens to be in, and while there’s no question we have to have that kind of flexibility to serve our business, there are many opportunities to positively impact the support engineers and our customers by building synergies in our actions across organizations.  We’re also working on some really cool ideas on how to better identify the kinds of issues our customers are seeing so that we can better target the content we provide.  I can’t really go into too many details on that but rest assured that we have some great things planned and we’re working hard to get the right information out in front of both engineers and customers as quickly as we can.  Last but not least, I’m continually looking for ways to grow our online audience.  I have 14 different blog properties that I either directly manage or I manage in conjunction with a specific product team, plus a Facebook fan site and a Twitter feed.  Nobody in the world knows more about troubleshooting System Center products than our engineers so that essentially comes down to getting as much of their knowledge as I can out into the public realm where it’s available to customers.  This is one area where social media tools like Facebook and Twitter have made a big difference.  With the tools we have today we can notify our customer of a hot issue in a matter of minutes, whereas back when I started it might have been a week or more.  But that’s only if you follow our content so see the links below and sign up today!


What I’ve blogged about:  I’ve pretty much blogged about every System Center product we make.  Now I’ll admit it’s a little different these days in that I don’t directly blog as much as I used to.  When I first joined the System Center team we only supported maybe 3 or 4 products so it was a lot easier for me to specialize and write deep technical content.  Back then I was a support engineer for Microsoft App-V (SoftGrid) so most of what I blogged about was virtualizing apps and how to configure streaming servers and all that, but today it’s very different for me.  Due to the incredible success of the System Center family of products, we’ve gone through a tremendous growth period which is a very good thing, but that also means I’m more of an overseer of the blogs rather than a primary, individual contributor.  Most of my work with our blogs goes into trying to identify potential blog content and finding knowledgeable resources to write it.  Fortunately our System Center engineers all do a great job of documenting new issues and tips so they really help make this part of my job easy.


How I got this role, my background and my career path so far:  Having been a support engineer since way back in 1992, I’ve always seen the tremendous value that having good content provides.  It’s been a passion of mine since the very beginning so when the opportunity came up back in 2007 I managed to talk the group into letting me have the job and I’ve been at it ever since.  As far as my career path goes, it seems that there aren’t a whole lot of jobs I haven’t done around here.  Back in 1992 I started out doing consumer support for Windows 3.x, then I worked a couple beta projects including MS-DOS 6.  That led to Windows for Workgroups 3.x and eventually an opportunity to live in Redmond for a few months working with the dev team on the Windows 95 beta.  When I came back I joined our internal training department for a one year rotation to develop and deliver the Windows 95 training to the rest of the Las Colinas support engineers.   That class ended up being two full weeks long and was probably one of the most demanding job I’ve ever had, but at the same time it was also one of the most rewarding.  Once my training rotation was over decided I wanted to try something new so I took a job as a Technical Account Manager in the South Central region.  That was a fantastic  experience and I got the chance to work with some really great accounts and meet a bunch of really great people.  I did that for about 3 years and while I really loved my work I also realized that I was missing probably one of the greatest opportunities a technical guy like me could ever have – working in support for the people who actually created the best enterprise class products in the world.  After all, if you truly want to become an expert in Exchange, or Windows networking, or Configuration Manager or whatever, where are you going to get a better opportunity than in Microsoft’s enterprise support business?  And on top of that they paid you to learn it!  So in 1998 I moved to what we called the Premier Desktop team which supported Windows and IE for our enterprise customers.  From there I moved to our networking team and lived there for about three years.  Networking was another passion of mine and I probably learned more while on the networking team than on any other.  By the time I left I felt there was no issue with any router, protocol, service or firewall that I couldn’t fix.  After that I moved to our Windows Performance team where we specialized in debugging user mode apps and troubleshooting performance related issues.  I was on that team for about a year when I got the opportunity to help start up our brand new Application Virtualization support team.  We had just acquired Softricity and they needed someone to travel to Boston to help onboard their support staff and then come back and help build the Texas based support team and I was lucky enough to get selected to do that.  That was another great experience as I think I learned as much from them as they did from me.  Not long after that, the App-V team got merged into the overall System Center group and the rest is history.


Any advice for potential candidates looking to connect to Microsoft?  Know your stuff, be confident, but at the same time don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something.  Be curious and show that you’re not afraid to take on new challenges.  Build your customer service skills.  Microsoft is a technology company but no matter what organization you end up with, serving the customer is always job 1.


Anything else?  If you love helping people, if you’re passionate about technology, and if you want to work with the smartest people in the industry, there’s no better place than Microsoft.  The opportunities are endless.  I’ve been here for almost 20 years now and I’m as excited about the future as I’ve ever been - I can’t imagine a more rewarding and exciting place to work.