OSS advocate and former hacker Dinesh Nair joins Microsoft - yes, you read that right

  • Former hacker and OSS Guy joins the ‘evil empire’
  • I am sure some in the OSS community will view this with a certain amount of surprise'

OSS advocate and former hacker Dinesh Nair joins Microsoft - yes, you read that right[Note: This story was updated with additional information in the Q&A section]

NOBODY can accuse him of taking the well-trodden path – former hacker-turned-entrepreneur and Open Source Software (OSS) advocate Dinesh Nair two years ago took on a role at the Multimedia Development Corp (MDeC), the quasi-government body in charge of Malaysia’s ICT development.
 
That was not even his most unusual move – he has left MDeC and Microsoft Corp earlier today (Oct 3) announced that it has appointed Dinesh as its new Developer and Platform Evangelist (DPE) Lead for Malaysia.
 
In this role, Dinesh (pic -- yes, it's a keeper!) will lead Microsoft’s effort to introduce, evangelize and show how Microsoft innovations can positively transform Malaysian education, businesses and lives, the US software giant said in a statement.
 
The DPE Lead’s role will also be responsible for leading the charge in local technology innovation and application development as the Malaysian ICT landscape evolves towards cloud computing, with an increased emphasis of new devices and form factors like smartphones and tablets.
 
Dinesh’s official response: “I am thrilled to join the Microsoft Malaysia family as we look forward to exciting times – especially with this year being its 20th anniversary. With computing moving towards the cloud, applications will become the driving force of the industry landscape.”
 
Yadda-yadda … but hiring the former director of the InfoTech cluster at MDeC is certainly a feather in Microsoft’s cap. His career in ICT spans 20 years in the ICT industry, and his track record includes start-up operations, business development and technology strategy; OSS development and integration; as well as Internet and cyber security policy, planning and deployment.
 
“Dinesh’s appointment as our DPE Lead fulfills a very important building block in our commitment to transform Malaysia together, to better help the Government achieve its economic and development aspirations through the power of technology,” said Ananth Lazarus, Microsoft Malaysia managing director.
 
“We are delighted to welcome Dinesh at such a pivotal moment as we celebrate our 20 years in Malaysia. He was identified through an extensive search within and outside Microsoft, and we were impressed by his expertise and achievements as someone especially conversant in the ICT industry.
 
“I have full confidence in this will bring great vitality to our efforts in evangelizing to our developer audiences and exciting them about our solution platforms,” Ananth said in a statement issued by Microsoft.
 
To many in the ICT community, Dinesh is the reason why one of the first cyberlaws Malaysia ever enacted was the Computer Crimes Act 1997. He first made the headlines in 1996, when he became the country’s first public-figure hacker after he infiltrated the network of one of the best known dotcoms of the time.
 
Ray Cheng, the then-iconic CEO of AsiaConnect, had boasted in an interview that the security on his ISP was impossible to crack, offering RM50,000 (approximately US$17,000) to anyone who could penetrate it. Dinesh and his friend Thian Seong Yee – from the office of The Star’s In.Tech technology pullout -- hacked into Cheng's private mailbox on the AsiaConnect network and claimed the money.

The story was front-paged in The Star the next day -- making Dinesh and Thian the first and only Malaysian hackers to be so featured. Dinesh went on to make enough of an impression that WIRED magazine interviewed him for its report on the Multimedia Super Corridor.
 
[Disclosure: This reporter was on hand that day when AsiaConnect's network was hacked into; and was also employed at Microsoft from April 2010 to November 2011].
 
Dinesh was on hand recently to answer some question from Digital News Asia (DNA):
 
DNA: What was your role at MDeC, and what happens to that role now?
 
Dinesh: I was brought in to head the information technology cluster of MDeC, the bread and butter cluster of MSC Malaysia, which holds the largest number of MSC companies at 1,674 and accounts for over 48% of MSC Malaysia company revenue at RM15.36 billion. The cluster also had the highest number of new jobs over 2011.
 
In the period I was there, I also worked on formulating the Digital Malaysia initiative, and soon after was also ‘double-hatting’ as the director of the Digital Malaysia Technology Dimension.
 
DNA: What will your role be in Microsoft? What qualifications do you have for that role, and what will you bring to the game?
 
Dinesh: Essentially my role at Microsoft would be to lead the company’s effort to introduce, evangelize and show how Microsoft innovations can positively transform Malaysian education, businesses and lives. I will also be responsible for leading the charge in local technology innovation and application development as the Malaysian ICT landscape evolves towards cloud computing, with an increased emphasis on new devices and form factors like smartphones and tablets.
 
My 20 years in the ICT industry, with a wealth of experience from being an entrepreneur and working with entrepreneurs, to my various positions in both the private and government sectors, will be of great value to me in my role at Microsoft. I have been exposed to what the ICT needs are from the frontlines, as well as having a macro overview of market movements.
 
So, I am thrilled to join the Microsoft Malaysia family as we look forward to exciting times – especially with this year being its 20th anniversary. With computing moving towards the cloud, applications will become the driving force of the industry landscape. Now with Microsoft, there is a very strong and cohesive platform to help organizations make the most of this new reality.
 
This is why Microsoft’s commitment to ‘Transforming Malaysia Together’ resonates with me and I’m greatly looking forward to the opportunity to help take Microsoft Malaysia forward into the next phase of its history.

DNA: What do you see as the key challenges in your new role -- for both you professionally, and for Microsoft?
 
Dinesh: I think the biggest challenge I will face would be to effectively evangelize the breadth and depth of what we do here at Microsoft, because of how it has impacted ICT in so many areas and contexts!
 
At the same time, this is the biggest launch year in our history – with a refresh planned for every product in our portfolio. At the very heart of this is developers and applications. 
 
Wrapping my head around all of this has certainly been challenging – seeing as it’s only been my first few days here. In fact, my colleagues tell me that there is a term for it here in Microsoft, which is to “drink from the fire-hose.”
 
I also foresee a great deal of interesting times working with the developer community on Windows 8. Windows 8 represents a huge, global opportunity for developers by allowing apps to take centerstage, and is designed for the things developers want to do today. Developer interest has been amazing and it is my job now to harness this interest and to keep up this momentum.

DNA: You were the ‘Open Source Guy’ -- how do you think the OSS community will take this news? What are your views on Microsoft’s 'Open-ness' strategy and vision?
 
Dinesh: I am sure some in the OSS community will view this with a certain amount of surprise. However, I always saw open source being about a development process, a process where more eyes looking and contributing to the code led to a greater quality of code, and solutions which fit the customer better. It never was about one vendor against another.
 
At the same time, Microsoft has also adopted a more open and inclusive approach towards open source, with OSS initiatives of our own, both globally and in Malaysia. This not only provides more choice to Malaysians, but also our local software developers and industry more business opportunities.
 
Also, with the market moving towards the cloud and mobile spaces, issues of closed source and open source are less relevant.

DNA: Any regrets joining MDeC?
 
Dinesh: Absolutely no regrets! I believed that transformational change in the ICT industry was paramount in Malaysia, and I still believe that MDeC remains the key driver. I also believe that Datuk Badlisham ([MDeC CEO Datuk Badlisham Ghazali) has his heart and focus in the right place and in his sincerity in driving transformation.
 
They should be supported, and I hope I would be able to assist their efforts from my present position. At the same time, my stint in MDeC gave me exposure to how policies are made and implemented, and this has enriched me as well.

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