Jamming at the corner of Cloud and Mobile
No matter what generation she hails from, or whether you meet her on instant message, on horseback, or on stage speaking at a tech convention. Miranda Luna is a force.
The 23-year-old, who typically dresses in jeans and a leather jacket, has long, brown hair and sports a massive smile – sports it most of the time, in fact. Luna works as a product marketing manager for the services in Microsoft Azure that help with mobile app development, which is a job titlese way of describing how she helps mobile developers of all stripes (iOS, Android and Windows) make their apps more powerful, more quick, more affordable, more reliable – more everything, really.
“Azure Mobile Service, that’s my jam,” Luna says.” Notification Hubs, too. What’s great about these services is they’re so complementary. Mobile Services is basically a back-end in a box – data storage, user authentication, push notifications and a scripting environment for adding business logic. Notification Hubs provides a massively scalable push notification engine for delivering millions of personalized notifications in minutes, regardless of platform or what back-end an app is using.”
Seeing these services in action (like Azure Notification Hubs powering the push for the Sochi Winter Olympics app, delivering only the content each user wants to see based on country, sport, athlete and more) gets her fired up. So why are these services such game changers?
“You can’t tell people the news 20 minutes later,” Luna says. "You send Notification Hubs one message, and we’ll route it appropriately. We’ll deliver it quickly in the format each person wants. At the end of the day, Mobile Services makes it really easy to build and maintain apps, and Notification Hubs lets developers stay connected to their users.”
Her work for Azure Mobile Services is platform agnostic, so on any given day Luna could find herself demonstrating the latest in push notifications and Live Tile updates to a Windows 8 app developer, helping an Android developer with secure storage for their app’s content, or working with an iPhone app developer to make user authentication easier.
One of Luna’s particular talents is her ability to move seamlessly between the thick, technical aspects of her role – from problem-solving with developers to explaining everything in an engaging way to someone for whom Azure Mobile Services is not their jam.
Azure Mobile Services is versatile, she says, the little black dress of the cloud-based back-end services world. It can go with anything.
To illustrate this point, she talks about one of her “coolest work moments to date,” meeting and helping three wildly different customers in England. In one trip, she helped a sizable telecommunications company use Azure Mobile Services to give its customers a mobile app for billing and account management while keeping its data on-premises; helped a media startup organize its data and push breaking news notifications; and assisted rayoung game developer create a leaderboard for his app, providing him with some extra income at school.
“It was eye-opening. You always picture someone using your product in a certain way, but to see them using it to change the economics of their business and revolutionize what they’re able to deliver to their customers is great. I feel incredibly privileged to have landed in a role that lets me work with customers like this.”
Luna also blogs regularly, and is frequently invited to speak on cloud and mobile (including at Microsoft’s TechEd Europe conference in Madrid).
She is a droll, laid-back digital native with the added tech cred of growing up in Silicon Valley. And, at an age when many of us were drinking from flaming shot glasses or finding their way fresh out of university, she speaks matter-of-factly about her passion for cloud computing and mobile technology and her dream of “eventually being responsible for taking a business from zero to a billion dollars.”
“When I think about all the things I really enjoy doing – whether it's riding horses, spending time with family or traveling – any time I'm not doing one of those things, it needs to be for a really awesome reason,” Luna says. “Building a billion-dollar business is definitely something I'd be okay with incorporating into that rotation, because I think it's just as awesome as the other stuff I really care about.”
She pauses. “But who can say no to a flaming shot every now and again?”
Growing up the daughter of two NASA employees, Luna had a childhood full of backyard science experiments. Her parents’ employer also makes her last name extra awesome.
“I know, right? And Miranda is actually a moon of Uranus. But I don’t really tell anyone that,” she says. (Her first name was inspired by a relative, not a moon.)
As a kid, she even got to try on space suits – her mother used to design space suits.
“My parents and their friends were super helpful about getting us excited about science and technology,” she says. “My school projects were always the best, but I never really internalized how freaking smart my parents were until I went and saw my mom’s Ph.D. defense as a teenager.”
She loves spending time with her family, including two younger brothers who are now in college (one studying biochemistry and the other computer science).
What a family.
“Don’t oversell us, please,” Luna says. “Somehow we always end up talking about ‘Uncle Buck.’”
In San Jose, Calif., Luna went to school with the offspring of tech industry luminaries, and in high school she worked as an intern for Cisco. It was there she realized that, for her, it would be more exciting to show people what technology can do than to build the technology herself. While most of her peers had their eyes on the local university, Stanford, Luna “bebopped to Philly” to attend the University of Pennsylvania. Her junior year, a friend who knew Luna had experience riding horses approached her about trying out for the university’s new polo team.
“The first time I tried polo, I was absolutely terrible, but I loved it so kept with it,” Luna says. “It went well thanks to some very patient and generous teachers.”
Well, that is, right up until a horse bucked her off and she broke her collarbone. Undeterred, she returned to school in the fall and started the UPenn polo team. “There I was, walking around campus in a sling, whites and polo boots, recruiting for our team,” Luna says. “People were like, ‘What happened to you? Were you hurt riding a horse?’ I said, ‘Oh … uh … um, no, it was a slip and fall.’ I still managed to convince people to throw in their hats.”
Her senior year, as she and her polo team were traveling to play nearby colleges each weekend (and getting thumped by long-established Ivy League teams), Luna was also considering an employment offer from Microsoft.
She accepted, and now works at the corner of Cloud and Mobile. In her first months of work, she realized she’d picked up some valuable workplace skills spending all that time at the stables. She learned patience, and how to ask for what you need nicely but firmly. She learned that you can’t talk to everyone the same way. She learned to listen. She learned to be more in tune with what people need. She learned that you can be a leader without having to be commanding.
“You can learn so much from horses,” Luna says.
Miranda Luna rides her horse, Pampero, at a gallop through a freshly mowed field of green. He breathes heavily through his nose in a rhythm perfectly timed with the squeak of his hooves on the wet grass.
Pampero is a 12-year-old Argentine thoroughbred cross who stands 15.2 hands (or just over five feet) tall. His mane is trimmed short, the equine version of a military high-and-tight, and his tail is braided and folded into a snug knob, both as polo requires.
Luna, in worn leather boots, white jeans and a navy Rainier Polo jersey, raises her polo mallet, twirls it in the air, and rapidly lowers it toward the small, white ball on the ground, which she wallops with a satisfying smack.
A snow-covered Mt. Rainier photo bombs the scene from a distance.
“Come on, Mr. P,” Luna says after she’s done riding. “You did good. I’m proud of you.”
She leads him off the field toward the horse trailer. He’s sweating. “It’s his off-season,” she explains. “Normally he could work out much longer than that without breaking a sweat.”
Luna has just finished a polo practice in Enumclaw, a pastoral town about 45 minutes southwest of Seattle. She rides whenever she can when she’s not traveling for work, making trips all over the world to meet with Microsoft partners and developers, and also to attend university recruiting events.
Luna says her apartment in Seattle’s ultra-hipster Capitol Hill neighborhood sits empty most of the time. When she is there, she spends most of her time reading in the windowsill (currently, “The Brothers K” by David James Duncan) and maintaining an MTV Cribs-grade refrigerator.
As she pulls her car away from the barn, she sings along to Lorde (another high-achieving Millennial) and offers up homemade Pop Tarts she brought back from a diner in Washington, D.C. the day before.
Azure Mobile Services is powerful, open and flexible – very much the new Microsoft, she says.
“There’s this perception among developers that if they’re not into .NET then whatever Microsoft offers isn’t for them. That’s just not true,” Luna says. “We live in a heterogeneous world, and we really do want to make things easier for developers, including iOS and Android developers. Seeing us make progress with them really makes me happy, because people build loyalty to apps and experiences. Behind every app and experience is a server, and that’s us.”
In many ways, the wise-cracking, whip-smart Luna is also the new Microsoft.
“What originally drew me here was the fact that roles are defined by ambiguity. You have the responsibility for setting your strategy and priorities, executing against those and evaluating your performance. That’s good if you thrive in an environment like that, but bad if you get overwhelmed by choice,” Luna said. “For me, it’s great and why I kept coming back after each internship. I got to be self-directed, but also work with a lot of exceptionally intelligent people all focused on growing a billion-dollar business.”Photos by Brian Smale / © Microsoft