REDMOND, Wash. – July 15, 2010 – There are the normal impatient looks travelers give each other as people in the airport security line place laptops, wallets, shoes, and belts on the conveyor belt.
Ben Rudolph, a senior public relations manager for Microsoft, demonstrates the Alienware M11x, a galvanized steel gaming machine.
And then there are the looks that Microsoft gear wonk Ben Rudolph gets when he reaches into his backpack and places not one, not two, but seven laptops into the gray plastic bins.
Apart from the incredulous looks from fellow flyers, on a recent occasion Rudolph’s bevy of laptops raised eyebrows of security officers.
“It’s kind of strange to carry seven laptops, right? They stopped and questioned me. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t trying to do anything nefarious,” says Rudolph, who was schlepping the laptops to New York for a PR event. “I had to turn one of the machines on and show them my Microsoft badge.”
Rudolph is technically a senior public relations manager, but he’s becoming better known as “Ben the PC Guy.” He’s kind of a cross between Inspector Gadget and Rambo – though his arsenal is the latest high-tech PCs from a variety of hardware manufacturers.
And outside of work Rudolph is indeed a certified tough guy. He is trained in Krav Maga, the official self-defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces, and has a black belt in Japanese Jiu-jitsu. For years he taught close-quarter combat classes to officers from the Washington, D.C. Metro Police, and servicemen and women from every branch of the U.S. Military.
Rudolph came to Microsoft two years ago from a company called Parallels that put Windows on Macintosh computers. He worked in competitive strategy until about six months ago, when he started pitching Windows PCs full time.
Apart from being a PC expert, Rudolph trained in Krav Maga, the official self-defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces, and has a black belt in Japanese Jiu-jitsu.
He is part matchmaker, helping consumers find the computer of their dreams, and part librarian, maintaining a collection of super-cool PCs that Microsoft employees can use when they present at big events or interact with the press or the public. Even CEO Steve Ballmer has used a machine from Rudolph’s “eye candy” library.
“We realized that people experience Windows through a great PC, and the best way to drive excitement about Windows is at the point of purchase to get people excited about all the things they can do with Windows on a kick-ass machine,” Rudolph says.
Rudolph and his team are constantly searching out the best netbooks, ultra-thin laptops, gaming rigs, work machines, and all-in-one laptops to help people find exactly what they want.
“We can show people that, whoever you are or whatever you’re into, you can get a Windows PC that has exactly the features you want, is exactly the size you want, in the color you want, made out of the material you want, at the price you want,” Rudolph says. “That to me is the most compelling reason to want a Windows PC. Plus, I’m a gadget nerd at heart, so it was kind of a good fit.”
His office is organized chaos, with two tables stacked high with a wild variety of laptops in all shapes, sizes, colors and textures. Rudolph’s favorites, not surprisingly, are the “great looking machines that perform well, too.”
Ben Rudolph with his wife, Deana, his daughter, Audrey, and his newborn son, Evan.
“It’s kind of intangible, really,” he says. “When you buy a new pair of shoes, a car, or some sunglasses, you buy it in part because it makes you look good and feel good. If you get something you’re not happy with, it’s all you’re going to think about when you’re using it.”
Rudolph is constantly receiving the latest and greatest gear from Microsoft’s hardware partners, and as such is on a first-name basis with his building’s mailman.
“Outside my wife and kids, the mail delivery guy, Paul, is pretty much the most important person in my life these days,” Rudolph laughs. “We order so much, and all of this stuff moves in and out of my office constantly. Since April I’ve signed 50 machines out for employees to use.”
Rudolph also takes the laptops out for show-and-tell, including for his new spot as the “tech guy” on Seattle’s KOMO News. He earned himself a regular spot for the station after helping a woman overcome an unfortunate brush with counterfeit software as part of the news channel’s “Problem Solvers” series. His upcoming topics include an overview of cloud computing and how to avoid phishing scams.
Rudolph has a Twitter account and blog, where he shares details of whatever PCs he’s test driving at the time. He uses Windows Live Sync to make sure he always has the files he needs as he leaps from laptop to laptop. He likes to use machines for at least a week before he writes about them, and is often using several at once in all kinds of scenarios – in his office, on the couch, on a plane, in a coffee shop.
As someone who talked his mother out of buying an iPad and into buying a “gorgeous” HP laptop designed with butterflies by Vivienne Tam, Rudolph says he knows he can help anyone find a computer they’ll love – and one they’ll be proud to pull out at a coffee shop or in an airport security line.
“It’s more than an accessory,” he says. “It’s part of who you are.”