Insider Stories

It’s All About Giving

After serving in Iraq, a disabled veteran’s mission is to help others.

Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, Zach Clark was “always building things and taking them apart,” driven by the challenge of figuring out how things worked. With a brother in the military, Zach saw himself also joining the armed forces, perhaps working in military intelligence.

After the September 11th attacks, he was determined to make a difference. At the age of 18, Zach enlisted in the Marine Corps and was deployed as a machine gun operator in Iraq. During combat, he was medevaced due to a severe wound to his eye. Later, doctors informed him that he had a brain injury. He had served for four years and was 22 years old. Seizures and periodic memory loss meant that he would not be able to serve in the military again.

Last year, he helped in a big way when the Foundation for Exceptional Warriors (FEW) was hit with ransomware and a demand for $300,000 in Bitcoin. The FEW, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting veterans with injuries and PTSD, stood to lose its entire database.

“The US Government had told them there was nothing to do but pay the ransom, but I said, ‘Do not buy that Bitcoin,’” Zach recounts. “I noticed that OneDrive actually kept two files—one file was recently updated, and one file was encrypted updated. I compared the two, developed a decryption code, and was able to save the rest of the computer. It took 26 hours to finish—18 hours straight the first night.”

“The foundation was so relieved. They wanted to pay me, but I didn’t want to take money from other military members that could use it in the long run. So I said, ‘Just give me a t-shirt, how about that?’”

Living with a disability comes with deep challenges, but it hasn’t stopped Zach from helping others. Rather, it’s brought new perspective. “It really opened my eyes to just how one injury can really hinder a person's ability to even comprehend the simplest of tasks,” he reflects.

Interested in the ways technology could be leveraged to improve people’s lives, Zach’s inspired by the current work to use virtual reality to help alleviate PTSD. He’s been tinkering with ideas for how HoloLens might be used to help the elderly and visually impaired navigate hospital settings, which can be extremely disorienting.

“There are times when the medication that I'm on, the treatments I'm going through for my injuries, will take a strain on me,” he says. “It can be tough to build up a community, help others with disabilities, and at the same time respect my own disabilities and focus as well.”

“But I've learned that my biggest passion is giving. I don't expect anything in return, but it always seems to come right back.”

Crushing on Microsoft

Gabe Morado, Windows Insider and Microsoft superfan, chats with us about good marketing and what makes a brand come to life.

Gabe Morado, based in Madrid, Spain, wears his love for Microsoft on his wrist. He decided to get the tattoo after winning the Windows Insiders to Campus competition in late 2014 because, “Interacting with Microsoft products isn’t just a hobby of mine — it’s a huge part of my life.”

Step into Gabe’s world and you’ll find a wall commemorating every Microsoft product he’s owned, posters and swag from Windows events, and cats named Cortana, Lumia, Spartan, and Skype. (Cortana has two modes of course — ”sleep and superpower.”)

A marketing and advertising student, Gabe is fascinated by the way creative marketing can shape perceptions and enable companies to build an authentic relationship with customers. Gabe’s crush on Microsoft was sparked by the Lumia 800 smartphone, but it took more than a first date for this tech enthusiast to become a superfan.

In November of 2013, a pop-up called “Espacio Microsoft” gave Gabe hands-on experience testing cool new gear. He then joined the Windows Insider Program when it launched the following year, and shortly thereafter entered the Windows Insiders to Campus competition, only to be selected as one of ten winners. Gabe marks his Microsoft milestones by keeping the packaging from each product purchased. And what does he do with all those boxes? He hangs them proudly on his wall.

“Looking at my collection, I can see how much Microsoft has evolved in only 4 years,” he explains. “For example, it´s great to see how much the design of the packaging has changed from the Lumia 800 to the Lumia 950 XL.”

“And now, Microsoft is surprising us every year with their new products. In 2015, Microsoft introduced a technology that was totally unexpected — HoloLens. Augmented reality was a field that was not fully explored, and Microsoft led the way. I think nobody was expecting HoloLens, because most people only see Microsoft as Windows, Office, and Xbox. With HoloLens, Microsoft created a product that made everybody say, ‘Wow!’”

Being a part of this wave of innovation and the community around it makes Gabe proud to call himself a fan and an Insider. “The best part of the Insider Community is its ability to bring people together — people with the same passion for Windows,” he says. “The Insider Program widely meets the objective of getting feedback to Microsoft to help it develop the best OS. But it is more than just a beta program. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people thanks to this great community.”

So what does this Microsoft superfan think is the key ingredient to good marketing? “Fun,” Gabe says. “It’s the best way to get inspired.”

Bring Out the Enthusiasm

How this Windows Insider helps businesses tap into tech’s power to delight and inspire.

Sarah Lean, based in Glasgow, works with companies of all kinds, from Scottish whisky to music festivals and big manufacturing firms. As a tech professional who designs business solutions, she’s helped clients tackle a range of challenges. But at the end of the day, helping companies do even better at what they do best can boil down to unlocking the potential of people through their own enthusiasm.

“Things are changing,” Sarah says, “in terms of people wanting to work on the go through their devices and to collaborate no matter where they are in the world. If you enable people and your company with the technology to do that, you're getting a more enthusiastic workforce that is ultimately going to bring you back a profit.”

Younger workers in particular get excited when they access new tools to flex their creativity, such as Sway, Office365’s app for storytelling and interactive presentations. “Microsoft products are really intuitive and easy, but I think most companies, at first, just want to implement Office365 for basic things like email,” Sarah says. “But when companies are introduced to all the features what they're actually paying for when they get their license — they can see new solutions. And it's great just watching that enthusiasm grow.”

Despite a 12-year tech career under her belt, Sarah still sees herself as an apprentice of sorts, continuing to learn from other tech pros in the community through the Insider forums, blogs, and most recently a meet-up she organized in Glasgow. She began her career answering support calls —”’Can you reset my password?’ and things like that” — and, driven by her love of tech, climbed the ladder to where she is today —”not at the top, but getting there.”

For Sarah, it’s an exciting time to be an IT professional. Not only are companies like Microsoft designing “innovations that are getting people interested in being creative with tech again,” but communities, both online and in-person, are more inspired to share ideas and work together. Recently as part of the Windows Insider community, Sarah was instrumental in helping the Microsoft team test a new operating system feature that hadn’t been announced to the public.

Sarah’s passion has been tech ever since she discovered it in high school. “I had an inspirational teacher who had been an IT consultant and was just so enthusiastic,” she recalls. “He encouraged us and was able to give proper examples and prepare us for what IT was going to be like in the real world. He's probably one of my first mentors or heroes.”

Does she have any advice for girls today who are interested in tech? “Don’t be frightened,” Sarah says. “It’s still such a male-orientated environment that you do see some girls worried about going to user groups and such. But I’ve found that the guys are really friendly, once they see that you’re there to talk tech just like they are. Follow that passion and just go for it.”