Nick Baker is General Manager of Xbox Console Architecture and one of Microsoft’s newest Distinguished Engineers. Based in Silicon Valley, Nick is coming up on 15 years with the company.
Born in the small coastal town of Hythe in southeastern England, Nick started tinkering with LED circuits at a young age and programming on a Sinclair ZX81 (with a whopping 1kB of memory). He says, “Once I start going on something, it is very hard to keep me contained.”
After graduating in 1990 from Imperial College, University of London’s tech and science school, Nick found his way to Apple. He worked on a specialized video card within the group that developed QuickTime. Nick then went to 3DO where he was on a team that pioneered an innovative, high-end gaming system. It may have never achieved commercial success but Nick “got a practical foundation in chip design and 3D Graphics.”
In 1997, Nick joined Microsoft on the recently acquired WebTV team. He went to work on their set-top-box known as UltimateTV and researched ways to add in gaming capabilities. Simultaneously, Microsoft entered the initial design phase for Xbox. Nick and the UltimateTV team were pulled to apply their hardware and gaming background to Xbox’s original design.
It was in this role that Nick’s depth and potential in architecture really stood out. In his understated manner, he says, “I was simply eager to see all of the pieces; to see the ‘big system’ picture. I always push myself to get into new stuff and to make sure that I understand all of the different aspects.”
Microsoft put it more bluntly by recognizing him as a rising star. Nick was asked to head up the team that would design the next generation hardware, known as: Xbox 360. The rest is history. Xbox 360 has sold nearly 70 million consoles and, in 2007, Nick was honored for his technical achievements with Microsoft’s Legendary Work award for Technical Achievement.
Today, Nick continues to fine-tune the design and performance of the Xbox system. He explains, “I bounce between different projects. I manage Xbox hardware and split my time between system and silicon architecture.”
As for his recent recognition as a distinguished engineer, Nick says, “It’s a great honor, but I wouldn’t be here without my team. I have very strong and enduring relationships with my team members and that’s what makes the difference – that and support from my family.”
While Nick is at home at the heights of the tech industry, his excitement about new products shows glimpses of the younger Nick who was so inspired by the potential of LED circuits and his ZX81.
He says, “Being at Microsoft Silicon Valley is great because I am at the heart of it all and am constantly getting to play with new Microsoft technology. I still get to learn how everything fits together. It’s like being a kid in a candy shop.”
He concludes, “When I see a new technology, I have to evaluate it as a Microsoft General Manager, but I also think ‘let’s get this thing finished so I can bring one of these home and play with it.’”