Charismatic Engineering Leader Faenov Missed

During his 14 years at Microsoft, Kyril Faenov inspired countless colleagues through a rare combination of technical brilliance and compassion.
By Jake Siegel for Microsoft Newsletter

Jun 15, 2012 | 8:00 AM

Kyril Faenov’s big-hearted approach to life touched countless employees during his 14-year Microsoft career.

Kyril Faenov had everything you would want in an engineering leader: vision, technical brilliance, and above all a deep passion for technology. That passion was on display day in and day out during his 14 years at Microsoft, where his accomplishments ranged from launching the company’s high-performance computing (HPC) efforts to leading the engineering and test community into a new era.

His impressive technical skills were matched by a warmth that touched countless Microsoft engineers, said S. Somasegar, corporate vice president of the Developer Division.


“Kyril had an incredible combination of brilliance and empathy with people,” he said. “Friends and colleagues could walk into his office feeling down or frustrated, but after 30 minutes they would emerge ready to take on the world. He was a phenomenally charismatic leader who could energize people and help them see the forest for the trees.”


Faenov, general manager of SQL Test, died May 25, 2012. He was 38.


Friends and colleagues knew he viewed his time at Microsoft as much more than just a job. Faenov was inspired by the company’s ability to transform the work of scientists, which he believed could in turn change the world. He often talked about how personal that mission was to him, said Bill Hilf, who worked closely with Faenov in the HPC and Technical Computing groups.


“He would frequently say, ‘I get out of bed because I know if we’re successful here, it will change the world for my daughters in the future,’” said Hilf, now general manager of product marketing on the Windows Azure team. “It was very important for him to be enabling scientists to understand medical research or climate change. He was just hugely passionate about computing’s ability to transform science and help mankind.”


That passion had led him to write Bill Gates and urge him to bring Microsoft into the high-performance computing world. It worked, and Faenov formed Microsoft’s HPC group in 2004. Several years later he was in Steve Ballmer’s office successfully arguing for what became the Technical Computing initiative.


“Kyril had this uncanny ability to step back, paint a vision for what is possible, and break it down into pieces people can understand,” Somasegar said. “And he was always an extremely passionate guy. When he found something interesting, he poured all his passion and energy into it. So the combination of envisioning technical brilliance, the ability to think about the business all-up, and the ability to bring his passion to bear—that’s what got senior leaders excited.”


Faenov grew up in Moscow, Russia, where he trained with the Olympic Reserve swimming team and studied physics and mathematics. He joined Microsoft in 1998 when the company acquired Valence Research, an Internet server clustering start-up he cofounded.


His empathy helped him stand apart from multitasking Microsofties, Hilf said. While others might check email or voice mail during a meeting, Faenov was always completely present. “He was one of those guys where if he was talking to you, you truly felt like you were the only person in the world who mattered.”


Steve Teixeira remembered Faenov as an exceptionally caring and emphatic manager who would always ask about coworkers’ lives. Teixeira was Faenov’s director of program management when he was the general manager of Technical Computing. At the time, Teixeira was working nights and weekends on his MBA. Faenov would regularly check in on his progress. When graduation time approached, Faenov mentioned he’d like to swing by the ceremony. Teixeira was touched but didn’t expect his manager to drive to the University of Washington and fight the crowds to be there.


A couple minutes after Teixeria received his diploma, he got a picture message alert on his phone. It was from Faenov: a grainy cell phone photo taken from the back of the arena of Teixeira onstage accepting his MBA. “It was clear to me at that point that Kyril’s care for those that worked for him was not an affectation,” he said. “He really was one in a million.”


Ted Kummert, corporate vice president of the Business Platforms Division, said Faenov possessed a rare combination of technical acumen and natural charisma that made him an invaluable leader. Kummert saw that passion firsthand when Faenov jumped headlong into his most recent role, general manager of SQL Test. It was the latest in a long string of work that had a profound impact on the company, and that’s his true legacy, Kummert said.


“He did a lot of great things for the company over the years,” Kummert said. “Kyril was deeply committed to Microsoft and where it could go. He was all-in here.”


Kyril Faenov is survived by his wife, Lauren Selig, and daughters, Pasha and Avery. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the following education fund for Faenov’s children:


Pasha & Avery Faenov
Bank of America
Account #138100268863

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