Meet Team Xbox: Mike Ybarra

Welcome to Meet Team Xbox, which is your inside look at the talented people that drive our Xbox and Windows development here at Microsoft, in an effort to make your console and PC experience as awesome as possible. This week, we spoke to Mike Ybarra, the Director of Program Management for Xbox. Ybarra leads the team that is responsible for creating end-to-end customer and developer Xbox experiences across Xbox consoles, Windows PC, and Windows mobile.

Ybarra started his technology career at Hewlett-Packard as a hardware engineer, creating board schematics and BIOS optimizations for notebook computers in Corvallis, Oregon. He joined Microsoft in 1999 as a Program Manager, responsible for the implementation and industry adoption of key Windows and application platform features. He has held numerous roles within the company since – including General Manager for Windows 7 and General Manager for the Xbox Live team.

Before moving to his current position, Ybarra served as Partner Studio Manager for Xbox Studios, where his teams were responsible for Microsoft Studios’ publishing efforts within Xbox. In this capacity, he signed multiple AAA game titles with external developers and complemented their teams with engineers in his own organization. During this time, he shipped titles such as Gears of War, Age of Empires, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Sunset Overdrive, as well as laid the groundwork for soon-to-be released titles like Quantum Break, Crackdown, ReCore, and Scalebound.

Ybarra has nurtured a lifelong passion for gaming, and enjoys playing video games across a broad set of platforms. This love of gaming has been present since he was a child, and has been one of the driving forces in his life. “When I was nine years old, my grandfather introduced me to video games by way of an Atari 800. It had amazing classic games like Frogger and Miner 2049er,” Ybarra remembers. “I distinctly recall wondering how the graphics magically appeared on screen. I played for hours and hours. It was the first time that I recall my imagination accelerating and flooding with ideas and questions about technology and gaming in general.”

“Fast forward to 1986 – shortly after the NES released in the U.S. – and I was hooked. It was at this time that I realized that I wanted to entertain, challenge, and make people smile with amazing video game experiences. This is what led me to engineering as a discipline.”

That eventually led Ybarra to attain a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Oregon State University, with a specialization in OS design and modeling – as well as a minor in Computer Engineering. Today, his position as the Director of Program Management for Xbox puts him at the forefront of the team whose creativity and expertise drives the design and delivery of gaming technology across platforms like Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Windows 10.

“We strive to create the world’s best social gaming network, and to empower developers to create amazing experiences for millions of gamers,” Ybarra says. “We prioritize and deliver the monthly feature updates based on fan feedback; run and evolve the Xbox Live service; create compelling developer tools; delight with innovations in entertainment and media; and establish the long-term road map for gaming at Microsoft.”

One very crucial piece of that long-term road map – and one of the features that is nearest and dearest to Ybarra’s heart – is the long-awaited introduction of Xbox One Backward Compatibility. The Xbox Engineering team spent over three years making this feature a reality, and now, it’s almost ready to unveil to our millions of fans, and Ybarra couldn’t be happier about it, especially because it’s something that makes so many gamers so happy to see.

“The ability to play Xbox 360 titles on Xbox One has been one of the most-voted-for consumer feature requests. At a fundamental level, we believe that consumers should be able to play their content on the devices they own,” Ybarra says of the project. “We love our Xbox 360 customers – their passion, their feedback, their loyalty. We, ourselves, love playing Xbox 360 games!  All of these factors resonate deeply with the Xbox engineering team. The net result is that backward compatibility has been something the team and I have been passionate about delivering. We knew it would be an enormous engineering challenge, and many people told us it would be impossible. However, the team had conviction, and delivered. This is what I love most about Xbox: We’re all gamers, and fan feedback fuels our passion.”

That passion is just as evident in the team’s development of the Xbox app for Windows 10. “I spent a lot of time speaking with gamers and developers about Windows gaming, understanding what they wanted from DirectX, input, graphics drivers, and hardware,” he says of his time as GM for Windows 7. “Being a big Windows gamer already myself, much of this was confirming ideas I had while learning about the broader needs from the very diverse set of people who play all sorts of games on Windows. Those experiences are a big part of why I’m so excited to be spearheading our Windows 10 gaming efforts and the Xbox app now.”

Since it wouldn’t be a proper interview without a tough question, I pressed Ybarra to choose his favorite gaming feature in Windows 10. “One is tough… it’s a close call between DirectX 12 and the Xbox Live service coming to Windows. I’m a big multiplayer fan so I’m going to go with the Xbox Live service, accessible through the Xbox app on Windows 10,” he says. “I love that I can party chat with friends on both PC and Xbox One, discover new people to play and compete with, and see what my gaming friends have accomplished – all in one place. Xbox on Windows 10 investments like DirectX 12, the ability to record game play and take game screenshots, game streaming, and the support of new Windows game titles are just tip of the iceberg in terms of our product efforts.”

And, to bring things full circle, Ybarra is – without a doubt – one of the company’s most hardcore gamers. With a Gamerscore over 165,000 and countless hours in PC games like Diablo III and World of Warcraft, enjoying gaming is something that he believes is very important for anyone in his line of work.

“I think everyone that works in the gaming industry should have a deep passion and appreciation for playing games,” Ybarra said. “I lose track of time when I’m immersed in gaming and I hope that never stops happening!”

When he’s not working or gaming, Ybarra enjoys life as a husband, a dad, and all-around techie. “Between shuttling around to tennis and soccer matches and various other family events, my free time fills up quickly. Technology, generally speaking, is also an area of personal interest, so I am continually investigating and playing with the latest gadgets.” Be sure to follow him on Twitter for everything from peeks behind the Xbox curtain to code giveaways.

We – and our fans – are lucky to have a guy like him on the Xbox team. We’ll be introducing you to many more member of Team Xbox in the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned!