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Tod Nielsen grew up 10 miles north of Microsoft’s headquarters in tiny Bothell, Wash.

While studying business administration at Central Washington University, he started a business that developed, among other innovations, software to monitor chickens hauled to and from farms. In 1988, when Nielsen was 22, a Microsoft recruiter offered him a job.

“I was thinking, ‘Wow, can I actually work for this software company?'” Nielsen gushed in a press release in 1999.

That’s when Nielsen began questioning himself. Many former Microsoft workers say they left to determine whether business colleagues would return their calls based on the strength of their relationship, or on the fact that they worked at the world’s largest software maker.

“The motivator for me was I wanted to find out if it was me or them,” Nielsen, now 36,
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said recently at an InfoWorld conference in San Francisco. “I wanted to see if I could repeat that success.”

In September 2000, he quit and became CEO of software development start up Crossgain in Redmond, Wash., the Seattle suburb where Microsoft is based. But in January 2001, Crossgain fired founders Adam Bosworth, Rod Chavez, Nielsen and about 20 others all Microsoft alumni who had signed agreements preventing them from competing with their former employer, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

In July 2001, e business software giant BEA Systems acquired Crossgain, and Nielsen took over the worldwide marketing strategy, operations and developer services for San Jose, Calif. based BEA. But the Washington native still lives in Redmond.
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