Blain Howard figured he’d join the FBI, but he ultimately landed a ‘wild hodgepodge of awesome’ with Microsoft’s Xbox
Blain Howard (Phil‘01)—pale-faced and pacing—was minutes from appearing on television in front of millions. Suddenly, Jimmy Fallon, host of The Tonight Show, appeared by his side.
Famous people. Live TV. Expectations. Tension. It was like a stressful dream, except it wasn’t. It was real life and part of Howard’s real job at Microsoft. As the senior communication manager of Xbox, the company’s wildly popular video game brand, Howard was charged with launching a new version, Xbox One. It was 2013, and Howard had been on the job only a few months.
“I had to demo the Xbox One with Jimmy and Will Forte (actor and comedian) live on-air,” Howard says. “It was also probably the most nervous I’ve ever been. Being live on-air was intense knowing millions of people were watching. Yeah crazy.”
A memorable moment came when Fallon offered Howard reassurance: “I’ll never forget Jimmy coming up to me before the show and seeing I was nervous, looking at me, and saying, ‘Dude, it’ll be great! Super fun! Can’t wait to have you on. Let’s just have a good time.’ He’s a class act.”
It’s just one of many fun times Howard has had at Microsoft. He calls his job “a wild hodgepodge of awesome” with global travel to the biggest games-related exhibitions to show and promote games. “Microsoft is simply amazing. From culture, to team, to the campus experience, it really is a dream job.”
Howard’s career could have been much different. When he started at CU Boulder in 1996, he was thinking FBI. Growing up, he idolized his grandfather, a World War II vet and FBI agent whose stories left young Howard mesmerized. “He was about the coolest person I could imagine, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
One path to the FBI was a law degree, and when Howard learned philosophy grads often scored well on the law school admissions test (LSAT), choosing a major became easy. His fondness for the discipline grew in high school, especially after reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the popular 1974 novel chronicling a father-son cross-country ride full of philosophical ruminations on a Honda Super Hawk.
“Philosophy seemed like a natural path.” His mother and grandfather studied philosophy, too. “It ran in the family.”
Howard says the major has proven to be practical.
Philosophy helps me objectively assess activities and logically explain reasons we should or shouldn’t do something."
“Philosophy helps me objectively assess activities and logically explain reasons we should or shouldn’t do something. To be able to look at something wholly and not have emotion tied to it is valued in business. And you can use the skills from logic in everyday life. People don’t realize it, but philosophy is everywhere: motivational books, TV, movies and games.”
One game he recommends that explores how choices can affect others is called Bioshock. “You can see how Ayn Rand (20th century philosopher and author) could have manifested in a new world,” he says.
By his senior year, Howard says the prospect of taking the LSAT “freaked” him out so he opted for the business world instead. And while Howard readily admits games don’t solve major world issues, he does know they offer people an escape and perhaps even a small dose of happiness.
“I find that truly amazing,” he says. “I like bringing people something that makes them smile.”
Another part of Howard’s life reflects the moral slice of philosophy—how humans can be better. Each week he volunteers at a soup kitchen and every paycheck he gives money to charities.
“I feel so gratified that I’m able to help others more than I was before,” he says. “Every day I take a moment and really step back to appreciate how good my life is, and how I worked hard to get here. That is something I would recommend—take each thing you accomplish and celebrate it.”
Another recommendation: Be kind.
“Spreading positivity is much better than the opposite. Care for others, care about your world, assume best intent with people, and leave the world a better place than when you got here. Be kind. It’s such a small thing to say, but it makes such a big impact.”
Like the impact of Fallon’s kindness and his words that Howard remembers so well: “Dude, it’ll be great! Super fun! Let’s just have a good time.”