The beloved Ninja Cat and its trusty fire breathing unicorn steed have spread to every corner of Microsoft, from animated Skype emojis, to Xbox Avatars, to being the mascot of the Windows Insider program. Ninja Cat has become its own cultural meme for Microsoft, signifying that things aren’t business as usual in Redmond and that Microsoft is cool again.
But not much has been known about where the Ninja Cat came from since Ninja Cat stickers first started appearing on employee’s computers back in early 2015. That is until now. One of the creators of the Ninja Cat took to the Microsoft Developer blog to chronicle the history of the famed unicorn riding feline and all of the permutations since.
It all started with a team Microsoft employee KC Lemson was working with in 2014. They were working on a presentation about what would be later known as Windows 10. In the presentation, they included a joke that showed the infamous satirical Microsoft org chart transform into a slide full of “kittens and puppies and rainbows and unicorns.” And Lemson adds that the design was indeed inspired by Jack Heuser’s Welcome to the Internet meme.
Lemson then says after the presentation that other Microsoft employees started asking “how they could get that powerpoint slide on a T-shirt.” And so, she started making shirts, but also stickers since they’re significantly cheaper. It just organically spread throughout Redmond from there as employees started putting stickers on their work laptops. Eventually, non-Microsoft employees spotted the sticker and The Verge wrote about it not long after the reveal of Windows 10, and the rest is history.
Lemson’s blog post goes on in further detail describing the chain of events that led to the Skype emoji, the Xbox avatars, and the versions with a T-Rex and a shark. If you are curious about the entire history and to see a great collection of different versions of ninja cat, you can read more here.
But KC Lemson also importantly notes the greater significance of Ninja Cat. Sure it started as a fun joke in a PowerPoint slide, but it also visually captures what she describes as “a sort of zeitgeist about how people felt about the product and where we were headed.” Ninja Cat has also served to put a more personal touch on Windows 10 and Microsoft’s cultural transformation.
KC Lemson writes:
In the hallways there is so much energy and passion for our products and our customers, but due to the immense scale at which our products operate, it’s easy sometimes to come across as “Corporate with a capital ‘C’.”
Memes come and go. But Ninjacat has definitely left its mark and captures the essence of an important turning point for Microsoft.