Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Microsoft Layoffs, Hiring, and Offshoring

There have been a lot of interesting comments posted over the past week or two. Additionally, my RSS searches have picked up a few interesting posts out there:

There's a bit of perspective in "Microsoft, Layoffs, and Location" regarding what seems to be a layoff game at Microsoft that favors the Redmond groups that are cut. I don't want any favoring, cost-saving or no. I just want the cuts. (There have been even more mambsy-pamsby cuts this past week I learned about over lunch. After they are announced I'll rant some more about more ill-conceived money saving.)

This part represents some of the poor thinking going on as we are being penny-wise:

If Microsoft won't spend $20 to restock the office supply room with pencils, what makes you think that Microsoft will spend $600 to fly an employee up to Redmond to interview them? The only way that you're going to get moved is if you are extremely better than the people competing in Redmond AND better than any potential recruits from outside. I've actually been in interview loops where someone was selected...not because they were the best, but because they would have to spend a massive amount of money to relocate the best.

Because it's so easy to hire Microsoft-quality developers, right?

The Scoble post "Zef says Microsoft can't hire great programmers" ( Zef's link) brings up one truth I've seen since the internet bubble: Microsoft has a really hard time hiring quality people. We go hunting for them in the wilds of East Europe. Why don't people want to come to work for Microsoft?

My take: because we're big, boring, and too entangled in each other's business. We are now IBM. We spackle in process to make up for the gaps in intellectual progress. Perhaps I have a snazzy new web app idea. There's no way I could incubate that into something that would ever see the light of phosphor as a Microsoft-brand. I'd have to hook Passport up to it, and then glom some sort of MSN story on-top of it. No, we might say how we need to be quick and agile and deft, but then we end up spending 1000% of our time trying to justify it.

So, if you can't hire Microsoft developers for Redmond, send the work to India, right? See "Mi crosoft's India workforce doubles, Americans lose 2,000 jobs." I know about code being moved to India. Can't talk about because I'm sure it would get me in big trouble. Basically, existing applications and code are being moved to India for maintenance and improvement. And yes, those Redmond groups are then looking for new positions. Fine by me, though India is not infinite in the capacity they can take. But there is an active de-Redmond-ization of Microsoft in progress. The global Company Meeting was part of that mind-shift.

Finally, in Ho w would you run Microsoft? we get the suggestion:

I would fire 90% of Microsoft's Marketing staff because they really have no understanding of Marketing or Technology. Marketing is all about creating NEW products that will sell, so if you want to do Marketing for Microsoft you should be knowledgeable about software development. The Patterns and Practice Group and the Developer Evangelists are the best thing Microsoft has done to "turn the company around", Marketing should also go through this regenerative process.


Unfortunately, followed up by:

With all the savings from firing the Marketing crowd I would hire 10,000 Developers and get to work on Win-FS because it's needed and I love a challenge.

I would establish a second Microsoft Campus in North West New Jersey, the first Technology State because it's at the center of the North East corridor: MA to VA. Microsoft needs a presence in the North East, their small little satellite offices just haven't had an impact.

Hire 10,000? Who? Where? Jersey? What are we, IBM?

Friday, September 17, 2004

Random Mid-September Comments

Randomness for this post - touching base on some comments coming in during the past week.

The Company Meeting 2004 happened Tuesday. Did you get your ticket and then physically go? Seems as though as of last Friday tickets were still available, which was a bit of a surprise to me. All my Tuesday morning meetings were still scheduled, though, so it ending up being a non-event compared to years past. I did manage to stumble across a feast of Krispy Kream Donuts, though, between meetings (and I noticed that people were pretty much ignoring the donuts while Bill talked about Google).

I've yet to actually sit down and watch the Company Meeting on-demand.  I'm just too busy.  Comments I've heard so far boil down to: good questions, blah-blah-blah platitude-riffic answers.

The following comment leaning towards slow layoffs has an interesting link in it:

I guessed MS is doing it slowly. You can already see it at http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/venture/layoff.asp. You can see MS in the list from time to time. I think this is a good approach, not to freak out everyone.

I would go through and add it up, but by that time we'd go and announce we're hiring 3000 researchers and blow any menial sum I had away. As for the pay raises (or lack there-of for a good percent of the company this year):

As for raises, you need to look at the industry. Our pay is based on industry averages and not profit, and Microsoft endeavors to be around the 2/3's mark (much better than the old 1/2 mark).

We suck less than we used to when the stock options were worth lots. Now we have the stock awards, but I mean, really, everyone I talked to pretty much ignored the line that had their stock award number this year. If we only had a process to excel at...

Process is killing Microsoft. Don't get me wrong - the old days were a bit to loose and wild out here in the field, but things have swung so far the other way it is ridiculous. There is no room for individual ingenuity ... "Never tell people how to do things. Tell the what to do and let them surprise you with their ingenuity." General George S. Patton, Jr. The new Microsoft is all about telling you how to do things in excrutiating step-by-step detail... Microsoft will look in the mirror someday very soon and see a circa 1980s IBM staring them in the face.

Ya, dang.

Keep wishing for the golden past, it is gone never to return. Once a startup or small business becomes successful every old hand wishes for the old days when they knew everyone by name and people were in it for the passion not just the money. I find it amusing that you think that if we just layoff enough people to get back to that 'golden size' everything will work out. PS: I'm also bemused by the fact that 3 Microsoft devs linked to my post and they all focused on the most inconsequential aspect of it; the office supplies cuts. -- Dare

Damned if I'm crossing swords with Dare (given that he's way smarter than me and I think that he embodies one of the ideal Microsoftie Archetypes). But, let me clarify here. I'm not looking to wind-back the clock. I realize that we have hard realities going forward now that truly change our day-to-day development decisions and we'll never savor the golden past's development process:

  • Security: you can't go and decide "Hey, why don't we take a DCR to make this utility class a dual interface and expose it in our OM? We could do some cool stuff then!" Unfortunately cool gets respelled kewl (or, what, k3wl ?) and the 2AM phone-calls unleash the patches. Features just plain don't get done now if we can't ensure they are secure.
  • Privacy: no web-bugs, no identifying information, nothing that might lead to embarrassing situations or trackings. Even GUIDs are considered evil. Again, features just plain don't get done if we can't ensure the user's privacy.
  • Dominance: we're not chasing the tail-lights of our competition anymore. We excelled at ruthless catch-up. Now that we've won and we're #1 we do... what? IE achieves dominance and what happens? That group runs screaming away from the source code to Avalon. And, oh, that's ended up so well. We have too many people and that leads to dithering.

Dare's post is optimistic and kind: rather than have layoffs and punish the day-to-day contributor for the wildly misspent foibles of upper management, we should instead endeavor to not blow money in foolish endeavors. Here's what I think, though: we have so many people that we go and empower bad decision making, masking it as some kind of Darwinian business experiment combined with a million monkeys typing, all trying to produce the next one-billion dollar killer app. Perspiration vs. innovation. We've reached some kind of breaking point where perspiration has taken precedence over deep thinking and innovative thought.

Accountability. I want to see accountability. What's the fall-out of the latest Longhorn screw-up to ship and now have to cut and throw-away code that people have been working on for well over a year? What's that figure? This is, hmm, the third big reset or delay related to Longhorn? And these folks are still in charge? We could truly stand to have some major personnel cuts starting here (and I would say, "Send them to Google!" but Google's too smart to have them... dang).

A bit of a good long comment:

...the high order bit at Microsoft is your level--hands down. Two particular employees in my org are both individual contributors doing effectively the same job...Based on corporate mandate, manager roles (usually "leads") are expected to begin no earlier than 63. As a result, a typical employee should expect to put in around 15 years before becoming a lead...The other useful piece of advice is to get a great manager. Unless you plan to leave the company soon, having a great manager will get you farther than having a great role or a great product.

I will say this, staying in line with my original goals: if you're young, unattached, and flexible: get the hell out of Microsoft. It's doubtful that any of your original options / awards are worth anything and if you aren't a high level, you are not getting much in the way of bonus or stock awards for sometime to come. The timeline to promotion has really slowed down.

Now, if you're a dev and hired around level 59 you should be promoted within the first year or, at worst, two. And then maybe a year or two to get to level 61. After that things really slow down and you do need to be achieving great results to get to 62 or 63. Then things really, really slow down and you start entering the super-achiever zone. I don't quite agree you have to be with the company 15 years to make a lead. I've seen people shoot-up and within a few years of being hired they are a lead. Most of them wanted that for power and then realized that dev lead (or just about any first-line manager position) is a hell of a lot of hard work for the same pay.

You can make a lot more money and achievement now by joining a small company and kicking butt there.

Another comment:

...You are stacked ranked way before you write your reviews. IT IS a popularity contest. One of the main reasons I left the company was due to a deceitful management chain managing me out of the company... they methodically and systematically tore a very productive, a very talented team apart because that team insisted on telling the truth, doing the right thing which included the best interest of the company in mind. Now after all that 4 people were driven out from the company (years as FTE ranged from 7 to 12 yrs), and 6 people were re-orged or traded into situations not beneficial to their own careers and development...

I benefit from being on a highly open and honest team that demonstrates unbelievable integrity. But I have heard stories from other parts of Microsoft that show some folks, decency-wise, would be right at home at Enron. This dove-tails well with an older comment about the cut-throat dot-commers brought in during the internet boom that will wage any sort of slimy duplicity to stay ahead. These are our corporate blackberry bushes and no matter of process or Company Values will weed them out. They simply have to be 2.5'd and moved on.

Lastly: I learned last week a developer I only knew from email was yet another recent Google acquisition.  And their first mistake that I know of.  The competitor in me says, "Good! They're in for trouble now!" Or it's a brilliant plant on Microsoft's part. But, in the end, it's one less brilliant developer working for Microsoft and carrying the weight of a bunch of dead wood.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Your Review, Your Numbers, Your Choices

How do you feel about your review this year? I dropped in Friday just so that I could get my review and The Numbers.

So you get the review you initially filled out with your assessment.  Now you have your boss' comments and the you-said / he-said rating. And the rest is hand-waving about the future and general confusion about just how you can be committed to something while all the future of your group is going to hell in a hand-basket as you reorganize and try to figure out what to ship and when you'll be able to ship it. 

My commitments from June are now ponderous reflections upon an optimistic era.

And then you get the sheet with The Numbers.  Your level, responsibility, department, rating, current pay, future pay, any bonus, and any stock awards.  "Wow, that's small." I let slip out, wondering if this damn blog had finally had a real-world impact on me and my compensation.

"No, that's pretty much inline with average," my boss said, and reviewed how we're inline with comparable tech companies and that 2% raises are about the max-average (?) this year, along with some % bonus I forget (10%?).  Later I got home and unloaded my gear and went through old review numbers.  Even in my worst year when I was totally ignorant about the review process I did way better than this year.

I guess we had a lean financial year.


Playing some XBox later, the compensation subject came up and that the days of new Microsoft millionaires are over. True, folks are a bit reactive right now. But now is an inflection point: The Numbers average below cost-of-living increases, our future is in flux and not inspiring, we're busy trying to save money by cutting towels and moving office supplies, and in the meantime we are expected to excel at individual Process Excellence.  Beneath all of this, the passion is in there somewhere, it just takes increasingly hard yolk-pulling work to let it out.

We're just too big to deftly manage our future and let the individual contributor flourish.

But at a personal level, what does that mean for you? Choices.

First of all: you're going to buckle down doing what you're doing, forfeit what-could-have-been elsewhere, put in 200% effort, and work through it all and endeavor to change the system and weather the storm. That path ahead is hard, no doubt about it, and full of plenty dark-nights of the soul. Don't kid yourself. We can't maintain the business as usual (I hope that the yawns to our pre-Longhorn-reset dog and pony show during the recent financial-analysts meetings were heard all the way to the top). Destructive changes, whether from-within or foisted upon us, will happen. Ya!

Okay, you could decide to change groups internally. Now's a great time for many reasons. Get that resume together and updated and do some informationals. Perhaps there is a group that's a perfect fit for you in which you can have a greater day-to-day impact making fantastic software (or selling it, or marketing it, or (bless your heart) supporting it). The thrill of that perfect match should keep most anyone going.

Lastly, it's also a fantastic time to look for other job opportunities in the area (or in an area of the world you've always wanted to live).  Why not? It never hurts to ask just to discover how desired you are. Perhaps you're savvy and you realize that the ax is being sharpened in the executive meeting rooms and groups are going to have to be cut left and right One Day Soon. Get that September 15th bonus deposited and start drafting that "Moving On" email. Just try writing your goodbye now for the thrill of imagining what it would be like to start a grand new adventure in a fast-moving environment.

The golden handcuffs were removed from your wrists long, long ago. You own your career. It's choice time.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Satan's Process Excellence

While OOF, I got to visit one of those smart people who not only are scary-smart development-wise but also scary-smart bail-out now with all these options while they are worth something... ah, the life of the retired and smart. Anyway, I got a load of reading hand-me-downs including an issue of The Baffler (#16).

One of the articles, Same as the Old Boss, is focused around personal reflections of the halcyon days of the Internet Boom, relating it to a passing summary of a book, No-Collar, which includes some focus on www.razorfish.com. Anyway, the author, Steve Featherstone, talks about the staffing entropy of one of his jobs, including the appearance of a ruthless, savvy boss he names Satan (italics mine):

The last thing Satan wanted was to reveal her absolute ignorance. Drawing from her bag of consultant's tricks, she hid behind a new set of "performance metrics" designed to put her smack in the middle of the department's self-managed workflow.  These "reforms" were supposed to make the freewheeling marketing staff "accountable" to corporate goals, but they were really Satan's way to meddle in various projects whenever she needed to deflect upper management's attention from her blood feasting. She took no responsibility for the "deliverables" to which she made us pledge our souls. Work ground to a halt. We spent so much time filling out forms, creating reports, and attending meetings to explain what we were doing and to learn how we should be filling out forms and formatting our reports, that it took twice as much effort to accomplish anything.

Interesting stuff for me, reflecting on increasing process over the years at Microsoft where I don't see the benefit for all the extra work I have to put in focusing on stuff on the edge. What lack of understanding comes from management above that they aren't smart enough and knowledgeable enough to get by without all this increasing, burdensome, rolled-up process? Cut the process, cut those demanding (or needing) process, and increase performance and results.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Employee Growth Chart

Just a quickie: Todd Bishop at the Seattle-PI put together an informative post, Deciphering Job Numbers, which graphs out Microsoft's increasing employment numbers according to broad discipline.

Wow, what do you think?

Personally, I really don't know why "Sales, Marketing, and Support" needs to track "Product Research and Development."  Again, taking up the performance analogy, I'd start massive trimming there. 

Both of those curves need to start a downwards trend and need to be the focus of layoffs.  I'd also be really interested if we have awful products that require a greater amount of support / effort to sell and market, especially considering what's the comparable investment of that effort given the products' profits (or lack there-of).  If the ROI just isn't there for those guys then that's key data to push forward into deciding which groups to cut back in: if you're creating a messy-complex product that requires us to hire scads of people to sell, market, and support it, perhaps we need to get the hell out of here and cancel what we're doing.

You gotta read the 10-K

Required reading (next in my reading queue): recent Microsoft  Form 10-K filing. Right-click and Save-As.

So you can read financial analysts and pundits and the occasional elegant and (ahem) inelegant blogger about Microsoft's business and future, but the best absolute person to listen to is yourself, reading through the detailed statement.

How do you feel about where we are currently?

How do you feel about what we're investing in?

I'll read it and make some comments later. But everyone with an interest in Microsoft's success has to read and absorb a filing like this in order to judge and filter the internal and external rhetoric you get every day.

Dangerous Transitions

Good OOF and back in town catching up on the news: good grief! Big changes that a lot of us saw inevitable for Longhorn. Furthermore, an interesting movement to detangle future client development from previous blind adherence to all things CLR / .NET.

Anyway, Technorati'ing came up with Danger ous Thoughts on articulate.babble.  Super well written.  An interesting snippet:

Microsoft should do some big layoffs right away rather than small benefit cuts here and there.

The reason is about the quality of people who will stay in the former situation versus the latter. When a company like Microsoft starts signalling its intention to scale back employee benefits, it is a green light for its good and great employees to go seek out the new hotness.

Right after I read that, I saw via Dare's Transitions post that Joe Beda is leaving Microsoft for Google.  So totally inline with Dangerous Thoughts. Joe's post explaining this is appropriately named Microsoft-- ; Google++. But realize the real fun is in the comments in most of these posts - In Joe's you have the discussion back to Dangerous Thoughts and its strong direct relevance to what's happening REAL TIME.  Joe posts in Dare's Transitions comments and Dare makes some insightful comments about the folks primed and ready for attrition.

Attrition. There's Good Attrition. This was "Bad Attrition." I'm holding to my guns and saying right now I'll take any attrition that leads to a smaller company.  A lot of Bad Attrition variety eventually leads to "We had to destroy the village to save it" results for what remains of Microsoft.  When enough A quality people leave you start starving those left behind without strong technical leadership and innovation. Then when products and features are cancelled and folks bring up the internal career site they discover that the lack of innovation has resulted in: dang, there's no where to go.  Oh crap, there's no where to go!  Hey, what's this pink-slip thingie?

This is reaching a smaller company through a regressive set of results similar to, oh, frost-bite amputation.  Much damn better right here and now to say: we have some of the absolute smartest, passionate, talented software people in the world.  We value them. We value them more than Google or any other damn company.  This can be an excellent environment for them to excel in, with changes.  Scale back in mediocre intentions and product and, most importantly, staff.  Get into 2005 with 10% less people.  To those in this small Microsoft: tell them, "You are the best.  We're getting out of your way and letting you rip.  Go make fantastic products that will innovate and make us all tons of cash."