Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Comment Overload at Mini-Microsoft

A short, paste-happy content-free prelude to the Company Meeting... first of all, what happened last night reminded me of an offhand comment I had made to Business Week's Jay Greene: "I fear getting Slashdotted." I was concerned about the vitriol level of the comments here exploding into a noisy spectrum. Well, the small Slashdot blurb showed up last night. It could be that things were saved by Google's Blogger having a server problem and the blog just being wonky when not completely offline (perhaps from being Slashdotted - if so, sorry! Nice load experiment, eh?). But then I didn't know how many people prefer to comment within the original Slashdot posting itself. Lesson learned.

In the end, I'm pleasantly surprised at the low number of bothersome comments. And I'm super pleased at the number of new Microsoftie comments. Too many good ones to truly appreciate them all in a short period of time. It will take me a while to read them in depth, let alone pull together any new patterns.

Some recent Business Week posts:

Todd Bishop over at Seattle-PI has the Ballmer Q&A and Ballmer Q&A: Online Extra. Two precious questions that sent my socks flying (after many sock-flights out of my scruffy loafers over the past week):

  1. Q: Microsoft has been criticized for becoming too interdependent and bureaucratic as it has grown larger. Is this a bid to become more nimble and responsive in that way?
  2. Q: Is Microsoft today not agile enough, in your mind?

See, I couldn't have imagined Ballmer or Gates being asked those questions a couple of weeks ago, no matter how much I dreamed about it. The answers still don't satisfy. Here's the thing: how about some follow-ups, like a tough job interview question. Q: Can you give me a recent example of agility in action at Microsoft and how it created a superior software product? And you've got to (channeling Ballmer) drill into it, drill into it, drill into it over the next months as the commitments of these executives are realized to meet one of the main stated goals of this reorg: to be agile and efficient. Start building up the facts to show the proof. Cause... you know, folks aren't going to let this one slip away and fade from memory.

Interesting recent bits from the comments:

This blog really needs to be studied carefully. But not by Microsoft employees or even employees from other companies. Not by management either. It needs to be studied by psychology students so they can see what a serious case of DENIAL looks like. It's pretty clear that you're fully aware that SteveB, BillG, and the other upper execs are way less than competent. And that this reorg is totally pointless. Yet you continue to hope that somehow these morons, these proven failures, will magically fix things and MSFT will be great again.

Well, I guess de-Nile is not just a river. Another:

I worked for Microsoft for 15 years, and left a month ago, because of all the stuff that has been written in this blog - bureaucracy, useless level of management, product integration deadlock and so on. Seeing JimAll leaving and being replaced by a salesman, just reensure me that I did the right thing.

Jim's a polarizing figure. Either folks think he walks on water or that he's a walking disaster. Another 15-year marker:

I worked at Microsoft for well over 15 years; I left because the company was fundamentally not set up to grow people to taking on new levels of responsibility. One of the earlier comments stated that many of MS’s managers are not good business people. The fault, if true, is not with those people, but that Microsoft has not given those people the opportunity to take responsibility for their businesses.

Contemplating the "rank and yank" stack ranking system and how Ballmer indicated we move on 6.5% of Microsofties a year:

I am contiually baffled at the folks who believe that forced ranking is a necessary evil. WHY? Give me one good reason why it's necessary at all. Since when is it impossible to pick out the low performers without a ranking? This is a cop-out by people who are too lazy to set realistic goals by which to compare an employee's performance.

And

In my 10 years at MSFT, I've seen exactly four employees terminated for performance reasons: Two got caught stealing. One did literally no work for over a year. One got managed into a no-win situation. A great contributor who I later hired into my group.

And

The 6.5% forced attrition number is total BS. It doesn't happen. I have the same experience as a previous poster - I can count the number of people I've seen fired for performance reasons on one hand.

And

I'm a manager of a small team I was put in charge of 2 months ago and I "inherited" an utterly useless person. Almost all of the candidates I give no-hire I would rather have than this one, but I have no chance in hell of firing her. Why? Unions, lawsuits, bullshit upon bullshit. She got a 3.0 this year (former manager), a 2.5 last year but former manager had no balls. So now I'm stuck with an employee who is worthless, taking up a headcount and I can only give her a motivating speak in my 1-1s if I don't want her to be downright destructive. My god, if only I could actually speak right out of the bag and fire this dead weight! I may sound tough, but this really pisses me off...

Have a few years of 6.5% reduction of workforce (not backfilled) would be great. Perhaps the reductions are happening outside of Redmond. How about giving us some visibility into our reductions?

Bing! Alright, the fifteen minutes are up. Back to work.

75 comments:

oadfji said...

Does it matter that "rank and yank" process has been abused in the recent years to throw away a feature team being outsourced? There isn't any obvious open and independent authority to prevent outright misapplication? HR is told to look the other way. There is no appeal policy. Managment oversight only concerns itself with its immediate objectives, not fair review of stack rank. In other words, skillsets and overtime aren't the only factors to getting the higher rank, you have to be working on features that can not be outsourced, yet. But, it's only a matter of time for everyone, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

In all honesty, I would rather live with a fixed salary based on length of tenure than with the current review system. The reason our yearly reviews upset me is not so much the lack of acknowledgement of my contribution, but the relative unfairness of seeing some complete idiots sail through the ranks... the stories I could tell about one of our testers, who has the distinction of being probably the most incompetent person in the history of mankind. What if someone doesn't measure up to the expected contribution at a level of tenure? Fire them, I say.

Anonymous said...

The problem I've seen is this when it comes to staffing. We get rid of STEs in test because they can't code, but they have domain knowledge that no one else has not only about the environment, but also about the product. Then positions are opened to replace them, and almost no one passes the interview. Then when you finally get someone that passes the interview from the outside, they laugh at you because the pay is so much lower than what they are currently making. So when all is said and done you end up with less people expected to work longer hours (because you have less of them) for less economic pay. (I know lets not get back to the point of raises for most didn’t even match inflation.)

So I guess I could say I have seen the force attrition, but it wasn’t of low performers it was people that can’t be replaced and are now making twice as much on the outside, and saying thank you to Microsoft for forcing them to go make more money.

Anonymous said...

Even I have seen some really incompetent people with zero drive for results hanging around in the company for too long (> 5 years). These guys really pull down the productivity of the other competent people. I am even seeing some incompetent people getting promoted to a lead position for staying long enough in the group.

fCh said...

The owner of, and MSFT participants to, this blog might have done more (for better or worse) to set things in motion at Microsoft than scores of executive wonks. Hence the value of the internet in making the workplace a more democratic place. Now we should wait and see how well this does to business. I cross my fingers!

fCh
http://chircu.com

Anonymous said...

"the stories I could tell about one of our testers, who has the distinction of being probably the most incompetent person in the history of mankind. What if someone doesn't measure up to the expected contribution at a level of tenure? Fire them, I say"

Sounds like hell, I wonder why you put up with this? Cant find better company?

More seriously, you guys have serious problems at Microsoft.

Anonymous said...

Just found out about this blob. You sound like an MS exec, is that you Ballmer?

Let's slim down Microsoft into a lean, mean, efficient customer pleasing profit making machine! Mini-Microsoft, Mini-Microsoft, lean-and-mean!

I need to stop reading National Enquirer, this shit is better!!

Anonymous said...

Is recruiting not doing their job? How can such low performer sneak into MS? When I was interviewing at MS [6 years ago] and then move group [3 years ago], interviews were hard as hell. Do they get a free pass thru? Or is the job market so hot that we have to lower our standard just to get people to fill headcount?

How about this new rule, everyone *must* change their team/group once every 4 years timeframe except for those given special permission by VP? This will ensure *bad performers* be shown the door out of here.

Anonymous said...

"MS used to be full of technically competent people, but they have gotten elbowed out by the politically competent people."

This is so completely true.

As for Apple, Look back in your history books, folks. MSFT pumped life back into Apple a few years back -
Here in 1997

Google? Eventually, the layperson(s) will actually attempt to be organized and not have to search for random e-commerce data. Google hasn't "won the internet", but could Office style apps be served up via Google? Certainly, and how much would you pay a month for that? Google may be free right now, but nothing is ever completely free. Oh and BTW you will probably still need a PC to connect to the Internet. Maybe Google will actually be stupid enough to try to outbid us for AOL.

I don't see alot of people writing software and spreadsheets and large documents on those tiny phones...

As far as the re-org: Business as usual. I've been with MSFT for 6+ years now, and had 10 different managers, and I've never even left my group.

Anonymous said...

Mini,

I suggest you should somehow protect your content/feedback and later publish a book about your blog and make some $$$$. Great content !!!

Anonymous said...

6.5% reduction... this must be a joke. every year we grow in numbers even if we supposedly get rid of some ppl - we are now over 61k employees with only 8k developers. in my opinion that is absolutely ridiculous. what the heck do the rest of 53k do??? (i'm not a dev, i'm a pm)

first of all - get rid of biz dev, planning and marketing and make it one role. meanwhile, if you want to work at microsoft and not do jack shit, become a planner. sorry, i've yet to see some competant ones...

hire people that have good end-to-end skills. if you are pm you better understand end users and customers as well as the nitty gritty details - or u just don't cut it.

test - frankly we need far less testers. it just prevents us from shipping quickly and leverging our users to get real testing value while we iterate in front of their eyes in 'beta' mode. cut down on the damn process, all these milestones and bs.

middle management - umm, i could go off on this one alone. this is where we are bloated the most. somebody tell me why we have these teams that are made up of hundereds of people. did you know that messenger has 42 program managers, freaking insane! too many people at microsoft want to grow a team... there are very few people left that truly love what they're doing and are passionate. that small percentage of people is what keeps people going. and I blame management and microsoft for encouraging people to think that way: what's my next title, how many people report to me, how can i stroke my ego by being loud, etc.
instead it should be i want to ship cool shit and innovate and i will get rewarded through pride of my work not a god damn title and building an empire.

the other thing - microsoft please start rewarding people more for their raw talent over how many damn products they have shipped and how lost they've been around. experience means shit if you're not capable and smart. i'm so sick of working with damn traditional minded softies, that can't think out of the box, and keep on saying 'well i've shipped x products'... shove it!

Anonymous said...

Great blog!

This should be a required read for all MBAs, so they know what to avoid in the future...

Anonymous said...

"test - frankly we need far less testers. it just prevents us from shipping quickly and leverging our users to get real testing value while we iterate in front of their eyes in 'beta' mode. cut down on the damn process, all these milestones and bs."

That comment is the number one reason I'm switching the bozo bit on you. MSFT in the late nineties had an incredible image problem due to the overwhelming amounts of bugs we released.
Now that we are competing with "free" open source, we need to be much better and much more stable, driving TCO down, and one of the ways to do that is to improve quality.
Perhaps testers would be faster at doing their job, if the freakin' PMs would make some specs we could actually use!

Anonymous said...

I can't say what it looks like on the inside but I been a programmer for nearly 20 years and used Microsoft for nearly all that time and say what it looks like on the outside.

Microsoft has treated developers pretty good in the past. By the time of the early 90's they had a fantastic suite of development tools for a great price. Visual Basic, Visual C++ and so on. Compared to Borland, Watcom, etc. I felt that Microsoft was the "good guys". Even MS Office and other software could be gotten for good deals. I remember owning everything Microsoft had except for the server stuff in 1994 on a $10/hour salary.

But steadily it got worse, first the Office price kept climbing to the point that even the upgrades were no longer afforable (at double my 1994 salary, I quit at Office 2000).

Then programming tools themselves became less and less affordable as well.

Plus when I did upgrade or by something new. First the excellent manual went away, and then any hope of recieveing free support.

Then in 2000 the .NET development suite was released and the advent of the free release was like seeing the old Microsoft again.

But then I saw VB.NET. For the first time Microsoft just didn't make a new version of one of their products, they chucked backward compatibility out the window. When thousand VB6 developers howled they didn't react positively they called stuck in time and idiots for not considering to move on. (Nevermind the fact we had thousands lines of VB6 code to maintain).

The outrage was further fueled in later release when we saw the flexibility of the .NET platform and dozen of wierd oddball langauges are adapted to run using the .NET framework and engine and they can't make .NET compilier that will deal with the VB6 syntax.

When coupled with the other problem it makes you wonder who was at the wheel when they decided to drive off of the cliff.

Anonymous said...

I was at MS for ten years as a senior manager. The 6.5% is an urban legend. An employee would need to be grossly incompetent, steal, sexually harass, ect. to be terminated. Terminations we're very, very rare and even in cases almost demanding termination, HR fought you every step of the way because of fear of legal (typically you got a month salary for every year and the vesting periods there-in to go away quietly).

What DID HAPPEN often was poor performers got TRANSFERED so they would become someone elses problem. I can't tell you how many poor performers I saw going from one job to the next inside MS over the years in laterall moves. Unfortunatly sometimes (due to a re-org), some of the "walking dead" actually got an artificial promotion (up level).

For the most part, MS has a smart, agressive and even enthusiastic team, but the 6.5% is bogus. It does not exist.

Anonymous said...

"The problem I've seen is this when it comes to staffing. We get rid of STEs in test because they can't code..."

Did we need more automation? Definately!

Unfortunately, in some groups many very competent coders who only spent 70% of their time writing automation were classified as STEs. In other groups, anyone working on UI components were STEs and anyone working on APIs were SDETs regardless of how much code they wrote.

Code written by STEs even shipped to customers in the Windows Server Resource Kit! Microsoft should have a class action lawsuit on it's hands from those STEs that were laid off because "they can't code".

I don't know of a single STE in the Windows Server group who didn't write tens of thousands of lines of automation code.

In that layoff, Microsoft threw away around 500 man-years of domain knowledge and prevented the test leads in those groups from accomplishing anything for at least the following year...probaby more.

Jeremy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeremy said...

Well, I'm another outsider who obviously don't know how quickly things have been moving inside Microsoft, but from an outsider's perspective, the Xbox360 launch is an insane display of agility for a non-portable console maker.

From the formal announcement at E3 to the now imminent launch window, almost everything seems to be not only going smoothly, but accellerating. The TGS showing was amongst the best I've yet seen for any console lineup, and the only thing I can really complain about is the mess related to two price points and one package that appears to be more or less crippled. That just seems to breed doubt and confusion.

But I have to agree about Office. At home I use OOo, it's a superior package at a superior price. The only thing that it really lacks is a solid groupware module (which I don't need at home). Version 2 is resolving the limitations that OOo had with regard to interoperability with current MSO versions, and I'd have a hard time seeing why people who are aware that they have a choice wouldn't switch.

This isn't a "Linux on the Desktop" scenario where it's difficult to install (this coming from someone who's done it plenty of times, I have to say that almost all distributions ARE difficult to install, and would be nearly impossible for someone without a lot of dedication or expertise).

Anonymous said...

I've always had the sneaking suspcion that Gates and Balmer actually wanted Microsoft to BE like IBM: that "Being IBM" is their definition of having finally "made it". Has it ever occurred to you that what you're seeing as disaster, is actually "everything going according to plan"?

Just get worried when they ask some jumped-up, two-bit, garden-shed operation to design some apparently minor and trivial piece of software for them, and then forget to demand to keep the legal rights to it.

Anonymous said...

I wrote this last Thursday:

I'm done...

It's been a long time since I completely gave up hope on anything. Longer than my living memory. I have never completely given up on anyone. But I have given up on Microsoft.

I am a Microsoft employee (blue badge) who is being outsourced and tomorrow is my last day of a six-week paid internal job search. Never let it be said that Microsoft was not generous. They have been extremely generous to me and my family. They have enabled me to do things financially that I would not have been able to do if it weren't for them. But during the search, I have noticed that Microsoft is not the company it once was; the entire company is feeling more pressure from the top down. Even to my little neck of the woods, America's Customer Service. I was one of 72 workers in which our positions were eliminated and sent to Canada and India. They have done this to save the company money. And by sending these jobs to Canada and India, they no longer have to pay for benefits, or in the case of India, a very large living wage. More importantly, Microsoft is one of the world's technology leaders. What message are we sending to our educated professionals that occupy these jobs? What about the people who are educating themselves that aspire to these jobs, or the worst of all, our children who have shown interest/aptitude in these jobs? We stand to lose a great deal of our creative input in the technical sector to outsourcing. We are placing more and more of our development workload in the hands of workers in other countries. A great deal of these middle class, middle income jobs are going overseas in order to curtail spending on overhead. If you want to make it about money, fine. What happens to this country's revenue stream when its biggest contributor disappears? Manufacturing, steel, textile, and now IT jobs, all going away. Also the managers of these jobs also are a thing of the past. What does that leave? Upper management, lawyers, doctors and of course, the poor. If we all end up working at McDonalds or Wal-Mart, who is going to be left to buy houses, or Microsoft products for that matter? Or they all going to be torn down in order to make room for new shoebox apartments that we will now be living in. I know these ideas seem paranoid, or even Orwellian perhaps. But I don't think I am that far from the truth. Everything seems to be heading in that direction.

Anyway, back to Microsoft.

As I said before, Microsoft has been very generous with me. As far as I know, Microsoft has the best benefits in the industry, and have really helped with my family's medical expenses. The reason I'm done with them is that every manager, everyone in the company started looking more at the bottom line instead of quality. More attention and focus was paid to keeping costs down instead of the customer happy. The only customer's that Microsoft really cares about are the ones paying large sums of money for support. Everyone else using their software is just a nice little ancillary benefit. There are more politics there now than there ever have been, and I think most folks there have lost sight of what they are really there to do.

But the most disappointing thing about Microsoft, and the biggest reason I have given up on them is that they gave up on me. They turned their back on me, not even bothering to give me a phone call to be told that they would not be extending an offer for a Windows support job. Instead, they chose to send me a passive-aggressive email stating that while I have a great passion for customer service and a good start in the technical support area, I do not qualify for one of their specialty groups. They are not giving me, a long-time and once valued employee of eight years a chance to learn, grow, fail or succeed. They just showed me the door when my employment became too much of a burden to their bottom line.

My plan is this; I will make them regret their decision to let me go. I will be moving on to bigger and better things.

BTW - I'm writing this from a Linux box!

Anonymous said...

"What DID HAPPEN often was poor performers got TRANSFERED so they would become someone else’s problem. I can't tell you how many poor performers I saw going from one job to the next inside MS over the years in lateral moves. Unfortunately sometimes (due to a re-org), some of the "walking dead" actually got an artificial promotion (up level)."

This is part of the policy, you know? People Management Strategy is - Manage People UP or Manage them OUT. And Manage them OUT doesn't mean out of the company, it just means out of your group.

This is, of course, in response to the required curve. As you know, the curve is supposed to keep us focused and performing at ever higher levels, to drop the low performers out of the business, and to keep the pressure on to grow skills and talent. I get it, in theory. In implementation; however, it prevents people from getting a reasonable balance in their work/life in some cases, it definitely torpedoes teamwork, it results in transfers for folks without forcing managers or the individuals to be accountable for performance, and it is forced on small teams - which really hurts when you have a group of high performers - who wants to stay? Someone will be getting that 2.5.

We have several fundamental issues, I think, and they are all related.
1. Lack of accountability at all levels of the organization. Why isn't everyone held to their commitments, measured on results, and really rewarded appropriately? This is related to our management problem.
2. Disparity in pay scales, disparity in rewards. It is irrelevant what information HR is finding in the market place. If we are all working flat out we should all be sharing in the reward of the company. If we aren't we should be managed appropriately via responsible and real performance management. At the end of the day $$ shows that we are valued here - the differing pay scales across groups at Microsoft and the differing bonus structures are hurting our company and contributing to the loss of super sharp talent.
3. Value of political skill over raw talent. We hire internally based on who we know and what we think of someone's experience and smooth ability to manage an interview rather than Passion, Competence, Demonstrated Results, Delivery. Outrageous to see.
4. Management is not trained and much of it is really bad. We have whole DL’s talking about bad management. What’s up with that? Managers impact people's lives every day, yet our company does not require training, does not value and reward good management, and does not help managers build good and strong teams. We say OHI matters but we ignore the root of issues year after year.
5. HR has no understanding of how to recruit.
6. HR is the advocate of Microsoft, not of the people in Microsoft.
7. Our company seems ok that we have taken the fun and value and frankly, the benefits of being a Microsoftie away from most of us. These rewards are reserved for the top tier, and this disparity smacks of class structure and even nepotism.
8. We are in de-Nile and seem to like the water, thank you. We don’t want the bad news fast and first – we only ever want to hear that things are great and getting better and better. Why? Is the senior team afraid that we can’t figure out how to fix things? Or is middle-management afraid they might lose their jobs? What is going on here?
9. We want 100% performance and dedication from every employee, but are comfortable giving 67% of the market's salary base to our teams, and 67% of the best benefits. If we want excellence we need to be committed to it - and accountable for it.

What I want to believe is not only that our senior executives understand this, but that they are going to drill into it with determination and address the issues, that we are going to adjust our value and reward and accountability paradigm and get results focused, that we are going to create a company where people who are good performers get good ratings and rewards and great performers get great ratings and rewards – while refusing to tolerate mediocre performance, where bad managers get fired, where we are honest about our issues and this honesty leads to discussion and resolution rather than discipline, and where day to day fun and dinners and pencils and bottled water are OK. These are smart people. We are smart people. We have to find a way to make our company as great as it can be – from the Inside – and that will actually impact our stock, maybe more than anything else.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy,

home users don't need Word. Writepad is a perfect application for them and I can see it every day (and that's what I use every day). Ordinary people don't need Word.

Not to mentioned that I work for a huge financial corporation which still uses Word97 and Word2000 (and we are happily running Windows 2000 and will be for next couple of years).

Detto Excel - I just need some lite version for my home stuff. And add some nice photo/video managament app into the Windows instead of that piece of crap called Paint (that piece of crap called Media Marker doesn't count).

Ordinary people really don't care about 3.548 features in Word or Excel. What they need at home is email, web browser, simple word processor/spreadsheet, simple image/video/sound app and viewers, personal finance app and that's it.

Jeremy said...

Anonymous,

It's probably true that many home users don't need Word or Excel. However, based on my experience with Works, it's very frustrating when you have come to rely on a feature or formula and it's not there.

On the other hand, in my personal life, I spend a lot more time typing into plain text than into formatted text. It's those times when either work or the external world (many websites provide forms or documents in Word format) intrude on my personal life that I have to have some option.

Anonymous said...

Is Scoble underpaid?
http://www.makeyougohmm.com/20050922/2407/

He is being very blatant in fishing for his raise/promotion, but other than the obvious stupidity in doing this, he deserves it. He has done more to make us accessible and customer-centric than any other marketer.

I say give him a promotion, give him a huge bonus, and give him a Google-esque job title like 'Head Geek Spinmeister' to prove we can be cool too.

Anonymous said...

WRT Bishop, I personally wrote him months ago after one of his puff pieces and asked him why - despite his need to stay on decent terms with mgt - he couldn't ask some of the obvious but tougher questions that finally got asked this past week. Never heard back. So not surprised at all that this latest attempt, while coming close to some of the BW stuff, quickly lets Ballmer off the hook.

WRT all the comments about being unable to let go poor performers, in my time at MSFT I rarely if ever saw anyone fired for non-performance - and that includes one individual who spent the better part of an entire fiscal year working on his home remodelling. So I'd have to agree. On the other hand, I saw numerous very capable people asked to leave because they'd run afoul of the political machine - in many cases for raising or trying to address the very issues that have now become obvious to all and are debated here. Even at the time, the loss of the latter was much more concerning. Any company can get by with some deadwood. But when a company prefers to lose highly capable people because of petty politics or because they don't want to upset the deadwood or the processes supporting them, you know the problems are significant.

Anonymous said...

The one thing this blog reflects, and that Ballmer gave a nod to, is that the real MSFT culture is not to accept the situation.

We're not comfortable saying, "Oh, this is how it is in the industry, so we'll just have to live with it." We don't do that with our products, so we don't do it with our corp culture.

This blog is in a way asking mgmt to *gack* "Think outside the box" and run MSFT as MSFT, not like traditional companies.

A traditional company is mediocre at best, and I hate mediocre. We don't want to hire people who wallow in the mire of mediocrity, so why are we making our culture that way?

The MSFT way is to demand better and not accept average. We should have that demand culturally, too.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy,

I agree, Works is an another horrible package. We have completely useless Works and then over featured, heavy Office suite. No win situation for an average joe.

Anonymous said...

MSFT situation is not just problem with Ballmer, Gates and others. It's a much broader problem - it's related where is software industry headed and what can MSFT offer. I'm afraid that flattering of Windows/Office revenue will be worse and worse over time with inability to shift focus on new areas and products to compete. MSFT is in situation where every move takes a lot of time and causes a lot of pain.
The situation is nothing new - I remember when MSFT ignored The Web completely and since then it's just cat and mouse game.

Anonymous said...

Who da'Punk, you may have seen a lot of speculation on the internet about who exactly you are, there is even some comments here suggesting you are Balmer. The posts also suggest that if you are found out that you will be at best fired and at worse, sued for every penny you have.

Now, in your post you say that your 15 mins are up and you need to go back to work.

Why would you be so stupid as to post to this blog from work. If they are looking for you, surely they are going to be logging all requests to this site. You will be caught very soon if you post from work (unless everyone there really is stupid / incompetent / lazy)

Maybe you can answer how you are looking at very serious punishment, yet you do not seem to take any precautions.

Unless of course they work you really hard and you only have 15 mins at home. If this is the case, then sorry ;)

Anonymous said...

Our test team is abysmal. They're mostly STEs from the big "blue badge migration" 7 years ago, about half of whom now have an automatic SDET title from promotions. The only testers with any ability are recent hires - and they're suffering. They're suffering because they work on a team of nitwits, lead by nitwits, so any passion and drive is crushed out of them. With no drive for improvement from the leads, and a palpable aura of failure oozing from their peers' offices, ain't no way they'll drive themselves to realize THEIR potential.

They blow smoke up their manager's ass about how much "automation" they're writing, and how they spend 80% of their time writing it. There is almost zero functioning automation of any kind. Test is responsible for writing BVTs on our team. There are zero. Meanwhile, basic functional testing is way way down - to the point that a PM can find a bug a minute just clicking randomly around the app (this happens).

We are in Office, and we suck, and some of us even know it. The writing is on the wall for our team anyway - a new team just formed which has most of our charter and far more resources.

Anonymous said...

MS spent millions buying hardware and sending it to India. They brought the testers to Redmond to learn how to run the automation and perform the numerous manual test cases (w2k was not nearly as automated as XP/Srv03/LH) and the dev's were brought over to learn how to setup a debugger. This phase was pretty much complete last October at which point managment put the final stage of thier plan into action...layoffs and let India deal with NT4 and Win2k (and xp/srv03 soon). The first major release from this new group has shipped...and been recalled. http://support.microsoft.com/kb/891861

Anonymous said...

To the guy two up: "15 minutes" as in "15 minutes of fame".

Anonymous said...

Good point about fresh hired testers being much better than the old timers. In my team there is the same issue, the new ones are definitely more motivated and less political than the internal guys. I am a PM but dev around here has the same view.

former tester said...

speaking of testers, let me share with you a little story. when i used to be a tester myself there was this guy, eric berg, who sucked up and barked down so hard that they promoted him into management. i've left the company for a while, but this (unfinished) piece of work goes on higher and higher. the moral of this is that it doesn't matter how good you are as a tester, if you suck up and bark down they'll promote you. btw, when i joined testing my dream was to become a developer, and since i could not achieve this at msft i had to leave. i guess i should have looked up some management position...

Anonymous said...

Microsoft is headed all the wrong way. People being recruited and promoted are based on "old-boy-girl-network".
I have had chance to work across the microsoft in support, dev/test, pm, marketing.

We have product managers, general managers, directors, dev leads who can't talk about their or related products for more than a minute. They can't even open the damn interface of the software. This true across the 3 big subsidieries and one of the very big emerging bric sub.

The worst folks I hate who don't do anything are the account managers and their bosses ...they can't talk about single product in microsoft stack (no they do not even know mysql is from open source and sql server and db2 are based on commercial realities).

We have dev/test leads who have become so based on screwed up bell curve models and we have tonnes of people managers (these are mostly from si firms) and boss around with absolute punity. I used to be peer for one such guy and was apalled as this guy (btw he is from us of a with mba etc) as he has absolutely no respect for dev/test folks - he thinks they should respect him and ask him 3 times before they do anything. He keeps track of their daily routing and asks them to send a daily work chart ;).

Then there are program managers - oh man, first of all this job is so fictious - some of the program managers are totally clueless about anything.

Windows group people don't even acknowledge that there could be better people outside in open source.

Some of the worst teams and their bosses are biztalk/commerce server/content managment server and sharepoint. Even an Ass could see the possible integration opportunities in this space. But it was killed and dumped off.

HR - whoa - try getting some kind of clarification from them.

Good folks - there are still many across the many div we talked about. But some of the unsung folks are in itg, admin.

I really-2 wish every am/pam (oh another data collection entity)/bmo(since pam collects the data - i wonder what is their main job - just to direct marketing $s????)/director/general manager is seriously asked to demo one product pitch by themselves without any help from TS/MCS or DPE. What the fuck ....they only do the schommozzing and golfing whereas everybody else works....

Anonymous said...

I was a 10-year veteran who quit the company a couple of months ago. For the last six I was a manager. Like others, I saw only a handful of people fired for incompetence during my time there. I actually saw almost as many people fired for non-performance reasons (four, though three of those were together) as for performance-related ones (five).

I had one employee who was terrible at his job but was almost impossible to fire because he was in *two* protected groups. We had to work at it for more than six months and get ironclad evidence to terminate him.

This is what cinched it for me: the word I use most to describe MSFT right now is "gunshy". I was terrified as a manager of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and getting hauled into HR to explain myself. The company is paranoid about being sued, and will put its good employees through any amount of misery to avoid it.

I didn't care about the endless meetings and planning sessions. That comes with the territory. But when new "sensitivity training" sessions started coming out every six months or so, I just couldn't take it anymore.

brendan said...

This is a very interesting site; keep up the good work! It seems to me that Microsoft has some major work to do if they hope to stand their ground against open source projects. The agility concept piques my interest: from the sounds of it, productivity is imposed via management, which is rather bloated.

Most of the Microsoft people commenting on this site sound like they would love to do what they're doing, given better management, policies, and fewer incompetant co-workers.

Something Jeremy posted earlier stuck in my mind, and I thought it tied well to the "agility" discussion:

This isn't a "Linux on the Desktop" scenario where it's difficult to install (this coming from someone who's done it plenty of times, I have to say that almost all distributions ARE difficult to install, and would be nearly impossible for someone without a lot of dedication or expertise).

This has been a historically true experience. I tried to dual-boot with a Linux desktop two years ago, but learning curve was too steep. The problem Microsoft faces is that Linux development teams are growing more agile, and the learning curve is eroding. People who write open source software are doing it because they love it, and the system has no room for dead weight.

It's now incredibly easy to download a multinational Linux distrobution, burn the CD and install it. It takes 2-3 simple choices, and the user is presented with a working, integrated desktop (with equivalent productivity tools in place) that updates itself automatically.

It seems that Microsoft's focus is more on the business of being the market shareholder than creating great technology. That sentiment seems to be reflected in all of your experiences. Is simply cutting down on employment size enough, or is there a fundamental vision/policy shift in order?

Anonymous said...

"It's now incredibly easy to download a multinational Linux distrobution, burn the CD and install it. It takes 2-3 simple choices, and the user is presented with a working, integrated desktop (with equivalent productivity tools in place) that updates itself automatically."

It's even easier than that with the live distros. Burn Kanotix or Knoppix and boot right from the cd into a desktop without messing with the existing windows install. if everything works as you want, you can one click install the distro. Donst like it? doesnt work with your hardware? pull the cd and reboot. back to windows.

Anonymous said...

As for Apple, Look back in your history books, folks. MSFT pumped life back into Apple a few years back.

Something they must regret today. Thank god Mini didn't say "blogcast!" :)

Anonymous said...

As for Apple, Look back in your history books, folks. MSFT pumped life back into Apple a few years back.

Put it this way - MS should be happy that Jobs was not there at that time...

Anonymous said...

"How about this new rule, everyone *must* change their team/group once every 4 years timeframe except for those given special permission by VP? This will ensure *bad performers* be shown the door out of here."

True - random job changes would be a good method to filter out people who are only held in place by their cronies. Points for finding a constructive solution.

Anonymous said...

The first major release from this new group has shipped...and been recalled. http://support.microsoft.com/kb/891861

Hmm.. At the link you mentioned I couldn't find any talk about it being recalled earlier. Only fixes to fix the fixes - nothing new for MSFT.

Nice troll+FUD though..

Anonymous said...

Here is where you can find the union: http://www.washtech.org. Dues are $11 per month.

Jeremy said...

Brendan "This has been a historically true experience. I tried to dual-boot with a Linux desktop two years ago, but learning curve was too steep. The problem Microsoft faces is that Linux development teams are growing more agile, and the learning curve is eroding. People who write open source software are doing it because they love it, and the system has no room for dead weight.

It's now incredibly easy to download a multinational Linux distrobution, burn the CD and install it. It takes 2-3 simple choices, and the user is presented with a working, integrated desktop (with equivalent productivity tools in place) that updates itself automatically.
"

It's definitely getting better, but I think that some of the better known distributions are still not so hot. My brother recently whined to me about Red Hat. He got it installed, but was having significant problems getting software installed correctly. He was a first-timer, but that shouldn't happen with a product that wants to get mass market infusion.

The natural process of speciation is happening plenty fast on that side of the fence, and it is definitely spurring development, but I think that in a way, the hardcore component is supporting the survival of elements that should have been weeded out by natural selection by now.

In a way, the proliferation of different ways to do things and entirely different interfaces has, I think, been as harmful as it has been helpful.

Still, there's a good possibility (IMHO) that this will more or less go away if GNU/HURD is finally back on track with the move to L4. They have an opportunity there to cherry pick packages and approaches, even if the swarm behavior of open source means that in short order everything will migrate (what little migration is necessary).

To summarize, I think that the eventual domination of some sort of GNU based *NIX is essentially inevitable, however, the time scale for that is probably far in excess of the conventional projections unless something intervenes and brings a lot of order to the chaos. Federation and standardization of several major distributions would go a long way toward achieving that process, but the other possibility is that an overriding force may impose it by an entirely different process.

Anonymous said...

"Here is where you can find the union: http://www.washtech.org. Dues are $11 per month."

And does nothing for you unless the whole company was union.

Sorry, but I highly doubt that MSFT will ever get unionized. Any threats of unions, and I'm sure more jobs will get offshored/outsourced.

Anonymous said...

I also agree with switching groups every 4 years idea. If they want to stay in the group they should take another formal interview and/or vote of coworkers to stay.

Anonymous said...

To summarize, I think that the eventual domination of some sort of GNU based *NIX is essentially inevitable, however, the time scale for that is probably far in excess of the conventional projections unless something intervenes and brings a lot of order to the chaos.

The biggest problem of MS people is to face reality and to see the world outside of MS campus.
Hint: You have list of 100 the most used web applications/sites on the Internet - have you ever wondered how many is running Win/ASP/ASP.NET/IIS?

Anonymous said...

I saw this "blog entry"

http://www.yafla.com/dforbes/2005/09/21.html#a72

And it was paragraph 3 that really struck me - is it that you just haven't adapted to the new world that Microsoft exists in?

Anonymous said...

I can tell you that the 6.5% policy is alive and well. I was let go earlier this year due to a re-org and manager who didn't like me. They claimed it was performance related, but I had just got a 3.5 review last August. (My lifetime average was very high) This shit does happen and it is a result of the "new" kind of manager that only cares about making themselves look good, not shipping great stuff.

Anonymous said...

"I was let go earlier this year due to a re-org and manager who didn't like me. They claimed it was performance related, but I had just got a 3.5 review last August."

Saw it dozen of times. MSFT isn't really a meritocracy imo as is often claimed. Yes, if you're a very solid performer, you'll normally get decently rewarded. But there are numerous examples of lesser performers either getting only slightly inferior rewards despite huge disparity in effort/results or (all too often) superior rewards and even promotions. In that way, MSFT's culture functions a lot like high school - it's about cliques, petty rivalries, gossip, who you know and who knows you, and whether you/they are currently the flavour du jour.

Anonymous said...

PLEASE, OH PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE WITH SUGAR ON TOP AND SPRINKLES TOO: Make some real noise at the company meeting. Let Ballmer and Gates know that the troops no longer have confidence in them. It would be the best possible thing you could do.

The litany of reasons why is documented throughout this blog, other blogs, news articles (past and present), the swooning stock price, court transcripts, sworn depositions, and is generally well understood (though not generally acted upon) by a large percentage of Microsoft employees.

Maybe Mini can put up a blog entry just to coordinate everything so the effect is maximized. Everyone wear a button (it could say "I'm Mini"), or a black armband, or something. And make a ton of noise. Make sure they get the message. It would be the best company meeting ever.

If the best you can do is just blog and comment, that's easy to write off as a handful of malcontents anonymously venting. (Who reads blogs anyways?) But if a substantial number of employees stand up and DO something, no one can ignore it and something better than yet another Hail Mary re-org can result.

Billy Brackenridge said...

I am a proud member of the 6.5%. I worked at Microsoft from 1995 and was fired in November 2001. While I have diversified my portfolio, I still have some Microsoft stock. I consider myself part of the Microsoft ‘extended family’.

I am clearly one of those who was fired for political reasons. I was never accused of not working hard or technical incompetence.

Neither I nor my managers took the stack ranking very seriously. While we were shipping operating systems, the stock grants were good. I had 3.5 reviews.

I was then and still remain very technically oriented. I never had any desire to go ‘up the ladder’. All I wanted was to see the company make good decisions at the thousand foot level and execute well at the micro level.

I had a huge influence at the company without any power. In those days criticism of company policy was fair game as anybody could send email to anybody. I never had any issues with people rising up the ladder on issues I had introduced to the company.

Later I inherited Dennis Flanagin as a manager. He never seemed to understand or care about technical issues so there wasn’t any common ground. I never cared for process. There wasn’t much common ground here either, but he gets big points for orchestrating my firing. He was good at manipulating the system.

I don’t think I’d have done well in the ‘new Microsoft’.

On the other hand there are islands of competency at Microsoft. For example Microsoft reacted well to the transition to 64 bit. The virtualization stuff looks very interesting and I believe will be very important in the future. My old group that handles audio has done amazing things for Vista.

Many of us shared a vision of Microsoft software in the home networking devices and becoming the platform for presentation of entertainment in the home. Some of us saw it as important that the same OS become the platform for production of media in the workplace and consumption of it in the home.

This is a huge effort. The four billion lost so far on Xbox alone is just a drop in a larger ocean. Back in 1995 many of us thought Sony would have taken this market by now. They tried, but have failed worse than Microsoft even though they have cleaned our clock with the Sony Playstation.

I don’t know of any area in Microsoft with more politics and less substance than the groups attempting to sell into the home, but senior management is persistent and has invested billions. I’m still betting on them in this area over the long term.

The thing this blog seems to be missing is Microsoft has always leveraged off a very few people who write code. Sure there is a lot of overhead, but there are islands of competency, and individuals still have a chance to influence the world. You are right that there are a lot more silly meetings that serve no purpose.

I am still working with Microsoft. I’m at a startup. We have structured our business such that we are dependent on the continued success and evolution of the Microsoft platform. Of course we must have backup plans for when Microsoft fails to deliver, but I think we will do better helping Microsoft than fighting them.

I never ‘worked for a salary’ at Microsoft, and at a startup, I’m getting paid a salary, but that’s not what it is about.

I think that what this blog has identified is that people at Microsoft now work for salary and position as that is the only game left since the stock is no longer going up.

One thing that we know well is the path I and others have taken works. You can leave Microsoft and still work ‘for’ Microsoft with a lot less bureaucracy. Microsoft has created plenty of markets it is too big to exploit. There is plenty of opportunity out here, though it does help to leave with a few million after taxes:)

This blog has pointed out that Microsoft has not yet figured out how to manage a salary driven company. The days of a 3.5 review with a 100K stock option are over. Microsoft needs a review procedure where people can feel good about being average Microsoft employees. OK it is not as good a feeling as we got in the old days when the stock kept going up and up, and average meant millionaire. I’d hope that average at Microsoft is something people can be proud of.

Anonymous said...

"The days of a 3.5 review with a 100K stock option are over."

Only for regular employees. For VP's and above, 100K options for average or aguably even below average performance is routine.

Anonymous said...

For VP's and above, 100K options for average or aguably even below average performance is routine.

No kidding:

http://biz.yahoo.com/t/50/155.html

Anonymous said...

Billy - from what you said, MS is screwed up since 2001 at the least. If people have to believe MS are coming out of the doomed state they are in right now, they should call people like you back with a big apology. (To me, not being bitter to the very company which fired you apparently for no good reason, is nothing less than great - an incompetent will not even dream of thinking like this.)

Anonymous said...

No kidding:
http://biz.yahoo.com/t/50/155.html

He must've seen this:
http://quote.barchart.com/texpert.asp?sym=MSFT

Anonymous said...

"So I guess I could say I have seen the force attrition, but it wasn’t of low performers it was people that can’t be replaced and are now making twice as much on the outside, and saying thank you to Microsoft for forcing them to go make more money."

Thank you Microsoft. Not only more money (same salary, but stock options that aren't underwater), but a fair review system, less stress, more interesting technology, mostly ex-msfties who just got sick of MS, less bureaucracy, a business plan that doesn't revolve around a monopoly that won't last forever and smart managers who actually care more about the company and the customers more than building their little empires and keeping their career "on the right track". It's been fun watching my old coworkers from MS send me their resumes.

Anonymous said...

He must've seen this:
http://quote.barchart.com/texpert.asp?sym=MSFT


Is it just me, or does it seem like a bunch of the whackers from the Yahoo/MSFT board have unfortunately learned of Mini's site and started trolling it?

Billy Brackenridge said...

I think you give me more credit than I deserve.

Who can be bitter on walking away and never having to go to work again? I walked out with plenty of money. It was more delicious knowing the guy who fired me never has had an ‘in the money’ option.

I was asked to return to Microsoft about a year ago. Officially I left in good standing as the ‘do not rehire’ button was not checked in my personnel record. Microsoft never publicly says that someone has been fired, but you can leave with or without the ‘do not rehire’ checkbox marked.

In the middle of the interview process my resume got off to my current employer, and the rest is history. I was upfront about the fact that I had been fired from Microsoft. Our CEO was a bit taken aback by all this particularly as the resume had come from someone at Microsoft. The good news is that he followed up on all of my references, and they felt free to talk about the fact that I had been fired.

I had been working in Bluetooth. It was a good technology, but got caught in Microsoft politics and never happened on the PC. Today I’m working in Ultrawideband. This is an even more interesting technology. I’m not going to let it get caught up in politics.

During my years off, I spent a lot of time at a friend’s farm house in Tuscany and learned some Italian and a lot about making wine and olive oil. I don’t ever see bitterness as positive, but I have little reason.

I was physically sick from stress at Microsoft. I had been in bed for two weeks from a bad back before my firing. Just getting escorted out the door it felt better. Hey I didn’t even have to pack up my office as they packed up everything and shipped it home to California for me. I do appreciate the loyalty of friends who put on a big going away lunch and helped me pack up my apartment and head for California.

Somebody sent a $1400 expense reimbursement request to the guy who fired me for the going away lunch. He was not amused, but his response email was passed around to great hilarity on the part of all concerned.

There are a lot of really good people at Microsoft.

I remember writing an e-mail. The point was over whether to support Bluetooth or not. The politically correct side was that 802.11 would match power, cost of Bluetooth as time evolved, and that Bluetooth would soon go away to be replaced by 802.11. This has not been the case. At the time I argued that the physics of the radios dictated that Bluetooth would always beat any implementation of 802.11 on these criteria.

(By the way I’m not opposed to 802.11.)

At one point in the debate, I remarked that there were two kinds of people at Microsoft. Those who aced the physics tests in high school without having to study, and those who would return to class after flunking the test and convince the teacher to give a passing grade. I suggested that some of my bosses were in the latter camp.

Some of my friends let me know that that one had found a target. I had enemies in high places and was fair game for middle layer managers wanting to look good.

Anonymous said...

Q: Can you give me a recent example of agility in action at Microsoft and how it created a superior software product?

Now look at them yo-yo's that's the way you do it

Anonymous said...

The review system at Microsoft has always been fucked up. Not only in Redmond, but also in the subsidiaries around the world. It did not get worse all of the sudden.
The issue is that the overall compensation dropped dramatically with the stock performance(the drowning of the stock options and breathlessness of the stock awards) and the cheap-ass benefit cuts.
The weight of the review process became more important then ever since we depend more on the bonus and merit increases.
As a consequence, interal politics is more important. Useless show-off meetings to your bosses' peers are more important.
Instead of developing excellent products, establishing awesome relationships with customers and partners and closing deals, we have to "play the corporate game"...

Anonymous said...

Brian Jones says that Microsoft might support the Open Document standard if enough users want it. That would sure be a big change from its normal closed-formats monopoly lock-in approach.

See the comments where he says this:

http://blogs.msdn.com/brian_jones/archive/2005/09/22/472826.aspx?CommentPosted=true#commentmessage

Anonymous said...

Let's not talk about recruiting not doing their job - that's a cop-out. In my 5 yrs, I have seen some fantastic candidates come through the door and not make it through the process because some idiot interviewer is afraid of hiring someone better than they are - so I spend all my time as the AA, interviewing chumps that should never have made it past the 3rd interview let alone through 5.

We need to pay market rates, give the candidates who are interviewing with us a great experiences so people want to come and work for us and stop feeling like we owe anyone outside of our clients, customers and partners anything but a swift kick in the ass.

Anonymous said...

Hey Billy - Now I know :) But personally, I would have been bitter to my company even if they had given me a ton of money before firing - and a mean person would have never wished for the company's success.

Any way your experience made a good reading.

Anonymous said...

Back in 1998 when I started at microsoft, we were punk rock. Now we are boy-band and learning all of these dance moves really sucks.

Anonymous said...

I feel for you billy ... i had the same thing happen to me.

dalen & andrew are the guys you dont want at your company ....

Thanks for actually implementing my ideas the foundation is in post B1 builds... thanks

Anonymous said...

Scott why are you filing two patents for the same idea?

http://www.freshpatents.com/Scott-Manchester-Redmond-invdirm.php

Anonymous said...

To summarize, I think that the eventual domination of some sort of GNU based *NIX is essentially inevitable, however, the time scale for that is probably far in excess of the conventional projections unless something intervenes and brings a lot of order to the chaos.

Is that why Raikes wants to make Office run on *nix just as it runs on Mac and Windows? He doesn't want Office revenue to drop off just because people are switching to a *nix operating system from Windows.

Anonymous said...

Is that why Raikes wants to make Office run on *nix just as it runs on Mac and Windows?

Is that on radar? Really? Will Bill and Co. allow Raikes to be stupid enough to kill Windows? Or *nix just means some endangered-on-desktop species of Unix which excludes Linux?

Anonymous said...

"A great deal of these middle class, middle income jobs are going overseas in order to curtail spending on overhead. If you want to make it about money, fine. What happens to this country's revenue stream when its biggest contributor disappears? Manufacturing, steel, textile, and now IT jobs, all going away. (sic)I know these ideas seem paranoid, or even Orwellian perhaps. But I don't think I am that far from the truth. Everything seems to be heading in that direction."

What you are witnessing is the erosion of the middle class. First manufacturing went, and now white collar jobs are going, it's history in the making, really. The gap gets bigger and bigger. Hmm, MS is really a microcosm for what's happening in this country. The large disconnect between the execs and the rank & file is akin to the gap between the haves and have nots.

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Anonymous said...

It is nearly impossible to fire an incompetent employee. I was in a group once where we didn't get any business for about a year because the pesron responsible for our pipeline was incompetent. The upper management really did want to get rid of this person, but they couldn't for fear of a lawsuit. And they couldn't hire someone else to be his "assistant" to do all the real work or something creative like that. So basically, the careers of each member of the team were set back that year because none of us could really succeed.

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