Monday, December 27, 2004


(Well, that title might be a bit obscure, but maybe not...)

The What's Next for Google article pointed to via Slashdot has the following benefits snippet:

...In a Playboy interview published shortly before Google's IPO, Brin and Page did not mention competitive threats. Rather, they talked about corporate ethics, the creation of foundations, and their efforts to make Google a great place to work.

Google is a great place to work. My friends there absolutely love the place, and in part for that reason, they work very hard. Google allows pets and provides employees with laundry service, drinks, meals, massages, car washes, and (soon) child care. Its corporate motto is "Don't be evil." But long ago, a professor of mine, noting my youthful idealism, remarked that the only successful neutral nations are those, like Switzerland, that are permanently armed to the teeth. And for Google, neutrality is not an option.

Okay, I know that Google is a lot smaller and can lavish benefits like this on their employees. Surely if Google survives and gets bigger and bigger they won't be serving three-squares a day and making their employee life so easy that they can simply concentrate on doing a great job. Er, right?

Sigh. Google, Google, Google!

I still think Microsoft is trimming muscle instead of fat in their hopes to appease Wall Street with their adherence to doing the best job possible managing Microsoft Corporation for the shareholders. When management's bitter harvest unfurls its withered crop, the bad decisions to make Microsoft a tepid workplace creating tepid results will not be what is foisted out as the target of blame.

As I ruminate the eroding Microsoft benefits and perks (make no mistake, what remains is still better than average), I find the recent Sea ttle Weekly article about CostCo interesting as it recounts the CostCo management telling Wall Street to blow off when given harsh financial advice about trimming back on benefits to increase profits and share price. Now I see benefits cut-backs as a little quickie-financial algorithm that someone executed within Microsoft vs. taking a moment to actually think about what really needs to be cut (staff).

So we don't have official gala holiday party events - I don't miss them, but as Microsoft trims back on its parties, Yahoo and Google fire them up. Me? I can pay for my own food and I don't have a dog. As a small example of something I do miss: I miss the holiday shipping benefit. I still ship physical stuff and it saved me a lot of time to go over to, say, Pebble Beach and quickly send off my packages. Then I was happy and got back to work quickly and wrote some, if I do say so, great freaking code. Now I come back frazzled and PO'd.

Are there plenty of folks who shook their Christmas stocking hard, hoping that out would fall some evidence that Microsoft super-values its employees? Given where Microsoft is right now it just plain can't. We've started down the atrophying path of benefit and budget cut-backs. And what does the weenie that replaced the shrimp get replaced with as we go down the next level? It's sort of the reverse of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie." And I don't think it ends at Spam.

I again suggest that the brakes be slammed on and for management to express what might seem to be an oddly opposing message:

  1. We super-value our employees and demonstrate this by the following benefits and perks that we have crafted to increase employee morale, satisfaction, and results...
  2. We are vastly overstaffed for the challenges we need to succeed at and have started a 10% reduction of the worldwide staff.

Microsoft, Microsoft, Microsoft!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Scoble, firing, and Microsoft as "Brand Cool"

The dog-pile of the week is Mr. Scoble's open letter to BillG and other bemused folks enjoying detailing the Rorschach-like reactions to the post. I totally missed this little part the first time I read through it (colorization / bold mine):

1) Start a weblog. NOW. Get the person who runs the team to start a blog. NOW. Or fire him/her. I'm serious. Make it as cool as the King Kong blog. Put EVERYTHING up on that blog. Videotape every meeting. Every design session. Write something every day.

Fire folks? Boyakasha!

Hey, if it gets people out of the company I'm for this blog-most-coolly-or-walk litmus test whole-hearted! Two thumbs up.

Anyway, going back to a meta-level on Scoble's original post: his point resonates a lot with me with-respect-to:

  1. Microsoft is not cool and
  2. The Microsoft brand, while well known, doesn't mean much to most folks.

We might have touched upon coolness during the internet boom. But we've faded and you just have to believe that this is not missed upon by the analysts. I certainly don't blame our cool-deficit to the lack of black mock turtle-necks around campus... I blame it on the leadership's decision to gravitate towards what they think is easy money: IT.

You can tell me day and night that, new feature-wise, we're licking the boots of the IT department because "that's where the money is" and for some reason people walking around on the street with money in their pocket don't matter because they don't make relevant decisions. B and S. All this IT licking hasn't raised our stock from the dead. The dog and pony shows we put on for analysts are yawn-fests.

To invigorate Microsoft's stock and the view of Microsoft by the analysts, we need an injection of "Oh, I got to get me one of those!" by the everyday consumer. Buzz. I don't know if it's a music player, a phone, another device, or suh-weet software.

We can't just be a technology dial tone.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Light in the Darkness

Positive re-enforcement time: Joe Wilcox at Microsoft Monitor has a post today titled MSN's Rising Fortune that looks at MSN's recent accomplishments. A snippet:

While the client division whacks away at Windows security problems, chucks features from Longhorn and readies the next-generation operating system's delivery for not 2005 but 2006, MSN chugs out a barrage of new consumer products. Just in the last few months, MSN has unleashed testing versions of a music store (now officially launched), overhauled IM client, blogging service, Web search service and now desktop search utility. More MSN goodies are coming, but I can't discuss them right now.

Being in the black and shipping successive successful software product brings big kudos (and currency) to any group. Is MSN running a renegade mentality? Have they overcome feature fatigue? It will be interesting to see what happens to the V1 software. Does it lend itself to V-next versions (where upon you run into the increasingly common Microsoftie "coding is hard" whining when it comes to modifying fragile/buggy/hard-to-understand code)?

Or is this all throw-away productlets soon to be replaced by other V1 software?

Enough success for group XYZ and the other groups will eventually be preached to about being more like XYZ. How would your group react and what does that say about your group?

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Who is John Galt?

Recap - Microsoft homework:

Question #1: What is your 30 second elevator speech about the product you're working on?

Question #2: (new) When is it going to ship?

A link and then a link to that link:

Paul Vick
Black Hole projects - read the comments, too.
Dare Obasanjo
White Elephants and Ivory Towers at Microsoft - links to the above and adds some commentary.

What's one White Elephant in the room people are ignoring in your group?

I just flipped through yet another new MSDN Magazine. I was so excited at first because one of the articles was titled: C++ Rules. Damn straight it does, Sparky! I flipped to page 58 as fast as I could only to see... what the... MSIL? JIT? Interop and #pragma unmanaged - oh, crap. They duped me. I flipped back and forth some more and it was CLR this and managed that. I've really got to cancel my subscription here. What magazine best channels the spirit of Raymond Chen?

I write software for the end-user's machine, and it's going to be a pretty fudged-up day in Hell before I *ship* managed code that gets installed on a user's machine. It doesn't make sense. Oh, I might write a lot of high-quality performant memory eating managed code for the foreseeable future. But is it ever going to ship? Let me grab that Magic 8-ball for second...

Some of the Ivory Towers had to move to a new lane (off of Longhorn Boulevard) when actual customer quality standards were set for Longhorn shipping in 2006 (well, plus that 2006 date).

Anyway. So you take your Waste-o-Meter around Microsoft and find a Black Hole (how many points out of 14?), a White Elephant, or an Ivory Tower. Baby, you're staring at the problem of us having too many people on the payroll without reasonable accountability for their results. Trim them all now and at least let them find another company to work for where they'll have the pleasure of releasing software that makes a difference in the world.

Why do you want to work on something that will never, ever, Release To Manufacturing? Why? Well, why-else besides that mortgage payment?

Gates is no dummy yet it's a mystery to me the obfuscated end-game he's concocted to let these people type up a bunch of BS that will never see instantiation outside of Microsoft. Is he just playing John Galt without the rest of us being in on the brain harvest he's pulled together (ah-ha-ha, they work for me producing nothing that will ever compete with Microsoft and then I emasculate them when the project is cancelled - ah-ha-ha - excellent!)?)?

Accomplishment: lots of books and magazine articles written. Shareholder value: nil. Stock price: flat.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Does Microsoft care about politically correct speech?

Just a quicky: here's a link back to lushootseed's comments about Microsoft and it's view of customers: Does Microsft really care about you? Another Microsoftie! It starts off with:

I have been watching Microsoft's moves in the last couple of years and nothing that I see tells me we are heading in the right direction. Does that mean it is going down? Not anytime soon. It is going through what IBM went through in the last couple of decades with and it would take a good few years before a major re-structuring happens like in IBM. Here is why...

Part of this echoes with what is bopping about in my little head right now: we are lavishing so much of our efforts on pleasing the IT departments of the Fortune 500 that Microsoft is fading more and more in the mind of everyday consumers. Our brand is losing vibrancy. Not recognition. Just vibrancy.

Homework: what's your 30 second elevator speech regarding what you work on?

Another post by lushootseed that brings a wry grin to my face: Ashcroft working for Microsoft? Sometime in the past half year politically correct speak has trickled its way down through management and it's quite the fun show: "Hey, did you know you're in Bug Hell-I-mean-Jail?" Or, "Could you please send me your status for this week's War Team-I-mean-Team Status Meeting?"

There's this great little wince at the "I-mean" part and you can almost visualize the ^H's issuing out from their mind.

But then my grin fades and I realize someone on the payroll is actually putting time and effort into correcting terms that have been since long before I joined Microsoft. Most of the people I used to work with would have quickly called BS on this and went merrily about using the traditional terms. What's scary is that we were told to use the new terms and *bang* everyone did. What the hell?

Monday, November 22, 2004

The November Clip Show

Oh cry in the dark of night:

Jesus , update your blog for crying out loud

My apologies. Work has been incredibly jammed as we try to make progress ignoring the fact that the holidays are stealing precious work days from us and that key people are just gone. And there was the small matter of Halo 2. And Half-Life 2.

Well, if a clip show works for the Simpsons then I might as well give it a small try. Let's see what's been going on over the past few weeks...

So only has one post (as of today) but it's an interesting read. Ski4Burgers has made a few comments here at Mini-Microsoft. One issue Ski4Burgers has with Nat is that the 004/october/#18-October-2004 refers to my blog in a critical assessment of Microsoft. Ski4Burgers thinks it's pretty bogus to use a single source as a reference point:

I'm not sure who this guy at minimsft is (although I know he is a former employee of Microsoft), but to cite one blogger's opinion as a definitive source seems pretty dubious.

It is dubious, but you can't exclude the comments. A good bit of the comments here are very well written and informative (especially compared to their associated source material). As for the, ah, former employee bit: as of today my badge still worked. Everyday is a blessing.

But then again, on the internet, no one knows you're a dog...

The Giving Campaign is over. While we exceeded the monetary goal (Yay!) we were pretty lousy on the percentage of participation (boo). The malaise is still here. Snippet of a comment:

Really, does it have to be so painful and guilt-ridden? I thought we were supposed to feel good about being philanthropists - not having it shoved down our throat.

But for all the full-time employees out there who are just turned off by the giving campaign: just remember that you can give out-of-band anytime the spirit hits you and Microsoft makes it very easy for a matching donation to be sent.

So as we mourn the passing of delivered Micronews, fresh towels, and readily available office supplies and drinking cups, take solace in The Man still kicking in some bucks for whatever qualifying agency you damn well please to lay some money on.

De-Redmondization of Microsoft: interesting comment regarding how PSS is going in - it starts off with:

This will be the downfall of Microsoft. I used to work in PSS and I don't mind sharing my experiences with the greater public. When Microsoft started up their Bangalore operation, they wanted to test the process from an outside source.

And it goes downhill from there. Recently Ballmer himself was on-hand for the expanding Microsoft India campus. So I could do funny math and say, well, 200 new jobs there are representative of 100 new jobs here and therefore a saving of 100 employees... but no. I work with folks who'd be much happier, family- and geographically-wise, to work in India. I would hope that it makes it easier for folks here to transition back there (and then, you know, leave to start your own money making business). I figure this also allows us to deal with H1-B visa issues by just hiring more overseas.

But I don't see consistent quality software coming out of India. At least not quality world-class software. I'd be a hell of a lot more interested in them developing regional solutions for growing markets.

The charts of are still live. Google's taken a hit over the recent days. Microsoft's dip is because of the dividend. Apple is still taking off. And a $100 target for Apple? Dang.

And next-to-last: the grammar checker needs to help me out when it comes to "losing" and "loosing." Seems as though misuse there annoys people.

And finally: the typical blog dilemma: if you can't keep it consistently warm, should you delete it? While all exhausted and lacing up one evening, I wondered: should I just delete this blog? I've had my initial say. Longhorn, although delayed, isn't turned into the managed code mess I feared. I really don't have burning issues.

And I don't want to turn into a snarky commentary reacting to each rah-rah "Ooooo, you just wait un see! We's a gonna innovate us some shareholder value, uh huh!!!" Ballmer interview.

So, given the crammed nature of work and the holidays, things will probably be slow here for a while. I don't think I'll blow this blog away just yet. And, hey, the midpoints are coming up, and that's always a great time to help managers reflect on the joys of moving people out of Microsoft and into other rewarding careers elsewhere!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Cut-backs, offshoring, and PSS

Just a quick link: Called PSS Today?

Again, I'll stand by my desire for a smaller Microsoft by any means necessary. We're way too big. But on the BrightnessScale measurin'o-nomoter, this kind of offshoring decision lands the needle dead in the middle of "dumb-ass" (kind of like canceling all of those branded Microsoft drinking cups and not having any replacements in the queue, leading to the Great Cup Crisis of '04).

One thing that's supposed to distinguish Microsoft is the level of product support we provide from live, talented people who know the products super well. This is one step closer to just relying on Google searches. And I might as well get me some of that free software if that's the level of self-sufficient support I need to resort to...

You're Fired

A must read for all with intranet access at Microsoft:

You're Fired by I. M. Wright off of our (yah!) Engineering Excellence web site.

(Forwarded to me by a colleague who seems to know more than they should...)

This helps to re-enforce an important mindset for all managers to have about their low performers. It's your responsibility to get them back on track or out of the company. But no one likes going down that hard, muddy path of kicking someone out of the company. An article like this, at this time, is important for building the foundation of getting folks out of the company.

The mid-point is coming up at the beginning of the year. You don't have to wait until the major review to deliver a 2.5. Do you have someone how needs to hit the road? They just swung strike #3? At any moment you can talk to HR and and say "Hey, I want this person out of here. Now. What's my responsibility to ensure this is done right?"

Perhaps your group does an informal stack rank anyway for mid-point. Those folks who have been around for a while that are at the bottom of the ranking? How much are they costing your group? What if you could have a fired-up talented college-hire instead? Move 'em out!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Why Microsoft is in Trouble

Good read: "Why Microsoft is in Trouble" ( ).

Interesting snippet:

While the 30 employees in company I work for can make a living selling software for a few million $'s per year, Microsoft can't even look at markets our size. Why? Microsoft is too big. The market isn't significant enough to make a dent in their revenues. In order to grow, Microsoft can only go after huge, massively profitable markets, and those are becoming fewer and far between. When appropriately large markets do arise (internet search and services), they often compete with their desktop products. These markets threaten to cannibalize their core business, which forces Microsoft into the loosing defensive position.

(bold mine.)

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Why Microsoft is in Trouble

Good read: "Why Microsoft is in Trouble" ( ).

Interesting snippet:

While the 30 employees in company I work for can make a living selling software for a few million $'s per year, Microsoft can't even look at markets our size. Why? Microsoft is too big. The market isn't significant enough to make a dent in their revenues. In order to grow, Microsoft can only go after huge, massively profitable markets, and those are becoming fewer and far between. When appropriately large markets do arise (internet search and services), they often compete with their desktop products. These markets threaten to cannibalize their core business, which forces Microsoft into the loosing defensive position.

(bold mine.)

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Is it wrong to want to kiss Joel Spolsky?

I just wanna grab Joel Spolsky's face with both hands, yank him close, and give him a full-on Bugs Bunny Mmwm-Mmwm-Mmwm-Mmmmwha! kiss right on the lips:

Joel: I think we're seeing a shift in power, a resurgence of the old guard. With the growth that Microsoft's had in the past decade, the culture had changed. It became the culture of the latest and greatest and re-invent everything.

If I were Bill (Gates), I think I'd fire about three quarters of the people working on that (the presentation system). Not because they are incompetent. But because there are too many people creating too many technologies.

(Bold mine; from A Q&A With Joel on (Microsoft) Software)


Thursday, October 21, 2004

Microsoft's Financial Horizon

Let's have some chart fun courtesy of Yahoo financial charts (not pretty, but the data is there)... first, just looking at share price increase, it's MSFT vs. GOOG:

Chart of Google shooting off like a rocket.

Ka-Pow! (Well, at least of this writing; the charts are live and all of this text might make zero sense relative to current financial trends [that would be nice].) Okay, the next contender: MSFT vs. AAPL:

Chart of Apple shooting off since September...

I really don't like being the horizon here in both cases. Now then, of course we're bringing in billions $USD while Google is in the millions. But they have momentum and their stock is going in a direction I'm damn well envious of. And Apple? Well, they are All That right now, aren't they, grooving silhouettes and all. During a special meeting with BillG & SteveB a while back, one of the Microsofties posed a concerned question about Apple and what we're doing to compete against their cool iPod this and iTunes that. BillG did a great reality check by observing, "Well, I wouldn't want to swap places with Apple." True. But, still... return on investment is looking pretty sweet right now. I'd swap that!

So Microsoft's earnings for Q1 of FY05 looks solid from the results perspective, but the future is not enthusing analysts.  From one report: (bold mine)

Analyst Jamie Friedman with Fulcrum Global Partners said the company's quarterly numbers looked fairly strong overall. But he said Wall Street would likely be concerned about the company's unearned revenue figures.

Those numbers, which reflect contracts that are signed but not entirely recognizable as revenue immediately, declined more sharply than he expected. That raises concerns the company doesn't have a major new product available to lure corporate customers into renewing long-term contracts.

Microsoft doesn't expect to ship a new version of its dominant Windows operating system until 2006, and the next big upgrade for its server product isn't expected until 2007.

"The company looks like it needs products," he said.

But Friedman also praised Microsoft for cutting costs, something executives have pledged to do as the years of explosive growth in the technology industry have waned.

Hell yeah, we need products. We need products real bad.

2006? Are we to wait until then to see the stock potentially move up in reaction to our ongoing Longhorn salvage operation? If you had to guess what the market's reaction is going to be to the next version of Windows when we finally, finally manage to give it the bums' rush, what would it be? My guess: zero reaction. What are we putting in there that is going to excite the user / analyst? Better security, more stability? Dude, are you telling me what I just bought from you is insecure and broken? And you want me to pay you to make it better?

All these technical improvements we meaningfully expound upon might make your everyday IT guy's nipples harden (mmm, USB-drive lock-out), but the analysts and consumers just hear ya-da-geekity-geek-not-worth-my-money-bing.

And as for praising our cost cutting, I guess that praise would fall a little short if details were provided regarding how we're reaching our $1,000,000,000 goal for FY05. It would look like a dance around the obvious: the best way to cut costs is to cut staff. Especially a lot of the dead wood filling the offices. Cuts now would invigorate the company, and enthuse the analysts about Microsoft's future.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Microsoft Reaching out to Google

So right now, Google is rekindling the fires of wicked competition in Microsoft. Microsoft's response to Google was the focus of questions and angst during the Microsoft Company Meeting. We recently held an MSN Search Champs evangelical NDA meeting to start sowing the seeds of nodding consensus for when we manage to start shipping our search solutions.

But what if we went and partnered with Google?

Or at least, stepped back, slapped them on their corporate butt, and said, "Alright then, go get 'em, Tiger! Tell us what you need."

I was ambling through the forest recently thinking about this, especially given Dare's comment to the Googl e Desktop post:

Responses like this is why Microsoft will continue to engage in misguided efforts. I don't see why the fact Google is actually fixing our crappy OS search feature is taken as competition instead of symbiosis. After the billions of dollars the company spent on IE (I'm including lawsuit payouts) does the fact that the Web browser most people use is named "Internet Explorer" not "Netscape Navigator" really make a multi-billion dollar difference our bottom line? Here we go again...

What if BillG called up the Google Boys and said, "Let's work together." Eh-yeah, I don't see that happening either. However, I know people who work at Google now (in the past few months especially!). You probably know folks who work there, too. Right now we're at a fork in the road as to how we'll respond to Google, and one way is to team up with them for something productive that will benefit our users big-time.

Should we take the reigns of this relationship into our own hands and say, "No!" to frenzied We-can-do-better-Now-that-we-see-What-we-must-do'ism? Do any of you remember the Marc Andreessen photocopies with his dork-ass quotes plastered around the IE hallways back in the 1990s? That "motivational" atmosphere wasn't too cool. Let's not repeat that. Great software is not forged out of pissed-off anger and fear.

I'm going to drop some emails off over the next few weeks, asking my Nooglers how Microsoft can do better to support Google and try to sow some different seeds.

(And all of this jives nicely with my deepest desire: one reason we can compete with such blood-thirsty frenzy right now is that we have way too many employees. Most are under-utilized in money loosing endeavors. But, when a building threat like this arises they are just resources repositioned with new competitive goals. If we had less people underutilized that were so easily redeployed, we would be a leaner, meaner, and smarter organization. We would also develop strategic alliances and not feel that Microsoft had to do it all in one big entangled, mediocre mess.)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Citizen Microsoft Follow-Up

A follow-up to Riffin' with Reifman: there's a follow-up discussion on the Citizen Microsoft article here:

http://www.idealog .us/2004/10/follow_up_to_ci.html

As with the previous article, the follow-up (to me) is even more interesting than the original article. Good read.

Goodbye Cans, Hello Dispenser

(Imagine this post with a low-priority designation :-)

I was across campus recently having lunch and I saw it: a fountain drink dispenser!

The time has come! Goodbye canned drinks!

And while I waited and waited for my grilled burger (those poor understaffed grill guys were bustin'-A), not a single person grabbed an orange cup to get themselves some ice and soda. I noticed that cans matching the dispenser choices (Coke, Diet Coke, etc) were no longer available. So I had my first canned Vanilla Coke in a long-long time.

Everyone else just grabbed cans for their lunch-time drink, too. Now perhaps it's because the fountain is new and folks just aren't used to them yet, but given that the fountain drinks only cover some of the wondrous canned selection we have now, I imagine most folks will just find new canned drinks and eschew the dispenser. Plus, I've got to admit I'm not the most dexterous person in the world, and balancing my work, my lunch, and a orange cup all at once is just a mix for sticky-floor disaster.

Fountain drink dispensers of course don't mix up the same goodness of the badness in the can. They are cantankerous and prone to bad calibration (oh, the temptation to adjust the mix) and messy problems. So I think we're preparing to blow more money to install and maintain a bad idea that, pivoted one way, looks brilliant and has a high profile We're Doing Something to Save Microsoft Money! Where will that person be when things go wrong?

So just how far are we towards that $1,000,000,000 goal we have this year? Knock off 5% of the staff. Keep the cans.

Ka-Pow! The Google Desktop.

A shot across the bow today! Forget Project Green, the Google Desktop search engine is here.

This is probably a relief to some Microsofties. It is to me.

Again, we won the Feature Wars of the 1980s & 90s. Come 2K we just sort of looked at each other and didn't know what to do. How do you compete with Linux? They are copying your app features into Open Source. Can't compete feature-by-feature there.

So we went and started the Next Version of Windows. And that's gone on and on. Oh, and another version of Office came out to the delight of... well, I'm not sure just who the next version of Office delighted. Outlook looked prettier and Word had a new irritating reading view feature I had to figure how to shut off. Other than that... eh.

So the relief comes in that we finally (finally!) have a worthy opponent shipping code in a feature war. We know how to win there.

While the competition will be interesting to watch, I hope that folks do take a chance to ponder as to why our environment is so strangled that focus and resolution only comes from fear of losing when the competitor is gaining ground.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

When Microsoft Should Walk Away

Question in a comment:

I dont work for Microsoft and I have no love for the company but I have to ask this question: You basically seem to suggest shutting down all money losing projects. However, surely aren't these the results of the management's efforts to diversify? I would think that MS would need to subsidize all kinds of nonremunerative projects in order to get at least one that might strike it big.

We do need to expand into other markets. Otherwise, we'd be perpetually stuck with Windows and Office bringing in just about all of our profit (hmm). However, Windows and Office revenue provides one hell of a slush-fund for divisions with sloppy management dressed up like innovators dealing with a dilemma.

If something is a good idea, it will take and establish itself and be able to support itself. If something is a bad idea, it should die on the vine after due process and let these people move-on (preferably, move-on to other companies).

For instance: our recent acquisitions have pretty much gone badly (where badly is defined as not turning a profit). The two good kind of acquisitions:

  1. Source code because it's a great product and
  2. HR because the people are so great (product secondary or ignored [LookOut]).

What rarely rarely works is #3: people and product. That company succeeded because of their unique development environment and personalities. Now that environment is gone and they are forced to develop the Microsoft Way. They've been blue bagded. And slowly the greatness that was their product has the life drained out of it and it becomes less and less relevant (e.g., Great Plains).  These acquisitions are where we should have been spending money to have great partnerships and not blow a bunch of cash and fritter away a product just to feel we have a market segment covered.

To succeed, we need to be quick and nimble and not continuing to pull the plow in a dead, sterile field being sowed with the best seed in the world. So yes, let's try expansion and if it takes off, relish in our success and make heaps of money from delighted customers. If it is a bad idea or a rapidly declining market, don't be stubborn and try through sheer will to manifest success. Walk away.

Most importantly: reward success. Reward profit.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

http://career/ and Your Dream Job.

How to spend a little extra time today when you're not being inspired by our customers' passion to create software to help them reach it?

Go visit http://career/ .

Take a moment to try some sample searches and see what you come up with. See what kind of open positions there are around the various Microsoft business groups (and marvel at how long some have been open).

Now: what would your dream job be at Microsoft? Put a query together and see what the search results are. Whether there are matches or not, go ahead and save this job agent to send you daily updates should there ever be a new opening. And if you have lots of different dream jobs, go ahead and create some more job agents.

And when you get a match, just remember: you don't need permission to go over and do an informational. Wander on over and talk to the group and find out about their job and see if you'd be a good match and if their group would be a good match for you. Perhaps do a search off of http://msweb/ first to find their SharePoint site and read through their specs and schedule. In the end, it might be a good match and a good time to get interview permission. The perfect job might be one search agent away!

Also think about the timing: for those casting an eye at getting good results for their major review come next summer, now is the best time to switch groups so that you have enough time to contribute and excel relative to your peers. The longer the wait, the harder it will be to get a great review score without an established record in your new group.

Now, why do I care? While I'd love to have negative employee growth via fiscally responsible cut-backs and layoffs, I'm happy right now if we can hold the line at a zero-sum gain. It's much better for you to move internally and prevent an external hire from coming in (and either we can play a shell game to cover your departing or that head can just go unfulfilled as groups find their staffing needs cut back further and further).

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Riffin with Reifman - Citizen Microsoft

Jeff Reifman (a former Microsoftie) has a new article about Microsoft that doesn't make any Microsoftie flush with pride: Citizen Microsoft. Here I've been squawking about how we're turning into IBM. Even worse, we might be turning into Boeing.

One interesting bit from the article (bold mine):

In May, Microsoft announced $80 million in cuts to employee benefits. When employees asked why the company couldn't dip into huge cash reserves instead, Ballmer, in a July memo, brushed them off: "The cash is shareholders' money, so we need to either invest in new opportunities or return it to them." Historically, Microsoft's generous benefits and employee stock options have been pretty good for shareholders, too. The company might one day regret Ballmer's pound-foolish approach to morale. But according to Ballmer, Microsoft needed to be "prudent now so we avoid severe measures later." Later in July, Ballmer announced plans for the $75 billion stock dividend for shareholders, the payout of which will be worth nearly 1,000 times as much as the employee benefits that were to be cut. So much for prudence.

In another blow to employees and the Seattle economy, Microsoft is investing in a new technology center in Hyderabad, India. As hiring in metropolitan Puget Sound slows, the company is preparing to ramp up in India, where it can save as much as 70 percent on labor costs. Yet, according to Marcus Courtney, organizer of WashTech, a union for technology workers, there's an oversupply of labor locally. "Microsoft made those profits off our universities and our infrastructure. They have an obligation to us," he says.

(SteveB: it's time for severe measures now. First, fire all upper management that have been directly responsible for slipped schedules and bad products. It's okay: they've got enough riches to live on and we don't need that much expertise on How to Fail. Next, optimize for profit by cutting loose all the products with losses and zero-chance of brining in profit during the next year.)

There are several threads in Reifman's article, winding along to how an amoral corporation will make unhealthy decisions, and noting one of Google's principles is "Don't be evil." But Google has the luxury of having a clean slate (well, except for all of that censoring they quickly buckle to - perhaps they are the worst evil of all: complicit uncaring). Microsofties, at least traditionally, have been very hands on and involved in a higher purpose for the company. Yet the lawsuits and out-right dumb monopolistic behavior puts us in way too deep a moralistic hole to endeavor to higher purpose.

It would be interesting to see if the shift from employee hands-on attention to where we are now correlated with some of the slimier practices Reifman details in his article. We took the eye of the ball and things went from bad to worse.

Note that Reifman also has a blog entry about the article, should you want to comment.

And wrapping up Riffin' with Reifman, I want to point out his earlier Seattle Weekly article: Microsoft's Sacred Cash Cow. If you read it, you'll certainly find a lot of the stuff here resonates with that article and the general discomfort with Microsoft's recent accomplishments and foreseeable dithering. An even better exchange is in his follow-up blog entry to the Cash Cow article.

Microsoft Giving Campaign 2004

The Microsoft Giving Campaign 2004 kicks off Monday, October 4th.

I love the Giving Campaign (and Microsoft's matching-gift policy), but it has the potential to become the inadvertent victim to the meandering accomplishments of Microsoft as of late due to employee ill will. Perhaps it is our canary in the coalmine when taking the true pulse of Microsofties: lots of giving when things are going well and we're sharing our abundance. Flat giving and missed goals when things aren't going so great at One Microsoft Way.

We missed last year's goal even after the deadline was pushed out and we endured direct cajoling from BillG.

Did upper management bother to take something away from that? From what I've heard, what they've taken away is that this year's giving isn't going to have a real big deal made about. Maybe some banners. An email.

It's too bad that there's potential for all of us fortunate people not to be, well, giving of ourselves as we observe farces of cost-cutting around us (I guess they dropped Dilbert from MicroNews because it was becoming relevant). God awful wastes of money from misdirection and the lack of accountability does make you seriously wonder about whether you need to start playing the ant and build up some cash reserves of your own to weather the future vs. sharing with the greater community.

I hope I'm wrong about ill feelings towards Microsoft impairing our Giving Campaign. I hope we hit the top of the bell for this year's goal. But until we slim down and re-energize our company, I think we'll see mediocre giving to match mediocre leadership results.

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 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 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."

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Comments - process, bias, and rehiring

(You know, we truly do make wonderful software.  To be able to sit down at a random computer in lovely BFE and be able to check email and post to the Internet is the stuff of magic.  1990's magic, I know.  Even in 2004 I'm not jaded in the least.)

Yet another iteration of comment commenting because when good stuff happens, you should at least point at it and say, "Oog! Good stuff!"

So three of the recent comments in the last post are interesting for their own reasons.

The second notes:

Then, Gates stepped down, Ballmer stepped up, and the bean counters took the reigns... Instead of everything in PSS being all about customer satisfaction, it became how many customers could you fly through in a day without pissing them off... Numbers became everything, with customer satisfaction taking a back seat.

At that point, it was far more adventageous to be an ass-kisser than somebody that actually knew the technology. They started losing some of their best talent at PSS-East becuase the best & brightest were just waiting for enough stock options to vest, and they were out of that B.S.

And then, the witch hunts began... M$ stock started tanking, and they decided to thin out the head count to help lower their costs... If they laid people off, their stock would sink even further, so they started coming up with any and every bullshit reason to get rid of you. Once again, they lost some of their best and brightest becuase they weren't playing the stupid political games like the ass-kissers...

I don't think Microsoft product development and other departments were all that broke, just probably not engaged in high-risk taking visionary bleeding edge development and such.  It's true, when Ballmer took over, broad things really started changing on an increased process level.  Everyone has experienced this thanks to the ever-changing review form and associated training (which I think represents the embodiment of meandering leadership vs. streamlined focusing on what's important to make money - Lord help me if I have to go through something like that commitments training again [did you hear anyone saying how super and great that was?]).  Even now you hear him calling us to achieve "Process Excellence."  Must your quantify that you don't inherently understand?  I get paid to ship money-making software, not excel at a process.  I'm open to things that make my product better which includes more stability, security, market-penetration, and customer pleasing / money making features.  But if you give me another freaking process form to fill out or compliance tool to run, I'm going to start "comp-lie-ing" and focus on what it takes to get the old-fashioned job done.

(Bad Drone!)

The third comment duly takes me to task for being overly negative in characterization and his/her original comments.  My bad, mea culpa - sorta.  Eh, I'm biased.  Anyway, it's a well-written and thought-out rebuttal.  Good for Microsoft for having such a person working for it and for taking the time to share their thoughts.  I just believe that strategic grass-roots transparency is more important at this time.

Finally, the first comment has an interesting bit:

I've seen specific departments conducted layoffs, and 95% of the laid off folks get rehired within 2 months into other departments. Talk about maintain a good place for the staff.

I've seen this disconnect, too, between Microsoft HR's "move them out" talk and then what happens later.  It's odd to be walking through another building and pass by someone who had "moved on" and is now in another group (odd moment of "what-the?" surprise on my face, downward gaze on their's).  Move them out, keep them out.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Comments on Recent Comments

Off biking in the backwoods, happy to find net access but without a USB drive reader... well, how about a quick review of recent comments and some comments on the comments...

You're dumb and you suck

(aka, "It's funny 'cause it's true!")

From a very Early Post comes this recent comment:

Upon reading most of your posts I have these comments. Most of your ideas are unoriginal and obvious, while some are plain stupid.

Getting rid of underperformers. - Obvious and being done. Focus has been there for several years.

Re-energize the home market. Umm we have a whole division devoted to this. Do you think that you are smarter that all of them? Then go apply for a job there.

Stop hiring - rebalance. You don't think these jobs will be posted internally? Of course they are. If you think we are being undisciplined in creating new jobs, just try to get new headcount approved.

Continue community efforts. We are doing that in a big way. Glad to see we have your approaval [sic].

Back to basics. Dumb. Why not go all the way back to assembler? Frameworks and abstractions help us develop more code better and faster. Yes not everything should run in the CLR. But a lot more can be acheived [sic] in many produts [sic] by using it. Let me guess - you are a Win32 C programmer? Can you say "job security worries"?

Working on IE again. Have you missed the whole web services thing? The whole industry has moved on to new things. Browsers are so 90's

Wow, nice. I'd love to read follow-up constructive ideas on how the company could otherwise improve. But a couple of things I'd like to follow-up on:

Obvious. Just because it's obvious doesn't mean it's dumb. It also doesn't mean it's been actioned on. The obvious stuff doesn't happen because it's too obvious. Do we think ourselves too smart? If it doesn't bring in a billion dollars or it isn't something mind-blowingly creative, walk on by...

CLR and .NET: yeah, I've put off that post and don't look forward to it. When I put that up I might as well soak myself with gasoline and hand out matches. The CLR is great for short, transient execution, like flickering flames. It so much sucks if you start wanting to associate it with something that needs to stay up and running. Have you actually tried to use a .NET app to get your work done while using Office or other Win32 (excuse me, "unmanaged" applications? Unless you have 512MB or 1024MB and a great system, things come to a grinding halt as memory is paged in and out. I love writing in C#. I'm ten times more productive. But my productivity and extreme joy doesn't compensate my poor end-user wondering what the hell is wrong with his computer.

IE and the Web. Well, Joel said it much better than I could. Please read some recent postings from Adam Bosworth. Google is so pulling its foot back to deliver a swift kick. And Microsoft is bent over, dithering in its Avalon / XAML garden.

Oh, and as for underperformers being moved on: I'll believe it when I see it. I'm blessed with a great job (and a super boss!) and get to meet lots of other Microsoft groups. The drop in quality I saw starting four-to-five years ago is still with us, if not worse for the high quality people moving on.

But the company meeting costs money...

So I bemoaned the scaled back company meeting recently.

Wait a minute! This is from the same guy who touts a lean, customer-pleasing, profit making machine? Most of the people on those buses probably deleted the e-mail and are just "following the crowd".

Well, look. It's a cost / benefit sort of thing. I guess I'm shallow, but I find it very energizing to go to the company meeting and blow off petty doubts and get re-centered and excited about what we've done and where we're going. It's like voluntary mind washing. But if they were going to reduce it and save money, they should have just selected Building 33 and web-casted it from there. I think there's a basic cost for having it off-campus and from there it's a smaller increment for each bus-load. So, costs savings not there, lack of motivation and disenchantment there in abundance.

Employees now, trends for the future?

Within my first review:

debated on posting this but I am a v-/a- type that has been in remora mode around Microsoft for about 15 years now. I saw an interesting trend on the upslope of the bubble. Folks whom I knew and respected from Microsoft were all retiring. I would come in for meetings and hear that the leader of the meetings last day was Friday because he was moving to the carribean. His "financial advisor" told him last Monday he had hit his F*ck you number and he was gone. The scary part about this was not that the folks I knew were leaving but the folks that replaced them were nothing burgers. It was as though they were trying to get any butt into the seat. The people just weren't of the same caliber.

More recently, in my Goin' OOF:

Probably becuase thats just about all thats left at the good ole msft ... that and uber backstabbing dot com-ers that were sly enough to get hired on. Those are the people driving a once great company into the ground.

There is life after msft and now-a-days its a bit better than the hanging with the wanna be's in redmond!

I like it: "nothing burgers" and "uber backstabbing dot com-ers." Right, hired during the age of entitlement and most likely the most offended by our scaling back. All I can hope and pray for is that these folks are the ones on the edge of leaving, just waiting for the economy to truly turn around and have a chance to blow out of this soggy burg (which I Love by the way). When things get Spartan and the shrimp gets replaced with weenies, we can only hope the real Weenies walk.

And lastly: do folks out there know how incredibly hard it is to hire qualified Microsofties? Right, first it's hard to get the headcount. I'll acknowledge that. And then when you do? My group hasn't had headcount opened for a while (we rock!) but I help other teams interview. What's scary is that the folks we find to interview can't code / design their way out of a binary tree. Folks start asking (seriously): "Should we lower our bar?" (No!)

But it's not getting better and now the qualified people we want to hire (a dwindling group) are considering Microsoft very low on their potential Great Places to Work list. Why is that?

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Microsoft OOF, asking America about Microsoft

I'm biking the backroads for three weeks soon so things will be a bit quite. I hope to get one more missive out about the Microsoft Financial Analyst Meeting (FAM) before going OOF (if I don't, it's going to look really stale by the time I get to it).

I hope to stumble across some free net access while in the boonies. While out and about, I have a goal to talk to everyone I can about how they perceive Microsoft. Getting out of Redmond will hopefully get a more real, grounded perspective of what folks think and feel (care?) about MSFT.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Microsoft "Company" Meeting 2004

The Microsoft Company Meeting for 2004 was announced Friday in a "save the date" email. But this year's company meeting is limited to 2,500 folks vs. all in the folks in the Puget Sound that would like to jump on a bus and attend. This is a big mental shift for a pinnacle meeting that really helps to energize people for the coming year. I'm bummed, but perhaps I'm feeling whiny, so let me think about this.

(a day later)

Okay, now I'm more bothered than whiny. As I re-read the announcement for the meeting, I realized the wording was really putting me off and talking down to me. Ooo, Microsoft campuses around the world will be able to "share the excitement" via satellite (vs. sleep or a good dinner). A reference to last year's cold SafeCo experience is given to justify the move indoors but that seems intangible. Further discussion of how this is going to be a wonderful global experience serves to sever Redmond even more as the heart and mind of Microsoft. As I read this (go ahead, read your copy if you didn't delete it) I feel like I'm being sold soap that I know doesn't work as well and that isn't a good product.

This small email and decision represents a further disenchanting disassociation between executive management and the individual contributors making the products in Redmond that bring in billions of dollars. Only a select few will go to the new opera hall to experience the live presentation while the rest of the company can wander into conference rooms and bring up desktop web casts. Please. Most people will continue working and whatever bold messages executive management thinks they are communicating will be no more than muffled echoes from the few watching the web cast down the hall.

I look forward to the future when they can pull everyone in the Puget Sound back together. I guess you truly don't appreciate something until it's gone, and I'm already missing the Microsoft Company Meeting.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Microsoft and WWGD - What Will Google Do? Time for Pre-Emptive Innovation.

Google is off on a high-quality staffing spree and even Microsoft is not immune to the pouching.  The folks who Google hired (including some Microsofties from a nearby building) are best-of-the-best scary smart.  What will they deliver? 

Is Microsoft fretting, waiting to go into reactive product-development mode?  Or can we out-Google Google (especially without the MSDN-Camp posting to their blogs entries regaling the world to "Just wait until Longhorn and Avalon and Whidbey - Ooo, it will be great then! [ed. 2006]")?  I feel like we're playing a chess game and only looking at the squares immediately around our opponents last move.  You'd figure with all those researchers we keep hiring (and express continued intent to hire more of) we'd be able to outsmart Google without even breaking a sweat.  Maybe those guys and gals aren't our salvation...

Let's say Google is giving everyone a big data pile in the sky, with all sorts of browser-apps and publicly defined innovative services on-top of that data pile.  They start with email and then move to more interesting data (pictures? calendar? contacts? notes?).  While they might augment your data view with targeted ads, they might also augment it with targeted relevant data in your pile as well, helping you connect the dots (or perhaps augment it with publicly shared data of those you've added to your Google-tribe).

What is one thing Microsoft could do?  How about providing a personal Microsoft-branded data-space: free.  And ad free.  Hook this up with a Passport if that makes you feel strategic but make that optional.  Make it a data space that people could for a lifetime throw their data into, perhaps even providing a sync up/down service for all their PCs / laptops / handhelds / smart-phones (leave out the stupid watches).  Make parts shareable and augmentable, but start with the data first, and let the applications follow.

Key to this: provide free, well documented HTTP-services on-top to appeal to the web-app aficionados.  Let Microsofties publish their own little PowerTools for people to use in their browser for organizing their MSN-Data.  And don't go tying this to Longhorn or silly 2005 / 2006 crap deliverables.  Make it work within IE 5.5.  Hell, make it work within FireFox.

Next, how-about for a small yearly fee we provide MSN-PC: take that cool VirtualPC product we bought and, using that nifty terminal-server application (or an ActiveX control), provide a VirtualPC that people could always have access to for simple work, where-ever they are.  It would be sandboxed and always up to date with the latest fixes.  Sure, I'll continue wanting my desktop but having a VirtualPC to rely on no matter where I am would serve as a focus point.  And MSN-PC would also be a nice way to manage my loveable Microsoft data space.

Anyway, just me typing some stuff as my Starbuck's latte cools down a bit.  We can out-Google Google, but it's not going to happen if we only swing the bat when we think it will rake in at least $1,000,000,000.  Let's start being happy with lots of little projects bringing in profits in the millions.

Comment - Is Microsoft Firing the Wrong People / Lots of Wonderful Jobs Out There

Great comment in the "Fire Me?" post.  It's worth the read.  A snippet:

I was with the company for 14 years. With an average review score of better than 3.25 (which in previous posts seems to be the median bar set), and with my manager not agreeing with the decision, MS decided to terminate my employment based upon HR policy guidelines that were not enforced evenly and equally to other people that were associated with my departure. Microsoft has become a company where you're just another number and for all the rhetoric about them caring about the employees, they really only care about the bottom line... (more)
Not knowing this specific situation, I have to say that although I want the company smaller, I do want the lower performers out first.  This comment also ends with an interesting observation worth noting, too:

But in the end, I found another job with another company close in the area that pays me more money, is definitely more concerned about my work/life balance and I get almost similar benefits with better hours. The water is warm out here folks.
Excellent news!  Again, for the disenchanted, those feeling their project is soon to be cancelled (come-on, you know it's coming)  and those wanting to see what it's like outside: get out there and test the water for yourself!  It doesn't hurt to look and it's quite empowering to be courted.  Better now than later when there's a whole bunch of resumes swamping the area.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

A Microsoft Targeted Layoff that will also Increase Employee Morale: HR

A recent comment:

Here is the graph I want to see - HR employees per MS employee over the last 10 years. I remember seeing some data quite a few years ago that showed the growth rate of HR was double the growth rate of the overall company.

I'd absolutely love to see that graph, too.  Like most folks who have been at Microsoft for a while, I, too, have felt the increasing presence of HR and have wondered why in the world all those folks were needed.  There hasn't been much in the way of bonus for me and my group with all the HR hires: we practically have to run all the internal / external hiring ourselves.  What HR contributes could truly be replaced with a set of VB scripts and Outlook rules.  (But of course, I'm losing no tears over not being able to hire people.)

What would increase employee morale?  In addition to announcing an HR downsizing, tie that into committing to not change the review process for the next five years.  The review forms mutate more than common cold virus.

One year we have to learn new company values (and where the hell did that come from, anyway?) about the time we lose our minor review (goodbye bonus / review rating).  Then that's tied into our competencies.  Then we fill in a chart for each company value and whether we excel at it, or are satisfactory, or need improvement.  Yet there's no accompanying message nor common metric and some groups say "E,E,E,E,E!"  Then that disappears.  Finally, we're asked to throw off those wimpy "Goals" and energetically engage in "Commitments!"  It's like we're being inflicted with the latest management fad every six months.  What next time?  Who in the world thinks that they are doing a good job running the review process for this company?  Move those people out and let the folks filling out the review focus on their accomplishments and not going through training every six-to-twelve months to help decode how to fill out their review.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

"Fire Me? Oh, hell no! Microsoft should fire YOU!"

Just a quick post to gage scattered reaction to the initial posts here (mostly in the comments, but a few out in the blogosphere).

Some folks:
Relative thumbs up.  Thanks. (# # )
Other folks:
Agnostic, or this blog is border line blather, but some interesting bits and pieces here and there.  (And I'm sorry, but even faint praise from Don Box is more than any mere mortal can ever aspire to). (# )
Rest of the folks:
You yellow-bellied anonymous-posting proto-elitist negative .NET hating whiner: ooooo, you should be fired before you even have a chance to quit! (# # )

And it seems right now the best way to get some blog-voodoo posted about you is to slam .NET and its aspiration to solve the world's programming ills.  As for my boss firing me, he's cool as long as I add a disclaimer (done - yes, I had a mini-coming-out party Friday) and while I can write about policy violation if I go and manifest that into reality then I will find myself badge-less in Redmond.

But stepping back: this isn't about me.  Sure, I'm involved in channeling some ideas but this messenger is one representation of concern and ideas from inside of Microsoft of how we're going through our own Bubble that seems unsustainable.  I'm just not drinking the current variety of Kool-Aid.  I love Microsoft and I work with the absolute best people in the world and it's because I love this company that I'm flustered with any slothful, stumbling trends.  I'm pleased to consider other points-of-views and I promise that if you post to your blog your opinions and ideas (and I find them via trackbacks or such) I will compile them here.

Friday, July 23, 2004

GAH!!! Microsoft to hire 3,000 in area

Make it stop! (pound) Make it stop! (pound) Make it stop! (pound): Microsoft to hire 3,000 in area. I'm going to have to order another poster from to cover the hole in the drywall my forehead just made.

The article also includes the Graph of the month.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Microsoft Fiscal Results

The blog post Microsoft Blog: MSFT Q4, FY04 collects some interesting links to read. C|NET had a good one yesterday, too: Never mind the cash -- how's Microsoft's business. And today's article Microsoft earnings paint mixed picture breaks down some of the financials.

The big cash payout represents a great transition for employee mind-think: that's not Microsoft's cash hoard, it is indeed the shareholders'. There is no entitlement associated with that cash and it's not there to save your group's poor performance.

The theme in a number of articles posted yesterday and today is: Microsoft has to start making sound business decisions. It takes executive management all the way down to each and every lead to enact hard decisions and great decisions. So for every manager with more than twenty people on your staff: there's got to be someone who can go. Now's the best time to shrug off our past and get trim and focused.

Microsoft Stack Rank as a Popularity Contest

(This is a bit light on content - I'm hopped up on some heavy decongestants for a summer cold, so hopefully this post holds together to some small degree.)

When you (well, me) go and say you want to move people out of the company based on their lifetime review score, you bring up the issues behind the whole mechanics that result in that 4.0, 3.5, or 3.0 (or 2.5s, which I'd love to spread through the company deservingly).  The main process that puts in motion the final score is the Stack Rank.

I've had lots of different leads during my years at Microsoft.  During the boom, lots of folks were made leads that shouldn't have been and that pretty much summed up my first couple of bosses.  They were great developers and I'd talk to them about my career few times a year, two of those meetings being the delivery of my major and minor reviews (we now just have the single major annual review).  One of the feedbacks I'd get was that I had to, "...(sigh), increase your... visibility in the group."  How do I do that?  "We'll, ah, work on it, I have some ideas."  Hand-over of a sheet with final review numbers.  What!?!  I'm better than that!  Back they went to coding.

Then along came a new lead.  Her feedback, "You've got to increase your team visibility so that you can do better in the stack rank meeting."  The what-rank?  She said it slower as if it would help me to divine what the heck she was talking about.  Then she got up and gave me the stack rank lesson and I got to learn about how the team is divided into columns of high, medium, and low folks and then each column has a person by person relative ranking, all those positions negotiated by the leads putting their people up on the whiteboard and then arguing the merits of which report belongs above which other reports.  She said they set the context of their decisions by asking a question like, "Okay, if the team were on a sinking boat and we had to decide who we would put on the life-boats, who would it be?"  Up to that point, my ass was next in line for the boat but still going down with the ship.

Her revealing comment: "My defense of your accomplishments is not enough to get you to the top of the stack rank.  The best way for you to rise above your peers is to have other leads in there defending you based on what they know about you."  This is where you could say that popularity comes into play.  It's also where you starting owning your career.

Why am I bothering to write about this?  Well, it's not just about moving the poor performers out of Microsoft.  It is also about becoming an efficient, invigorated, innovating company.  If folks don't feel like their contributions and abilities are being recognized, why the heck should they put in the extra effort?  Do you as a Microsoft contributor truly ROCK but are not getting duly rewarded and compensated? I want to change that.

So, putting aside changes to the stack rank and review process, what can you as a motivated individual do?  This is some scattered advice that's not too unique, but here for you to consider as we head towards delivery of reviews.  I'd love to read other constructive advice.

Get a mentor.  Microsoft has an internal mentoring hook-up site I highly recommend.  Find someone outside of your business group that is a successful lead for at least a few years.  Their experience as a lead can give you greater insight about what it takes to succeed at Microsoft and candid details about the stack rank.

Know when the stack ranks are.  This is important.  Find out when the annual stack rank for your group is going to happen.  Your group may or may not do a stack rank during the checkpoint review.  Ask your boss.

Set-up skip level 1:1s. You should meet with your lead's lead at least once a month.  You should meet with your test manager / general PM / dev manager (what ever is appropriate) at least twice a year, before the major and minor reviews.  You should meet with your GM once a year, at least, before the annual review.  (1) it's just good to get exposed to these folks who have had success at Microsoft, so you can get career advice.  (2) it's your chance to ensure they know about your accomplishments and why you're so freaking excited to be on this team.  I've seen major turn-arounds in the opinions about contributors after they've had a candid skip-level 1:1.

Get involved with other team members, especially leads.  Be there as a key resource to unblock or mentor other team members, and co-ordinate through those people's lead.  Ensure your lead knows about it, too.  Is it about being popular?  It's about helping them accomplish their work and knowing how damn good a job you can do.  But if the other lead doesn't know about it, it's not going to matter come stack rank time.

Seek feedback.  This is hard.  Most people don't seek feedback or feel odd about dropping by someone's office (like your lead's peer) and asking for feedback on what you could do better.  It's a great way to check-in to see if they know what the heck it is you do and to do a check-up on your presence.

Tell your boss why you're so great.  My first good boss related this great story from a person in HR: this HR person would have a frank conversation with their boss a bit before the stack rank and explain exactly what it is she's accomplished, how she ranks against her peers, and what kind of review results she expected.  Damn, that's owning your career!

Put career reminders in Outlook now.  You need to have frank, early conversations about your career before the major review / checkpoint.  Are you treating the review meeting like Christmas, and run downstairs to open your present only to find that instead of a Fire-Engine 4.0 you received a Silly-Putty 3.5?  The review meeting should be one of the more boring meetings you have.  Put reminders into Outlook for December and May now where you will ensure all the significant 1:1s occur and that you ensure your boss knows what you've accomplished.  Put in other check-points to assess how well you're doing on the team.

Is all this superficial popularity-contest B.S.? Your call, but it worked for me and I've seen it work for other team members.  You need to accept that there's a certain personality that excels at Microsoft, and if you can't gravitate towards that, you'd be best finding a better place to invest the most productive years of your life.

When it comes down to one little number that dramatically affects your compensation, it's worth working out a system that ensures your hard work and investment in this career works for you.  I truly think that if you have two contributors that start off with excellent skills and one increases her team presence, she's going to get the much better review.  And most importantly: the team's product is going to be better.  This person will know more about the product, increase team-cohesion, and grow.  That's worth compensating.