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.