Friday, December 23, 2005

Mini-Microsoft's Ninja Skills on Video

Holiday fun break - What happens when Scoble, Steve Rubel, and Mini-Microsoft cross paths? (I'm sure Napoleon Dynamite would appreciate my ninja skills.) Thanks alot, Nathan.

This and Jamie's C9Soft from earlier in the year are precious.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Comment Report - MarkL nee of Microsoft now of Google drops by

Google! Google! Google!

MarkL dropped by to share his point of view of post-Microsoft, in the thick-of-it Google. This sort of kicked off a discussion around work-life balance, the wisdom of developers putting in so much code so late, and questions around the quality of code. I think it's more around being excited about what you're doing and not wanting to do anything else at that time. I've had milestones like that.

Also, before we get to Mark's comment, here are a couple of interesting Googler comments:

(1) Bad apples crop up everywhere, some even in Google:

Hey guys I am a GOOG employee. A buddy of mine asked me to check this out. GOOG is a great place to work and all but I think of some you folks are exaggerating it a bit too much. It ain't exactly heaven out there in the Plex and we have our share of retarded assholes who have a my-way-or-highway attitude in meetings. At the end of the day, unless you are at the top, you will have to deal with these elements. It's just a matter of to what degree.

(2) Sure you're smart and you got through the interview process and you now work for Google. C, C++, C#? Uh, no. Brush up on that thar JavaScript and get typing:

[...] You get none of this in Google. Some of my fellow graduates with a deep interest in systems joined Google and got thrown into messing around with JavaScript! Can you imagine how dissapointing it is for someone who has sharpened and honed their low level C and assembly skills and hacked around with the Linux kernel day in and out to be slaving on with something WAY high up from the metal like JavaScript and having to deal with a bunch of assholes during code reviews? Sure they are making more money than me in free lunchs and stocks (not much difference in the starting base pay at all tho).

And as Microsoft and Google throttle each other back and forth, I can only imagine Yahoo! strolling by, whistling past the graveyard. Anyway, onto MarkL's comment:

The sparsely populated parking lot on weekends being used as an indicator of employee morale is pretty foolish. Five years back, everyone did not have broadband and the VPN infrastructure was pretty crude. Now a lot more people have that and there fore are better off working from home instead of having to deal with pessimistic folks like you at least on week ends.

Hmm. You might be right that broadband and VPN means that you physically don't have to be in the office to contribute on weekends. Hard to say, but I am sure you could just do a few "sd changes" commands and count all those weekend checkins?

I was there in the old days and witnessed and was part of the awesome energy that was happening at Microsoft. Sixteen years later, I remember walking through the halls rarely seeing anyone in their offices. Everyone seemed to be at lunch, at the pro club, or stuck in a meeting. When does the actual work get done?

A little over a year ago I left Microsoft and went to work for Google. During the interview process, one of the things that really impressed me was the energy in the work places. There were people everywhere coding, talking, obviously engaged in solving problems. Every engineer is sitting in front of dual 24" monitors cranking out code, exploring ideas, etc. Google is alive. I compare this with what I witnessed during my final years at Microsoft, and yes, you have a problem. I don't think it has anything to do with broadband, vpn, or empty parking lots.

I think you have a bunch of fat cats in upper management at the partner level that contribute little or no code and instead spend their days in meetings and planning strategey. They are sitting around, most of them just waiting for the next round of massive restricted stock options to begin vesting in the next few months. To these guys, Microsoft is a safe place to hang with a garunteed big payday.

Those of you in the trenches writing code, there is virtually no incentive to work hard, crank out code ahead of schedule, invent and implement innovative new ideas, etc. Microsoft is just a safe place to collect a paycheck...

This week at Google, I spent three days in Mountain View, and the last two days working from home. My team includes guys in our New York Times Square Engineering office as well as folks in Mountain View. On Monday, I flew up to Mountain View and arrived in the office at 10am. I worked until 3am and guess what. I wasn't the last one in my area of the building the leave! There was plenty of company. All these guys are proud of their work, love what they are doing, and wanted to nail their deadlines and then take a few days off for the holidays. At 330am I arrived at my apartment, slept for a few hours, and then arrived at the office at 8am, grabbed a free hot breakfast, and put in another full day leaving work at 4am. Again, i was not the last one to leave. I work in an area where a team is preparing for an upcoming launch and 90% of that team was there when I left at 4am, and they were there when I returned at 830am the next day. On wednesday, I had a short day. I arrived at 8am and had to leave to catch my flight at 7:30pm. Those guys that were there at 4am when I left the morning before were still there, heading down for dinner when I left at 7:30pm. For me, thursday was a normal 12 hour day, and friday was the reward. We met our quarterly milestone and met our launch. I am confident that my friends who pulled a few all nighters this week will also lauch on time.

Are we all stupid for working this hard and ignoring life around us? I am sure that some will argue that this is exactly the case. For me and the guys around me, this kind of energy is what we thrive on, and whats needed from time to time to create great products.

This is the kind of energy that I think is missing from Microsoft. It was definitely there in the old days.

I don't buy for a minute that the empty offices and empty parking lots are because people are working from home. Instead, I think that the fat cat partners are in meetings while they wait for their stock to vest (== empty offices). And the guys in the trenches have no incentive to work extra hours.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Comment Repost - A New Hope, Part II

Comment re-posting time, for those not prone to reloading the site daily or so and delving into each and every comment. This comment came in to the post The "Should I come work for Microsoft?" Post. It got a ding for being a little rah-rah near the end, but it represents someone at the crossroads, deciding 'should I stay or go now?'

"Be more corporate" "Although you’ve heard it a million times before, here is my suggestion; trim the fat."

I'm in a somewhat similiar scenario myself, and naively thought the same way.

If you 'trim the fat', the people doing the trimming will be management. If your theory is that a chunk of the management in under qualified and hires syncophants, it's the syncophants (typically the fat) that will stay and the lean folks that will leave.

I have a strong track record of success, following a principle of 'do what's right for the company.' Following that principle, I've risen quickly in every organization I've been a part of.

In Redmond? Not so much.

If anyone else ran their business like this - without a $30 billion safety net - they'd be in bankruptcy without the ability to get funding. Our early success has provided a safety net for mediocracy.

There are groups where managers are going 'Rah! Rah! We rock!' building great perceptions when the reality for the people on the team is the exact opposite.

I'm reminded of the scene in Meet the Folkers where there's a trophy case full of sports trophies celebrating their son coming in 4th, 5th, and 7th place.

Personally, I'd prefer to spend less time patting myself on the back, and more time figuring out how to be #1. God knows we have the brainpower and the money to be #1, why celebrate mediocracy?

But does anyone say anything? Sure, but not to the people who should hear it. Everyone makes the comments to one another about it in hallway conversations and behind closed doors, but noone says anything to the people at the wheel of the ship.

Except, of course, the 1 or 2 poor bastards who try and say 'Seriously, this isn't working. Let's re-evaluate this.' We all know what happens to those folks.

Shunned like whores in Amish country.

This time of year, the politics are super apparent. How was your holiday party? Mine was something out of the American movies from the 80s where you have the school dance, and all of the individual cliques. You had your cool kids, your burnouts, your nerdy kids, etc. It was really kind of sad.

And the cliques are always there, the reason they're more pronounced is due to herding everyone into the same space.

The bottom line is that doing what's right for the company in many scenarios that it get's you branded as difficult and not a team player, to the point where you either give in to 'the system' or leave.

And what do we see? Alot of people leaving. With stock flat, average salaries and bad management, great people are leaving.

The interesting thing is that they're not abandoning the platform; they're not abandoning the vision, they're abandoning the company.

They're taking jobs at ISVs and in Enterprises that map to what their current roles are/were.

Think about it. This is an exciting time for us - new products, the ability to solve major business problems, we're ushering in the next era of computing. And these people have left. How fucked up is that?

These are people who love what they do, are great at what they do, but are frustrated because 'the system' is holding them back.

These are people with experience, who've seen the good and bad and are trying to make things work inside the company, only to be shut down or ostrecized because they're tampering with this hologram of false reality that's been established.

These are people who refuse to kiss ass or send gratuitous emails celebrating their own actions, and instead focus on making things happen.

And while everyone preaches that we need to be a lean, mean machine, you have to recognize that these losses are lost muscle not fat.

The people who have the luxury of thinking about leaving, are typically not the ones you don't want to leave.

But you know what, we have alot of money in the bank, and even if a good chunk of smart folks go, we've got enough to get by. While we won't be as successful as we could have been, we'll have some level of success (Windows 98 vs. Windows 95)

As a result, you build this self-perpetuating cycle of inadaquecy that only gets worse over time.

Now by all rights, I'm one of these guys and the question 'should I stay or should I go?' is one that enters my head far more often than I thought it ever would.

Does this mean that I don't love the company? Of course not. Does this mean I'm not incredibly passionate about the power of our software? Absolutely not. Does that mean I don't think Microsoft is going to change the industry? Nope.

Quite frankly, I challenge anyone who says they love the company more than I do. Seriously.

But you know what? I'm not one of those people who've only worked at Microsoft. I've worked elsewhere and know this style of management / human interaction is not the norm.

It's like any relationship. You can offer so much of yourself, but in reality the other party involved needs to make certain contributions. If they don't, you need to move on.

I know I can make just as much, if not more money elsewhere. That I'm at a level where I can have an almost equal level of freedom as I do today. You may say - 'But you won't have the level of impact'.

But in the world of Web 2.0, you have the ability to be incredibly agile with swift and painless distribution, and secure, reliable brokerage for people who want to pay you. The argument of impact is not what it once was.

Now people will challenge this and say 'My boss is great', 'My org is fantastic', etc. Having worked in different groups, I wholeheartedly recognize that this isn't an all or nothing type of thing. Everyone will agree, though, that the stink seems to be worst the closer you get to 98052.

The people I've met in the field organizations have the reality of customers day-to-day problems. They have quotas, milestones, measurable metrics - they may work the hell out of you, but I think the system there is more honest.

We joke that Redmond is surrounded by a bubble and reality is on the other side. There seems to be a bloated sense of self-importance or arrogance from being abstracted away from customers by both several layers of field and management.

Despite all this, I'd answer the question 'Should I work for Microsoft?' with a Yes.

Why? Two words: Kevin Johnson.

One of the encouraging things is the recent appointment of Kevin to his new role.

If you've seen Kevin speak, you've surely heard his talk about a resignation letter. At the end of reading it, he shares that it's his resignation letter from IBM.

There are definately some parallels between the issues that caused him to leave IBM to those we're seeing today.

He knows the field, he knows sales, he knows services, and he's buit his reputation being successful with customers.

Is he the scream and yell and get you all pumped up Steveb? No. But I don't think that's necessarily what we need at this point in the company's life. We're beyond that now. We need someone running the business, not running around on stage.

I don't expect major changes, but I'm willing to bet in a year, maybe a year and a half we'll see some decent changes kick in.

Kevin Johnson possesses the strengths we need. And as he seems to be on the fast track to the SteveB slot, I think I'm going to stick around.

Now, will I leave or stay in my current group? Magic 8 ball says 'Too Soon To Tell.'

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Post-Break - Dividend, The Bench, Brummel, and Scoble

Time for a Post-Break. I don't mean taking a break from posting but rather putting up a post just to serve as a blog section-break given the heavy stream of incoming comments. I'm soon going to repost some of the more interesting comments that have come up as part of rounding out the year (I have some quality airport time to look forward to, so re-reading all the recent comments and copy-pasting-commentary is just ideal).

Random notes for the past week:

Dividend: people with a dry sense of humor note that Microsoft boldly raised its dividend by an aggressive 12.5%. I'm curious about our leadership's thinking around the dividend. After the financial analysts meeting, one of the most directed piece of feedback Microsoft received to increase the stock price was to aggressively increase the dividend and commit to sustaining it at a comparable level. Eight cents is not aggressive. A penny increase is not aggressive. Both, in light of the feedback, are rather insulting.

The short-term effect of the Sunshineville product pipeline certainly hasn't been felt yet. How about seriously reconsidering the dividend?

Google and AOL: I like the imagery of Eric E. Schmidt, after the Time Warner deal was done and he had a moment for quite reflection with a nice drink and an evening skyline before him, taking a sip and thinking, 'Oh, no, Mr. Ballmer. I'm going to effin' kill you.' So, nice negotiating props to Google. I guess they won this round. Maybe we just convinced them to punch the tar-baby with a fist-full of a billion dollars.

The Bench and Other Programs: good information continues to come in clarifying some of the murkier aspects of compensation / career programs at Microsoft. This comment rounds things up well:

Blue Chip is not that big of a deal - it's a campus potential hire that is deemed by a recruiter to be in the top {small number}% of all campus hires that year. Therefore more attention will be paid to trying to get that person to join.

For partners, if you look at the career stage profiles that were rolled out last year you will see the top in each stage called partner, and it says L68+. The compensation is a bit of a mystery but what I do know is that partner compensation is dependent on the company-wide CPE metrics that you sometimes hear about. Meaning that partners' compensation (probably mostly stock awards based on the SEC filings) varies per year, based on how much the company makes, how satisfied the customers are, etc.

Bench is a leadership training program. You're right that it's the people who could take over as VPs but that's long term. There are two benches: normal bench for <68 and partner bench for >=68. That is what they call the "corporate bench". There are also per-team/division bench programs, which allow these types of programs to reach down to lower level people (you generally have to be 66-67 to get into the corporate bench). I know of several of these programs, in different divisions. If you want to be a VP some day, you should ask your manager if yours has such a program and when you can get into it.

and this comment:

the bench - this is the set of partners who can take over vp job...

Not exactly. This iteration of the bench program (which I believe is the 3rd since I've been in HR?!) actually has two tracks: one for partners aka "Partner Bench" and one for lower folks aka "Member Bench". The idea is that people chosen for Partner bench are on track to make VP and generally already level 68+ ("E" potential). Member bench is the same thing for people on track to be partners ("P" potential).

But don't tell ANYONE! If employees knew about this, managers would have the tough duty to actually manage and explain to their people why they aren't in the Bench and *gasp* give them feedback on how they could get there or *gasp**gasp* that they never could.

What commenters are up in arms about is the financial rewards the partners / VPs are reaping and the big disconnect between well-compensated partners / VPs and those below who get great ratings but barely meet cost-of-living increases. On the shallow surface, it appears as an unbalanced money grab. How about visibility into what these people do day-to-day to earn their rewards, in comparison?

Ms. Brummel's Listening Tour: from what I've heard and been told, if you can make any meeting this year or next year, make this meeting. I look forward to it myself. Really. You can find the schedule off of Micronews in case she's already visited your part of campus and you want to play catch up. The kind of changes being discussed are big, really big - and the kind I support and don't want to spoil and chatter about here (I'd rather shine a light on the problems in public and nurture great changes in private). I know: there's talk, and then there's well implemented action.

To implement big change, though, I don't think you can do it in a staged or incremental fashion. For instance, the whole multi-year staged company values thing is a bit of a flop. Nice to have and all, but as covered in one of those secrets in Ms. Shapiro's book, people realized that they are not truly compensated, promoted, or recognized for excelling at the company values so the values receive important lip service and their every mention turns into an exercise in eye muscle control: "do not roll eyes! do not roll eyes!"

No, such change need to be swift and disruptive.

Mr. Scoble: Robert Scoble is alright in my book. I'm grateful for every mention, as I am with Dare, Mr. Barr, and the rare occasional Don Box (excuse my inner-dev swooning). Folks in Ireland read Mini? Hello! Anyway, Scoble is a self-mounted lightning rod who takes a lot of incoming flak and crap and I think, mostly, except for those pre-coffee mornings, excels at dealing with that level of self-inflicted attention very well. I've taken lessons from him and other high-profile bloggers. I see Scoble as one of those Tom Peter-fused change agents, where the change is amoral. Good? Bad? No, just change. I'm glad he's working for Microsoft.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Confidential Mercurial Comments

Corporate Confidential

Yes, I recommend the book. I didn't realize that I still had strong personal attachment to meritocracy and workplace justice until I read through all of Ms. Shapiro's secrets and ended up feeling corporate career naive, even for all my years. I'm sure if Ms. Shapiro looked through the comments here from folks complaining when brown-nosers succeed while they feel punished for speaking their mind, she'd give a matter-of-fact, "Yep. That's the way it is. Everywhere."

Some of this you can see in action in your own career. For instance, right now (allow me to polish-prep my nose) I have the best boss in the world and someone who makes a huge, positive impact at Microsoft. So it's very easy for me to sing praises for my boss and support my boss vocally and with great passion and loyalty. Everyone should be so fortunate. I can see in retrospect why things work out well for me more often than not given my transparent, enthusiastic support. It comes very easily. When I've had bosses in the past that I've been honest about my lack of admiration for, well... no soup for me. The book serves as one way to calibrate your own personal "duh!" meter.

I strongly recommend chapter five for all managers, especially if you've been recently promoted to a lead position.

If you want to comfort your scorn over lack of recognition for your merits as you strategize for the future, you should read this or a similar book. It's sort of the Art of War for cogs in the machine that want to run the machine one day, and perhaps change what they thought as unfair or poorly run. It does go to an extreme of disempowering the employee in some cases (vacations and leaves of absence, for example), and not all the lessons apply to Microsoft. However, as long as Microsoft continues ranking and rewarding people the busted way it does, the majority of the lessons are pretty on target.

(Oh, and a word to the wise: the Microsoft mid-point review is coming up and most groups do an informal stack rank to check-in on how people are looking going towards the major review. Where are you in your team's stack rank? If you can't answer that question authoritatively, you're probably lower than you think.)

Lisa Brummel Listening Tour

So, continuing the HR theme here, Ms. Brummel will be doing a listening tour to hear employee concerns. After reading Ms. Shapiro's book, I personally visualize such information gathering as Wile E. Coyote hiding behind a bolder as the Road Runner notices a pile of bird seed in the middle of a lasso trap beneath a gently swaying suspended bolder. Yes, please, speak your mind. Are you deft enough to get away with a "Meep! Meep!?"

The thing is, what actionable changes does Ms. Brummel see herself empowered to effect at Microsoft? I'd like to think a lot, but I can't count the number of times HR representatives tell a group of employees the way it should be and later management comes in says the way it's really gonna be, and HR falls in line.

I'd be thrilled to the dickens to see changes (like in compensation, recognition, streamlining, and the busted review model) but those changes have to be enacted from up on high. I can only hope Ms. Brummel has exceptional negotiation skills. A number of people here have enthusiastically sung Ms. Brummel's old-school-Microsoftie capabilities but still I don't have any insight into her plans to improve the Microsoft experience for the employees (and, as a result, for our customers and partners and shareholders). Other than the Company Meeting presentation, her agenda has been opaque to the rest of us.

Listening tour? What kind of feedback will you or did you provide?

Partners, the Bench, Gold Stars, and Blue Chips

No, Bubba, I don't know what they are and probably wouldn't be told as part of my eventual exit interview. But, some follow-up comments were kind enough to shed some light on these Microsoft career distinguishers:

(1) Partner is 68+ and has a special profit-sharing performance-based compensation plan.

Blue-chip is a classification given to highly-desirable candidates. What it translates to, I don't know.

(2) the bench - this is the set of partners who can take over vp job

gold stars - special award ( a golden star ) given to people.

blue chips - special award for chosen people given by HR

(3) gold stars - special award ( a golden star ) given to people

More specifically, it's an award that recognizes someone who is at or near the top of their team. Someone who will likely have (or currently has) a huge impact on the future of that team. The reward can be substantial, such as a year's worth (for a top performer of stock.

Profit sharing? Yowza. Big rewards for some kind of above-and-beyond efforts? Sounds like upper management should not only share the cash-infused love down a little lower, but also share some level of information here to inspire results. Wouldn't it be better if all reward systems we have in-place are not enshrouded in mystery until you reach the 33rd degree of level 68?

The Maniacally Mercurial Man from Michigan

(Alliteration - always fun when done well!)

Kurt G. was kind enough to share his parting thoughts he sent to SteveB. It's a long comment but it's well worth the read: KurtG's letter to SteveB. Here's a snippet from near the end:

Does trimming the fat mean splitting Microsoft up into different companies, selling off portions of the business, or just making massive leadership cuts? I will not say I know the answer, but I do know that Microsoft is getting too big for its own good, both from a product and management perspective. And I’m not taking about reorgs here; God knows we’ve done enough of those. I am talking about making hardcore cuts. It would be a shame to see Microsoft become another Digital due to smaller yet leaner and meaner competitors like Google, WebEx, Adobe, and others who continue to team up for battle.

In closing, I will be announcing my departure today, and unfortunately, I am really happy. Not that it even matters, as there are many folks who leave Microsoft on a regular basis, but therein lies part of the problem. Great talent isn’t being lost because competitors appear that much more attractive; it is because Microsoft is becoming that much more unattractive.

Four Random Things

(1) As far as I can count, there are eight papers from Think Week declaring severe problems that Microsoft is currently facing, including the review system, potential for innovation, efficiency of development, quality of products, and revenue growth. Wink to Sanaz and Bubba for the mentions of Mini-Microsoft. And here's a general confused, mesmerized Blue Dog stare for the EEG leaders' ideas (I agree with the statement of problems, though).

(2) An interesting short post from Matt Stoller at MyDD: Unions in the 21st Century. I, ah, think it overstates the impact of Mini-Microsoft, though. I'm pretty sure at least a few dozen Microsofties read this blog, I'm not sure beyond that (and, in a crazy way, I really don't want to know). But I do agree that non-lead team members have started talking with increased savvy over the past year about what it takes to succeed professionally working at Microsoft, given the shared insights into stack ranking and the compensation curve.

(3) If you do read Mini-Microsoft, you might also enjoy...

(4) Interesting comments continue coming in on the last two posts. I'll do a comment summary soon, but in the meantime:

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Holiday Cheer and Think Week, in moderation

Okay, so it's the holiday time of the year and rather than grousing about crashing products plopping out of the pipeline, how about if I turn the dial to Cheer and find some good things to focus on.

Should you come to work for Microsoft?

So I said interning at Microsoft was a great idea but full-timing was a big no-no. Eh, I'm biased. The post has a whole bunch of great comments so please, if you don't visit posts often or just read the web feed, take a moment to load up the post and give it a read. I'm afraid I end up with my hands on my hips in a huff and everyone telling me to get over myself because most folks think that Microsoft is a great place to come to learn and to work.

Think Week Fall 2005

I look forward to dropping by the Think Week internal web site soon and reading if what I'm hearing is close to reality: a number of papers declaring that things just aren't all that good right now and (here's the cheery part) just what we can do to make things better for Microsoft and the employees. The one paper I'm going to read first is what my hallway is buzzing about: Voss says it's time to take Microsoft private. So long Wall Street!

I never even thought of proposing making Microsoft private. It's such a radically simple thought that it sort of redefines the entire problem and solution space. I can't wait to curl up with that one and I'd love to hear the feedback from BillG on that paper.

Any Think Week papers you especially recommend? Titles, general impressions only, please. I really don't want to go disclosing internal paper contents... like, you know, those, ah, ten crazy ideas. Bygones. But usually the submitted paper list is pretty long, so if you have star papers you recommend other Microsofties read, please share.

It is interesting that there seems to be a shift: acknowledgement of a massive internal problem (that's the first step, right?) and now an elevation of the discussion and possible solutions. It gives me hope. And cheer.

Corporate Confidential

The book Corporate Confidential by Cynthia Shapiro has been discussed back and forth a bit. fCh writes:

Secondly, I'd like to comment a bit on Mrs. Shapiro's "Corporate Confidential." I think she is like your George Carlin type: says some truths bluntly, cuts through the fog of convention and such, but you would not want to have that type at the same dinner table as your teenage (or younger) children... Guys, if you make yourself in the image she's selling, don't wonder what the world has come to. I am really puzzled at the idea people value her 'insights' to the point she's a consultant for your company - that's what I call masochism.

So I bought the book and I'm reading it. Last night I put it down after one of the secrets and exclaimed, "Boy, is that cynical!" I'll follow-up later about it. It certainly is an unsettling book to read. When my HR-generalist talks to me next time, I'll probably slip into deer-in-the-headlights mode and then have to fake urgent gastro-distress to make a hasty exit and not let a word escape my lips.

A Little Moderation

I don't have Mr. Scoble's ability to deal with any and all comments (well, I guess he did go on a cleansing spree for Channel9 once). After playing the comment-delete game, I switched over this past weekend to trying out the comment moderation feature recently added to Google's Blogger. I. Love. It. And maybe it's just post holiday coincidence, but after turning it on, the comment quality shot through the roof. Thank you.

The only regret I have is that comments only get updated when I check-in on them, and that's in the morning and at night. Plus comment publishing is throttled, so they seem to trickle in after being approved. But other than that, it's working well.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The "Should I come work for Microsoft?" Post

One commenter asks:

I have an offer from MS to join. What is your suggestion on that. From the posts here, the situation in MS does not seem to be very good, but still it is a good company ?

Another from a while back:

I'm a student at the University of Waterloo and have been reading this blog for a while. This is totally offtopic, but considering the whole reorg and the supposed mass employee dissent, or at least the distrubance, is now a good time to be an MSFT intern? Also, any resume/interview tips?

In short, my opinion is:

  • Join for an internship: Yes.
  • Join fulltime: No.

Full-disclosure and truth in blogging: I can't say this is the place you're going to find a lot of pro thoughts related to supporting you being yet another Microsoft hire. I mean, my goodness, my whole original reason for starting these few web pages was to argue that Microsoft had to be smaller to succeed. Less on the hire, more on the fire.

I will say this though: Microsoft is a fantastic company with some of the absolute best coworkers in the world. The ability to affect anyone using a computer is almost unparalleled. The amount of pride you can achieve through reflecting what your contributions can do or have done is enormous. There is no other place like it.


It's just that Microsoft has grown way too much (resulting in increased management and bureaucracy) and has promoted untalented, uninspiring people upwards. New hires find themselves unable to have as big an impact as they have in the past, and might overhear managers wandering the hall reflecting on how most employees are cogs and easily replaceable (if you end up sitting in my hallway).

Why do I stay? Because I know how good it can be and I believe getting Microsoft performance tuned isn't all that hard but it does involve a certain amount of sustained visibility into how bad things are and pressure on leadership to start not only talking about agility and accountability but visibly demonstrating and supporting it. Along with flattening the company through identifying and pushing out the burned-out and the deadwood.

If you're the sort of person who can succeed in a vacuum and not grow cynical quickly and poison your career, then you should seriously consider Microsoft as an option.

Now, as far as internships for Microsoft go, I think it's great and anyone who can intern should intern. It's great for the interns typically because Microsoft is so desperate to find and hire excellent technical people that the interns actually get hard, interesting work along with the best mentor the group has to offer. And boy do you get wooed while you're here. Please read the old entries in Mr. Sinofsky's tech-talk down below for more on that.

I appreciate interns coming in because typically they still have that "nothing is impossible!" fire streaming through their veins and, while making clumsy mistakes and not appreciating the depth of world-class-software, bring an enthusiasm and a productivity that helps turn the spotlight on blue-badgers who have plateaued or are ready to move on to the next job in life and just need a little help.

But don't accept the job offer at the end of your internship. I'll repeat myself here for people fresh to the job market:

For folks just out of college, my only insight is: if you're unattached and unencumbered by responsibilities the last thing you need to do is go work for a large, slow moving corporation in the 'burbs. Take risks and live the crazy big city life and blow your youthful energy laying down effort on the big pay-off opportunities. You will learn more and do more than you can possibly imagine, especially compared to being placed as a new shiny cog in the corporate machine (where all you can say during your first review is, "And what does this 3.0 mean?"). Then come knocking on the door of the corporate beast in the idyllic, moist, family friendly Pacific Northwest .

For well-written perspectives on the other side of this issue, be sure to visit Jobs Blog and Steven Sinofsky's tech-talk. Both are very responsive to comments asking probing questions.

(Re-repost: fixed tech-talk URL but then had to repost due to MSO HTML namespaces screwing up the web feed. Sorry about that.) (Re-re-repost: what the heck. s/replicable/replaceable/ - not sure what my fingers were thinking.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Some Holiday Stuffing

Some random Thanksgiving holiday kibble and bits:

XBox 360 ring of fire: oh, no. It's one thing for VS2005 to have problems on ship. It's another for the XBox 360 to be hanging and crashing and creating any angry red circle of light for new 360 owners. What does that red circle mean? Catastrophic hardware failure, prepare to be exchanged. One of threads mentions that a military PX actually had some of their 360 recalled before they went on sale. I now glance at my unpacked 360 box, wondering what kind of beast might be lurking within.

First, XBox sucked up one billion dollars from our company and broke that division's wallet. Now is 360 going to break our heart, too?

I can only have faith that this is one place where Microsoft will endeavor for quick turn-around to get replacement units out, no questions asked. With a kiss... give the folks having to exchange their XBox a bunch of Live Points. And I hope this is just a small percent of units. One poll had 14% of people responding that they had a 360 brick shortly after playing it for a while. Oy!

Interesting that at the same time I'm reading more Deming and wondering how his approach to quality would apply to Microsoft, we have these defective units cropping up.

While BusinessWeek says that accountability is the new word at Microsoft, I seriously doubt anyone will be held accountable if we get bad press and take a dent in initial 360 adoption because our crazy consumers are a tad bit nervous forking over well over $500 for a system and a couple of games and risking that it might have to be returned shortly after hooking it up.

Shanghai: the same week various posts come out discussing working with Microsoft engineers in China, also noted by Dare, I took a moment to do a deep dive understanding how things are going over there and what kind of work is getting done. Seems as though most people are very happy with the high quality, hard-work, and ability to deal with Microsoft-Redmond's capricious rearchitecture du jour coming out of China. I haven't heard much in the way of complaints at all, as compared to working with Hyderabad. Microsoft India had best watch out - you guys might get outsourced to China, lending a whole new modern usage to Shanghaied.

Comments: some great comments as of late... first of all, another good one along the lines of being an executive level initiative to get the masses of Microsofties clamoring for a Reduction in Force (RIF), aka, mass firings. A snippet from the comment:

When is everyone going to get it that this blog is a science experiment on part of management? Has anyone even passively considered that this is perhaps a clever upper-echelon attempt at evangelizing people into welcoming a RIF?

Yeah! Stock price sucks!
Yeah! Bad middle managers!
Yeah! Let's cut back!
Fire 'em! Fire 'em!

An ex-Microsoftie looking back in retrospect:

I left because of poor management vision and accountability. However, the VP of my old division was Kai Fu Lee whose vision was somewhere else (Google perhaps?) and completely uninspiring. It makes me laugh as I look back. Realistically MS needs a revolution.

Another headed out the door:

I can't think of a single positive discussion in the last few years with other Services ICs, whether consultant, TAM, or other, concerning the state of affairs at Microsoft. Many Senior ICs in my org have left in the last few months stating the lack of opportunity to excel, a clear career path, incompetence of their management, the bureaucracy, and review process bullshit.

[...] I think Microsoft has given up on employee development, career opportunity, and retention of it's senior ICs.

[...] I've been working very hard this last year to find reasons to stay at Microsoft.....but time has come to move on.

A good pro-MBS rant has the following:

The culture within MS is just plain stupid. A culture that rewards people (the 4.0s) for taking risk and punishes the people (the 3.0s) who cover the asses of the first group, is just silly. I would not want to own a company of exclusively 'type A' highly motivated risk takers. You need a balanced and diverse employee base to make a succesful company.

Another from an MBS manager:

Personally I'm a techie gone manager, I can mentor and match any of my people technically, but my peers are most often completely innane morons who are good at playing the game instead using their brain. I was a happy camper at MS when I was an IC and small time lead, but with the increased scope I have seen the horrible state of management we have, and I just don't like it!

I'm probably going to leave the company soon. I refuse to use my time in meetings, trying to play politics, so I can't get my 4.0's anymore and that's it for me. MS has finally depleeted itself of interesting opportunities for me...

Looking back at VS2005 problems, some folks have added comments along the line of "Dude, works just fine for me." Paul Sorauer added a rather long comment on his experience with VS2005. A snippet:

I have spent the last seven years building up a career solely using MS development products.

For the first time I am seriously considering making a switch.

For the first time I have lost confidence in Microsoft.

If I released an application that had, for even one customer, as many problems as I have encountered with VS 2005 RTM, I would consider the product an abject failure. I have never encountered a product that is so difficult to give my continued support to. Until MS comes out with some hotfixes or a service pack for VS 2005, I WILL NOT be using, considering or recommending Visual Studio 2005 for new projects.

As for the HR back and forth, my favorite recent chuckle comes from this comment:

I have my occasional problems with HR (like forgetting to send out an offer and almost costing me a hire), but yelling at them about the current state of the company is like yelling at your cat because the laundry didn't get done.

Another comment takes a moment to remember the Three Degrees team:

Does anyone remember where the Three Degrees team used to be situated over in the downtown offices? I loved their shared workspace - it didn't have the typical drone-cube feel to it (no dividers) , it had a nice view of the city and I just liked the general layout of the room. They also had a quiet/meditation room (can't remember the actual term they used to call it).

Do you remember Three Degrees? Well, first of all, it was probably the first self-serving poster on campus that I noticed. Now it would be lost in the crowd of internal "lookie at us!" posters slapped up everywhere. Anyway, if I remember right, all the good positive pre-Web 2.0 Microsoft-finally-gets-it NetGen buzz on Three Degrees that came out was all but cheers at the wake. I'm pretty sure the team had already been told to break-up and disband or such by the time they shipped. And what revelatory reactions did Microsoft leadership have to those good articles praising Three Degrees and this surprising non-Microsoft direction for Microsoft? Zip.

Anyone feeling accountable?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Stack Ranking Has an Expiration Date

A big Thank You! to Simon G for the following comment:

Hi Mini

First, congrats on being the only person I have found so far who has wondered about the fuzziness of Ray's comments relating to the Business Division. As a Navision reseller, it troubles me that the ERP side of things isn't yet clarified in Ray's mind.

Second, have a look at a book review on rank-yank:

It both defends and denigrates it

So the link is to an article of of the Harvard Business School entitled: Forced Ranking: Making Performance Management Work. The article is by Dick Grote, who has a new book out about stack ranking / rank and yank, and is well worth a read. Going through the article, Grote first lays down the reason why a company would want to stack rank: a company could be at risk of evaluation inflation, misrepresentation of true results, and bad calibration between groups. The meat of the article is to review a mathematical model study done for stank ranking, where 10% of the employees are fired every year (sort of The Sims Rank and Yank edition). Given this model, the company became healthier and more productive. But.

First "but": a 10% dismissal rate seems to be optimal. 5% is not. And whatever mythical 6% firing rate Microsoft is doing is not even throughout the company but rather clusters of RIFs. So while we cling to stack ranking, we are not using it properly. 10% of every organization needs to go every year to make room for better hires. If you believe in that sort of thing being good and all.

Second "but": stack ranking does not work as a perpetual performance appraisal system. It's good for five years, and then you need to move on. Snippet:

Finally, for many years I have argued that for most companies, forced ranking systems should be used for only a few years and then, once the obvious and immediate benefits have been achieved, replaced with other talent management initiatives. While some companies have been successful in using their forced ranking system for decades, I find that most organizations are better served by implementing a forced ranking system as a short-term initiative. Scullen and his fellow researchers confirm that advice.

Great! I'd say it's time for Microsoft to move on. The article tries to be fair in addressing the issues folks might have with stack ranking but just glances off of the morale issue and the impact of personal success is more important than group / product success.

The article also has a good idea about management stack ranking that, as long as we have stack ranking, I hope gets put to good use:

A forced ranking procedure forces managers to think in far greater depth about the quality of talent in their unit than conventional performance appraisal systems typically require, and their ability to describe and verbalize their assessments provides a good indicator of a critical aspect of their leadership ability.

Manager's contribution to honestly stack ranking their reports should feed into their own stack ranking given that it provides a good insight into a key aspect of their management skills. Can they readily describe all the pros and cons of their reports?

So, Tamara: think we can get Grote to come in if he's out and about doing a book tour in the area?

Next up: lots of commenters have complained about Burgum. One celebrated his being sent out to the pasture but another followed up, with the quick summary of:

And considering that he gets to be Chairman now versus [deservedly] being fired, I'd call that being put out to stud vs pasture. Here was a golden opp for Gates/Ballmer to show that accountability was going to be demanded at the top not just the bottom. Instead, they send exactly the opposite message - business as usual. The guys at, Rightnow, etc. must be laughing their asses off...

Some folks talk about Alchin and say to me, "Well, you know he's being pushed out of the company because of his performance." And I say, "No, I don't know that. All I know is that he's leaving to take care of his health and that Steve Ballmer is really bummed to see him go." I think of the re-org webcast. If Steve is really pushing out Alchin, then I all I can say is he's the biggest dork in the world for being on stage to say he's sad to see him go. Same thing with Burgum. If this is supposed to be a message of accountability, don't enshroud it within fake regret.

Another interesting comment:

I have been reading this blog since I was terminated in September from MBS. [...] For those of you that still work at Microsoft, you must realize that a huge plan is in progress to downsize Microsoft, especially middle management. For example, does the company still need 7 CFOs for 3 business divisions? A major overhaul and purging is not out of the question.

If you want to prepare for what is coming down (i.e. especially if you are one of those General Managers reporting into another General Manager or anyone significant inside of MBS) you need to read a book called Corporate Confidential by Cynthia Shapiro. She does consulting with Microsoft management and employees. Her book can show you how to survive and what to look for as Microsoft begins the largest purging of management ever!

The book was excerpted a couple of times in the Seattle Times Sunday paper. Yes, if you're playing the review game at Microsoft, this might be a good book to have during disruptive times. The chapter four extract is especially tantalizing: going from invisible to indispensable.

And finally, as for stock: sure, Google strolled past $400 today like it's just a little milestone, but at the same time, we closed at almost $28! I guess Steve Ballmer doesn't care since, you know, we (meaning SteveB) don't measure our performance by our stock performance.

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Disruptive Defrag for Microsoft

So I finally had some spare time this weekend to print off the oh-so-well covered Gates and Ozzie memos about the service wave. I grabbed mine from Mr. Bishop's post, before I noticed that internally they are available off of http://blogs/live/ as well.

Before I start my thoughts here, let me just say that strategic memos like these reveal a lot about the reader's agenda. Allow me to restate that my agenda is for a leaner, meaner, agile, efficient, exciting Microsoft that can swiftly deliver remarkable software products to our customers and provide great value to our shareholders. I also want us to spend sometime focusing on everyday consumers and back off from being so IT focused when it comes to new features and products.

At a rather base level, I believe that Microsoft needs an explosive enema to flush it free of the process, bureaucracy, and low-quality personnel. Microsoft needs a disruptive defrag.

So I dive into these memos looking to align them with my own agenda. I respect that your Rorschachian take on the memo might come up with a wildly different view. I'd love to hear it, too.

Gates memo seems pretty much like the wrapping on the paper that says, "Read this and take it seriously." He mentions how services will simplify the work of IT departments and developers. Unsurprisingly, I didn't find anything in his cover letter specifically focused on the consumer. Mr. Gates sets the stage for this to be a very disruptive change. Good. He then ends indicating who all this upcoming change will be a benefit to. Where are the shareholders? Still busy meditating on horizontal stock-price lines?

Mr. Ozzie's memo surprised me in a good way. I didn't have high hopes, so that's probably why I put off reading it. I'm no big fan of the confusing mess that's Notes, I think Groove is a pokey-inefficient system just a tad better than shareware, and Ray's uninspiring presentation at the 2005 Company Meeting lost my attention, along with the people around me. So I had dialed the expectation meter down to about a two. And for some reason I was expecting to come up with some sort of comparison of Mr. Ozzie to Karl Rove... thankfully, not needed!

Ray sets a good stage, and gently raps Microsoft across the knuckles for the opportunities we missed, like the XmlHttpRequest design for OWA (whose designer left Microsoft for Pure Networks) that forms the basis of AJAX (which really only is possible now given the crossbrowser adoption of XmlHttpRequest, cross-site security pains and all). I'd certainly like more digging into such failures at an executive level to understand why we didn't have the motivation to be leaders here. Hell, every acquisition is an admission to leadership screw-up in my book: why didn't we have the foresight to innovate in this area vs. buying this anti-spyware / server-side malware scrubber / VoIP provider?

I find it especially interesting that Google / Yahoo / Apple are given the "yes, yes" waiving hand of dismissive recognition and that the true focus needs to be on grassroots start-ups using the internet as their framework. Obviously, we want to be their foundation. I like this line regarding developing on the internet: "Speed, simplicity and loose coupling are paramount." Good ole developer fundamentals.

I'm still out-of-touch with respect to the big huge pile of golden eggs out there with a rainbow shining above them, emblazoned with the phrase "advertising-supported economic model." I need to do some digging into what the analysts say about future expected income for targeted ads and the expected user reaction to them popping up everywhere anytime they use something that's online. Like TiVo and commercials, it all seems to be one GreaseMonkey script away from disappearing from view. All I have in my mental visual imagery is that one Aqua Teen Hunger Force where real-life pop-up ads started filling the house. Users will start gravitating towards the service with the least annoyance vs. functionality.

I like the essence of the "integrated user experiences that 'just work'" paragraph. (Detour ahead.) Lord knows the gadgets in my life steal a hell of a lot of my free time as I attend to their care and feeding. What I really want is virtual representations of them (perhaps as gadgets or widgets) that I can manipulate whether they are connected or not. If my PDA is connected to my computer, give me a term-serv like experience into it. If it's not connected, give me a queue of goodness I can pile up for it on its emulated image. And let all of these roam. If there's a file I want to plop onto my PSP from my work, let me drag it onto a gadget representation of it and when I connect it later to the home desktop that pending file plops out of my storage cloud and onto my PSP.

My asks for gadget infrastructure adds:

  1. A storage system that can wrap something like my HotMail or GMail quota so that it roams. Let's reuse the disk quota I already have.
  2. A tuple space around this system.
  3. Input and Outputs around each gadget, so that they can be hooked up together or into the tuple space.

Okay, back to the memo. Seamless entertainment! Wowza, Mr. Ozzie mentioned everyday consumers! Given XNA and XBox and everything, Microsoft should try to revitalize our gamer market. This is an area we could load balance underutilized talent into, even given that part of the company has been RIF'd black and blue. I believe there's money to be had in PC games, and our experience with XBox, every money losing cent of it, can at least be projected into profits in the PC world.

Interesting comment about lightweight development, recognizing that SOAP ain't all that and that REST and other technologies should be supported. Programmers are lazy efficient and will gravitate towards technologies that make sense and get the job done (and usually, those technologies are not designed by standards committees). After that came the obligatory note that we'll respect the need to comply and not go making private services. I still think that service APIs introduce a new level of hell, given that while can change their service willy-nilly or go down for the weekend, Microsoft can't.

I read the Business Division part of the Moving Forward section several times and I was really surprised at how fuzzy it was, especially given that IW Services have been going for a while. It's a bunch of questions, basically. And to tell you the truth, not very interesting questions. The entertainment part is a bunch of questions, too, I guess. But I'm surprised IW / Dynamics / Office doesn't have more detail, especially in comparison to the Platform Products & Services Division section.

The money shot for me is this quote:

That said, I have a number of reasons for optimism that we can deliver well on this vision. First, I know that Bill, Steve and the senior leadership team understand that Microsoft’s execution effectiveness will be improved by eliminating obstacles to developing and shipping products. The recent reorganization into three divisions is a significant step, and the division presidents are committed to changes to improve our agility.

Good intentions. Nice words. But I want some act-shun. Agility, along with shipping more frequently, has been coming up more and more as a positive goal and an act of contrition to make up for where we are today. But if you're adding agility, you have to admit that your subtracting anything that's anti-agility. What's going away to make room for agile, frequent shipping? Who is going away? What is the waste in process and execution that can be trimmed. Meetings? Linear, spec-driven development? Doors? Walls? I think for us to make room to be agile, we need to identify what is currently slowing us down. This not only includes day to day process that drains execution due to team tax, but also the blockers for rewards for doing a great job.

I don't know anything about what it was like to be a developer working for Mr. Ozzie. I haven't spent too much time looking for Groove employee blogs. The only one I stumbled across seems to be gone now (Office Skirmishes [BlogLines cache]). I'd be interested in their take on how Mr. Ozzie avoided issues around "complexity kills." Now then, regarding this insight:

Another simple tool I’ve used involves attracting developers to use common physical workspaces to naturally catalyze ad hoc face-time between those who need to coordinate, rather than relying solely upon meetings and streams of email and document reviews for such interaction.

Whoa-ho-ho, there, Tex, hold on there! I'm lining up like the next guy to kill off meetings and email threads and reviews, but I escaped the cube-farm to come to Microsoft. A door and free cola sealed the deal for me. I'd much rather show up at 9am for the daily scrum meeting and have to hold my tongue than go back to the days of being in a shared space. I guess if we did implement that environment I would personally help realize my vision of a smaller Microsoft by jumping to some local startup.

So time will tell where the memo goes and what proof the pudding provides. I have hope. And this certainly is opportunity for a next-generation of common-sense leaders to step up and show how 21st century software development gets down and makes a whole bunch of cash.

Monday, November 07, 2005

VS Service Packs, Big City Critics, and Shareholder Check-Up

VS: A recent comment points us to a blog entry that wraps the VS 2005 crash / hang problems up in a pretty package:

Scott Wiltamuth (Visual C# PUM): Servicing plans for VS 2003 and VS 2005 . Snippet:

We have plans for two service pack releases for the first part of 2006:

·         VS 2003 SP1 is scheduled for April 2006.  We have done much of the work for this release already, and are anxious to get it to you.

·         VS 2005 SP1 is scheduled for the first half of 2006.  We will be more specific about the date in a few months, once we have more customer data.

Eric Maino followed up the post-Whidbey MQ, though, with the post MQ... did I hear service pack? that clarifies that MQ is not about producing a quality-focused service pack but rather turning into a more agile group and tuning internal processes. I do hope any time spent on quality in the code base can be fed into fixing major issues that customers might run into.

It's interesting that the two VS 2005 posts here received some of the most negative feedback in a while. Too alarmist? Molehill to mountain? Well, I've received plenty of black-eyes dealing with regressions in Whidbey over the past year, so I'm always half-cocked now when it comes to finding customers dealing with their own issues in the RTM quality, especially over reported issues angering our customers who pay good money.

(Oh, and Darryl: I don't mind helping to provide some good source material and links and all, but how about a link back or a mention or throwing some kind attribution bone?)

Rolling Thunder: So, with VS and SQL Server out the door... let's look for more positive things to talk about... hey, that stock price keeps going up! Any day it goes up at least $0.01 is a good day, and as of late, since the Live announcement, it's been on the up trend. Go, Pipeline, Go! I was always happy to play with but I got to say I was very surprised to see it thrust upon the world as It was like yanking that talented high-school thespian off-stage and throwing them into the lead on Broadway (no offense to folks). The Big City critics were not kind.

Joe Wilcox again bemoaned the Microsoft attitude of "launching" products way, way, way before they are ready for primetime (Is Live DOA?). I, too, believe the time of launching just an idea is past us and when we have a big shindig, it has to be because we're launching something that's polished and ready to take on the world.

Not to bring up Apple and Steve Jobs and all that, but... when Mr. Jobs announces the new consumer hardware, it's not a prototype. It's something you can go to the store and buy later that day. It's done. Well, okay, it might scratch a little. But it's not some distant thunder.

I also mentioned how I thought Microsoft's growth in the space was a way to go after the Alpha Geeks. I still do, but what I forgot is that you have to take a moment to ponder what the Alpha Geeks are currently geeking over. I remembered Mac OS X. I forgot about Firefox. Yes, if you're going after the Alpha Geek mavens, you'd better understand your persona a little bit better and make sure your work can even render in their world. Playing nice in a Firefox web-based world is important. It's important in that the Alpha Geeks are the 4.5 contributors of the technical world. There are things they can do and people they can influence in a way no one else can, and if your coolness doesn't ever render on their screen, they're elsewhere.

Ship it! There's been talk of shipping often cropping up, looking at ship cycles of 18 or 24 months, for the major products. I've seen it as having been spoken by Mr. Ballmer but I haven't seen a direct quote yet. I (obviously, as of late) don't want to ship for the sake of shipping, but getting on a closer cycle like this is a good thing. And a forcing function that kicks out contributors and No-Birds who can't keep up.

Shareholders, how are we doing? So shareholders (Microsofties and non-Microsofties), take a moment, if you would, to consider what you expect out of this company over the next year and how on-track we are to deliver on your expectations. What's going well? What not so well? What are your expectations of Microsoft post shipping VS, SQL Server, Office, and Windows?

The coming year holds the greatest potential in a long time for Microsoft given that, to paraphrase Steve Ballmer, we're shipping just about every product we have. The stock has all the potential in the world to rise out of the horizontal slump it has been in. But will it stay there up there and keep growing? Will this be a thrilling ride to the top and then back down into the mid- or lower-twenties?

Personally, I think we can hold our ground and continue improving if we:

  • Focus on what it takes to streamline the development process of getting fantastic features out there and shipped.
  • Take on common sense, agile strategies to reduce wasted energy (and to identify redundant staff).
  • Sell to the consumer. The everyday Joe and Jane. What does Microsoft even mean to them? Sure, kiss the IT decision maker if you must, but start wooing the consumer with software products and services that delight them and that make their lives easier and that makes them appreciate Microsoft as a great company.
  • Decouple the product groups as much as possible. Coordinate, but do not depend upon. Trust, but verify. Integrated innovation is what landed us with this stuffed pipe.
  • Other improvements you'd like to be assured of?

(Work duties call and the only time I'll be spending here during the next week is deleting naughty comments. See you next week.)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

VS 2005 - Why do you want to make trouble?

(There goes my conscience again. This started as a comment that got longer and longer until it reached post length.)

This is a follow-up to last night's VS 2005 + Bugs = unhappy bloggers post. Some additional posts out there:

Looking through the comments...

Mini, you might want to try using the products your own company produces before you declare it an utter failure and the buggiest thing ever.


It seems as if this blog has recently changed its tone from something that offered constructive criticism and useful insights to the kind of drivel you'd expect to see on slashdot.

Ye-Ouch! I did struggle with the negative nature of this post. I struggled with the fact that I personally felt that VS 2005 environment was a slow moving, buggy trainwreck yet I didn't reach for the emergency brake line and give it a good pull and call BS. I had hopes that it would stabilize well at the beginning of the escrow process.

What makes me especially angry is that our customers were pleading for stability and speed and we steamrolled over them with this release. I appreciate that it's a large environment and most of it will be just fine for most people and folks who really want to get work done will figure out where the last mine blew up and not do that again. It's their own sort of version of Twister to get their work done.

In my opinion, what VS needs to do is say, in a manner that won't dampen the launch party: Hey, this was a super-big innovative release but it looks like some bugs unfortunately shipped. Okay, we're really going to ship a VS 2005 service pack. Here's the Microsoft forum we'd appreciate you providing feedback to. Here's a link that you can keep track of what's going into the service pack. Furthermore, the service pack will ship on fill in a date no longer than six months out.

This is because the users are complaining that they've never, ever seen a patch or a service pack for VS and they expect they are going to be told to wait until the Orcas release. If that's our plan, we should say so.

Another comment: This is a prime example of what's wrong with pulling six blog comments out of the blogosphere and holding them up as proof of a poor decision. I'm willing to bet, though am too tired to actually do so, that for every negative comment you'd be able to find 15 or 20 positive comments.

I bet you're right, too. If folks want to balance this or the other post out with links to people using the VS 2005 RTM bits and being pleased silly, please do. In the meantime, unhappy bloggers aren't going to go away. I appreciate that some Microsofties are spending time and effort to go out and put down comments in those blog entries complaining about issues. Hopefully that helps. But you have to realize this: that every really bad bug you say Won't Fix to is going to end up on someone's blog post eventually (especially considering the technical nature of the VS 2005 customers). It's not just a one-on-one call to PSS you have to worry about anymore. It's pissed off users venting to the world that the software they paid good money for is hanging, crashing, or corrupting their data.

Another comment: For several products, employees are required to use the product as our customers would use it before it ships.

In a lot of groups, the VS IDE is not used by developers.

Internally, it would be good to figure someway to dogfood VS 2005 at a greater rate. Most developers, who find the choice, draw the line at Rascal. But if we were to dogfood VS 2005, I'd want assurances of support from that team and a promise that there were going to give us stable drops. I don't think dogfooding VS 2005 was totally possible this time because of the rapidly mutating environment rushing up to ship.

So. Too negative? Look, I think given time that the VS team would have fixed a lot of the bugs (and they do seem to be pretty much in the IDE, I haven't run into a compiler bug in a long time let alone run into a post about the compiler). But they weren't given time because what they were shipping along with had to get out the door. This wasn't news to the division. If the date can't move, major features get cut so that the more important features can be stabilized with the available resources. It's not rocket science. It's computer science and software engineering. And we do it enough every day such that big nasty bugs shouldn't be shipping in one of the jewels of the Microsoft franchise.

A cautious example to Windows Vista and Office 12. You have to ship in 2006. Are you ontrack for a high quality release? Would it be better to cut major features now and save them for the next release so that you can have a super-high-quality release now?