Monday, March 21, 2005

Old School Competencies

A recent comment to a post where I extolled the virtues of the Microsoft Competencies (internal link):

Microsoft is currently streamlining the competencies. They're replacing the wheel with triangles! You can see the improvement already... Dev & PM will see the changes next review cycle, test sees them now (and these changes are also tied to the layoffs of low-level testers who can't code).

Hmm? This comment wedged itself in the back of my mind (in the "Whachu talkin' about, Willis?" region). Sure enough, this past week while trying to garnish my career discussion with some nice doses of the competency lingo, I stumbled across the career model site via the competencies site. After a quick scan I closed my office door so that I could swear freely.

I can only surmise at this point that HR's & Microsoft People Research's logo must be, "If it ain't broke, we haven't been there yet." The competencies are in the process of being broken.

I like the idea of Career Model and I can see it's indeed been heavily influenced by the recent rotor-tilling that Test portion of Microsoft has gone through. It's always great to be able to lay out an idea for a new hire about the various career options.

But don't you touch my competencies.

So if you're a Microsoftie, take a moment to go through some of the new, emerging competencies nested in the Career Model site. The old competencies pretty much represent crisp, common-sense focused attributes divided into four increasingly challenging levels. The new competencies seem to be a cut-and-paste job of buzz-worded business jargon arbitrarily divided into four columns of no particular difference. For instance, in one of the competencies there are attributes in Level 4 that I sure know I'd be fired for not doing every day an issue came up at work.

While the traditional set of career development resources were laser sharp focused and came back to the competencies, the recent five years has resulted in a web-page barrage of career and development sites that are so spread out, unfocused, and wordy that no one is going to have a chance to absorb it all. So, we ignore it. We've no doubt have put lots of money and effort into corralling this career information together, but no one uses it.

As the competencies go, so too goes the last vestiges of Old School Microsoft that has built the foundation of all the billions of dollars we currently bring in. It's like the last healthy plant in the newly landscaped garish yard finally dropping its leaves - why bother?


Anonymous said...

This is a bit of a tangential comment to this blog, but it's one I'm going to bring up anyway. So let's address these changes that test sees now. You know, those changes that are tied to the layoffs of low-level testers who can't code.

First off, let's pretend that these STE's actually can't and don't code. (This generalization isn't really true since there's a ton of low level STE's who code just fine, and MS has been using them to produce and accurate stable automation for years. And at a bargain deal too! But let's pretend anyway.)

That assumption stated, who decided that the ability to code was going to be an effective metric to use when measuring test? Good testing doesn't necessarily require good coding skills (although it's certainly beneficial). I've seen many cases where too much empathy with a developer can blind a tester from emphasizing with a user's experience. I can't tell you how many times I've interviewed dev's that were trying to transition into test as SDETs and simply could not come up with more than 2 or 3 lukewarm test cases. A good tester should be able to list off test cases faster than you can write them down.

My point is this; testers and developers play very different roles in the company. Are we actually willing to bet the quality of Microsoft's products by prioritizing a tester's ability to write code over their ability to test?

Anonymous said...

When I was working for a startup doing 3D scanners, I worked with a technical artist who had a real knack for black box testing. I could give him any feature and he'd have dissected the edge cases I hadn't thought of and caused it to crash pretty damn quickly. I think his record time was four seconds, and usually this would be stuff that had been in use for days by other people without any problems. I really liked working with him, because I would give him something before I gave it to anyone else and he'd find the bugs.

He wasn't a coder; I mean, he could do some scripts but we were such a small shop we weren't set up for automation testing.

From a programmer's point of view, all I want from a good tester is a knack for finding bugs and clear, concise reproduction cases that explain to me how to make it happen. He was really good at that.

Anonymous said...

"If it ain't broke, we haven't been there yet."

Mini, you are seriously funny. You should take this act on the road. Of course, you may have to if MSFT finds out who you are! In any event, keep up the good work - glad someone internal sees a problem and wants to fix it. I also notice you seem to be getting less criticism from other employees these days. Think maybe that's because the stock just set a new 52-week low? Looks like Stevie boy is going to have some 'splainin to do esp since the stock was supposedly the "best poised since 1998 to appreciate". Oops.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if it is fair to blame Ballmer for the current state of the stock value.

I mean, what has he done or not done that is impacting the stock?

Has he made a series of tough decisions that are not working out? Did he decide to pursure a strategy that turned out to be a mistake? Is the stock price a result of failure? Failure to execute...anyone know why Ballmer should have to explain the stock price?

Anonymous said...

"I mean, what has he done or not done that is impacting the stock?"

- along with Gates, made decisions that resulted in the company being found guilty of breaking the law twice(and counting)resulting in fines, restrictions on future conduct and incalculable loss of corporate respect/credibility
- along with Gates, invested over $10B of cash in failed telecom investments that ended up being written off
- failed to make any meaningful investments at the bottom of the market crash when numerous companies were available for cheap, MSFT had tons of cash and other smarter CEO's were taking the opp to make their companies stronger
- invested $10B's in various "emerging" businesses that even years later represent only about 10% of MSFT's revenue, aren't growing at even 10% (in BSol's case, not growing at all) and collectively aren't profitable
- taken huge charges against earnings for options expenses and related most of which has gone not to average emps but to the snr most mgt who in many cases have failed to deliver and yet bail on their shares at every opportunity (basically a non-performance performance bonus).
- as a result of several of these, has allowed the company to go FIVE years w/o increasing earnings despite revenue having grown by 50% (last time I checked, stock prices are a reflection of earnings)
- approved the onerous Licensing 6 program when many companies were hurting economically thereby pissing off a good portion of our customers and fueling the move to Open Source.
- has been at the helm as MSFT failed to take security seriously and then has had to drop everything to play catch up, missed the paid search move and had to play catch up, missed the move to web services and had to play catch up, missed the portable music wave and had to play catch up, let IE stagnate and had to play catch up, and now seemingly can't ship any major product on time even stripped of formely core features (can you say Longhorn, CRM, SQL, VS, etc. etc. etc?).
- has been at the helm as MSFT's overall growth has slowed from 20-30% to less than 10% and forecast to slow further with no seeming end in sight.
- despite the stock having lost 50% over the past 5 years, approved/promoted the $32B payout plan when virtually every expert suggested that doing an accretive acq, a larger buyback or increasing the ongoing dividend would all be better for the stock -with the subsequent catastrophic results.
- as a result of all this, has basically lost the confidence of Wall St and investors, who no longer see MSFT as well managed/positioned/aggressive but rather poorly managed/increasingly poorly positioned and always playing catch up. Hence the massive recent sell-off, the new 52-week low, the historically low P/E and the current 30% discount to its peer group which if anything is getting wider. Indeed, I think the prevailing sentiment has gone from "MSFT is solid, it's only a matter of time until they rebound" to "Is this company done?". There have even been several articles in the popular press recently making exactly that case.

Can I stop now or would you like more examples? Not questioning his desire, but the facts suggest that he may not have the ability/judgement required and sometimes simply making a change can shake things up for the positive. One thing is for sure, weakness breeds more weakness in companies, stocks, etc. So either we start showing we're not done and start [positively] surprising people with our products, business moves, results, etc, or else those doubting us are likely to be proved correct.

Anonymous said...

and as if on cue we get:

"Is Microsoft Toast?"

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