Thursday, December 27, 2007

Microsoft's 2008 - What's Going Well?

Here we are, wrapping up 2007 and launching into 2008. I continue to believe that we're in a good transition time at Microsoft and that 2008 will help cinch that transition as some of the bigger products wrap up major development (Office 14, Windows 7). Trying to keep a positive vibe, I just want to share some of the things going on in and around Microsoft that I see as goodness. I'd like to know what you honestly think is going well, too.

Indulge in some praise, too, if you will. We can get around to the constructive criticism after we're settled into the new year. Drop by MSFT Extreme Makeover for a dose right now if you need a hit.

Competition: Praise the Lord for competition. Without some light to shine the way, we really tend to get lost in our own initiatives. Think of pre-reset Longhorn. Think of post-IE6 (Blake Ross, I've got a hug with your name on it). So I'm thankful for Google, Facebook, Apple, and Adobe. And Amazon. And Nintendo. And all those startups who show that good ideas don't take an army to deliver. And that design matters. And that everyday citizens have cash they'd like to spend, too, for quality products. If it wasn't for our competitors doing so well in their respective areas I'm willing to bet that we'd still being ignoring good design and consumer facing features. As of now, those internal champions have leverage.

Something I haven't seen before, especially around Apple, is a level of humbleness and respect when considering, say, what Apple is doing - and doing well - and how we can endeavor to do better ourselves. I haven't or heard much trash-talking around Apple, but rather aspirational discussion. That's great and makes me believe that we'll be able to deliver something that actually delights our users... and hopefully therefore our shareholders.

I've been bummed lately when our competitors screw up. Really. No schadenfreude here, as much as they do indulge in it in our direction. Yeah, I'm bummed when Apple's latest OS comes equipped with a Blue Screen of death and other failures. When Facebook starts upskirting all of their users' purchases. When Google potentially jumps the shark. I'm bummed because their great accomplishments serve as a big walloping stick to break through blockers at Microsoft (because there are still people convinced that the most secure, robust, solid features are those that you don't ship - not exactly a formula for success 100% of the time).

Their failures serve as excuses to keep on doing what we're doing, or less.

Surprise! Holy smokes, stop your grinnin' and drop your linen! I love my new Zune player. That's right, I'm having a blast listening to my tunes and podcasts on my little black 8GB Zune. I promised to buy a Zune when a solid-state Zune with wireless syncing came out. Now, I'm sure you iPod fans just had to spit out three mouthfuls of foamy indignation. Uncross your eyes and let me comfort you in saying that yes, the iPod is still better. When I picked up the very first iPod nano I was amazed at how it just worked. It was delightful. Not delightful is the decision I made years ago to rip all my music in WMA. Now I know all that is just one big transcoding script job away from being something else, but I'm sticking with WMA. And the Zune is my first WMA player (going through about five different players, all the way back to an Intel 64MB player I first owned) that just works right.

And I really enjoy the Zune desktop software. And I intend to rip off some of their UI designs. Imagine that! A Microsoft team ripping design ideas off of another Microsoft team. "Hello, Hell? How's the snow?"

Solid VS2008? When VS2005 came out, there was a series of negative reactions I noted, mainly around its IDE. Dealing with the VS teams quite often, I certainly know they did a major reset in the way they develop software post VS2005. Is it paying off? If so, will other teams adopt this level of engineering excellence to address issues they have in shipping solid features?

DRM die-off? Raise your hand if you love DRM. I don't dork with anything that has DRM because it's so incredibly rare that I've gotten that crap to work without a lot of manual intervention. How am I supporting the non-DRM initiatives? By spending cash buying MP3 albums as much as I can stand. Radiohead. Amazon. And even the Zune Marketplace MP3s (surprise, part II). Do you hate DRM? Show the DRM-free music the love, then. As expressed in cold, hard cash. Or dippy Live points. Put down the Rock Band guitar and go buy some classic tunes in MP3. This kind of success will help Microsoft detangle itself even more from the DRM monster (which, by inadvertently killing Plays-for-Sure, we're well on the way).

Translucency: I know there are a lot of customers, partners, and competitors who enjoy knowing everything going on with every little new Microsoft feature along the way. When it comes to translucency vs. transparency, I support putting the kimono back on and tightening it up, perhaps doing so in an enticing burlesque-style way, revealing only what we want to reveal. A little toe here, perhaps an ankle there...

Part of my support is obviously Jobs/Apple envy of being able to surprise people with a feature just being released. The other is avoiding embarrassingly-public screw-ups like WinFS or other big features we're going to deliver and then end-up cutting. I think we've stopped being the Britney of the software-news world, now we're aspiring to be the Angelina Jolie.

Obviously, we'll still be doing betas for Windows and Office so that by the time they are released everyone will be yawning about the by-then well-known features, but I hope we can pull-out a few surprises and underpromise and overdeliver. So: way to go IE8 team! And I'm looking forward to seeing the reactions at Mix08.

Not the Bad Guy? It's taken a long time, but I don't believe we are perceived as the Evil Empire anymore. Part of that went out when people decided, at least contextually, to bust apart our empire. Okay, fine, we're playing catch-up now (wink wink). Now the evil part starts fading based on the relative failings of other firms. This is a grand opportunity for Microsoft to follow a vision like the one that Mr. ... Mr. ... Mr. Ozzie shared with us (wow, my mind blanked trying to remember his name there for a second... not sure what that means) at the 2007 Company Meeting and be the good guy on the side of the citizen and their private information, making it protected and easily transportable so that you are assured that you own and have access to what's yours, even it if passes through our clouds.

(Administrivia: sorry for falling off the map, but it just plain hasn't been computerized happiness for me over the past month given a wonky Neomailbox email service [probably anything you sent to me directly from the middle of November for a few weeks got bit-bucketed] and a series of cascading hardware failures on the home network. This is the first time in a while I've gotten the "Mini" account going again vs. the minimal life-support it has been on. It's still rough going as I try to duct-tape things back together and bond with Notepad for a while. I guess I'm working through some karma here.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Low Hanging Late Harvest Fruit

Boot! Yoink! Yank! What does it take to be disappeared from Microsoft? We can only guess one day Stuart Scott was walking outside of his building when a black Escalade with VI0L8R plates pulled up, Ken DiPetrio swung open a door and said, "Get in." Along with, "Martin, scoot the hell over and make some room." It takes something pretty egregious - more than shipping Vista two years late - to get scooped up in the VI0L8R.

Some one was kind enough to drop a hint here back in October that Mr. Scott had some interesting antics going on. I have no idea what the reality is, though several comments are like the following:

No, Stuart was fired for the affair and the hostile work environment he created for women in his org. Great to see that HR finally did something about it, and that the reason publicized was company policy violation ...and not "spending more time with his family".

As we speculate about affairs and relationships at work, it's interesting to reflect that Microsoft has a unique history for singles at work given how BillG and Melinda met. Obviously not apropos to the married philandering type. But it makes for a fun lunch-table subject and probably a bit of an HR headache.

Now, just short of the VI0L8R seems to be the BUMZRSH treatment that Mr. Selberg mentioned recently of a Microsoftie friend immediately shown the door upon deciding to join Google. I agree with Mr. Selberg that you should always leave with your bridges well in place and with grace, and that this is a two-way street. But you know, I was thinking after reading this post: who do I know personally that's recently left Microsoft to join Google? No one. Weird.

Then again, maybe not. From the Newsweek Google story by Mr. Steven Levy:

Earlier attempts to hire veterans from firms like Microsoft had awful results. "Google is so different that it was almost impossible to reprogram them into this culture," says CEO Eric Schmidt. The difficulties led Google VP Mayer (employee No. 20) to wonder whether experience was way overrated.

Finally, one last departure: Jon Pincus. A lot of Microsofties interested in changing Microsoft's internal and external-facing culture rallied around Mr. Pincus, who has had quite the distinguished Microsoft career. He gets given crap sometimes for being different or a self-promoter, but I just have to wonder what kind of leader or change-agent isn't. Anyway, it's a bit sad for me to reflect on Mr. Pincus going quickly from being up on the big-screen several times at our 2007 Company Meeting to being shown that there was no home for him - and his refreshingly different spirit - at Microsoft. It shows that our increasingly bland golf-club leadership is satisfied with the status quo and that the Good Ship SPSA need not be rocked.

Mr. Pincus leaving at a time of dubious a dismissal and bad diversity attrition is a rotten seeping from Denmark, indeed.

If I had my druthers, I'd at least offer Mr. Pincus a position to be the Microsoft representative of goodwill to the Silicon Valley and Seattle local tech community and serving as the connection between The Outside and the generally protected Microsoftie product team members. I especially thought of this after reading Microsoft wants to add Silicon Valley as a friend. Snippet from the end:

Angel investor Tom McInerney, co-founder of the video site, agreed: "Microsoft has been humbled a little bit. They've been forced to play nice. A cultural change has taken place with Microsoft. There is an acknowledgment that they are not the king of the hill anymore. And there is the looming concern that Google is the new Microsoft."

Has the big-huge aircraft carrier finally started the turn?

An Appropriate Home: reading Mr. Bishop from the Seattle-P.I. this week, I find irony in the reports that the Entertainment and Devices division - home of the billion and billion dollar loss leader Xbox group - is going to have its new home right on-top of the huge West Campus parking garage pit. Instead of something boring like P1 and P2, perhaps the parking garage levels (all painted in increasingly dark levels of red) can be named -1Billion, -2Billion, -3Billion, -4Billion, and -5Billion.

In all seriousness, now that Sony has capsized on the PS3 I expect that the next generation of Xbox will be designed to be profitable from day one.

Sunday update: Mr. Benjamin Romano in the Sunday edition of the Seattle Times has a larger article about the new buildings at Microsoft and the Microsoft expansion: Microsoft campus expands, transforms, inside and out. And there's a fun little interactive campus expansion map. An additional article on open workspaces: Microsoft strategy throws open the doors.

Not So Limited Kim - Not So!: I have great respect for Adam Barr, and we disagree over the whole Limited II (now 10% Situation II) career designation. He dropped by the last post with a couple of comments to reiterate that it's not a bad thing:

I continue to disagree with the consensus here on the alleged "Kim" situation. Mini, this is the one area where I feel you are actively promoting something which is factually wrong.

This is what I see:

1) Microsoft decided to bucket people for stock grants, and decided there would be a bottom 10% bucket.

2) The name chosen for this bottom 10% bucket, "Limited", was poorly chosen due to the connotations of the word--so it was changed to "10%".

3) The description of the bottom 10% bucket implied that Microsoft didn't see those people as having much value--this was incorrect, so Microsoft created a second definition to correct that (for some people in the 10% bucket, the original definition WAS accurate, so it is still available).

And more specifically, the change in #3 was done to AVOID people getting a more negative message than was I don't see why people are interpreting it as trying to force a more negative message and push the entire bottom 10% out of the company.

As always, I invite any Microsofties who want to discuss this more to contact me via internal email. Thanks.

I hope that people who don't believe it's a good thing (perhaps who have had their career Kimmed and maybe even left Microsoft because of it) will accept Mr. Barr's offer to follow-up 1-on-1 about the issue. And while I'd love to host a guest post on it here (really) I think this topic would also serve as a great cathartic use of InsideMS, should someone like Mr. Barr be ready to slap on the asbestos suit and give a post on the subject a shot. They'll need to be ready to explain why the following story is okay and in-line with expected results of the designation:

After being promoted a year ago, I was blindsided during this annual review period with the Kim label. I know exactly why it happened. It happened because I was caught on the wrong side of a spiteful, incompetent manager. That, after a 13-year career at this company, during which I'd received awards for my work, many 4.0 reviews, and steady promotions. Every other person who'd submitted feedback on my performance during the last annual review period had submitted positive feedback.

So does being slapped with that label make me a loser? I'll go ahead and answer that for you: No. Is it "good attrition" now that the team is losing me because of that review? I'll go ahead and answer that too: Um, no. With me, seniority and a great deal of valuable in-house knowledge are walking out the door.

So I'm lobbying and providing feedback wherever I can to encourage others to lobby for getting rid of the asinine 10%/Limited "Situation 2" label. If that label is being applied to others in the same way that it is being applied to me, the company will not have "good attrition" or "losers" going out the door. They will have long-time, great performers walking out the door. And for every one one of us who walks out the door, the company will need 3 or 4 lesser-paid junior people to do our work. It will take months, or perhaps even years, to bring the new kids up to speed, and they won't have the history or background knowledge that we do.

And every Kimstar who walks out the door will do so with resentment for this treatment after years of great service to the company. Since these people aren't "losers," they'll be hired by our competitors or initiate their own competing start-ups. You can be sure they won't be providing great publicity for their alma mater.

So before you label people "losers" because they received a "loser label," stop, step away from the keyboard, drop the chalupa, and think.

You just haven't been Kimmed yet.

Shareholders: reminder that the Microsoft Shareholders meeting is this Tuesday downtown. A webcast will be available.

Updated: added link to Mr. Romano's article about the campus expansion.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Microsoft FY08Q1 Results

Updated: I added a couple of more links regarding FY08Q1 coverage. Hey, let's look at today's opening number- Holy Beejeezus! (pop-pop - socks flying off feet): we're above $36?!?! Dear Microsoft Leadership: walk the halls today. If this stays up there, enjoy the glow and celebration of newly motivated employees, and get a clue again about what a big difference that makes.

FY08Q1 ahoy! As always, my favorite post-analysis sites for the results:

Things are looking mighty sunny going into the quarterly results: Halo 3, Microsoft acquiescence to the EU, Facebook investment (and a "win" over Google there), new Live Search technology, a new Live Suite, reblessed by Goldman Sachs, etc etc. The only bad news is the love that's going to be lavished on Leopard in the meantime.

Update: From my preferred top three:

(1) MSFTextrememakeover Q1-08 Earnings - has a nice break-out of the positives and negatives.

(2) Microsoft Watch - Corporate - Microsoft Q1 2008 by the Numbers - Mr. Wilcox has a call-out of something I found interesting, too, regarding revenue from emerging markets:

In another turnabout, Microsoft is seeing some effect from its antipiracy efforts. The change is significant, as PC shipments to emerging markets exceed those for mature markets. Windows sales growth increased in Brazil, India and Russia, among other countries. Growth in Russia exceeded 100 percent. I should point out that in some of these countries, Brazil being best example, Microsoft works with local partners to offer sales alternatives, such as Windows PCs purchased on a subscription basis.

(3) Microsoft profit rises 23%, beating estimates from Mr. Bishop.

Additional coverage (added 10/26/2007):

Jay Greene at BusinessWeek: Microsoft Results Turn Heads - a very nice, encouraging read from start to finish. Start: Despite reliable growth, Microsoft's unsexy stock has often failed to attract jaded investors. Its spectacular first-quarter earnings have changed that. Finish: Investors didn't even flinch at the online business numbers. And that may just be the thing that ends the long fallow period for Microsoft's stock. And lots of goodness in the middle, like the following snippet:

"The only reason this thing has been trading where it has is because of the bad psychology," says Charles Di Bona, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., who has a price target for the stock at $37. "Maybe this is the catalyst where people start to take notice and stop being bored with the stock."

Microsoft’s Billion Vista Bump - Bits - Technology - New York Times Blog Snippet: Nonetheless, a day after we marveled at the $15 billion value placed on the tiny business that is Facebook, this is a reminder that Microsoft, even if it is not so fashionable, has a business that makes real dollars and a lot of them.

Other interesting coverage:

"Growth stock." Nice to read that again.

My thoughts: all of this is great news. Late good news. But good news. The OS numbers are something we should have had coming in two years ago. The premium distinction looks like a good idea, confusing SKU backlash and all.

Here's my one and only ask to any powers in the universe: wherever Ballmer is, keep him away from any interviews or speeches for at least a week or so. Let us enjoy this time, this upswing, without him torpedoing the good news with some pessimistic warning.

The Q&A didn't hold much for me. There was a little bit of probing about SP1 and Liddell acknowledged that BigCos are waiting to deploy Vista based on the SP1, but I guess we don't care too much given that we have our money from them one way or another. No date for SP1 was provided (not that we don't know it already). There was a bit of pushing for OSB's date for profitability, too. Yeah. Right.

There was mention of our continued expense growth directly related to our headcount growth, but none of the analysts probed with respect to expense / headcount reduction. Guys!?!?!

And I think True Organic Margins has become some new financial reality distortion field for our numbers.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Promotion Velocity and Spin-off-Softs

Faster here, slower there: there have been a number of comments over the past about working in a place like Office or Windows being detrimental to your career advancement.

"Is it reasonable to think moving out of Windows would increase one's career velocity?"

Quite possibly. My skip-level manager in Office even talked in a team meeting once about the slower promotion schedule in our organization. Of course, it was spun as "being a level 62 here actually means something" instead of "equally skilled employees are paid less here".

Well, if you're working with a bunch of senior folk who have been doing the same thing for five, ten, or more years, yeah, not a lot of room is going to open at the top without the organization forcibly rototilling itself on occasion. I have ad-hoc mentored folks at the 59 and 60 levels in large static orgs and while their management said that the HR study came back with their org's promotion velocity is no different than the rest of Microsoft, some of those folks (fine, solid contributors) had been at their level twice as long as what my part of the company deems acceptable (e.g., if you're a 59 in product development for more than a year, there must be a problem).

The fastest promotions that I've seen have always come when you join a new group going through explosive growth. Usually the opportunity to shine happens when a new group needs multi-discipline impact from everyone, and those that can do it and not have to exist within a narrowband get to break-out and get exceptional, promotion-worth results. Too bad after steady-state arrives at this group you typically get back into your narrowband of responsibilities.

For product groups, I think if you're looking to reach a leadership level of Dev / PM / Test Manager or above, you really need to have several careers at Microsoft in very different groups. What mix do you think does it? One mix I can think of would be (1) Dev Div or SQL, (2) Office or Windows, and (3) a connected group like Live or MSN.

Many Microsofts lead to Spin-off-'Softs? Could implementing the Many Microsofts loosely coupled culture enable us to break-loose and break-up? This comment came in:

Mini – I think you prayers may finally be answered. Check out this interesting article about the future of MSFT.

Interesting article (spoiled a bit when a later comment pointed out it was by John Dvorak. D'oh.). Anyway, if you wanted to lay down the structure to break-off chunks of the company, ensuring that they become more autonomous and decoupled from the bigger picture is a big first step to take. In Dvorak's take, though, it's a bunch of little chunks, not huge-honkin' divisions, getting spun off. Mr. Dvorak has interesting point-of-view on a recent Ballmer interview:

After you read this sappy interview, it was easy to conclude one of three things: Ballmer is getting fired, Ballmer or Gates have some illness, or the company is going to radically change and things won't be the same.

If anything has a snowball's chance, it's #3. Pffft! Now just a steam-ball due to the word 'radical.' Beyond this but including it, MSFTExtremeMakeover has a new post, too: What if Microsoft wasn't a screwup? As always, it's a splash of cold water:

...primarily it's the post 2000 track record of poor "bets", even poorer execution, and chronic overspending, all of which come together in the lack of visibility wrt future earnings leverage. Hence the reason why even after five years of this stock going absolutely nowhere, $50B+ spent on buybacks, $30B+ down the hole in R&D, and $10B's of new "investments", most analysts still can't make a case for more than 20% upside from current levels, and the stock continues to badly underperform. Meanwhile, they have no trouble doing so for AAPL, GOOG and many others - despite their already spectacular runs - and those issues continue setting new all-time highs (AAPL and GOOG increasing more in the past month alone than MSFT has in the past 5 years).

Yahoo! Welcome, neighbor: Mr. Todd Bishop has a Q&A with David Sobeski about Yahoo!'s new Bellevue office. Snippet:

On whether Yahoo will poach Microsoft employees: "That's what everybody wants me to say, like 'Oh, yeah, we're going to go attack Microsoft, we're going to go siphon the top 10 percent.' No. ... Does Microsoft have great talent? You bet. Will some of that talent want to come to Yahoo? Probably. Are we actively going to go after anyone? Kinda no. ... We're here to build a good presence of engineers. You know what, if Microsoft guys want to come and ask us questions, great. Google guys? Great. We'll talk to everybody."

I'm just looking forward to a lot more hiring gears spinning in our ecosystem. Go ahead, poach some employees. If it all comes down to salary and job satisfaction in this post-golden-handcuff era, the more hiring options the better. And you've got to think there are some really good ideas that can come in from folks who move around, along with "whatever you do, don't do this" stories. When it comes to APIs and platforms, I like what Yahoo! is doing better than anyone else. But I don't understand their corporate culture and what it's like to work there. Hopefully Mr. Sobeski can explain that, along with the cool stuff they are doing.

I'm just looking forward to a far more enriching hang-out with the geeks environment in our area. Traffic around Bellevue actually getting worse, though? That's hard to imagine.

Speaking of hiring, when will Google start suffering from its drunken hiring binge (Google Promises Again to Swear Off Binge Hiring and What do 16,000 people 'do' at Google?)? I'm happy to share our hiring misery. I look forward to the harbinger (well, maybe not on The focus of such sibling-society culture at Google is interesting - Lord of the Flies interesting - as is how it will evolve given lawsuits from Old Guys who get managed out. Yes, soon you Googlers will get to enjoy watching yearly Standards of Business Conduct vignettes ("Don't call old farts old, m'kay? Especially before looking at everything they've accomplished compared to you.").

Oh, and speaking of misery, here comes the following comment:

I heard last week...this fiscal year, Microsoft is targeted to hire (between acquisitions and new hires) roughly 16K new employees.


Perhaps I should have a Giving Campaign auction to just put me out of my misery. Or at least a piƱata of me... hmm.

Kimstars: Charles wins a double reward: (1) for inventing the new term Kimstars, and (2) posting that Kimstar comment and follow-up better than anything I've typed out in a while. (As part of this, I embarrassingly found out that the original Kim post had a typo in the title! Now fixed: Not-so-limited Kim). Anyway, perhaps the concept of Kim is beyond the Limited II / 10% II designator. Follow-up commenters said how their recognition turned around under new, proactive management.

And if you're not a Kim now, just look down your career path. Do all roads lead to Kim-land? Are we all working to Limited/10% II? Going back to Charles' excellent comment:

I would argue Microsoft doesn't recognize "talent". Microsoft recognizes "passion". They are not the same. Microsoft recruits and retains passion as its talent evaporates unnoticed.

Q's for MSFT quarterly results: what questions do you want the analysts to pose this Thursday? A few quickies off the top of my head:

  • Hiring: a huge overhead for Microsoft is employee payroll (including building space). What is the projected hiring for the fiscal year (net of 16,000?)? What parts of the company are expanding and what need are they addressing that the shareholder can appreciate? Why are H1B visas changes needed if Microsoft is finding expansive hiring so easy?
  • Xbox: given the successful quarter for Xbox with Halo 3, what does the remainder of the fiscal year look like and when is it expected that all investment in Xbox will be recovered? (Trying not to spurt a sip of Starbucks out of my nose typing that last bit.)
  • Search: after the blip-up on Live Search from the bot-crazy search-game, what is the projected real-world gains around the search and advertising markets that would be qualified as a success?
  • Vista SP1: when will Vista SP1 ship? Sorry, I know we have Windows Update to keep fixes rolling into Vista, but it's going to take another OS release until the "wait until SP1" conventional wisdom is dropped.

What questions would you ask?

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Wrong-Right-Wrong-Wrong? Some comments on the Bungie split, starting with this blunt one:

Mini, you have never gotten something so wrong as your MS/Bungie comments.

This is not a Win/Win situation, the only party that wins is Bungie, MS does not win, you do not win. Bungie wins because they are no longer governed by Microsoft management, no longer have to deal with all the different diseases that MS management suffers from, and that have been brought up so many times in this blog.

You do not win, because you lost 100+ badges, but those badges were part of some of the most talented employees that the game industry has seen, MS is not better off if their best talent leaves, which is happening across the company. What do you envision? A Microsoft half its size but without its superstars? The superstars (teams and individuals) are the ones that have been carrying the company for some time now, you lose them you have nothing left, you need to keep your good talent, motivate them, and compensate them. On the different groups I have worked and that have interacted with I usually see one or two guys that keep the team afloat, fix/patch management mistakes, and do the work of the incompetent ones, without those superstars you have nothing. And note that most of these guys are not compensated well and will probably never make it to Partner level.


Microsoft stopped worrying about retaining the best talent long time ago, they are more worried about hiring new people (I belive Lisa said this almost verbally in one of the meetings when there was a question about attrition), so this should not be THAT surprising to anybody.

An additional comment here:

Giggling with glee when some of the best people your organisation have left for _whatever_ reason is just a bad call. It's not a numbers game. Not only do vast numbers of people have to leave, but they have to be the RIGHT PEOPLE. (Or the wrong people, depending on how you look at it.) The ones who drag down those who can actually make good decisions and execute them.


Without good people, it's unlikely that anything substantial will improve. The bad people will corrupt whatever good ideas or strategies are instituted, and they'll seriously hamper execution ability.

Okay, so putting aside the dim, snarky Mini-persona here: yes, (1) losing Bungie is bad for Microsoft, and (2) not being an environment where external creative teams are just dying to be a part of (as in, "Oh, man, if we were a part of Microsoft, just imagine the support, the ideas, the creative management and extra features we'd be able to deliver!") is a big problem. I'm still coming from the perspective that any attrition is good attrition and the loss of hyper-talented people will awaken some crisis-driven change to assess why this is happening and prevent it.

This is my destroy the village to save it perspective.

But I got to say, I never-ever foresaw the huge employee growth we'd be encumbered with in just a few years. I'm mean, Crazy-who-the-hell-is-running-this-place kind of growth. We're no longer a village. We're a sprawling, poorly-planned metroplex, and neighborhoods - like Bungieville - can be completely wiped out and life goes as as usual. Crap.

Given that, I like Mr. Ballmer's concept of Many Microsofts, not just one mono-culture Microsoft. There can be the Yawnville Microsoft for stable, IT-driven software products. And there can be a crazy, rule-breakin' bass-thumpin' tat-covered Bartown Microsoft for the entertainment side. And black mock-turtlenecks for the connected, beatnik Zen Hill Microsoft. I think that would be great (and about as close as we'd be able to come to a smaller Microsoft).

But we're by no means there and I don't see a path getting us there. Me? I think we would need to have leaders with strong, exuberant personalities that not only have people's interest but also their respect, earned through their results. Look, I don't expect to like our leaders. In fact, if leadership isn't pissing you off occasionally with an uncomfortable change in direction then they are doing something wrong. Leadership is hard and it usually involves knowing the right thing to do, and that right thing is something not apparent to everyone and reflects hard, comfort-zone-breaking change no-one wants to endure. Oh, sure, we'll all end up bitching and moaning about it (and maybe blog about it) but it ends up being the right thing due to the results and where it puts the company and its shareholders. Whoa. (thump-thump-peace-sign.) Respect.

What's that scorecard look like?

Facebook is Dead: the bloom is off this blossom. I hope Facebook has some interesting announcements queued up because more people are saying bo-ring. Well, that and Scoble wanting more than 5,000 friends.

Mr. Dave Winer: Why Facebook Sucks. Looking forward:

Sometime in November Google is rumored to be revealing their answer to Facebook. Whatever it is it will surely have an API, and will allow Google apps to share the info, and it will, if it hopes to compete with Facebook, provide some access to this data to app developers. But the true measure of their gravitas will be whether they give full control of the user's data to the user. If they do that, no matter what's missing from their software, it won't suck.

Yeah, I'm sure Big Broth- I mean, Google would love to have a thriving connected social network that rivals MySpace and Facebook. Oh, the targeted ads that you could sell! Continuing Scoble's 5,000 rant:

Facebook’s engineers tell me that the 5,000 friend limit is there because their engines have scaling problems. In fact, I’ve noticed parts of Facebook slowed down for me at about 3,000 friends. Also lots of stuff broke and didn’t work for me (videos, for instance, didn’t work until just recently for me).

Looks like November might be interesting.

Vote With Your Feet Already: the exit interview part of the last post pulled up some interesting first-hand experiences of leaving Microsoft (and getting threats from management) and mostly disinterested exit interviews. Regarding being under one of these bad managers at Microsoft:

  1. Vote with your feet.
  2. Vote with your feet.
  3. Vote with your feet.

Hiring, at least for me, is hard. And it's getting harder. Do you realize the power you have to influence management at Microsoft?

Google is sucking up talented college hires (yeah, if I was graduating from college and could work at Google I would, not even caring I was wedged to work on some flat surface out in the hallways). It's getting more difficult to find and hire experienced people. Good people inside of Microsoft are leaving. Somehow, the light bulb hasn't quite clicked on yet for all the great Microsoft contributors that they are volunteers, to a degree, and if they find a group that's more interesting in the company, that other group is probably desperate to hire. If you're good, getting the job isn't the question. "When can you start?" is.

This is still a great time to look around internally and reach out to other Microsoft groups and find a place where you want to be. Use your network or the liaison site to find a great manager. I would be delighted beyond all measures if, instead of a blog about complaining about all the everyday crap people go through, there was a blog bragging about the great managers and the great groups we have. Eh, make it internal if you want. Sure, people will complain about sycophants and all that. I trust you to be bright enough to see through that. Cut out the bad by supporting - and putting a spotlight on - the good. Raise them up as an example. And starve the bad managers and bad groups of people. When they can't get results, their leadership will be forced to replace them with people that can.

One idea. But it starts with you ensuring you are where you want to be, and if not, voting with your feet.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


My Two Cents on Bungie Parting with Microsoft: simply: win-win-win-win.

  • A win for Microsoft because without this split, I'd imagine the heart of Bungie talent splitting off into either new game development companies or other game development companies, probably a lot less committed to Xbox. Bungie would have become marginalized and mediocre-ized.
  • A win for Bungie because it's a lot easier to hire top talent for Bungie now that the big huge corporation infrastructure is out of the way and their destiny is within their own hands.
  • A win for the local Puget Sound game development community given that a freed up Bungie can kick some more virtuous energy into the local market. It's strange, but more and more the non-Microsoft techies I meet as of late are in game development more often than not.
  • A win for me (yeah, I could use one!): less full-time blue badges! Yeah!

When I read about the rumor of the split from 8bitjoystick the first thing I thought of was BillG using Halo 3 as an attack poodle against Sony's Playstation 3. From Mr. Bishop's blog post on this:

Time described [Bill Gates] as "radiant with bloodlust" over the prospect of using the exclusive Microsoft game to foil the Xbox 360's rival.

"It's perfect," Gates was quoted as saying. "The day Sony launches, and they walk right into Halo 3."

Yeah, that didn't happen, now did it? And I imagine there wasn't joy in Bungieville of being seen as a tool of domination vs. a damn fine game. Oh, wait, they do have some stuff about world domination in their manifesto... well, anyway, to have Monty Burns -- er -- Bill Gates telling you when you're shipping is one less thing they have to worry about.

Now You're Cookin' With Gas: along comes a recent comment:

After reading your blog for a few years I have been inspired to do a bit of my own bloging. Hopefully I will get a few people discussing how to improve MSFT as well. I am focusing on my pet peeve, poor mgmt. I hope it can be a forum where other MSFTies can expose poor mgmt and try to improve their situation by exposing bad practices.

And what does that lead to? Snippet:

I would like to create a forum to expose both good and bad management within MSFT. When I first came in the door someone said "Working at MSFT can be the best job in the world or the worst, it all depends on who your manager is". This is probably one of the wisest things I was told as a newbe. I have now been around a few years and have lived both worlds many times over. Sadly now I am in the worst job, but looking hopefully for my next Best job in the world at MSFT.

Yowza! And anonymous comments are enabled.

Exit Softly: from comments about Microsoft exit interviews, it seems the recipe is something like:

  • Your boss asks why. If you're leaving because of your boss, stay quiet.
  • Your skip-level or about asks why. This is the only chance you'll have to share as to why you're leaving and hope that something will come of it.
  • HR exit interview happens. A rather perfunctory session.
  • A few months go by.
  • A survey to fill out more information about your exit arrives. Where it goes and what happens with it, no one knows.

Bubba writes about his real exit interview as well and it's along these lines. I'm amazed one of the commenters here said that their boss went to Crazy Town on them when they said they were leaving:

My first level manager simply threatened me and warned me not to bring him down lest he would blacklist me at Microsoft and "pull out the big guns". What a colossal waste of space that guy was... and he's still "managing" at Microsoft in spite of the fact that I informed his superiors of the threats he made. He was just asked to move elsewhere in the company.

Wow. Recycling the hazardous management waste.

Should Microsoft Buy Facebook? Nice comment I'd like to call out a bit of:

[...] Yahoo is actually lucky they could not buy Facebook (and we should not invest in Facebook unless there is a real clear, guaranteed payback). And we should avoid creating any new social network sites. But what we ought to do is look at this trend – social network sites – and figure out what it would mean to become the best platform for developing, hosting, and monetizing these things. I'd love to sell tools to people who want to make new social network sites. I'd love to make money from hosting these things. I'd love to make money from supporting advertising on them. "Microsoft provides the best platform and tools for creating, deploying, running, and profiting from, social networking sites." I would not like to own one!

Chat with some senior leadership in the next week and ask them, "Hey, what do you think about Microsoft buying Facebook?" I'm curious if your experience will be like mine lately: usually, a calm comes over the face and the senior leader is quite articulate in explaining all the reasons why it would be dumb to buy Facebook, how it won't happen, and how it's so wonderful to partner with Facebook for ads and to also ensure we're a great platform for people to develop Facebook applications on (along with being a platform for future social networking applications). Consensus and clarity seems to have been reached on high around this, a new page has been put in the strategy hymnal, and everyone is singing to it.

Of course, my love has totally left for Facebook. Well, they broke up with me first. And Baby, you don't even answer my email. Cold. I'm not gonna beg. Where can I find a new place?

Google's Orkut?

Mr. Scoble has the following teaser:

Now do you get why the world is going to pay attention to what Google releases on November 5?


Facebook has real competition coming. Competition they haven’t yet faced.

It’s going to be an interesting period to watch them go at it.

Orkut? Really? At least maybe I'll be able to make a friend with our award winning Best Manager in Brazil.

Other things going on: Departure central: Mr. Kniskem over at not only notes some recent departures:

Somewhat coincidentally, some notable Microsoft employees voted with their feet this week, as Erik Selberg from Live Search, Danny Thorpe from Windows Live Platform, Bubba Murarka from Windows Live, and Bungie all announced their intention to leave the company.

He also provides some interesting advice (directed more around Xbox Live and Windows Live). Topics with lots more text in the full post:

  • First: Develop a solid, deep-rooted, fast moving, and complete transition into Live Services.
  • Next: Put names and faces on the future of Microsoft: to gain trust, to show leadership, and to focus the vision.
  • Finally: Openly and honestly face the future.

Additional departures noted in a comment:

Speaking of departures...Tanya Clemons going to Pfizer and I hear that Susan Delbene also left. Maybe there is hope with execs leaving of some room near the top.

Another on Ms. Clemons:

It's a real shame that we are losing someone of Tanya's caliber.

Tanya has a distinquished background and joined Microsoft to lead change in our dysfunctional culture. Based on her presentations, she thought there was quite a bit of improvement needed and she was working with Steve to do this. Listening to Tanya, I was buoyed by the thought that at last here was an executive that "got it".

Change our culture? Talk about dashing yourself on the rocks. Looking at human nature, there has to be a benefit to the change realized on the "me" level. Mr. Ballmer wants us to be more bold? Reward those who are bold. Pretty simple stuff. In the meantime, I see more and more boring country-club types succeeding and I'll be damned if I could label a single one of them as bold. Loud. Obnoxious. But not bold.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Microsoft 2.0, Now With Less Bubba

Mary Jo Foley's Microsoft 2.0: Ms. Foley announced her upcoming book: Coming Soon Microsoft 2.0 the book. Wow, what great timing, corporation inflection-point-wise. I've been thinking about the book and how it will be in a position to get scads of attention because a lot of business people and techies will no doubt be wondering what a post-Gates Microsoft will be like.

I know, I know, Gates will still be (air quotes) involved. But come on.

Nothing makes a room more serious than to hear someone saying, "We're off to our BillG review." You immediately do a quick assessment: are they nervous? Do they look ready for a wave of f-bombs? Who next is going to inspire the level of deep, cover-every base preparation as BillG?

Anyway, I've been thinking about the book and how various people with various agendas will no doubt be plying Ms. Foley with their take of the post-Gates Microsoft. I certainly will! Our competitors are probably having a hard time trying to figure it out how to position it: should we push for making Microsoft look weak and unfocused and vulnerable? Nah, if we do that then it's hard to pull on that anti-trust nipple-ring. Dang.

How do you feel about post-Gates Microsoft? Is it an opportunity to break with the past and make a break-out move? Of course you should feel free to send any great insights Ms. Foley's way. I'm still thinking about it myself...

Swoon! I don't know what the IdeAgency is about, but it has our own VP McDreamy AlexGo kicking it off, so it's gotta be good. And it has cookies. Just when I thought life couldn't get better.

How did your real exit interview go, Bubba? Everyone at Microsoft who enjoys knowing about The Bench, Goldstars and other formerly shrouded rewards and programs should give a big farewell tip of the hat to now ex-Softie Bubba Murarka due to his Fall 2005 Thinkweek paper An Exit Interview which first mentioned these programs in a subversive way that elevated their discussion here and into HR's new headache. Bubba's starting his own gig... all while Scoble is wondering Why Doesn't Microsoft Get the Love?

Microsoft's Makeover: I like this post by Mr. Joe Wilcox - it reminds of the research days. Nice read: Microsoft Watch - Corporate - A Little More Blush Microsoft's Makeover.

Microsoft Extreme Makeover: has a post up regarding the most important issue to vote on in our proxy statement. A missing issue. Change, or more of the same? It's up to YOU.

Zuuuuuuune! Man, if we had released this Zune feature set a year ago, I would have bought two and be-bopped around the Apple store squirting songs between the two singing "ah-neener, neener, ah-neener-neener-neener!" A year later and left behind by the next generation iPods I'm wondering whether it's worth doing a bunch of WMV transcoding to get an Apple iPod Touch. Heaven forbid if iPods ever natively support WMV. That would be game over.

Last year the Zune group was the loudest of all the teams at the Company Meeting. I really don't remember hearing a peep out them this year... or now. More from Mr. Wilcox: Microsoft Watch - Games & Consumer - Zune Gets More Social.

(And actually... I don't think I'll be buying an iPod Touch. I like stuff I can hack and add to, like a smartphone, and I don't want to get a Touch just to have Apple [stepping up to match Sony's anti-consumer control-freakism] go and brick or wipe my Touch. So much spending cash in my pocket and no one doing their best to earn it... and my trust.)

Where'z Mah Bukket? So Facebook doesn't like alternative identities or personas for their users and I had my account disabled. I'm asking for reconsideration. I (of course) like Ms. Foley's post on the Mini-Microsoft / Facebook situation, plus her take on letting me stay on:

Shouldn't there be some kind of clause protecting Facebookers who shroud themselves with the cloak of anonymity so that they don't risk being fired? I was one of Mini's many Facebook friends and I was in favor of him being part of "the social."

Meanwhile, I have an email note saying that Facebook has received my appeal, but nothing moves fast if it doesn't make money so I'm still waiting to hear back officially as to whether the account will be restored. Sigh. I don't know if this is part of a Facebook sweep of alternative identities or if there's something more dumb going on... like if someone, perhaps as they handed over a load of cash, complained and a Facebook admin decided "thems be the rules!" and flipped me off. Literally and figuratively.

Along with flipping the boring bit to on and derailing Facebook from becoming an even more interesting post-blog place to grow social interaction.

Meanwhile, there should be a group (or two?) for you to join around saying, "Hey, uncool, Facebook," and kvetch with other exceptionally good looking folks like yourself:

Monday, October 01, 2007

Mini Microsoft is... sad without Facebook. I can truly understand the deepest feelings around the before and after of this poor elephant seal and his bucket. Cos my blue bucket - my Facebook profile - is, well:

Okay, it's their sandbox, their rules. But I'm still sad.

"Sorry" to the friends I had a great time interacting with on Facebook. It was a lot more interesting and productive than just regular 1:1 random emails and I think representative of a side-by-side evolution of a blogging conversation building up an interesting eco-system. It gave me a lot of energy to stay engaged with folks who read this little of piece of the blogosphere.

I hope Facebook will reconsider. I've dropped them a note.

For fun, you could create two Facebook groups: "Let Mini Microsoft Stay on Facebook!" and maybe - because I'm all about the fairness - "Keep that Mini Microsoft Jerk Outta Here! TOU! TOU!" Ah, well.

I guess I'll have to put all that time I spent enjoying Facebook into writing more posts here (coming soon, especially to move on from this little indulgence).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Severance, Neelie, and Rats

Did you say severance? A comment recently asked:

How about an anonymous poll to see how many people would voluntarily accept a healthy severance package, if offered?

Let's say, one month's pay for every year of service and an advance on your August 2008 stock award vest?

I bet the number of employees who would gleefully accept such a proposition would be a real eye-opener!

There's really no exciting reason to remain at the company any longer (especially with this latest slap-in-the-face: "value-based stock awards"). For many, what was once a career is now "just a job." (i.e. Where's the upside?)

So just take a moment to stop reading and contemplate the following (whether you work at Microsoft or not): you walk into work today and discover your whole team is being offered a sweet severance package and you need to decide within the next week whether to accept it.

What are the pros and cons? What do you think about? And do you accept it? If you do, what would the consequences be?

Think about it, it's an interesting exercise.

What did I come up with?

First of all, I wouldn't take it. I'm having too much fun. If I took it, though, what would I do? I'd take a nice long vacation, where long for me is a month. Then I'd make lots of time for catching up with my friends, whether they stayed at Microsoft or not. I'd have a lot more date nights with my Buttercup. I'd make room for the hobbies I'd been putting off and then, strangely, catch up on all those business books (and printed Think Week papers) languishing on the shelf and start playing with new technology, probably weeding through several different start-up'y sort of projects and retaste the joy and sorrows of pulling yourself up from your own boot-straps when beginning with nothing more than a beer-stained napkin drawing. And I'd expect that to lead me to energetic conversations and follow-up opportunities with our fantastic local techie community to find something that added a positive flow back into my bank account.

What's interesting to me is that these are pretty significant priorities that I don't have to leave my job to enjoy. Fun aside, I think I've let too much low-priority daily Microsoft grind gravel and sand fill my jar.

Curiously enough, the Intel Perspective blog has a new post about an upcoming IT Department forced redeployment (Reduction In Force) at Intel and laying down a severance up-front to make it easier. A snippet:

We need to lose some people. We have motivated people who really want to stay, who work hard, but will nonetheless get redeployed. We have burned-out, bitter, highly skilled people who want to leave and will do the bare minimum until they can find other jobs. Why would we not want to keep those who want to stay, and help those who want to leave by giving them a decent incentive to move on?

Would a severance help shake you loose from Microsoft? If so, then you should assert some proactive career seeking right this minute. You'll discover the best way to get a pay-raise: switch companies. Don't wait for your severance ship to meander to the harbor.

Now, let's talk about Office and Vista... why does Neelie Kroes remind me of Dolores Umbridge? Or Lucy van Pelt. When it comes to the big, bad politically charged legal battles, I just see Ballmer, wearing a yellow shirt with a black horizontal zig-zag, laying flat on his back uttering, "Rats!" as Neelie channels her inner Lucy van Pelt and glowers above him with the football. And talk about some self important glowering from Neelie:

"I think it's totally unacceptable that a representative of the U.S. administration criticize an independent court outside its jurisdiction. And I even think it shouldn't be done inside, but that's not my cup of tea. It is absolutely not done. The European Commission does not pass judgment on rulings on U.S. courts, and we expect the same degree of respect from U.S. authorities for rulings by EU courts. And if the parties to a case are unhappy with the Court of First Instance ruling, they can appeal to the Court of Justice, and that is well known by those parties."

Or, to paraphrase, siooma.

While some articles pointed out that Intel, Apple and Google should start worrying, all I can say I can't see the EU dropping this bone while the meat is still sweet. There's Office to look into and Vista to look into, wow, no, this is far from over.

Chris over at has an interesting post: Why today's EU ruling is good for Windows Live and its users - OurView The Opinion Blog. Okay, I'll read any article like that (and it's most refreshing given that most bloggers nowadays are looking for any stains on our shirt, so to say, to scream page-view-accumulating outrage over). Breaking apps out of Windows and putting them into Live sounds like a bumper crop of goodness that I can appreciate: you don't have to wait until the next version of Windows ships and you can liberate the teams to not be constrained to Windows legal obligations.

Goodness could ensue. And Girl Scout enthusiasm.

Master Chief, Baby! Do we have a big release of some sort next week? I think we'll see a lot of sick days on the 25th and 26th. Followed by the high-fiving neener-neeners from Xbox leadership about having a profitable quarter. Yeah. $250,000,000 in the bank, what, mmm, $5,750,000,000 to go?

And the new Live Search should come out soon. I like that the team is in no way comparing this to take on Google. They realize and admit that's a long, long way out there. We've got a hard enough road ahead to make #2 so those are the tail lights we're chasing right now.

Kip has an overview of Live Search 2.0 screenshots that are beginning to sneak out (from an "oooops!" post that has been removed. D'oh.).

Wrapping up: three from Microsoft Extreme Makeover:

Great quote in the first one, at the end, from Mr. Herbold. And a really good comment about the change that happened to the company as of 2001. A snippet:

MSFT executives responded with the SPSA program, a boondoggle intended to keep the execs awash in the levels of cash they were used to, even if the company ceased performing. Employees had the link severed between the company's financial success and their own financial success so that more money could be diverted into SPSA, and shareholders were pretty much just ignored. The result is happy executives, disgruntled employees leaving in increasing numbers, less effective recruiting to replac ethem, and angry investors.

Who feels like Charlie Brown now?


Friday, September 07, 2007

Microsoft Company Meeting 2007

The overall Mini-Microsoft summary of Microsoft's Company Meeting 2007:

  1. I love this company.
  2. I love this company's Company Meeting.

For real! Even at the end of this Company Meeting 2007 day when I'm poised to make a break for it, staring pleadingly at our CEO - giving one of the best speeches I've heard from him while - and repeatedly whispering, "please stop talking stop talking stop talking... my eyes and ears filled up two hours ago when this was supposed to be over... stop talking... please..." I still love the meeting.

Hey, I'm an unrepentant Company Meeting fan. Why? Because I do like to be energized from time to time and say, "Damn, we do some great stuff and I work with some excellent people." Otherwise, I would wander over to some other game and pull up a new keyboard.

Could this huge, complicated production have been better? Of course. I hope they round up people's constructive feedback and go over it next year as part of planning the Company Meeting 2008. Quick, shallow improvements off the tips of my fingertips:

  • Alternative bus routes logistics: why does every bus come down I-90? How about strategizing some different approaches and trying to separate pedestrian and bus traffic? Once again, I was watching buses stacked up on the exit ramp while the meeting was well into the first hour. That's no fun for them folks.
  • Demo Deathmatch: five minutes. That is all you have for a demo. I'm smart (well, sez me) and I don't need a big story about wood delivery and gold-customers blah-blah-blah. Five minutes. Drop the story. Show me the candy at a highly concentrated rate that overloads my cortex. Have an ongoing applause-o-meter to track who wins the deathmatch and, I think as a reward, gets to talk more about their group.
  • Let Them Play Golf: I agree with a recent commenter: when did we hire all these polished, good looking people? I know that *you* are good looking or else you wouldn't be reading this. But, sorry, I want a presenter onstage that's a little crazy and enthused, not spa-shined and sparkling. I don't know. Some of those presenters just didn't seem like... Microsofties. Maybe I've just uncovered a discrimination that's been lurking in my heart: "for a Microsoftie, you just don't look geeky enough to be talking about {fill in the blank}."
  • More Fun: Yeah, I miss those parody videos of the past (though the JibJab-esque video was fun!). Sorry, the parodies are much better than having a bunch of rich execs onstage burping for us via an Xbox game. Now, that might make for an interesting start in a parody video... ah, BrianV, you were good for one thing...
  • Que the Orchestra: hey, they'll start playing the music to cut-off a big Hollywood star's rambling acceptance speech. I think we can have Bob or Clippy pop up on the screen to start chasing off presenters who go on too long... (clink clink clink) "It appears you don't understand time management. Can I help by turning off your mic?"
  • Ban Paper: not one scratch of paper. I mean nothing that can be folded into a paper airplane. When are people going to friggin' learn that right after eating their lunch, bored Microsofties, especially those in the 300 sections, start flinging assault waves of paper airplanes down on their very annoyed coworkers? I think I said "Ooo! Crap!" around thirty times yesterday, watching some high speed attack plane from high-above smack into some young man or young lady.

Well, okay, the last one would have stolen from us the point where one paper airplane made it all the way to the stage screen and the crowd erupted in cheers. And Kevin Johnson was all, "Yeee-aaah!" thinking we were cheering for what he just said...

For the first two hours of the meeting, I was planning the title of this to be "Best Company Meeting Evah!" And then I guess the demos happened. I escaped the demos to go chat with other enlightened folks who were... escaping the demos. Demo guys, you're not selling this stuff to us. Show us the highlights and stuff we don't know and why we should feel good about the company because of what you're doing. That's what I want. The meat. Not the prelude, building action, twist, climax, and extended denouement.

The Live Search team wins for having the best demo of stuff I want to use. Now. Right now. Ship it please. Awesome stuff.

Figure a way to make a Surface the size of a laptop screen and you know I'll buy one.

I had just downloaded and installed the new Windows Live Suite beta so I already knew what was in there. I thought Chris Jones was being surprisingly uncool (I'm a big Chris Jones fan) during his demo snag, but the object of his white-courtesy phone heckling left a comment that all was fine. I think that was the only demo snag of the day.

There was no Zune demo, only teasing that yes, something Zune-y this way comes for the holidays. After all of Apple's announcements on the previous day and Apple coming up with the quote-unquote brilliant idea to make the WiFi on a player do something useful, I don't know what we could do to spring ahead at this point. ZUNE!

I finally discovered something that stinks about Halo 3: that upcoming commercial. What the? Come on, show us the game. Geez. It's already gone gold so why couldn't someone from Bungie grace us with a demo?

As for the speeches, some high level remarks:

  • Kevin Turner: I feel this guy is trying to sell me something vs. talk to me as an employee. No, I actually want to see, page by page, everything we shipped and everything we plan to ship, not some crammed together chart with perhaps obscure products. And profits, please, not revenue.
  • Gates: well, I kind of remember it but I listened more in respect than interest.
  • Ray Ozzie: really good vision speech that I could relate to (it's a generation thing). He just has to throw in a few more questions here and there so that my attention can be refreshed. But as a commenter pointed out here a while back, what we need from Ray now more than ever is code and shipped product, not vision. And I liked his "party like it's 1984" call to arms to protect our customers. Nice.
  • Steve Ballmer: great speech, even if I don't agree with chunks of it. I'll probably watch it again soon. I loved the scorecard. I loved the frankness. I have to say, my heart skipped a beat when he said, "We are many Microsofts" since I initially misheard him. We are not one Microsoft. We are many Microsofts and no one solution will apply to all of the company. Hmm, well, one way to think small if not be small and enable small-team aggressiveness. I do like that he tackled head-on the lack of boldness in the company. I wonder: why does Steve think there's a lack of boldness nowadays? Me? A poorly performing MSFT stock price certainly is a factor there. Hey, when you can say FYIFV, you can do some pretty bold things.

Looking at the crowd, I think most people were polite and clapped when they were supposed to, but I don't think the needle on the engage-o-meter ever went above "interested" (vs. "authentically enthused" or "wow" or "friggin' awesome"). Also, presenters and demo'ers need to realize that they are presenting to what's supposed to be one of the smartest audiences gathered for the whole year. Anywhere. Go fast. Talk frankly. Don't sell to us. Tell us something we don't know. Demo'ers: make us want to come work for you.

And when it comes to where to work to find the best Microsoft manager: Brazil? Okaaaay...

Finally, I'm pretty sure there was a lone "boo!" when we proudly announced last year that we had hired 12,800 people.

I wonder where that came from?

Further Discussions:

(1) The previous post has lots of incoming comments already about the Company Meeting. And there have been some very fine comments and discussions recently. If you don't tend to read comments, I suggest going through the last few posts and scanning through the comments and participating, if you're so inclined. And note that every post has a link to a comment feed, so that you can subscribe to comments in your RSS reader of choice.

(2) Mr. Jon Pincus provides an option to keep your Company Meeting discussion on the side of the firewall:

Mini, if you wind up blogging about this, would you be kind enough to let Microsoft employees know that we've got a thread discussing it at ... there are a lot of different strong positive and negative opinions expressed and not only do I think your readers at Microsoft would be interested, I'd loooove to hear what they think!

I wrote on Jon's Facebook wall that I was delightfully surprised to see the number of times he popped up on the video interview snippets.

(3) Mr. Adam Barr has Software + Services = ? which is a bit of a rumination over Mr. Ozzie's speech.

(4) red hot place has their take on the Company Meeting, too. Sorry to have led you astray! I thought there'd be more than buses, too!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Microsoft Company Meeting Ahoy!

Just some random events happening before the Company Meeting this Thursday (BEWARE Seattle drivers! Stay away from Safeco field!).

Are you, like, LisaB's BFF? Well, no. I think LisaB is losing momentum and getting caught up in a cult-of-personality not of her making (what will we have this year? Orange berets?). But she certainly is poised to flip the momentum she has built up and have big impact - as far as she can as the HR head - to the everyday Microsoftie.

Some of the items not shared in this week's BW online snippet with me (for sake of space and/or coherency):

  • A mention of the book Corporate Confidential and my praise of HR Generalist work hard to be on the employee's side.
  • A mention of the InsideMS blog meltdown and how all that super-valuable employee input didn't seem to play into the revised myMicrosoft benefits, questioning the whole reason for the blog to exist (served as prelude to the later comment on the meltdown).
  • A question about the review process where I rip the awful review tools a new one. (Interjection: I guess the tools [or HRIT] felt a disturbance in my karma because what happened recently? Screwed over by the performance tools. "No, Mr. Mini, I expect you to be the one with a new one ripped." Yep. Still hurts to sit.)
    • And I put the blame for this whole tool-based / god-awful workflow review process squarely on Ms. Brummel's shoulders.
  • An extended riff on the continued focus on individual excellence at the expense of considering team excellence. (Interjection: by the way, is there a reward this week at the Company Meeting for Best Microsoft Team?)
  • A list of things I believe LisaB and our corporate leaders need to focus on:
    1. A local commuter bus system would be great. I’d love to commute to work through some sort of morning and evening shuttle (one that had WiFi so that I could do email). Less cars on the packed roads of Redmond. Good thing.
    2. Bring back the 15% ESPP as it was. This was a dumb cost-saving move.
    3. Up the 401K matching contribution.
    4. Start implementing a culture change to support people working at home. Really. Not words. Actions. Put in remote offices in Seattle for people who want to live in Seattle but waste two hours a day in the commute.
    5. Drop intent-to-interview and permission-to-interview altogether and just let people interview internally (and make internal interviews more lightweight for job positions near what you’re currently doing).
    6. Aggressively recruit within the company first. We put it 100% on the employee’s shoulder to find a new position within the company. Dumb. We should have internal recruiters to help rebalance people vs. having them just give up the search and leave.
    7. Bring back the mid-year review to at least let the employees know their ranking. Making it an all or nothing once-a-year result is the reason for a lot of angst over compensation.

There is still plenty of room to improve. Some other feedback around the article includes this comment:

I am shocked, but I probably shouldn't be. Now MS has taken it's own problems (crappy morale, crummy hr) and spun them in true "Thank You for Smoking" style into a feel-good story about Lisa Brummel.

The BusinessWeek article is full of half-truths spun as cute anecdotes. Great storytelling, but makes it sound like the world is all rosy.

What about Sr. VPs who place their own system on the reviewmodel so they can effectively re-implement the stack ranking of old? What about the fact that ratings are still about tearing your team-mates down to make sure your review is good? What is she doing to improve trust of HR? What is this transparency she claims has made HR such a beloved part of Microsoft?

Again, great article for the masses... nice spin to turn it into a nice story for the shareholders out there. Why does it not seem like anything has happened here?

And this comment:

I was VERY disappointed with her lack of vision, short sightedness and in the end flat out cowardess for doing the right thing. I'm back in the non-fan camp.

I just don't have enough room to accommodate being ripped another for this comment:

Mini--you are a real sell-out in that interview, saying that employees on average are happy with Brummel. Have you forgotten the hundreds of posts and months of bitterness when people found out that she "got rid of the curve" by simply obscuring it? Aside from various trivialities like bringing back towels, she's done zip. The review system still has no means of rewarding people or groups for contributing to the bottom line (only for sucking up better than their teammates), it certainly doesn't provide a mechanism for holding executives accountable, and there's still the old-boys-club partner system.

If people are unhappy, then they won't go bug-eyed wild for Brummel when she presents (probably second only to Ballmer). Let's see this Thursday how popular she is. Again, I'm worried about the cult-of-personality here. Second to last:

Interesting to learn that Ballmer's incompetence is at the root of MS's personnel management troubles. Of course, by his own criteria, he should have gotten the axe many years ago. The company hasn't even matched the performance of the S&P 500 since he got the Big Chair.

Flying chairs and broken golf clubs? Found via the BW blogger Stephen Baker, Sun's Jim Grisanzio ponders:

"... When Ballmer floated the HR job in April, 2005, Brummel said: No way. But Ballmer wasn't about to take no for an answer. Picking up a traveling golf putter, the Microsoft chief started taking it apart as he barreled around Brummel's office, hammering home why she was the perfect candidate. [...] The two went back and forth, with Ballmer slapping Brummel's whiteboard for emphasis and Brummel parrying with: 'But I love doing products.' After more than two hours, Ballmer ended the meeting. By then the putter was in pieces. 'Sorry about the golf club,' he said. Brummel was deeply conflicted ...."

Deeply conflicted? I'll bet. My goodness. I'm just trying to imagine McNealy or Schwartz whipping into my office and breaking my golf club on my white board. I'd be deeply conflicted, too.

Office Space: not the movie, the future. If you're interested in one take on the future of Microsoft offices, read the comment that starts with the following:

On the topic of office space. This is the first time that I have seen Lisa mentioned as the one who came up with the idea of implementing the "open" space concept. If true, she should be terminated immediately based solely on that decision. If you haven't seen what "open" space looks like and are in the Seattle area, take an extended lunch and head to the new Lincoln Square offices in downtown Bellevue. 17th floor on up.

Heard and good rumors? Like this comment:

There's going to be a special reward announced. It has something to do with the number of years you've worked at Microsoft. Sort of a big "thank you" from Bill

I also wonder about some of the benefits mentioned in the BW article that I've never heard about before and if they are going to be announced this week (commuter bus, free lunch, etc. etc.). If not: awk-ward.

Compensation: talk about a way to start an interesting conversation about compensation! Just write a comment in as a Microsoft Partner that contains this:

I am a partner. I do not think I have been fully compensated. I am at least equal to two 67s on my team. I got both of them about 550K. My VP screwed me and gave me only 650K.

We give too much money to low levels. They are replaceble. But we anyway make them cross 100K. We compensate them above market and we get them in bunch. Superstars and partners are less compensated here. No surprise they join Google.

The kind of talent we get in opening positions are not worth 100K. They are no better than an average worker at mcdonalds.

My recommendation to fix the company is the same as mini. Cut the crap. Show a mcdonald to mcdonaldis employees. Money saved can go to the bottom line and raise the stock price. In this case superstars can get atleast some respectable compensation. My 450K stock are way below my market value. By cutting the crap these stocks will be worth at least double. My compensation then cross a million. I can say to google recruiters to look somewhere else. Google, please take half of my team.

I love it: "Google, please take half of my team." 'at'll learn 'em. That's followed by a comment later that ends with a kicker:

The rant by low level employees on this blog is not understandable. The goal of this blog is to get you fired. It is advocating to show you an exit gate.

So on this blog, if you accept Mini's statement then you are accepting that you are not needed. If you do not, then you should rant against Mini or at leats not post here.

Office Glass Ceiling: I don't have time to roll it up now, but a bunch of comments have been musing over the slowness of promotions in a number of teams, Office being the worse offender for slow promotions. What has your experience been with-respect-to slow groups, fast groups, or just-right groups?

Finally: whatever you do, don't watch this all the way through to the end. I warned ya.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Brummel! Brummel! Brummel!

Wow, just in time to go into next week's Company Meeting with blushingly good PR. Much better than two years ago! From the upcoming BusinessWeek magazine:

(1) How To Make A Microserf Smile - profile on Ms. Brummel with some background about her contributions to HR since being appointed. Interesting snippet:

Nothing got people buzzing more than Brummel's overhaul of the performance review. Employees dreaded Microsoft's ranking system for all the usual reasons: It pitted co-workers against one another at a time when the company needed to be more collaborative; it was unfair; it made frank evaluations less likely.

Here Brummel faced a political third rail. Ballmer was the godfather of the forced curve, believing that differentiation—giving a few people the top grade, most a pass, and laggards failing marks—was the key to Microsoft's we-take-the-hills culture. And when Brummel broached ditching the curve, it was his turn to say "No way." More yelling ensued as they darted in and out of each other's adjacent offices.

(2) ONLINE EXTRA: Playbook: The New HR - I can has rewardzburger?

(3) ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with Microsoft's Lisa Brummel - I'm sorry, but aren't there supposed to be questions and answers? Anyway, the Microsoft Office of the future (as in, where you're going to be planting your tocks during the day):

So HR chief Lisa Brummel is creating Microsoft's next-generation workspace: the elastic, meet-my-mood office. Here too she is going far beyond what most companies consider: open plan or not? Instead, she's creating a hybrid workplace of sliding doors, movable walls, and urban-loft-like spaces tailored to individual needs.

(4) ONLINE EXTRA: Reshaping Microsoft's HR Agenda - Q&A with Ballmer and Brummel. Lord, I'm still laughing from the below snippet: thumbs up, Mr. Ballmer, for the honesty:

She went on a listening tour to hear from employees. And one of the things she heard was frustration about Microsoft's forced ranking system. Did that resonate for you? Did that seem like something Microsoft needed to remake? Ballmer: No. No? Ballmer: Uh-uh. It wasn't top of mind for you? Ballmer: Uh-uh. But were you averse to changing it? Ballmer: Uh-huh.

More interesting nuggets in there about how our review system is still pretty much the same from Ballmer's POV, the potential for free-lunches like Google, and the $1,500 you get for buying a hybrid vehicle. And whether Ballmer would ever blog (sorry, secret Steves!).

(5) ONLINE EXTRA: Microsoft's Mini-Me Susses Brummel - interview with some dashingly good-looking loud-mouth blogger.

(6) Graphic: Chief Happiness Officer - well, graphic with interesting text. What, we're going to get a free bus service? With WiFi! OMG!1! P0n13s! I LOVE YOU LIS- ...ahem. That's swell.

What else do you find interesting in the articles that's either in there or not in there?

Meanwhile, back in RealityVille, Microsoft Extreme Makeover has a new post: Wanted Significant MSFT shareholder with a spine. Rock'em sock'em! The post mulls over the article Of Microsoft, china pigs and hungry bears Mixed Signals by Rupert Goodwins. Talk about a dash of cold water. Perhaps you should read that before diving into the feel-good Brummel articles.

This snippet looks at inflection points in Microsoft future:

This is the weather for a coup, whether by a posse of external shareholders with inside support or a rebel group of managers with help from the investors. The trigger point isn't far away – we're nearing the end of the multi-year transition period that's seeing Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie replace Bill Gates. By now, the changes in Microsoft should be visible – but it's not looking that good. The two big moves – into advertising, and into Net-delivered cloud services – look more like Google-chasing than anything else; neither address the many and extremely deeply ingrained reservations even Microsoft's closest partners have about dealing with Redmond. Neither properly answer the question of revenues in 2017.

Evokes this response:

The "rebel group of managers" willing to back away from the SPSA feeding trough long enough to finally do the right thing for the company and shareholders, sounds like a tall order. A "posse of external shareholders" seems a lot more likely, but right now there's no obvious sheriff - or posse. A third option would be a former MSFT manager with external shareholder backing. Someone like Brad Silverberg, for example, who was right about the web when Gates and Ballmer were wrong and is no longer there because of it. But lately he's been praising them. Or maybe he's just laying the groundwork for an impending return :-)

Hmm. Need to step back into HappyVille? Okay, here's a question: Hey, do you think they'll install Starbucks i-Cup machines in our new commuter busses? And what speed of WiFi do you think they'll provide?

(Oh, and I know I put up a new post in the middle of everyone sharing their review numbers; feel free to keep on adding to this one, along with anything new. Sorry that it all ends up being spread across three posts.)