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.