Monday, February 25, 2008

Because the Last Aquisition Went So Well...

Check-in on Yahoo: BusinessWeek has a small take on Kevin Johnson's message to Microsoft and Yahoo employees. A number of articles have been posted putting this email in the light of "we're not going to be firing anybody! Please, don't leave, we luv you all and we have someplace to squeeze you in!" After our own CEO basically lied to his own senior leadership regarding the Yahoo acquisition, I'm not buying anything they are selling because their agenda, whatever it is, is built on misrepresentation. Or shooting from the hip.

Besides, of course, I want folks fired due to my original agenda; plus, the Yahoo Peanut Butter Manifesto probably pointed to more than just 1,000 Yahoo folks needing to find a better place to work.

Reading Mr. Johnson's email, I have an image in my head of John Wayne from McLintock, reassuringly saying in this case, "Somebody needs to fire ya, kid. But I'm not gonna fire ya. I'm not gonna fire ya. ... The HELL I'M NOT!" *biff* Or, in this case, *RIF*

A Couple More Perspectives:

From the Field: a welcome message from the field in this comment:

Working in the field and not in the US, I sometimes cannot relate to the comments that are heavily oriented at the minority of peopele working in MS which is dev. And maybe this is part of the MS problem? SMSG is swarming with people and due to the "Keep your scorecard green" culture that came with Kevin "thank you for all that you do" Turner, managers are not managing and coaching people anymore. Every day I see people that should be empowered to do business staring into their spreadsheets in order manipulate Siebel (yes we use that utter crap CRM system still) to keep the scorecard green instead of going out to meet the customers. Many MS people in (i think especially in services) miss the "techy" culture where we doing good things for customers, making them successful. Now all we get "Why is your scorecard yellow, just fix it".

Dirty aQuantive laundry: a very revealing comment worth reading in full starts with:

I'm no longer with aQuantive, I now work for a great team in MS. I was threatened not to talk, but my story needs to be told, to some people higher up who believe that they can integrate Yahoo, I believe that they can, but they have to hear what is happening to Microsoft's ad serving business, which will save the company years to find out, it will be too late once they realize. The engineers at aQuantive are great, some of the best, but the central nervous system doesn't exist, this is Microsoft's managements responsibility, and it could cost us the leadership in the ad business. [...]

Classy, real classy: I'm sure anyone who had ran Vista at work looked at the Vista Capable stickers on machines they wouldn't buy for their Mom and felt bad regarding the misrepresentation of those machines' capabilities. Even some of our VPs expressed their strong dislike (d'oh, [shake fist] damn you email discovery!). Now we're up for a class action lawsuit and I'm really interested to see what kind of leg we have to stand on here. Fighting to justify this poor decision doesn't rank up as high on the Bozo Meter as trying to defend browsing technology as being a core OS component, but it's close.

Rory Blyth channels Mini: Windows Live Writer Team and Microsoft - where Rory is put over the edge when Live Writer - a delightful blogging application I adore (and makes me wonder if my hatred of .NET apps is misplaced) - gets ruined by being wedged into a Live Suite installer infrastructure. Rory is no longer with Microsoft and he doesn't hesitate to load up both barrels and let loose. A little later in the comment stream:

What happened to me is I worked for Microsoft for three years. You didn't read the post in its entirety, so you may have missed it, but I wrote that this isn't just about Live Writer - it's about Microsoft's approach to user experience in general.

I saw - and was subject to - so many dirty tricks on the inside. There's a constant battle between the stupid people and the smart people, and the stupid people do quite well. Probably because stupid people are scared of the smart people and do whatever they can to get more stupid people to work at Microsoft. A good way to retain your power and position is to ensure you aren't being challenged by other employees.

The sad thing is that I'm not exaggerating.

The company is bloated. I said myself that firing tens of thousands is cruel, but when you have managers for managers for managers for managers for managers for managers and managers for them, you have something ridiculous.

Firing tens of thousands of Microsofties? Allow me to raise my hands in the air, wave them about, and yell out, "Hallelujah brother, praise the RIF!!!"

Mid-year career discussion is upon us and now is an ideal time for you to update your resume and assess where you are and where you are going. Want a raise? Secret to Success, rule #1: the best way to get a raise is to change companies. Bar none. So update that resume and see what kind of follow-ups you get. Perhaps you're an eagle trying to soar with the turkeys... if so, some parting advice from one of our commenters:

I left months ago and am so glad I did. MSFT has a bunch of great achievers drowning amongst a gaggle of whiners who want top pay and work-life balance but don't want to work hard to achieve anything. Until you get rid of the latter, you wont' get top performance out of the former. The people who want challenges in life and to achieve something will just continue to get fed up and leave. It's sad. If you are there and frustrated there are many alternative lives you could be leading happily elsewhere. Go, it ain't that scary and you'll never regret it. Stay and you'll wake up at 45 yrs old (how many 45+ people do you see around you, eh?) sad and feeling empty. Go, leave, it's okay and you'll stop feeling so angry and abused.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Some Quick Quips - Yahoo, #86, and MSPoll

Just some quick quips:

yahoo... Sorry, I can't get up the enthusiasm to put the exclamation point into Yahoo anymore. So this past week had a number of voluntary and involuntary exits from Yahoo. Mr. Yang calls out, "White Knight? Anyone? Anyone?" and the Yahoo board gets restless.

An interesting bit comes from Joe Rosenberg in Barron's. The summary? Microsoft bid for Yahoo makes no sense. Some interesting snippets:

"It's a bad refection on Ballmer that he's willing to pay a ridiculous price for Yahoo. Microsoft is not going to earn anything like a reasonable rate of return in Yahoo," Rosenberg was quoted as saying.


Asked if it wasn't a strategic necessity for Microsoft to buy Yahoo, Rosenberg said: "I don't buy that. Yahoo would significantly dilute Microsoft's returns.

"Ballmer is a great operating man but he lacks financial acumen. He ought to be thinking more of Microsoft employees who own a lot of Microsoft stock and have nothing to show for it in many years. If the stock doesn't start doing better, Microsoft will lose good people."

Thank goodness someone is actually thinking that employees would react to the stock price, because it seems to be a foreign concept to our leadership. I can't make jokes about Golden Handcuffs anymore because most people at Microsoft don't know what the hell I'm talking about. I have not seen Microsofties so loose in their sockets since I joined years upon years ago.

Agent 86: Would you believe... that Microsoft has dropped down to #86 within the Fortune Best Places to Work survey? That's down from #50 in 2007 and #42 in 2006. Like a rock. In a bad way. And who is #1 for two years in a row? Grab that chair and give it a big effen toss in the air to Google! Toot! They get bigger and they're still #1.

(Oh, and Yahoo is attached to our hip at #87. I guess we're more alike than we knew.)

LisaB tackled the #86 issue this past week. Kinda. But I've got to wonder: if you sat down a bunch of hard-working, valued Microsofties in one room, and executive leadership in the other, and put down some simple questions like, "What would make employees value working at Microsoft even more?" I'm pretty sure the answers would have a wide gap between them.

The return of the towels was a symbolic admission to stupidity. The Bread and Circuses of various subsequent benefits doesn't align with what Microsofties need to be obviously valued and to have a great career at Microsoft that is satisfying. What would you want to see Microsoft do about addressing being a great place to work?

My #1 request has got to be to make Microsofties mobile. Intent to interview was a great first step. Now, just let people interview. If they get the job, their management learns they need to start a transition plan. Leaders might actually start managing their teams as if retention matters.

Right now, given Mid-Year Career Discussions, my #2 request is to boot all the friggin' tools and go back to the Microsoft Word form, all a part of streamlining career management at Microsoft. We're about to spend a couple of months in tool hell, have a big CSP codified discussion that may or may not align with the reality of your group, and then in three months do it all over again for the major review cycle. I seem to spend my life in calibration meetings and managing tools and asking HR-IT to fix bungled work-flow and whacked-out permissions. I need a "I'd rather be shipping features that make money" license plate holder. As do many of my team members.

My #3 is too intangible to tackle here, but it's more around gearing Microsoft to be a team-focused company culture, not the lone-rock-star-wolf. Yes, still reward the rock-star contributors, but also reward the teams that produce great results that they've committed to, and punish and don't reward dysfunctional teams that don't deliver.

Oh, and return the old ESPP and up the 401k match to be something stellar. Worried about cost? Headcount reduction works wonders.

MSPoll: Oh, and if you have ideas but don't feel like sharing them here, you can at least achieve some catharsis in writing your thoughts up in the upcoming poll. Maybe when it goes online we can find a few questions to hammer on to make a (useless?) point. I can tell you, with the Yahoo acquisition still in play and the impact that it's had to the stock and the reputation of Microsoft, I've got to say the question addressing "this company is headed in the right direction" should take a nosedive.

P.S. I'm going to mention Steven Sinofsky here (which I've avoided a lot, although I'm a great fan, because every time I think of typing something about him I hear in my mind batteries clattering down a wooden staircase and then imagine his angry, disappointed face appearing out of the shadows at the top of the stairs... scary stuff): so does this mean that Sinofsky is destined to be Mini-ized? Hmm.

P.P.S. Some executives moved around last week. One surprise departure, otherwise everything else seemed to have been whispered about for a while. Mr. Ballmer's email was interesting in that it seemed to imply that there was a whiff of accountability in the air with what was going on. Just a whiff.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Microsoft's Yahoo! Acquisition is Bold. And Dumb.

Please, Yahoo!: fight to stay independent. Or at least tear yourself apart and pop a couple of poison pills to go out on your own terms before this goes much further. Yeah, I've got your double-suck cake for you: one layer Yahoo!, one layer Microsoft.

I was on the internal Microsoftie bandwagon that Steve Ballmer was steering not too long ago that an acquisition of Yahoo! didn't make sense for Microsoft. So when the unsolicited offer went through, I was like a whole bunch of other confused senior people looking around trying to figure out what changed and why this suddenly was the right thing to do and to bet the company on.

I recognize that huge change for the future is typically greeted with 95% critical negativity. People don't like to change and huge change is an immense leadership challenge, especially when the change is the right thing to do and very few can see that perspective. So I've done my best to be open and accept that Yahoo!'s acquisition by Microsoft is a good strategic move for Microsoft, for our customer's, for Yahoo!'s customers, the shareholders, and for Internet users in general.

I haven't gotten there.

In fact, this still seems like a real dumb idea, like a staggering drunk trying to prop himself on an unwilling and lame adversary who wouldn't mind seeing the drunk facedown on the pavement. The only arguments that are half appealing are those that suppose there's going to be a $110,000,000,000USD annual online ad-market, and Microsoft + Yahoo! gets a third of that market. Hand-waving, "The acquisition pays for itself!" Yeah, okay, give me that dream and a milkshake and at least I get to enjoy the milkshake.

Some interesting posts on this:

Of course there's one big thing I haven't touched on: headcount. Let's see, why did I start this blog? Oh, yes: Microsoft has become way too huge to be effective and nimble in the creation of focused, passion-driven software. Fourteen-thousand or so demoralized people thrown on the heap does not help in the least. That's the amount we need to go down, not up. What is this, Bizarro Microsoft?

Have you brought up HeadTrax recently to see how many positions report up to the top? Give it a go. And how many people report to the various presidents. Any surprises?

Microsoft absorbing Yahoo! doesn't make sense to me given the extreme overlap in offerings that neither Microsoft nor Yahoo! have been terribly effective at. How many success stories have there been lately at Yahoo!? I like their portal. I use their search on occasion (only when Live Search and Google give me disappointing results). And their acquisition of flickr was really good for them, along with not screwing flickr up (and flickr users, you gotta know Microsoft would be pretty hands-off of flickr, other than probably putting a Live ID sign-in bar or such on there).

The only argument I've heard that makes sense from a conspiratorial Machiavellian kind of angle is that this is an opportunistic move to bust and cripple the already lame business adversary we have in Yahoo! We don't really want Yahoo!, but rather see this as an opportunity to kneecap and sideline them, pointing out their vulnerability to acquisition and angering their frustrated shareholders into revolt, all while putting them under the microscope of the analysts, pointing out their various failed and marginal ventures. And some glimmers of potential. But mostly, Yahoo! continues to come up in an unflattering light as people scratch their head as to how they'd help Microsoft at all.

If the acquisition doesn't go through, Yahoo! certainly emerges with several broken bones and bruises. Rebuilding from that will be a struggle that will require drastic and draconian decision making.

And the MSN, search, and ads folk at Microsoft certainly shouldn't be too proud right now, because you guys are under as much scrutiny as Yahoo!. Why are we proposing blowing $22,000,000,000USD in cash and going into debt? Because Yahoo! has something done right - relative to us, according to our leadership - that you haven't been able to do. Is there a Microsoft online-services leadership shake-up coming? One can hope. The fact that we've initiated this acquisition, for whatever reason, means that the people in charge haven't been able to deliver and are not on a path to deliver. Accountability?

I do want to see the strategic importance in this huge, complicated take-over. I do want to believe. If this all about ads and the acquisition goes forward I need the influentials in Microsoft leadership to connect with me and convince me to believe that this is indeed the next important foundation for Microsoft. To tell you the truth, if you had pulled me aside when I was in school, holding court in the computer science lab, and whispered in my ear ala The Graduate: "online ads..." I would have laughed my geek butt off.

So Google gets to have the joke on me, but for us to bet the company and build Microsoft's future foundation on ads revenue? WTF? As someone who considers themselves a citizen, not a consumer, I want to create software experiences that make people's lives delightful and better, not that sells them crap they don't need while putting them deeper into debt. I'm going to be in purgatory long enough as is.

Yes, okay, we should have a team do an advertising platform and do it well, but the money chest can be better invested across the company, let alone avoiding going into debt and putting us on another spiral of doubt and angst in the stock market, all while dealing with anti-trust maneuvering in Europe.

The attempt to acquire Yahoo! is a bold move. But bold and dumb are not exclusive. Q.E.D.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Microsoft and Yahoo! -- Stay on Target?

We Microsofties and Yahoos just entered some interesting times. Thank goodness we can take a break from talking about Win7 M1 leaks for a while. And thanks for the quality of comments in the previous post.

(Update: Google just posted about Yahoo! and Microsoft: Yahoo! and the future of the Internet - things are going to get real interesting.)

Here's a check-in on what TechMeme looked like at the end of the day on Friday the first. I'm not even going to begin to try to point to interesting articles: there is an abundance. Most cluster around "two wrongs don't make a right." Some are extreme in how bad an idea this is, and others are extreme in how good an idea this is. I like those that bring up the spirit of competition, saying that the combined entity would give a serious option to Google (which would help with prices) and that it would keep Google sharp and competitive (good for Google fans).

I've spent time checking in with various people I know to hear their opinion about the hosti- er - unsolicited offer and how it might impact them.

(I found out if you really want to piss some people off, send them an email with snarky Yahoo! questions. They've gone through disclosure and, man, they don't want to do that again. And I guess neither do I. So, no more electronic Y! trail there. Word to the wise.)

Reactions from most Microsofties: talk to me in a year.

No one anticipates anything happening by the end of this year, between the additional financial courting that might happen between Yahoo! and other suitors and then the subsequent complicated international regulatory phase. During a US election year, to boot. Here Nellie was getting bored and trawling through Office protocols. Consider this an early Valentine, Ms. Kroes. Mmmm-wha!

There's no way this is happening fast. Microsofties in groups most affected by a Yahoo! acquisition are plowing ahead, course unchanged, for the foreseeable future. No thoughts around brand or collaboration or nada. "Stay on target." Uh-huh.

Most engineers, as expected of engineers, see all the problems and that it's going to be a staggering mess, let alone that there are things that Yahoo! does way better than us and that our stuff should be dropped. Strategic optimists and those looking for a promotion will rebrand it as a synergistic opportunity to align our technological assets into a virtuous, hyper-competitive cycle to benefit our users, partners, and shareholders.

Get ready to find out what someone trying to make Partner or VP at Microsoft is all about, dear Yahoos. Be sure to ask about SPSA goals for a successful integration of Yahoo! and Microsoft assets.

At the basics, though, our imperial Lego blocks and their metric Lego blocks use very differently sized connectors.

I'm more concerned about the Yahoo! workforce. The talented remaining in the Yahoo! workforce, specifically. What a sucky week of events for them. Two weeks, really. Layoff rumors, bad financial results, layoff for real, and then a big corporation darkening their door, sans chocolates, saying that we're done with the sweet-nuthins-talk and it's time for my way or the highway. Well, actually, saying that it's time for my way or my way. What's a Yahoo to do? Wait it out, keeping things purring along? Start learning Windows Server, IIS, .NET, and Silverlight? Jump ship for a start-up, right in the middle of a looming recession? Damn.

Like I've said here over and over again, talent is talent and if you're good you can decide what you want to do and where you want to be. You're not locked into Yahoo! anymore than any Microsoftie is locked into Microsoft. It's a choice. And to feel good about your choice, you need to know and explore all of your options. There are no victims here. And the risk of that is that when the acquisition goes through, those left are those who either can't or won't find a position elsewhere. How much passion will remain? How do you keep the engagement going?

If we can help Yahoos explore Microsoft and it's culture, I'm happy to help. Realize this isn't the sunshine and teddy bear ice-cream parade site, though. I know little about Yahoo! culture so I don't know how different it is from Microsoft, although comments from former Microsofties tell me that its engineering groups aren't too different (which might be good and bad).

The Microsoft leadership also has to realize that the "Stay on Target" strategy isn't going to work for groups that heavily overlap with Yahoo! or would be replaced by Yahoo! implementations. On the surface, the coming year or two for a lot of online groups is looking like nothing more than a lot of angst, crap, and loss of momentum and brand. Why not dive into http://career/ and find something more rewarding? What's the reward for staying on target? It certainly looks like a bold opportunity to break through, but it has to be recognized as such and driven as such. Otherwise, it becomes the elephant in the All-Hands that starts chasing people out of the group, looking for a vision and hearing none.

And then: Ballmer. This will certainly serve as a transition out of the Gates era. Is Ballmer an Ahab figure, chasing the white whale of Google once and for all by roping two whaling ships together? If I write a book on my years at Microsoft one day, will it start out as "Call me Mini," as I reflect on the Microsoft flotsam and jetsam swirling around the world? I hope not. This will serve to define Ballmer, however. All online decisions and strategies have led to this point. And the scale of leadership required to pull success out of this bold move is, to tell you the truth, beyond any accomplishments I've seen so far. I have hope, but not much to back it up.

Oh, and this pretty much puts on the kibosh on any other big acquisitions for a while. So no need to speculate about Microsoft buying Adobe or anything like that. For now. One less thread for the rumor mill.

(Update: s/Yahooligans/Yahoos/g per comment. Added TechMeme link to Google's shot across the bow.)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Microsoft + Yahoo! = Microsoft - $44,600,000,000 ?


My first reaction: "That's a lot to pay for flickr."

I'm surprised yet not surprised. Internally, a number of us had heard reasons from Steve Ballmer why a Yahoo! acquisition didn't make sense. One that sticks in my mind right now is how if we acquired Yahoo! - such a big company - we'd have to naturally have layoffs within Microsoft to accommodate it.

Maybe there are HR people wandering around Microsoft this morning asking, "What color slip did you say? Pink?"

Man, if I was in the Online Services Division I would be worried. Especially if Yahoo! did something my team did and did it well.

I guess you can track down the 10:00am meeting and see if you can get your question answered.

Forty-four point six billion US dollars. In long hand: $44,600,000,000 USD.

So, if your team is naturally at risk due to the acquisition I would start checking in on your local network and see what's going on elsewhere in Microsoft. If there's someone within Microsoft you've always wanted on your team that has some turbulence ahead due to the acquisition (yeah, I know, Ballmer's telling us "stay on target") check in with them and tell them the groovy things your group is doing.

If the buy goes through, it will be one huge turning point for Microsoft: I think we'll either turn it around brilliantly and our mega-investment will be worth it, or we'll be torn asunder and revert back to our core cash cows. It will be a story worth telling, one way or the other. In the meantime, that big huge money-chest is going to go empty, and that might bring a new sense of clarity to our operations.

Initial posts:

(more later.)