Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Microsoft Layoffs, Hiring, and Offshoring

There have been a lot of interesting comments posted over the past week
or two. Additionally, my RSS searches have picked up a few interesting posts
out there:

There's a bit of perspective in "href="http://romsteady.blogspot.com/2004/09/microsoft-layoffs-and-location.h
tml">Microsoft, Layoffs, and Location" regarding what seems to be a
layoff game at Microsoft that favors the Redmond groups that are cut. I
don't want any favoring, cost-saving or no. I just want the cuts. (There
have been even more mambsy-pamsby cuts this past week I learned about over
lunch. After they are announced I'll rant some more about more ill-conceived
money saving.)

This part represents some of the poor thinking
going on as we are being penny-wise:

If Microsoft won't
spend $20 to restock the office supply room with pencils, what makes you
think that Microsoft will spend $600 to fly an employee up to Redmond to
interview them? The only way that you're going to get moved is if you are
extremely better than the people competing in Redmond AND better than any
potential recruits from outside. I've actually been in interview loops where
someone was selected...not because they were the best, but because they
would have to spend a massive amount of money to relocate the best.

Because it's so easy to hire Microsoft-quality
developers, right?

The Scoble post "href="http://radio.weblogs.com/0001011/2004/09/23.html#a8291">Zef says
Microsoft can't hire great programmers" (href="http://www.zefhemel.com/archives/2004/09/22/hiring-great-programmers">
Zef's link) brings up one truth I've seen since the internet bubble:
Microsoft has a really hard time hiring quality people. We go hunting for
them in the wilds of East Europe. Why don't people want to come to work for

My take: because we're big, boring, and too entangled in
each other's business. We are now IBM. We spackle in process to make up for
the gaps in intellectual progress. Perhaps I have a snazzy new web app idea.
There's no way I could incubate that into something that would ever see the
light of phosphor as a Microsoft-brand. I'd have to hook Passport up to it,
and then glom some sort of MSN story on-top of it. No, we might say how we
need to be quick and agile and deft, but then we end up spending 1000% of
our time trying to justify it.

So, if you can't hire Microsoft
developers for Redmond, send the work to India, right? See "href="http://reindeer.radioleft.com/blog/_archives/2004/7/29/114258.html">Mi
crosoft's India workforce doubles, Americans lose 2,000 jobs." I
know about code being moved to India. Can't talk about because I'm sure it
would get me in big trouble. Basically, existing applications and code are
being moved to India for maintenance and improvement. And yes, those Redmond
groups are then looking for new positions. Fine by me, though India is not
infinite in the capacity they can take. But there is an active
de-Redmond-ization of Microsoft in progress. The global Company Meeting was
part of that mind-shift.

Finally, in href="http://dotnetjunkies.com/WebLog/paul/archive/2004/09/20/26169.aspx">Ho
w would you run Microsoft?
we get the suggestion:

would fire 90% of Microsoft's Marketing staff because they really have no
understanding of Marketing or Technology. Marketing is all about creating
NEW products that will sell, so if you want to do Marketing for Microsoft
you should be knowledgeable about software development. The Patterns and
Practice Group and the Developer Evangelists are the best thing Microsoft
has done to "turn the company around", Marketing should also go through this
regenerative process.


followed up by:

With all the savings from firing the
Marketing crowd I would hire 10,000 Developers and get to work on Win-FS
because it's needed and I love a challenge.

I would establish a
second Microsoft Campus in North West New Jersey, the first Technology State
because it's at the center of the North East corridor: MA to VA. Microsoft
needs a presence in the North East, their small little satellite offices
just haven't had an impact.

Hire 10,000? Who? Where?
Jersey? What are we, IBM?

Friday, September 17, 2004

Random Mid-September Comments

Randomness for this post - touching base on some comments coming in
during the past week.

The Company Meeting 2004 happened Tuesday. Did
you get your ticket and then physically go? Seems as though as of last
Friday tickets were still available, which was a bit of a surprise to me.
All my Tuesday morning meetings were still scheduled, though, so it ending
up being a non-event compared to years past. I did manage to stumble across
a feast of Krispy Kream Donuts, though, between meetings (and I noticed
that people were pretty much ignoring the donuts while Bill talked about

I've yet to actually sit down and watch the Company
Meeting on-demand.  I'm just too busy.  Comments I've heard so far
boil down to: good questions, blah-blah-blah platitude-riffic

The following comment leaning towards slow layoffs has an
interesting link in it:

I guessed MS is doing it slowly.
You can already see it at href="http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/venture/layoff.asp">style="background-color:
#FFFF00">http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/venture/layoff.asp. You
can see MS in the list from time to time. I think this is a good approach,
not to freak out everyone.

I would go through and add it
up, but by that time we'd go and announce we're hiring 3000 researchers and
blow any menial sum I had away. As for the pay raises (or lack there-of for
a good percent of the company this year):

As for raises,
you need to look at the industry. Our pay is based on industry averages and
not profit, and Microsoft endeavors to be around the 2/3's mark (much better
than the old 1/2 mark).

We suck less than we used to
when the stock options were worth lots. Now we have the stock awards, but I
mean, really, everyone I talked to pretty much ignored the line that had
their stock award number this year. If we only had a process to excel

Process is killing Microsoft. Don't get me wrong -
the old days were a bit to loose and wild out here in the field, but things
have swung so far the other way it is ridiculous. There is no room for
individual ingenuity ... "Never tell people how to do things. Tell the
what to do and let them surprise you with their ingenuity." General
George S. Patton, Jr. The new Microsoft is all about telling you how to do
things in excrutiating step-by-step detail... Microsoft will look in the
mirror someday very soon and see a circa 1980s IBM staring them in the

Ya, dang.

Keep wishing for the
golden past, it is gone never to return. Once a startup or small business
becomes successful every old hand wishes for the old days when they knew
everyone by name and people were in it for the passion not just the money. I
find it amusing that you think that if we just layoff enough people to get
back to that 'golden size' everything will work out. PS: I'm also bemused by
the fact that 3 Microsoft devs linked to my post and they all focused on the
most inconsequential aspect of it; the office supplies cuts. --

Damned if I'm crossing swords with Dare (given that
he's way smarter than me and I think that he embodies one of the ideal
Microsoftie Archetypes). But, let me clarify here. I'm not looking to
wind-back the clock. I realize that we have hard realities going forward now
that truly change our day-to-day development decisions and we'll never savor
the golden past's development process:

  • Security: you can't
    go and decide "Hey, why don't we take a DCR to
    make this utility class a dual interface and expose it in our OM? We could
    do some cool stuff then!"
    Unfortunately cool gets respelled kewl
    (or, what, k3wl ?) and the 2AM phone-calls unleash the patches. Features
    just plain don't get done now if we can't ensure they are
  • Privacy: no web-bugs, no identifying information,
    nothing that might lead to embarrassing situations or trackings. Even GUIDs
    are considered evil. Again, features just plain don't get done if we can't
    ensure the user's privacy.
  • Dominance: we're not chasing
    the tail-lights
    of our competition anymore. We excelled at ruthless
    catch-up. Now that we've won and we're #1 we do... what? IE achieves
    dominance and what happens? That group runs screaming away from the source
    code to Avalon. And, oh, that's ended up so well. We have too many people
    and that leads to dithering.

Dare's href="http://www.25hoursaday.com/weblog/PermaLink.aspx?guid=b474f445-5f87-44
43-8db4-dc2cb8f5241c">post is optimistic and kind: rather than have
layoffs and punish the day-to-day contributor for the wildly misspent
foibles of upper management, we should instead endeavor to not blow money in
foolish endeavors. Here's what I think, though: we have so many people that
we go and empower bad decision making, masking it as some kind of Darwinian
business experiment combined with a million monkeys typing, all trying to
produce the next one-billion dollar killer app. Perspiration vs. innovation.
We've reached some kind of breaking point where perspiration has taken
precedence over deep thinking and innovative thought.

I want to see accountability. What's the fall-out of the latest Longhorn
screw-up to ship and now have to cut and throw-away code that people have
been working on for well over a year? What's that figure? This is, hmm, the
third big reset or delay related to Longhorn? And these folks are still in
charge? We could truly stand to have some major personnel cuts starting here
(and I would say, "Send them to
but Google's too smart to have them... dang).

bit of a good long comment:

...the high order bit at
Microsoft is your level--hands down. Two particular employees in my org are
both individual contributors doing effectively the same job...Based on
corporate mandate, manager roles (usually "leads") are expected to
begin no earlier than 63. As a result, a typical employee should expect to
put in around 15 years before becoming a lead...The other useful piece of
advice is to get a great manager. Unless you plan to leave the company soon,
having a great manager will get you farther than having a great role or a
great product.

I will say this, staying in line with my
original goals: if you're young, unattached, and flexible: get the hell out
of Microsoft. It's doubtful that any of your original options / awards are
worth anything and if you aren't a high level, you are not getting much in
the way of bonus or stock awards for sometime to come. The timeline to
promotion has really slowed down.

Now, if you're a dev and hired
around level 59 you should be promoted within the first year or, at worst,
two. And then maybe a year or two to get to level 61. After that things
really slow down and you do need to be achieving great results to get to 62
or 63. Then things really, really slow down and you start entering the
super-achiever zone. I don't quite agree you have to be with the company 15
years to make a lead. I've seen people shoot-up and within a few years of
being hired they are a lead. Most of them wanted that for power and
then realized that dev lead (or just about any first-line manager position)
is a hell of a lot of hard work for the same pay.

You can make a lot
more money and achievement now by joining a small company and kicking butt

Another comment:

...You are stacked ranked
way before you write your reviews. IT IS a popularity contest. One of the
main reasons I left the company was due to a deceitful management chain
managing me out of the company... they methodically and systematically tore
a very productive, a very talented team apart because that team insisted on
telling the truth, doing the right thing which included the best interest of
the company in mind. Now after all that 4 people were driven out from the
company (years as FTE ranged from 7 to 12 yrs), and 6 people were re-orged
or traded into situations not beneficial to their own careers and

I benefit from being on a highly open and
honest team that demonstrates unbelievable integrity. But I have heard
stories from other parts of Microsoft that show some folks, decency-wise,
would be right at home at Enron. This dove-tails well with an older comment
about the cut-throat dot-commers brought in during the internet boom that
will wage any sort of slimy duplicity to stay ahead. These are our corporate
blackberry bushes and no matter of process or Company Values will weed them
out. They simply have to be 2.5'd and moved on.

Lastly: I learned last
week a developer I only knew from email was yet another recent Google
acquisition.  And their first mistake that I know of.  The
competitor in me says, "Good! They're in for
trouble now!"
Or it's a brilliant plant on Microsoft's part.
But, in the end, it's one less brilliant developer working for Microsoft and
carrying the weight of a bunch of dead wood.

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Your Review, Your Numbers, Your Choices

How do you feel about your review this year? I dropped in Friday just so
that I could get my review and The Numbers.

So you get the review you
initially filled out with your assessment.  Now you have your boss'
comments and the you-said / he-said rating. And the rest is hand-waving
about the future and general confusion about just how you can be committed
to something while all the future of your group is going to hell in a
hand-basket as you reorganize and try to figure out what to ship and when
you'll be able to ship it. 

My commitments from June are now
ponderous reflections upon an optimistic era.

And then you get the
sheet with The Numbers.  Your level, responsibility, department,
rating, current pay, future pay, any bonus, and any stock awards. 
"Wow, that's small." I let slip out,
wondering if this damn blog had finally had a real-world impact on me and my

"No, that's pretty much
inline with average,"
my boss said, and reviewed how we're
inline with comparable tech companies and that 2% raises are about the
max-average (?) this year, along with some % bonus I forget (10%?). 
Later I got home and unloaded my gear and went through old review
numbers.  Even in my worst year when I was totally ignorant about the
review process I did way better than this year.

I guess we had a href="http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/789019/000119312504150689/d10k.
htm">lean financial year.


Playing some XBox
later, the compensation subject came up and that the days of new Microsoft
millionaires are over. True, folks are a bit reactive right now. But now is
an inflection point: The Numbers average below href="http://inflationdata.com/inflation/inflation_rate/CurrentInflation.asp
">cost-of-living increases, our future is in flux and not inspiring,
we're busy trying to save money by href="http://radio.weblogs.com/0001011/2004/07/08.html">cutting towels
and href="http://www.25hoursaday.com/weblog/PermaLink.aspx?guid=b474f445-5f87-44
43-8db4-dc2cb8f5241c">moving office supplies, and in the meantime we are
expected to excel at individual href="http://www.winnetmag.com/Windows/Article/ArticleID/43191/Windows_43191
.html">Process Excellence.  Beneath all of this, the passion is in
there somewhere, it just takes increasingly hard yolk-pulling work to let it

We're just too big to deftly manage our future and let the
individual contributor flourish.

But at a personal level, what does
that mean for you? Choices.

First of all: you're going to buckle
down doing what you're doing, forfeit what-could-have-been elsewhere, put in
200% effort, and work through it all and endeavor to change the system and
weather the storm. That path ahead is hard, no doubt about it, and full of
plenty dark-nights of the soul. Don't kid yourself. We can't maintain the
business as usual (I hope that the yawns to our pre-Longhorn-reset dog
and pony show during the recent financial-analysts meetings were heard all
the way to the top)
. Destructive changes, whether from-within or foisted
upon us, will happen. Ya!

Okay, you could decide to change groups
internally. Now's a great time for many reasons. Get that resume together
and updated and do some informationals. Perhaps there is a group that's a
perfect fit for you in which you can have a greater day-to-day impact making
fantastic software (or selling it, or marketing it, or (bless your
heart) supporting it). The thrill of that perfect match should keep
most anyone going.

Lastly, it's also a fantastic time to look for
other job opportunities in the area (or in an area of the world you've
always wanted to live)
.  Why not? It never hurts to ask just to
discover how desired you
are. Perhaps you're savvy and you realize that the ax is being sharpened in
the executive meeting rooms and groups are going to have to be cut left and
right One Day Soon. Get that September 15th bonus deposited and start
drafting that "Moving On" email. Just try writing your goodbye now
for the thrill of imagining what it would be like to start a grand new
adventure in a fast-moving environment.

The golden handcuffs were
removed from your wrists long, long ago. You own your career. It's choice

Monday, September 6, 2004

Satan's Process Excellence

While OOF, I got to visit one of those smart people who not only are
scary-smart development-wise but also scary-smart bail-out now with all
these options while they are worth something... ah, the life of the retired
and smart. Anyway, I got a load of reading hand-me-downs including an issue
of The Baffler (#16).

One of
the articles, Same as the Old Boss, is focused around personal
reflections of the halcyon days of the Internet Boom, relating it to a
passing summary of a book, href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0465071449/102-3259770-1
577757?v=glance">No-Collar, which includes some focus on href="http://www.razorfish.com/">www.razorfish.com. Anyway, the author,
Steve Featherstone, talks about the staffing entropy of one of his jobs,
including the appearance of a ruthless, savvy boss he names Satan
(italics mine):

The last thing Satan wanted was to
reveal her absolute ignorance. Drawing from her bag of consultant's tricks,
she hid behind a new set of "performance metrics" designed to put
her smack in the middle of the department's self-managed workflow. 
These "reforms" were supposed to make the freewheeling marketing
staff "accountable" to corporate goals, but they were really
Satan's way to meddle in various projects whenever she needed to deflect
upper management's attention from her blood feasting. She took no
responsibility for the "deliverables" to which she made us pledge
our souls. Work ground to a halt. We spent so much time filling out
forms, creating reports, and attending meetings to explain what we were
doing and to learn how we should be filling out forms and formatting our
reports, that it took twice as much effort to accomplish

Interesting stuff for me, reflecting on
increasing process over the years at Microsoft where I don't see the benefit
for all the extra work I have to put in focusing on stuff on the edge. What
lack of understanding comes from management above that they aren't smart
enough and knowledgeable enough to get by without all this increasing,
burdensome, rolled-up process? Cut the process, cut those demanding (or
process, and increase performance and results.

Friday, September 3, 2004

Employee Growth Chart

Just a quickie: Todd Bishop at the Seattle-PI put together an informative
post, href="http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/microsoft/archives/003373.html?wbfr
om=rss">Deciphering Job Numbers, which graphs out Microsoft's increasing
employment numbers according to broad discipline.

Wow, what do you

Personally, I really don't know why "Sales, Marketing, and
Support" needs to track "Product Research and
Development."  Again, taking up the performance analogy, I'd start
massive trimming there. 

Both of those curves need to start a
downwards trend and need to be the focus of layoffs.  I'd also be
really interested if we have awful products that require a greater amount of
support / effort to sell and market, especially considering what's the
comparable investment of that effort given the products' profits (or lack
there-of).  If the ROI just isn't there for those guys then that's key
data to push forward into deciding which groups to cut back in: if you're
creating a messy-complex product that requires us to hire scads of people to
sell, market, and support it, perhaps we need to get the hell out of here
and cancel what we're doing.

You gotta read the 10-K

Required reading (next in my reading queue): href="http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/789019/000119312504150689/d10k.
htm">recent Microsoft  Form 10-K filing. Right-click and

So you can read financial analysts and pundits and the
occasional elegant and (ahem) inelegant blogger about Microsoft's
business and future, but the best absolute person to listen to is yourself,
reading through the detailed statement.

How do you feel about where
we are currently?

How do you feel about what we're investing in?

I'll read it and make some comments later. But everyone with an
interest in Microsoft's success has to read and absorb a filing like this in
order to judge and filter the internal and external rhetoric you get every

Dangerous Transitions

Good OOF and back in town catching up on the news: good grief! Big
changes that a lot of us saw inevitable for Longhorn. Furthermore, an
interesting movement to detangle future client development from previous
blind adherence to all things CLR / .NET.

Anyway, Technorati'ing came
up with href="http://www.articulatebabble.org/archives/2004/09/02T085804.php">Danger
ous Thoughts on href="http://www.articulatebabble.org/">articulate.babble.  Super
well written.  An interesting snippet:

should do some big layoffs right away rather than small benefit cuts here
and there.

The reason is about the quality of people who will stay in
the former situation versus the latter. When a company like Microsoft starts
signalling its intention to scale back employee benefits, it is a green
light for its good and great employees to go seek out the new hotness.

Right after I read that, I saw via Dare's href="http://www.25hoursaday.com/weblog/PermaLink.aspx?guid=5192cf7a-fe03-47
b7-953f-72d61abace97">Transitions post that Joe Beda is leaving
Microsoft for Google.  So totally inline with Dangerous
. Joe's post explaining this is appropriately named href="http://www.eightypercent.net/Archive/2004/09/02.html#a210">Microsoft--
; Google++. But realize the real fun is in the comments in most of these
posts - In Joe's
you have the discussion back to Dangerous Thoughts and its strong
direct relevance to what's happening REAL TIME.  Joe posts in Dare's
Transitions href="http://www.25hoursaday.com/weblog/CommentView.aspx?guid=5192cf7a-fe03-
47b7-953f-72d61abace97">comments and Dare makes some insightful comments
about the folks primed and ready for attrition.

Attrition. There's
Good Attrition. This was "Bad Attrition." I'm holding to my guns
and saying right now I'll take any attrition that leads to a smaller
company.  A lot of Bad Attrition variety eventually leads to "We
had to destroy the village to save it" results for what remains of
Microsoft.  When enough A quality people leave you start starving those
left behind without strong technical leadership and innovation. Then when
products and features are cancelled and folks bring up the internal career
site they discover that the lack of innovation has resulted in: dang,
there's no where to go.  Oh crap, there's no where to go!  Hey,
what's this pink-slip thingie?

This is reaching a smaller company
through a regressive set of results similar to, oh, frost-bite
amputation.  Much damn better right here and now to say: we have some
of the absolute smartest, passionate, talented software people in the
world.  We value them. We value them more than Google or any other
damn company.
  This can be an excellent environment for them to
excel in, with changes.  Scale back in mediocre intentions and product
and, most importantly, staff.  Get into 2005 with 10% less
people.  To those in this small Microsoft: tell them, color="#000080">"You are the best.  We're getting out of your way
and letting you rip.  Go make fantastic products that will innovate and
make us all tons of cash."