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.'

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