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?

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