A Microsoft position got retired this week: Chief Software Architect.
That used to be - quite unofficially - Mr. Bill Gates by the sheer nature of his intellect. And it led to many entertaining and terrifying BillG Reviews. A good friend of mine at the time, an architect for his team before we got all hung up about titles like that, bragged: "I've never been to a BillG review and I intend to retire without going through one." He did.
But I think he missed out. As have, unfortunately, many intellectually shallow PowerPoint B.S artists who rose up the ranks in the meantime.
When I was a teenager, one book I loved to contemplate over was a series of quotes by Robert Heinlein's character Lazarus Long. One goes like (courtesy the internet vs. hard-copy because the book is lost behind a stack of neglected Col Solare): "[...] Roman matrons used to say to their sons: 'Come back with your shield, or on it.' Later on, this custom declined. So did Rome."
The rigor of a focused, intellectually deep and sturdy software development declined with BillG's departure. No more technical assistants. No gauntlet of the BillG review. On his way out of the company, Bill anointed Ray to serve as Chief Software Architect. I don't think that was Ray's idea. In fact, I can only imagine him tilting his head and saying, "Wha-?" He didn't take a broad view of Microsoft at all, but rather focused on growing the Groove momentum into other areas for the future.
As part of any enduring legacy, it will be interesting to see what happens to Mr. Ozzie's groups over time, Windows Azure especially. And I can only hope to the Good Lord above that the "I'm all in" cloud claptrap takes a retirement, too. We get it. We have The Cloud as a platform. In my mind, it makes as much sense as saying "Compilers! We're all in!" or "Layered Windows! We're all in!"
I feel with Ray Ozzie's departure that Steve Ballmer has finally asserted his complete control over the company. We've had some house cleaning this year, ranging from Mr. Ozzie to Mr. Bach & Mr. Allard to Technical Fellows to continued targeted layoffs. Perhaps this is due to the big, contemplative review Mr. Ballmer had with the Microsoft Board this year. Mr. Ballmer has hit the reset button. Do we have a Hail Mary pass, or is this Ballmer 2.0?
We'll see how that goes. In the meantime, here's hoping that the technical Presidents reporting to Mr. Ballmer can take up the custom of intellectual rigor. Because that is one custom we can't let decline anymore.