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Fascinating look inside Microsoft

July 9, 2010 0 Comments

The KIN debacle (product canceled after five weeks; reports of actual phones sold range from 8,000 all the way down to 500), followed by Microsoft’s announcement of layoffs, has triggered on-line discussion among Microsoft employees, past and present. Even recognizing the self-selecting and inevitably self-serving nature of those comments, they still reflect serious, serious problems with Microsoft. Most telling is this comment from an ex-Microsoft employee now working at Google:

I’ve joined Google fairly recently after spending nearly a decade at MSFT, and I’m having to unlearn a ton of things I’ve learned at MSFT.

First, I had to unlearn that my opinion doesn’t mean shit. Engineers do, in fact, run Google, and I’m an engineer. A LOT depends on engineers here. Barely anything depends on the management or PMs. The comfortable, asphyxating bureaucracy of Microsoft simply does not exist. It is up to you to define the direction, and execute on it. If you’re good, you will also get other people to execute on it, by means of which you will establish yourself as a leader.

Second, I had to unlearn that my teammates are plotting something behind my back. As far as I can tell a few months in, they aren’t. Or they’re so skilled at it that I don’t see the plot (which after 10 years at MSFT is unlikely). They’re just building a product.

Third, there’s no “jihad” against anyone. Not even Microsoft. People are discouraged from thinking in those terms. No one is trying to “kill the fucking Microsoft”. No one is throwing chairs or calling Ballmer a pussy. People just build their products and services the best they can.

Fourth, there are very few people who can say “no” without motivating their answer with data. The first answer you will hear from anyone (including Legal!) is “yes”. It’s not blind acceptance or anarchy either, it is expected that you will motivate your changes, with data, if necessary. Want to change the way Google runs ads? If your change makes sense and you can demonstrate it, it will be accepted. Search? The same. This one is particularly hard to unlearn – after burying so many great (or at least I thought they were great) ideas because they weren’t _politically_ feasible, sometimes within the same extended team.

And so on and so forth. I wasn’t a bad performer at MS by any means (left the company 5 levels up from where I joined), and as a matter of fact I admire bits and pieces of Microsoft to this day, but Google made me realize just how miserable I was there. I don’t yet feel Google is the ideal place for me either, but one thing is clear – it’s much easier to breathe here, if you know what I mean.

When I wrote The Art of ‘Ware back in 1994, I came away from it with a greater appreciation of why Microsoft had achieved the success that it had. It appears that Microsoft has lost its way. ..bruce..

About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at

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