Scobleizer Weblog

Daily Permalink Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Marc Beaupre, in my comments, asks me "what's the difference between NEC and Microsoft's management styles?"

My answer: what ISN'T different?

Let's see, at Microsoft, there's hundreds of mailing lists for employees to discuss nearly everything from security, to nice restaurants. At NEC? None.

At Microsoft, every employee gets a free Website to publish whatever he wants to everyone else at Microsoft. At NEC? None.

At Microsoft I have already -- in my first two months -- witnessed employees who came up with an idea for a product, designed a prototype and a PowerPoint deck, and pitched it to execs and got it approved. I never witnessed anything similar to that at NEC.

At Microsoft, there is tons of cross-group conversation. I already was welcomed to come over to the game lab with my son. That never happened at NEC.

At Microsoft, we get the latest technology. At NEC I never even got one of our own Tablets that I was helping to sell.

I can think of a ton of other different areas that are different as well. I'm so much happier here at Microsoft I can't even tell you. For a large company, Microsoft really is a unique one. Certainly not perfect, but name another company with more than 50,000 employees that lets its employees weblog in the fashion that I am right now.

My college friend Nick sure has picked up the weblogging thing quickly. Nice job Nick! Lots of good sports talk.

I was at the "Trustworthy Computer Fest" on campus today. It was an employee-only affair, so can't go into the content too much, but about 50 different groups from around the world came to show off how Microsoft's technology/products/services will be more trustworthy in the future (and to help employees build software that the world trusts). Stuff like stricter privacy contracts. Better security (I met with some white-hat hackers who showed me how to get into a corporate firewall, for instance, and how to defend against that). Stuff you'll see in Longhorn. Biometric security. Met a guy who showed me some awesome face-detection software.

But, the real story is what happened when Bill Gates walked in the room.

Someone next to me whispered to a friend "did ya see Bill come in?"

"Bill who?" the friend answered.

"You know, BIIILLLLL," the first guy answered.

"Oh, THAT Bill?"

"Yeah, dummy, he's over there!"

Anyway, "that Bill" visited a table where they were discussing security in Japan. Then he, and Scott Charney (I think that was him, anyway) and another employee I didn't recognize, walked over to the Shared Source stand, which is where I was hanging out.

I don't feel comfortable telling the details of what was discussed (Gates didn't know a weblogger was within earshot), but at one point Gates asked something like "how can we do better for our customers?"

It's the same thing last week when I listened to Steve Ballmer talk to the company. "We need millions and millions of happy customers." Steve even went back and emphasized the "happy" part.

Oh, and, Dan Shafer, you just got a image of why Microsoft only has 4% employee turnover (among the lowest in the industry). Gates didn't come into the hall and start pushing his way around. He asked questions. He took the customer's point of view. When the team said "hey, we could do better there" he said "great job guys, thanks."

Think that team is now empowered to go back and do even a better job? Damn straight. The message is getting around. The execs are focusing on customers and their needs again.

Marc Canter: "[Scoble] is between a rock and a hard place."

I totally disagree that Microsoft hates developers. If you go back and look at Microsoft's history, how did it get to where it is today? Because of developers and the apps they have created to use our platforms.

If anything, Microsoft is going back to its roots and becoming a responsible platform company again. Encouraging companies to build things on its platforms again.

Yeah, to some people that looks like "sharecropping." Heh, even I joke about putting you all in a trunk too. But, let's look at the trunk, shall we? We're investing billions of dollars in that trunk. So, now it has a felt lining. We are gonna deliver, over the next three years, more developer-focused technology and programs than we've delivered in the past 10 years.

Without developers, Longhorn is completely and utterly worthless.

If developers don't wanna build great things for Longhorn and take advantage of the new stuff we're gonna offer, I might as well go home crying to mommy, cause I'll be laid off by 2006.

Am I between a rock and a hard place? I don't see it that way. My job is challenging, yes. I am looking at the comments from Microsoft customers asking for us to do a better job (Microsoft employees, please read). These are tough things to get done. But, if my job wasn't challenging, then anyone could do it, right? What value would I be able to add?

Jeff Julian got laid off today. That sucks. I've been there. My wife's been there. It's a pain. Nothing is worse than being forced to say goodbye on the company's terms, rather than on yours. At UserLand I laid myself off (I was the guy keeping the books)! How about that. Then I worked for free for a month cause I loved the company so much. Man, the idiot who laid me off sure was a jerk about it, though -- he made me work a month for free! At least I knew ahead of time that I was gonna lay myself off, though.

Ciam Sawyer: "Scoble is a damned funny guy."

Yeah, my wife tells me I've lost my sense of humor online too. Hmmm. I think it's the KoolAid.

Shirley Kaiser: "If Robert [Scoble] truly understood [Web standards] I suspect hed have a different opinion."

Shirley, I've been building Web sites since 1994. I understand deeply why web designers want standards across all browser manufacturers. Believe me, I understand that -- it's cheaper to build one Web site that works the same everywhere.

But, I was saying that I can't justify pitching that to Bill Gates. What can I say to the executive team here to get them to devote another, say, $50 million, to building a standards-based browser that we'll give away for free? That's the challenge from the "ant's" point of view.

It's harder than that, though. If normal everyday employees like me don't see the business value in it, imagine what it's like in the executive offices here.

Translation: if I were Bill Gates, I wouldn't invest more in the browser. The market is telling me that it's willing to pay for things like Acrobat and Flash, but not for more "standards-based" HTML stuff. Am I hearing the market wrong?

Educate me. If you sell me on it, you're 1/55,000th of the way there. :-) (well, actually, if you sell me, you'll sell the 32 Microsoft employees and executives who hang out here as well).

Mike Gunderloy: "My own feeling is that these conferences are on the way out. Before the pervasive Internet, something like Tech Ed or PDC made sense as a way to get a ton of info I couldn't get elsewhere. Now by the second day I can download everything, so why bother? They're just corporate vacations. Fine for the Fortune 1000, but irrelevant to most of us."

My answer: I agree with Mike. If that's all you're expecting to get from the PDC, stay home.

The value in the PDC isn't in the pretty screen shots you'll see of Longhorn. I'll guarantee you those will be on the Web too. I know, I'll be the one posting a lot of them. :-)

But, let's look at the real value. Let's say I'm a corporate developer, and my boss is about to spend a million (or more) on developing .NET apps. How do I get my questions answered? Am I gonna see if my architecture is really the right way by reading a weblog? Give me a break! (Well, Chris Brumme might change my opinion there, but still, give a corporate developer 10 minutes with Chris, and he could switch his architecture and save his team months of development work).

Let's say you're a small guy. Probably a consultant. You do a job here, and a job there. What will make you more valueable? Your relationships with key program managers at Microsoft. Why is that? Well, let's see, if a client is hitting a wall, in, say C#'s new reflection features, and you can open your IM up and ask the guy who runs the C# team a quick question right in front of your client, think you'll get the job? Yeah, Eric Gunnerson has a weblog too, but there's nothing like hearing him talk, and then getting his business card and making a HUMAN contact after his talk.

Let's say you're any kind of developer. Tell me, can you really get a good idea what Longhorn is by reading weblogs? I'm using Longhorn every day now, and I could spend the next month writing a feature a day, with screen captures and everything, and I would only get to about 30 out of at least 1000 new features.

You really think you're gonna be able to understand the internals of the new file system by reading an MSDN article? Heck, I've had three personal demos already by the guys who wrote it, and I'm still struggling to understand it. There are gonna be entire BOOKS on the topic that don't get you to mastery of that topic alone.

Not to mention, is there a price to put on meeting Bill Gates in the hall and having a chat with him? That's happened to me before at conferences. Think that won't help your career? Wait until you go back and tell your boss "I asked Bill Gates about the new C# reflection and he gave me these three examples of where he'd use it." OK, I'm probably stretching here, but I've nailed Bill Gates in conferences so I know it's possible.

Other "intangibles?" Is there a price to put on meeting people who might possibly become lifelong friends? Networking with other guys who obviously have the money to come to a major industry conference? Playing Xbox late at night against Don Box? Sitting next to Chris Sells at lunch and talking about ways to improve MSDN?

Who knows, maybe you'll walk up to Steve Ballmer during his keynote and give him an idea that'll get him to give you an autographed dollar bill. That happened to me too.

Not to mention, the weblogger parties. The weblogger parties. The weblogger parties. :-)

Was that subtle enough? Heh.

But, if all you wanna do is see the pretty screen captures of Longhorn, Yukon, or Whidbey, yeah, save your $1700 and stay home. It's my job to make sure you get to hear about those no matter whether or not you come to the PDC.

Roy Osherove: The PDC costs too much money!

I agree, but, the truth is murky here. OK, first, Microsoft isn't gonna make all that much money off of the PDC. It is quite possible it won't make any money off of the PDC.

Whoa, how's that?

Well, first of all, I was a conference planner for Fawcette Technical Publications. I also put together conference plans for other people.

Conferences are simply expensive to put on, if you're gonna hold them at a place that can handle 5,000 to 10,000 people.

Let's look at conference economics.

Most conference sites are simply freaking expensive. Particularly when you want to feed your attendees decent food. Have you noticed the trend in conferences lately? Cruddy food (hard pizza, or hot dogs). No drinks most of the time. Limited snacks.

Why is that? (Ask a JavaOne attendee about the food, for instance). Did you realize that some conference centers charge $7 or more for a Coke?

Another reason: room rentals. I don't know what we're paying the Los Angeles Convention Center, but it's ridiculous, I guarantee you.

Another reason: AV. Getting the best AV systems is very expensive. Plus, it's usually only union run.

Another reason: getting all the speakers there. Microsoft is flying in hundreds of program managers, execs, etc. Not cheap.

Another reason: parties. Microsoft almost always has a top-rate band and lots of free food and drinks at its event parties. Not cheap.

Another reason: computers on site and wireless. Have you seen the T3 bill for the Los Angeles Marriott? I have, it's obscene. And, do you know how much it costs to rent a computer with a monitor for three weeks (we need that long to set up the CommNet). Plus pay the staff to load all the cool stuff on it. Plus have dozens of wireless access points.

Another reason: goodies you get on staff. Kinkos charged me $25 per attendee just to print books. I'm sure the stuff you'll get on site is more.

Another reason: staff like me. Yeah, I'm being paid to do stuff at the PDC. So are dozens of people inside Microsoft who are working already full time on various things. Actually, now that I think about it, there are hundreds of people working on the PDC in some capacity.

These events cost a lot to put on. I see the economics. We're not talking about a small hall somewhere in a town that no one can get to easily. We're talking about one of the largest convention centers in one of the largest cities in the world. Not inexpensive.

There were also a few complaints about the content of conferences. More on that shortly.

Joshua Prismon: "You know... everytime I start to like Microsoft...."

Joshua, I wrote about three responses to you (all of which made me look like I had drunk too much KoolAide today ). I decided not to defend Microsoft in this case. Let's just say that we're trying very hard to make you happy and let's see how we can move on happily together.

Another way to look at it: There are 55,000 employees here. If we all make one decision per day, and you only like 99.99% of our decisions, that means there'll 5.5 decisions made today that you don't like. Heck, my satisfaction with Microsoft is probably even lower (say 99% -- after all, I drink the KoolAide regularly here). That means I don't like 550 things that we did today. Yikes.

Damian Maclennan wrote me to explain how these guys are making Tablet PCs control live sound equipment. He said it was the coolest Tablet app he'd ever seen.

I'm going to get to all the comments left yesterday tomorrow night. Tons of great comments. Lots of people inside Microsoft are seeing them. Will you get everything you want? No. But, then, I don't either.

One thing I wish more people did was think about the business issues from Microsoft's point of view. Many people really don't think about the business issues.

Oh, and regarding bugs, Microsoft people are now emailing me histories of bugs. Some are totally fascinating. Maybe I should do a book. "The stories of bugs."

Someone else emailed me the "weenies and shrimp" memo from Bill Gates -- where he explains to the company that Microsoft's employees need to ruthlessly watch expenses.

One last thing: printed "The 12 simple secrets of Microsoft's Management."

You can vote for the winner in Roy Osherove's .NET desktop contest. Some real interesting desktops people have.

This is the post which explains about the various prizes (various... only got two. still looking for a third).

Dan Shafer says I've drunk the KoolAid.

My wife agrees with Dan, on this issue, by the way.

Translation: I need to do more thinking on this one. :-)

I just pulled down a post. Just wanted to let you know. I thought better of it after I had posted it. Well, that, and my wife said "why are you posting that?" Heh. Editors.

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Robert Scoble works at Microsoft. Everything here, though, is his personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. No warranties or other guarantees will be offered as to the quality of the opinions or anything else offered here.

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© Copyright 2004 Robert Scoble Last updated: 1/3/2004; 2:44:00 AM.