In defense of Steve Ballmer.
Vanity Fairs article: Microsoft Lost Decade describes How Microsoft Lost It’s Mojo. The business press is piling on: “STEVE BALLMER’S NIGHTMARE IS COMING TRUE”.
I’d posit that in Redmond the culture of rivalry and non-collaboration chasing software engineers away since Vista is being rooted out from the top down, the bottom up, from the outside in. Signs are Microsoft is moving away from a hierarchical command and control to a culture of coordination over control.
- Bill Gates, organizationally like many US founders, pitted leaders against one-another to achieve maximum competitive results. During growth phases in emerging technologies, like Windows and Office, this pitting works wonderfully. But builds a culture of not accepting dependencies on other teams. Stories about leaders rolling grenades at each other rather than cooperate are legend (and not just at Microsoft)
- This Gatesian engineering culture led up to Vista. Even today, many engineering directors are wary about hiring Microsoft alums with tenure on hierarchical teams (ambitious engineers know to spend 5-7 years at Microsoft “and get out”).
- The Vista crapfest brought all this to a head. Microsoft prime talents departed the Redmond campus. Competitors and recruiters swooped. http://moishelettvin.blogspot.com/2006/11/windows-shutdown-crapfest.html
- About 2007 Ruby emerged, product dependencies shifted to scripting and web links, cooperating outside became more important than all the deep layers of hierarchy inside Microsoft (read Moshe Lettvin’s windows shutdown crapfest).
- Gates, traveling for his foundation learned about different types of organizational structures cooperating at scale. Quietly, Bill G visited the Dean of CS at FootHills Community College, home of Silicon Valley Code Camp to learn how developer programs operate at scale without hierarchy.
- On acquiring Powerset via PARC Microsoft reworked its employee non-disclosure agreements to allow processes for Open Source submissions.
- Microsoft over 3 years has purged its top Gates divisional management, Steven Sinofsky the last to go, for a new flatter breed of leaders reporting directly to Steve Ballmer.
- Scott Hanselman, if you’ve seen him speak, seems to be on a special assignment. Highlights Microsoft coolness and connects a new younger generation of Rubyish developers to the Microsoft openness and cooperation.
- Scott Gu…http://weblogs.asp.net/scottgu/archive/2012/12/04/ios-support-with-windows-azure-mobile-services-now-with-push-notifications.aspx
Perhaps these observations look like nothing now?
Begats comparison to Apple’s iOS Maps debacle. Company culture steeped in yesterdays product development hierarchy of command and control failed. Apple fired its Maps development manager. Same pattern started with Vista. How long before Tim Cook joins the dots?
In defense of Steve Ballmer, Microsoft (or Apple) sized software companies reasonably need 5-10 years for a new CEO to update and change a companies culture. Borrowing from Steve Jobs “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards” …then Microsoft is hiding a turnaround in full view.