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Microsoft Memories

Back when I was tomev at Microsoft (1992-1994), billg managed to a large degree by bullying.  Even in conversation, btw, people at Microsoft were known by their email names. I didn’t report directly to billg; but, during much of the time I was there, I worked for mikemap (Mike Maples), who reported to billg, had responsibility for all the products, and was part of the boop. Boop stood for billg plus the office of the president (real presidents didn’t last very long there). The oop consisted of steveb (Steve Ballmer) and mikemap. Major decisions were sometimes made by the boop. 

Microsoft was a fairly flat organization at that time although it already had 10,000 employees. That meant that I and the other product managers got to spend a fair amount of time either doing reviews for billg or, sometimes, bringing issues to the boop. Presenting to billg and surviving a presentation to billg were key success skills in the company. Billg rarely used postive feedback as a motivational tool; he found the stick more effective than the carrot although options, which were then skyrocketing, WERE a very effective carrot. 

So you’re in there presenting your product plan to billg, steveb, and mikemap. Billg typically has his eyes closed and he’s rocking back and forth. He could be asleep; he could be thinking about something else; he could be listening intently to everything you’re saying. The trouble is all are possible and you don’t know which. Obviously, you have to present as if he were listening intently even though you know he isn’t looking at the PowerPoint slides you spent so much time on. 

At some point in your presentation billg will say “that’s the dumbest fucking idea I’ve heard since I’ve been at Microsoft.” He looks like he means it. However, since you knew he was going to say this, you can’t really let it faze you. Moreover, you can’t afford to look fazed; remember: he’s a bully. 

“What do you disagree with, Bill?” you ask as assertively as you can. He tells you. Maybe it’s the plan for user interface; maybe it’s the product positioning; maybe it’s the technical approach you’re taking to a problem or your evaluation of the enemy (competition). If you see that your dead wrong – you may be, he’s very smart – best to admit it immediately and move on. But, if he’s wrong – which is also often the case – then you CAN’T give in. You will be just as much blamed for doing the wrong thing because billg told you to as you will be if you did it all on your own. This is the moment of truth for a Microsoft manager. 

“Bill,” you say, “I know you made a billion dollars yesterday; I know you’re on the cover of Fortune; I know you can probably code this whole application in Visual Basic over the weekend; but you’re wrong.” And you tell him why and how you know you’re right. You have to do this so you do. 

You get no positive feedback. Billg looks at you coldly. “Go on,” he says. You do just that. You don’t go back and give more arguments for the point you made; you just continue. You’ve also just passed a big test – if you turn out to be right. 

Some people flourished in this trial by fire atmosphere. In fact, that is exactly what billg was doing. As smart as he is, he had no way to know most of the time whether the person presenting to him was right or wrong (unless their logic was obviously confused in which case they deserved whatever happened to them). So he tested us. Since you knew you were likely to be tested on anything, you really did think long and hard about what you were doing and what you were presenting. You had to be really tough to bluff although it happened. And you worked doubly hard afterwards to make sure that what you just presented so confidently actually came to pass. 

Two problems with this approach: one is that kinder and gentler people, who may be still be very smart, get stomach aches and other unpleasant symptoms when they gave to confront bullying. Microsoft lost out on some people who could have contributed but couldn’t take this kind of heat. Second problem is that the bullying gets emulated down the line. There was nothing quite as absurd as a newly-hired college graduate thinking he could be as smart or rich as billg if he could only manage to be as rude. 

Subject continued in Should billg Stop Bullying? 

All about Microsoft Meetings with a special audio supplement is posted here. 

Also about MSFT:
 

How MAPI Beat VIM (an historical footnote)

Sleeping with Telcos

Chrome – Getting Microsoft’s Goat

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Comments

Product key!!!

Using my computer yesterday I experienced what appears to be an official Microsoft altert that someone had registered my copy of Windows which I have been using for years. As such I would be required to give my credit card information as well as other details from my personal finances.

This doesn’t sound like my problem. This sounds like a Microsoft problem, and to require me to divulge this information simply to continue using this PC is inappropriate. It even went as far as asking for my ATM PIN, a totally inappropriate request and one that suggests I should distrust this message.

And Microsoft.

Everyone recognizes the changes at Microsoft since Bill Gates left and many understand what this signifies. Even so, with an experience like this I will be purchasing my next computer product at my local Apple store.

Hugo Scherzberg

Windows XP Professional

Product key::::

T7263-9HRBH-QVF6W-78XP2-RDHBY

Other numbers from the Windows hologram label::::

ot7570

00045-548-852-912

X10-60256

Tom Evslin

Chris:

How do you know about the intellectual honesty of "everyone" in Microsoft management?

Chris

Hyman Rickover may have been confrontational, but he had an intellectual honesty that Bill Gates and everyone in Microsoft management lack.

beanie

"Bullying" is a strong word as in school bully. Is "sparing" as in boxing a better one to discribe Bill Gates' style? Maybe he says an idea is dumb to make the presenter defend his or her idea. Maybe both you and Gates were both nerds and lacked social and communications skills. If you wanted positive feedback, why did not you just say to Gates that you want some positive feedback. Anyway, I say nerd in a positive way since nerds run the world.

Wasatch Software

Very interesting take on Microsoft in the early days. Great post!

SlapAyoda

your / you're

ssh

Well, the other way to look at it is you've got a tech organization headed by someone without social skills, and never saw much value in the give and take of those soft skills.

Pass that down the line, and you've got a place that's beneficial only to like minded or extremely accomodating people.

I mean. . . it's not as if the company's unpopular for being a bully or anything like that. Oh wait. . .

OnceAtMS

The other aspect of this approach is that you develop a culture of "HotDogs". People stand by you or stand away from you based on their impression of your ideas, and they are not as smart as billg. But nothing wins better than being the "lone right person". Don't share credit! Sharing credit is the same as sharing options, i.e. money, i.e. success, i.e. credibility.

I only lasted a year, and was asked to leave. What was it I was told in my last exit interview? Oh yeah, the guy said: "My dad died too, and it didn't effect my productivity."

So much for all the sacrifices for MS I made trying to continue working in Redmond during a many months ordeal flying back and forth to visit my Dad dying of cancer in Texas. The unwavering MS ethic was one of productivity, on your own, no excuses, no mercy.

But Life goes on, at a much more reasonable (even if not as profitable) rate outside of MS

Free Nature Photography Wallpaper

wow, so many fricken accronims in the workplace....
You have to be able to stand up to your boss, you have to sell your idea well without it becoming a bird who is about to be shot out of the sky.

Matt

Wankers. As sad as it is to say Microsoft did for computers what Google did for advertising. This guy is the richest man in the world - of course he's going to be a nut job. Who was last visionary / really rich american entrepreneur? Possibly Howard Hughes?

Consider yourself lucky for having the experiences


Dwreck

Hey - you should write a memoir on your experiences and get it published. I'm sure it would be a fascinating read. Put me on the e-mail list so I know when it's out :)

Gorninator

How could you be intimidated by a limp-d1ck nerdboy like billy gates? Grab your scrotum and tell *him* to fuck off, and that you're taking your idea to Google. Of course, easier said than done.

Zeno Davatz

Nice insights! Thank you!

Frances

“Bill,” you say, “I know you made a billion dollars yesterday; I know you’re on the cover of Fortune; I know you can probably code this whole application in Visual Basic over the weekend; but you still managed to churn out the three biggest virus/malware delivery vectors in the known universe with Windows, Internet Explorer and Outlook. So, the next time you want to bully me into submission remember I'm going to have to screw up -really- big before I even come close to those steaming piles of shit. Now, where were we..."

Great line to start with. If you're dealing with bullies: never be intimidated, even if you're quaking in your boots. Intimidation is their mo. Be ready to walk if you have to, never give in.

MSFT

As a contemporary of Tom's at Microsoft, I concur with his analysis -- especially with his observation that bullying propagated throughout the organization.

gNeek

Hasn't PowerPoint been released in 1997?

anonymous

first windows version of powerpoint came out in 1990. Remember office 95?

none

You mean to tell me they had powerpoint when you were there in 1994?

John Kha

I just did an interview with Admiral Rickover's successor in August. It sounds like it has gotten a lot less weird. Still the scariest thing I have ever done. I made it though!

NonMSFTer

Yes. I interviewed at Microsoft in about 1989, and it was VERY clear from the style of at least one interviewer that it was a confrontational, in-your-face kind of place, where rudeness seemed to be a kind of initial ante into being perceived there as being very bright and/or the kind of aggressiveness they were looking for. I called (quietly) bullshit and withdrew. But the author is right; it ripples down from the top. I won't forget the asshole I interviewed with (a 20-something Brit named Richard Tate), but the real blame goes with an environment that fosters that kind of hubris.

mike

There was nothing quite as absurd as a newly-hired college graduate thinking he could be as smart or rich as billg if he could only manage to be as rude.

So true. Reminds me of a John Lithgow interview I heard this week. His quote captures the essence of why I have to be an entrepreneur (he was talking about surviving Hollywood):

"[I had to create alternatives] because everyday you're faced with rejection by people for whom you have utter contempt."

Dankoozy

at least he's not as bad as ballmer who tosses chairs around the place

dan tdaxp

Reminds me of the Deputy Director in "That Hideous Strength."

Jamshid

I hope Google's culture of politeness proves that you don't have to be a dick or bully to be successful. At least being rude certainly doesn't guarantee good software, if IE7 is the result.

jlc

Ah yes, I too remember my Rickover interview. I had turned down an interview the year before so I figured I was assured of not getting in but at least I had a few months to find a new home (I was medically disqualified as an SNA and did not want to be an NFO despite the threats to be sent to some god-forsaken tin can if I didn't stay at P'cola). The Bastard let me in.

Kempton

Hello Tom,

Really insightful post (and I have posted an excerpt in my blog). Anyway, do you think has billg got mellow out a little as he aged, got a great wife and partner, and also kid(s)? He still seem quite geeky but I sure hope with age, he got mellow out a little.

Do you got to see billg after your time at MSFT? Does he remember people who worked for him before? I used to be a big reader of all things MSFT but I guess that was in the last century and definitely not since Google become the new MSFT.

Really enjoyed the postings,
Kempton

D. C.

Sounds like billg took lessons from Admiral Rickover, father of the nuclear Navy. (I can still just about recite verbatim my Rickover interview even after more than 30 years; and yes, to my surprise, he let me into The Program.)

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