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December 2009 - Posts

You don't know Microsoft culture

I'm closing in on a month now at Microsoft. OK, not really, because with the holidays and a week out for a pre-hired trip, I'm obviously still in a bit of a ramp up mode. Although I checked in some code last week, which is very exciting.

In any case, I've taken my share of cheap shots about the Borg, evil empire, M$ and the other predictable nonsense. Now I just find it sad that people spend that much time and energy on hating a company. I get it, some folks think the company is evil. Whatever.

The thing that I've noticed about Microsoft, from an internal view, is that it's an enormous company. I find diversity in teams, groups, divisions, top to bottom. In orientation and training, this diversity is reinforced in every aspect, from the way people develop product to the way they interact with each other.

Externally, you may also notice diversity. There are epic success stories, like the Xbox edging out the established players or Silverlight quickly iterating and gaining market share. On the other hand, you have things like Vista (which might have been more of a critical failure than financial, in my non-expert opinion) and Windows Mobile, which fails to make any traction.

Do you see what I'm getting at? You can't make generalizations about the culture of Microsoft. When I tell friends that I work in an agile team, in a room together, delivering value regularly, don't get bogged down in e-mail or specs that people never read, they think I'm lying. Are there "old school" teams around the company? I'm sure there are. Maybe there are even business reasons for it. But to suggest that Microsoft on the whole is incapable of doing amazing things in a very forward and progressive way is to suggest that a huge company operates in exactly the same way, from end to end. That's just silly.

I might drink some of the Kool-Aid®, but I'm not naive enough to believe that Microsoft doesn't deserve much of the criticism it gets. That said, the press and the average fashion hater are not credible when they paint the company with one broad brush. You don't need to work there to see that the different parts of the company roll in different ways. There are thousands of very different, and very real, people in this organization.

Why Facebook didn't really change anything, and people are zombies

Calacanis wrote a rant about Facebook that causes me to question his credibility. Seriously, is he a lucky entrepreneur or just full of it half of the time? Like many "pundits" in the tech field, he tends to jump into the fray with whatever fashionable rant is the rage. These days it appears to be Facebook, probably because it's a big target. (I work for Microsoft, and I have a growing appreciation for being a big target.)

The long in-depth "articles" written by the haters and the EFF, among others, allege some ridiculous things, and Calacanis takes it one step further by implying naughty intent. It's that last part that really annoys the piss out of me. Ad hominem anecdotes about Zuckerberg hardly prove any ill intentions.

What did Facebook really do? Most importantly, they killed networks. Because people didn't understand what they were, and wanted to belong, they joined a network and by default showed all of the nonsense they posted to everyone else in that network. That's why teachers get fired for having photos of them with drinks on a cruise ship or whatever. While that in itself is pretty ridiculous, it was probably the right thing to do, since I doubt many people use Facebook for meeting new people.

The second thing they did is change the UI around setting these permissions. When I got the prompt to set them, I didn't change anything, and since I wasn't in a network, nothing changed.

Again, what really annoys me is the suggestion that Zuckerberg and his minions sit around planning how they're going to dupe people into giving up their privacy, thinking no one would be the wiser. Come on, really? Whatever you may think about the boy CEO, he's certainly not stupid. And the predictions about Facebook's ultimate demise are pretty hilarious too, because if Calacanis et al would get out of their tech bubble just for a moment, they'd see that even my 83-year-old grandfather is on there, along with the rest of my family, because that's how we track each other.

The take away is that sometimes people in our line of work get so close to technology that we fail to see the bigger picture. Don't be a pundit zombie.

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