Choice Hacker Quotes

Maybe the most famous, “Your Kung Fu is No Good!” – Mitnick

One of my favorites, “I am a simple victim of a random hacker who has stolen my good name and has now soiled my good reputation” – Scott Steinmetz

And today we have, “If you’re a corporation, you can just lock everything down. We don’t have that luxury. The academic side is trying to find a line between maximum flexibility and data security. We need someone somewhere to come up with a set of best practices for schools.” The CIO of Ohio University explaining why someone, somewhere failed to protect his students records from being stolen for a year.

Yes, the world can be a mysterious and baffling place.

More on myMicrosoft/miniMicrosoft

Lots of comments on the Mini-MSFT blog about the employee ratings changes.

Yesterday, I pointed out that the curve was always psychological, but I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that what happened yesterday was incredible and laudable:

  • Towels got the big applause? Why? Because it shows that management is listening, paying attention, and responsive. Some people are cynical, but consider what happened — management made some changes, mounted a campaign to sell the changes to the employees. And then, open criticism of the policies erupted, a minor employee revolt that was not only tolerated by the senior management, but even remarked upon favorably, and eventual capitulation. I challenge you to find any company, in any industry, where this would happen — where a Mini could hop up, build a constituency, and actually change things. Far from being recalcitrant and grudging, senior management has taken the whole Mini thing with good humor and even some genuine appreciation. (“Thank God, these employees have finally developed some assertiveness!”)
  • Totally in the open. OK, I am quite frankly amazed at how much Matt Cutts has been able to get away with in blogging for Google. Google seems to be making some genuine moves toward transparency, and I applaud them. But Google is still like Stalinist Russia compared to Microsoft when it comes to transparency. Think about it — employee morale is the primary competitive edge for any company in the tech industry, and Microsoft has been willing to let all of this dirty laundry be examined and debated in the open. The first blogger to question Google’s benefits structure was fired. When we say this is a great place to work, you have all of the information out in the open, to make the decision yourself. That’s a big deal.
  • Stock price. All I can say is, the people who want Ballmer’s head are insane. Microsoft is not a bubble stock anymore, it never will be. Get over it. If you want bubble stock growth (and risk), go buy Google. At this point in life, a company focuses on earnings growth, market share, and hopes that the stock price follows. Yes, surprises are bad, but Microsoft has way outperformed what anybody was predicting 5 years ago, and the company is incredibly strong on fundamentals. This is not a company in crisis; not even close. Ballmer has succeeded beyond what anybody expected and put the company in strong competitive shape. Furthermore, he’s presided over the transformation of the company into a kinder, gentler, more open and transparent organization. Don’t forget that he supported blogging when other senior execs desperately wanted to see it killed. Don’t forget that he was the one to continually bring the customer voice into the battles between senior execs for empires (he ran the field organization). If he had not been CEO, you would not see Lisa Brummel having so much latitude to respond directly to employee concerns, and you certainly wouldn’t see Kevin Johnson in his current role (we all had two or three people we thought would get the spot, few expected Kevin — it’s a good thing, and all because of Ballmer). Just imagine the nightmare today if we were considering transfer of power from one of the other orgs (for example, the powerful org where I speculate that Mini works). I don’t want to sound like a sycophant, but I think the critics are blind. The guy did a lot for the company; if you realistically think about the alternatives you’ll agree. Frankly, I think all of the angst comes from people comparing Google Apples and Microsoft Oranges. OMFG!!! Google stock is $350 and Microsoft is $21!!! Fire the CEO!!!! Fine, let’s do that and watch the stock languish at $12 while earnings growth is a “mediocre” 9%. Whatever…

The Death of Stack Ranking

It is with mixed emotions that today I witness the death of stack ranking at Microsoft.

In my opinion, it’s all a psychological trick, but in the past year or so I have grudgingly come to accept that it might be good for the company.

The fact is, by banishing the curve, we are changing the only thing that shouldn’t matter — the review score. Bonus money, salary increases, and so on will still be distributed according to a budget and some people will get more than others. Now, instead of getting a 3.0, those people will get 3.5s and the same 3.0 salary increase.

The part that is absolutely amazing to me is that this is what people want! To me, it was far bigger when Ballmer announced across-the-board salary increases — but apparently people would rather have a 3.5 than more money. I mean, a 2% salary increase can be explained away by “economic downturn”, “cost efficacy”, or whatever. But a 3.0 says, “You are a loser compared to your teammates!” It’s just a number, but it’s an assault on a person’s sense of identity, apparently.

My opinion always used to be, “it’s just a number, go see a psychologist if it stresses you out (but don’t touch my money)”. But when I saw how many people literally made themselves sick over a bad review score, I started to give up hope of logic prevailing over emotions. I guess if we tell every employee that he or she is a winner, we’ll have a more productive workplace with a lot less backstabbing (at least among people content to be individual contributors).

Was WS-* a Failure?

Dare excerpts Yaron Goland, explaining how MSN uses POX instead of WS-* in many cases. It is very good to see MSFT employees no longer afraid to say that WS-* is sometimes not the right choice.

On the other hand, it’s reasonable to say that WS-* met most of its objectives; and IMO has been a great success. Read this post from Miguel. Miguel makes the point that Java is still vendor-proprietary, in contrast to the way that .NET is ISO. IMO, one of the most important goals of WS-* was to break the stranglehold that J2EE had on the middleware/appserver market. Today, reading about Scott McNealy stepping down amid Sun financial troubles, it is hard to remember how dominant Sun used to be. But Sun is still very powerful in the enterprise, and I imagine it would be game over by now (with Sun/Oracle alliance being the clear winners) if Microsoft had not pushed WS-*. WS-* leveled the playing field, and gave both Microsoft and IBM ability to go head-to-head with Sun in app servers. Today, an Oracle/Microsoft alliance seems more realistic than Oracle/Sun.

So perhaps WS-* was the critical factor that liberated the Internet from a dark future of Sun/Java control, and enabled the new era of POX/HTTP to flourish.

Fear the Government

Front page news today, the NSA is collecting information on phone calls.

Funny, it wasn’t frontpage news for the past couple of years, when that stalker down the street could buy your phone records on the Internet for $70 (yes, yours). And the article seems to completely ignore the fact that the information is there for the NSA because the phone company is collecting this information already!

America is a wacky place. We feel it is perfectly OK that Google knows everything about you, AT&T knows everything about you, and there are absolutely no public controls in place to prevent a random foreign national placed at the company from siphoning data off to their respective governments. No problem at all. Hackers frequently steal data from corporations who have much more data about you than just phone calls. When breaches of data at these corporations *do* happen, they are generally covered up. But you can expect the frequency and severity of such data leaks to increase. American enterprise is a leaking sieve of personal information. No problem.

But when the NSA wants to mine some call records for national security reasons, it’s front-page news. OMG, BIG BROTHER!!!!


Blog Popularity Contest

I’ve thought about the recent public spat between Dare and Al, and feel a need to weigh in.

First, I respect Al a lot. He helped build IEBlog into the most-read blog at Microsoft, and shares my fascination with Golden Dawn (and random other) arcana. And I think I understand how he feels. He has every right to vent on his personal blog, but in my opinion, he’s wrong about Dare.

I’ve worked on teams directly with Dare, and am sure the others who have would agree that he’s a great team member and would love to work with him again. His last team was definitely not happy to see him go. I could always trust Dare to call B.S. on something before it was too late to fix, keep the criticism focused on the actual issue and never personalize things, and quickly change his opinion in the rare cases where he was wrong. He never sticks to a wrong idea to save face or protect his ego, so he rarely worries about couching criticism in a way that allows the recipient to save face.

Now, in a big company, you are going to have people who are more sensitive to criticism, and who take things personally (and people who will go straight to personal attacks when criticizing). So as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to pad criticisms with mealy-mouthed phrases like, “Please take this criticism in the spirit it is intended; to help us build a better product for our shared customers”. And things like, “When I look at it from your perspective, you have a point, but I would like to introduce an additional angle you may not have considered.”

Sometimes managers advise their employees to talk this way, to “soften the communication style”. But there is a danger here of encouraging dishonesty. If you want to see who is *really* motivated by personal dislike of someone, get them in private and start making personal criticisms of a third party. If the person willingly jumps in and starts piling on, you have a clue about that person’s motivations, regardless of how cleverly they couch their technical criticisms in public. If the person seems uncomfortable and tries to steer the conversation back toward objective issues, you have a different clue, regardless of how blunt they may be in communicating issues otherwise. Dare is one of the least petty people I know when it comes to making personal criticisms.

So I don’t see anything wrong with “softening communication style”, but I want to work with people who are open, honest, and direct — not people who use the soft communication style to mask what they are really thinking. We value people who are not easily swayed by concensus, as long as they build a good track record of being right when they challenge status quo.

To the specific issue, Nick Bradbury was also “guilty” of posting publicly when he had some criticism of the RSS platform in IE. Nick and Greg both have my cell phone number, so there was no need for Nick to blog publicly. I am sure that some people would have liked him to give us a chance to answer some of his questions first. But when we talked to him, we worked through his issues, and had some really productive collaboration. And that leads to better blog posts in the future.

So it’s true that some people at MSFT probably think Nick is a jerk. But I’ve personally heard a number of people say that they would love to have Nick on their team. And in my opinion, we want to encourage people like that to come work here. If he’s wrong 80% of the time, fire him, but do it because his ideas were consistently wrong and stupid, not because he shared them. As my boss remarked at our team meeting this morning, “the people who are afraid of transparency are the people who have something to hide”. Let people say what they’re going to say, and let the readers judge for themselves.

Closet RDF

Somehow I missed this from Sam Ruby, during the chaos planning for MIX06. Sam gets the attention of “Mr. Safe”, and then proceeds to scare the living crap out of him.

The real gem, though, is when Sam explains to Mr. Safe that “Joshua Allen secretly favors RSS 1.0”. Well, no comment — but may I say that I really enjoy reading Sam “It’s just data, but *honestly* I hate RDF” Ruby’s blog. See if you can find other insider references in Sam’s “Keith Richards” post.

Kennedy and Ambien

Did anyone else notice this? Painkillers had nothing to do with Kennedy’s accident; so why act as if he’ll fix everything by going to rehab for painkiller addiction? I think his internal logic goes like this: “Stupid fool; I should have given the car keys to the housekeeper before I took Ambien! Well, as long as I make people think it’s painkiller addiction, I can keep taking Ambien.”

I have a feeling Ambien will be seeing a swift decline in (legal) sales soon.