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.

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