How to not be an Exec

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/09/03 14:01 -04:00, original URI:

I don't think I have a completely 100% Microsoft point of view.

I mean, I work on my features, I fix my bugs, I go to my meetings.

I did okay at the last review (was I top of the bottom? bottom of the top? Well, somewhere in there!), so I must be doing something right.

But I know that I have tremendous interest in knowing what we can do (and what I can do!) for customers, and almost no patience for the machinations involving how best to separate the customer from those un-needed dollars that they are willing to give us.

I mean, I understand that those things are important, yes. It just does not feel like "good" engineering to have to limit what products can do in arbitrary ways in order to maximize profit rather than in natural ways will that lead to more appropriate models for things like SKU differentiation.

I know that Microsoft has slogans like "Where do you want to go today" and "Your potential, our passion" and I actually like these things since they are all about them, the customers, and not about us and how much we can make from them.

But there are I guess people at Microsoft who have a their main or even sole job the other way round. And I think sometimes people are really asked to think that way when they are designing things.

It just does not feel natural to me personally.

Okay, I guess that means I am not Exec material. But I was never going to be an Exec anyway, so the "revelation" that I may not be appropriate for a job that I don't want does not worry me too much.

But certainly if people have questions for me on how best to support internationalization or localizability in their own features, it is going to impress me a helluva lot more if the conversation is aimed toward how to help the customer rather than how to help Microsoft.

In my opinion if the work is done right, then the money comes anyway. No need to try to eek out every last bit from it, to squeeze all the water out of the sponge.

For what it is worth, this does not make me unique at Microsoft. In fact I would wager that there are more people like me underneath the partner level than those who are not (the people whose only job it is to support the locking out of features excluded, of course!).

But does that mean that in order to be a partner (another non-goal of mine, truly!) means to be strategic, which means to start caring more about how to expand the bottom line?

I am inevitably finding myself thinking about Bill Gates at this point -- formerly the Chairman and Chief Software Architect, becoming "just" the chairman so he can spend his time spending money rather than making it, on some of the most important issues one could. Not just for customers, but for people.

In other words, if at the very bottom of the pyramid are the people who mostly just care about customers and at the very top of the pyramid is someone who realized that it is better to serve th world than have the world serve you, then how do we educate those people in the middle that they are wrong in thinking that it's about the money?

Not all of them do, of course. But you know what I mean.

I was sure I had a point when I started writing this but I can't remember what it is now. I'll go now before I damage my career any further. :-)


The characters all decided that it takes a real character to write a post like this, and decided a character sponsor would be gratuitous!

# Tony Toews, MS Access MVP on 3 Sep 2007 4:15 PM:

I've often wondered how you get away with the ummm varied content and occasional words on your blog.

On the whole though I agree with you in that I like feeling good about building useful systems for my clients.  Making money is a very nice byproduct of course.

# Mike on 3 Sep 2007 7:01 PM:

The people in the middle are not getting directly measured on customer satisfaction.

There's nothing like the stare you get from an evil GPM or PUM when you quote BillG or SteveB on an issue that conflicts with their directive... OK well maybe it's the same feeling of empty "I told you so" satisfaction you get when the evil GPM/PUM gets hauled over the coals for making costly int8lization errors too late to be rectified in your ship cycle. The customers still get the short end of the stick needlessly.

Microsoft is not good at learning from such errors internally as it doesn't maintain roles or internal customer relationships long enough, or ensure a good handover takes place. It encourages people to move to new roles and "forget" the old role.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 3 Sep 2007 7:12 PM:

Hey Mike, to the extent that this may or may not be true, it is my pleasure to shake up those assumptions for as long as I can, and as often as I can. :-)

# Dean Harding on 3 Sep 2007 7:35 PM:

I don't how off-topic this is, but I just posted on my blog[1] about how I choose Linux+MythTV for my HTPC box over Windows+Media Center 2007 because I didn't want to pay for the *second most expensive Vista "home" SKU* just so it can run one lousy program all day.

I mean, it's as if some exec said "wow, this Media Center thing is pretty cool, we better charge as much for it as possible" without actually thinking about how it was going to be USED.


# Michael S. Kaplan on 4 Sep 2007 1:27 AM:

Hey Tony -- I think this other post might give additional insight into how? :-)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 4 Sep 2007 1:30 AM:

Hey Dean,

Not so off-topic, no....

# orcmid on 4 Sep 2007 12:58 PM:

"In other words, if at the very bottom of the pyramid are the people who mostly just care about customers and at the very top of the pyramid is someone who realized that it is better to serve th world than have the world serve you, then how do we educate those people in the middle that they are wrong in thinking that it's about the money?"

It takes continual effort to establish a climate in which it is accepted and trusted that if you serve the customer's interests, the rest follows.  I think we are all vulnerable to fear of being taken advantage of and fear of loss of livelihood, failure of the business, and all that.  It takes courage to be generous and be a trustworthy partner in commerce.

So, chin up pal.  Or, as a manager of mine liked to say: "It's a journey."  Sometimes it seems never-ending.  But, you know, it was only in your lifetime that empowerment was recognized as a management principle.  And, really, at bottom we all want empowered customers too.

# Wayne Steele on 5 Sep 2007 12:13 PM:

I wouldn't work at Microsoft if most people here had the "Partner-Level" attitude you describe. I wish fewer "Partners" had it as well.

Please consider a donation to keep this archive running, maintained and free of advertising.
Donate €20 or more to receive an offline copy of the whole archive including all images.

referenced by

2007/09/03 Confusing the nature of the confusion? a.k.a. A belated apology (and some additional thoughts)

go to newer or older post, or back to index or month or day