What I'd do with my 'Microsoft 20% time'

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/12/23 16:04 +01:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2011/12/23/10250600.aspx


I was asked a question by a former colleague of mine.

She and I both used to be collaborating consultants, me as a programmer and her as a designer -- so me without her would have been functional web sites that no would use and her without me would have been beautiful web sites that no one could use.

Anyway, we hadn't done any work together in years, but we kept in touch, now and again.

She reads this Blog, and admits (somewhat guiltily) that we are probably in touch less often because she feels she can tell what's going on with me.

Anyway, about two weeks ago, she asked me a question:

I know you don't work for Google, so this could be an apples vs. oranges thing, but you seem like you've been an idea man all these years. If Microsoft had a "20% time" policy like Google's, what would you be doing with it?

To say that this one caught me unawares is probably an understatement!

In the weird time of open-ended vacation, I found myself taking it as serious inquiry, and a chance to really think about the question.

First, to get past the obvious -- the surface problems with 20% time are easily summed up:

and yes - all it takes is the realization that the average Google employee is working a ton of hours....

For a more serious take on the issue, I find Scott Berkun's Thoughts on Google’s 20% time, including the pages to which he links, to be somewhat required reading.

The quick answer is that for large sections of my time at Microsoft, my "20% time" has been a lot more than 20%.

Projects like:

and so on, all essentially proposed and largely architected and mostly designed and principally developed (and occasionally tested!) by me.

Not to mention the thousands and thousands of blogs within this Blog, which for at least 70% of which were done unofficially and outside of what could nominally be thought of as work hours, even when they were technically quite useful for work I would later do.

So, my 20% time at Microsoft? It's been more like 40% time, at least!

Okay, this kind of avoids the issue a little though.

Okay, let's put all of the above aside for a moment.

I mean, in a job where virtually everything I'm doing is planned and sanctioned and reported on to my superiors, it's easy to imagine a fantasy world where Google apples become Microsoft oranges.

I mean, if I were really going to devote "1/5 of my time to work on projects of my own choosing", what would I do?

Okay, here is what I would l love to be doing with 20% of my time at Microsoft:

1) Release MSKLC 1.5, as I described here.

2) Architect a plan to expand calendar support (with full parsing and formatting) in South Asia, Africa, South America, East Asia, and basically the largely ignored world.

3) Become actively involved in the Giving Campaign at Microsoft --  in particular to convince the Executive Leadership to raise the $12,000 annual matching maximum so that at a minimum it keeps up with inflation (since this blog in September I've personally spoken with six different Microsoft VPs and I've talked to and heard from several partners and prinicpals, all of whom agree with this need -- and one of the VPs has gone to SteveB directly already to make the case).

4) Work with HR and Benefits to better rationalize the long term future of health care to solve more of the actual problems with fraud and mismanagement and errors than the current plans will be able to do.

5) Figure out how to get everyone thinking about accessibility as a quality of work and quality of life issue for our customers -- and not as line items in an ADA compliance spreadsheet -- a problem that a friend an colleague who is a Director now considers one of her full-time commitments, but I want to do whatever I can to support this.

6) Directly work on a few of the important technical efforts that go beyond the scope of Windows, to make sure they can be made a bigger priority for those other business units I am not in, as well¹.

Okay, just six things, right?

I imagine that even if I was a Technical Fellow with the authority and resources and budet to accomplish all of them, they could easily take up 120% of my time.

Yet as I sit here and see them listed out here, I feel just as strongly as ever about the need for them to happen as anything currently in my commitments at work.

And I want to do my part in whatever I can to make each and every one of them happen....





1 - I'd give more detail here (and the original draft did!), but it may not be prudent if I want to keep my current job, so the extra details were ultmately omitted.


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