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Bill Gates' Management Style 362

replicant108 wrote in to give us Tom Evslin's fascinating account of working for Microsoft in the early 90s. "So you're in there presenting your product plan to billg, steveb, and mikemap. Billg typically has his eyes closed and he's rocking back and forth. He could be asleep; he could be thinking about something else; he could be listening intently to everything you're saying. The trouble is all are possible and you don't know which. Obviously, you have to present as if he were listening intently even though you know he isn't looking at the PowerPoint slides you spent so much time on. At some point in your presentation billg will say "that's the dumbest fucking idea I've heard since I've been at Microsoft." He looks like he means it. However, since you knew he was going to say this, you can't really let it faze you. Moreover, you can't afford to look fazed; remember: he's a bully."
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Bill Gates' Management Style

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  • by PhxBlue ( 562201 ) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @11:45AM (#19010671) Homepage Journal

    Maybe you should've spent less time on the PowerPoint slides and more time thinking about how your idea was going to (figuratively) grab Billg around the throat and shake him until he said, "That's the best idea I've ever heard since I've been here at Microsoft."

    I mean, shit, do you really think you're going to impress the CEO of Microsoft with a PowerPoint presentation, of all things?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 06, 2007 @11:46AM (#19010675)
    After a State Dept. staffer turned in their first report to the big boss, it would frequently come back with a scrawled note indicating it was totally unacceptable, slipshod work, etc. The staffer would go back and spend the next couple weeks furiously researching and revising before submitting a completely rewritten draft. Back would come the comment that it was "not good enough -- should be much more thorough". After another three weeks of research, the staffer would add a cover letter to the latest rewrite begging the boss to specify where the report fell short, since the staffer had now spent practically all of their waking hours over the past two months working on it, etc.

    "In that case", Kissinger would say, "I'll read it".

  • by Taagehornet ( 984739 ) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @11:57AM (#19010767)

    It might also be that the idea wasn't any good after all...

    Not all former MS employees hold a grudge. Joel Spolsky appears thoroughly impressed with his former boss: My First BillG Review [joelonsoftware.com]

  • Yep (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 06, 2007 @11:57AM (#19010771)
    I worked at MS on the VS.NET IDE - a coworker who demoed to Gates told me that the guys who demoed CLR in the same meeting were white as a ghost when he was done with them (though we're nerds in redmond so we didn't get much sun anyway). Apparently CLR was a little slow.
  • Joel on BillG (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lachryma ( 949694 ) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @11:59AM (#19010793)
    Reminded me of Joel on Software's first BillG review [joelonsoftware.com] and how he handled it.
  • by happyemoticon ( 543015 ) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @12:03PM (#19010819) Homepage

    Well, as coarse as his management style is/was, a key ingredient in its success may have been in the fact that he's a really smart guy who wants to be convinced of why your ideas are right, and while he's a tough customer, he can be convinced.

    Now, there are a lot of boneheads on Planet Earth. Everybody has worked under a PHB who you have to practically subvert in order to keep your company afloat. But far more insidious are smart people who don't know how to argue or debate - or, if they do, replace actual discussion with fallacy. They use tactics such as circular arguments, attrition, argument from authority, ad-hominem attacks and stonewalling to prevent any actual reason from taking place. And usually, they're the most powerful person in the room, so your only option is to say, "Actually, sir, you haven't responded to any point I've made, and I think some outside factor is influencing your decision." Yippee.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 06, 2007 @12:12PM (#19010877)
    Bill Gates' dad is a lawyer. He came from a family where "cross-examination" in a legal sense probably went on from time to time (i.e. questioning a hostile witness). It sounds like he was inculcated with the culture.

    Also, when dealing with judges, particularly when the witnesses or jury are out of the room, lawyers can face something that can be pretty similar to what was described here. So, ok, it's hard on the computer scientists, but welcome to what lawyers get to deal with all the time. It's an accepted practice.

    Long and short of it--make sure your thinking is done BEFORE you present. Otherwise, as is to be expected, you're toast, whether the "toasting" is done by the CEO or a judge.
  • True enough. Though if you found this article interesting, you should try reading Barbarians Led by Bill Gates [amazon.com]. It's an insider's perspective on the going-ons inside of Microsoft in the early days. It's especially freaky to learn that they started coding much of Windows in BASIC. (Which I suppose comes as no surprise given that the Microsoft of the time was known as "the BASIC company".) Just like in this article, Gates was described as the King of the Hill with whom very few of the developers wanted to tangle.

    A particularly amusing anecdote was when the author was working on a clock application for Windows. He found the BASIC flood-fill routine to be buggy and quite poor, and set about to rewrite it. He then headed for Gates' office to tell him that he wanted to replace the existing flood-fill routine "because it was crap". (Or something to that effect.) Some of his coworkers tried to warn him off, but he headed straight in and showed off his work to Gates. After forcefully championing his work to Gates, Gates agreed to allow the fix. As he came out of Gates' office beaming, one of the coworkers said to him, "You know who wrote the original flood-fill routine, don't you?"

    Yep, it was Gates. And the author had just told him that his code was crap to his face. Doh! :-P
  • Shock and awe (Score:4, Interesting)

    by akypoon ( 258201 ) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @12:36PM (#19011043)
    It's a pretty common tactics to throw your presenter off guards. Some people use this as a way to gauge the competency of the presenter. I know one university professor who is famous (or notorious, depends on your perspective) for using this tactics.
  • by crazyeddie740 ( 785275 ) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @12:41PM (#19011091) Journal

    That sounds a lot like Steve Jobs except for the closed eyes and rocking back and forth.
    Which sounds a lot like Asperger's. Maybe there is some truth to the rumors?
  • by Original Replica ( 908688 ) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @01:15PM (#19011351) Journal
    I've never understood why people don't just leave in workplaces like that. It' s not like you have some good reason for company loyalty if the management is indeed a bunch of irrational fucktards. Don't just quietly leave, explain clearly why you are leaving. You like the job and the pay is fine, but there is too much internal bullshit to make the job worthwhile. When Billg says "That's the dumbest idea I've heard ..." respond by saying "You are wrong, it is an excellent idea. Your criticism is niether constructive, nor professional. I will be taking my ideas elsewhere." Then immediately leave the room, perhaps the building. So before you present your idea to Billg you should look for a new job. Hopefully you won't need the new job if Billg actually does see the value of you idea, but much more importantly he will also have to acknowledge the value of you. Sure, he still might want you to prove your idea to him, but Bill Gates is smart enough to be able to come up with insightful questions without being rude. I can only imagine this technique is an artifact of Bill Gates being, on some level, scared shitless of the size and responsiblity that MS has become. It's a "trick" that might work with some reliablity, but it's something he should have outgrown long ago. Management can only treat employees like shit when we let them, they need us at least as much as we need them. Following these princples I've doubled my income (and respect from managment)in the last three years. No, not all of this happen with one employer. I did have to walk away from one stable, but poor quality of life, job.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 06, 2007 @01:19PM (#19011371)
    The staffer, after having turned in the report, was asked "Is this the best you can do??"

    Staffer took back his report and worked on it some more before handing it in again.

    Still same question "Is this the best you can do?"

    Lather, rinse, repeat a few times.

    When handing in the report for the Nth time, he was asked that very question again: "Is this the best you can do?"

    Replied the staffer: "Yes sir, it is!"

    Replied H.K: "Well, in that case, I'll read it."
  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @01:22PM (#19011397) Journal
    I heard from people who work with international teams that this is the american way of doing. You need a champion, you need a super-hero who will be credited for the whole project. This is a bit shocking for other cultures I must say.
  • by SerpentMage ( 13390 ) <[ ] ['' in gap]> on Sunday May 06, 2007 @01:23PM (#19011419)
    Is it really bullying or abuse? Ok, the physical act may be, but I am asking in a bigger context. I am guessing they were the way they were because it was what made them great. I am guessing they were thinking, "heck this is how we became a 10,000 employee company and thus it must be good." And to a degree it is.

    Sort of like Google who for some odd reason has this itch to test everybody's ability to fine tune a bubble sort. While I can agree some Google folks needs to know this, most probably don't. Yet I see the same Microsoft attitude, "heck this is how we became a 10,000 employee company and thus it must be good."

    What Microsoft and Google often don't get is that they need to adapt, and change. For example, I would love to see Google get smart with their Google apps. For example, why do the Google apps HAVE TO be hosted on Google? Would it not be smarter to have a sort of online, offline application? Heck they tested all of their employees on the merits of the bubble sort I am sure that this online offline application would be a snap.
  • Untouchable crap (Score:5, Interesting)

    by toby ( 759 ) * on Sunday May 06, 2007 @01:27PM (#19011443) Homepage Journal

    This parable illustrates how personal defects get in the way of quality. If the code is crap, the code is crap, no matter who wrote it. If politics or sensitive egos block improvements, quality suffers. Compare EgolessProgramming [c2.com].

    This "my code is perfect" attitude is alive and well. A friend of mine started a new job recently and found that his boss:

    • Considered himself in the top 1% of programmers
    • Described every line of code he had written for the company's application as "perfect"
    • Refused to use any version control system, yet was part of a team
    • Wrote no comments, and no documentation
  • What a crock. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by twitter ( 104583 ) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @02:12PM (#19011769) Homepage Journal

    his management style is/was, a key ingredient in its success may have been in the fact that he's a really smart guy who wants to be convinced of why your ideas are right, and while he's a tough customer, he can be convinced.

    There were several key ingredients to the M$ success but treating employees like shit is not one of them. Bill came from a rich family and was obsessive. Where a normal person [wikipedia.org] might spend their youth pleasing themselves with relatively unlimited resources, Mr. Gates created M$Basic. His big break came from IBM, which propelled DoS and then Windoze to dominance. The only place his asshole nature did M$ any good is the way he treated competitors but the end of the story has yet to be written.

    No one else has won, and that's a situation that never lasts long. Family connections [wikipedia.org] and piles of money have helped shield him from the consequences of his antisocial attitude. Most people get tired of that unless they like groveling before insecure dick heads. He has done two decade's worth of harm to industry, laws and morals of the world and the results are more obvious every day.

    People who treat others like shit prove they lack forsight, not how smart they are. What goes around, comes around. You can get the same immediate results with better manners and willpower that's built on intelligence rather than insecurity and cruelty. The backlash is growing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 06, 2007 @02:25PM (#19011881)
    From what I've read, Steve Jobs would be like this:

    Guy with idea: "Today I'm going to talk to you about the iCock .. the world's first programmable vibrator."

    Steve Jobs: "Okay. Go."

    Guy: "The iCock has the potential to---"

    Steve Jobs: *after 10 seconds* "Why is it shaped like that?"

    Guy: "Uh, it has to--"

    Steve: *interrupting again* "There's no way to fit a battery in there that's powerful enough. My wife would never buy it."

    Guy: "We ran some--"

    Steve: "This won't work." *gets up and leaves after 2 minutes*

    So, he's subtly different than Bill Gates. Bill Gates wants you to squirm, probably because he was bullied as a child or some shit. It really doesn't matter what he thinks of your idea. Steve Jobs genuinely wants good ideas, but if you don't have one, you have zero value to him. Pure arrogance.

    You can see the results of the differing philosophies in their respective products.
  • by ralphdaugherty ( 225648 ) <ralph@ee.net> on Sunday May 06, 2007 @02:39PM (#19011977) Homepage
    He found the BASIC flood-fill routine to be buggy and quite poor, and set about to rewrite it.

          I remember at Z-Soft in 1986 where Z-Soft was licensing a small Windows version of PC Paintbrush to Microsoft, a comment from Z-Soft founder getting off an exasperating phone call with someone at Microsoft.

          "I could just write a flood fill routine for them if that's what it takes."

          That would have been same time period the clock was being written too. Not sure if flood fill code had to be sent to them or not to get it resolved. :)

  • gem of irrelevance (Score:3, Interesting)

    by toby ( 759 ) * on Sunday May 06, 2007 @04:52PM (#19012963) Homepage Journal
    Now look at the context. LKML is, if nothing else, an eternal debate between intelligent individuals.

    MS is a fiefdom, riddled with politics, inflexible, where the billionaire cadre at the top are entirely insulated from reality, and every other layer of the pyramid wants what they've got. Furthermore, they're well known to be gold plated dysfunctional assholes.

    If Linus were a gold-plated asshole, the rest of LKML would soon figure it out, and go do something more rewarding than sniff his butt crack.

    Money greatly distorts and/or corrupts personalities and companies. This is one pathology the Linux community doesn't share.
  • by fwarren ( 579763 ) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @05:24PM (#19013269) Homepage
    It is abuse....period

    I have worked with several types of managers over the years. It may be my own personal preferences, but I WILL NOT work in that kind of environment. It is one thing to sit around with friends, and have them kick your idea to the curb and having to defend it. It is another thing all together when someone you are working for who is inscrutable pulls that on you.

    I have worked for a boss like that. He would look at you with the cold dead snake eyes, and ask you a question. He has already decided in his mind what response he wanted, and if you did not give it, you were demoted or fired. The problem was, he would either ask you question a) something he believed in and wanted you to champion the idea to him, or b) some straw man, which you had to strongly disagree with. He was always very quiet and never let anyone in on where the company was going or what he was thinking, everyone was always having to take the multiple choice quiz. There was only one manager that had been with him 15 years, everyone else was 5 years or less.

    For me, that did not work. I like having an idea what the boss is thinking. Being able to get my job done, not having to ask stupid questions, and then being able to anticipate what they might need in the future and providing that for them. Quite frankly between working at a place where any question could be my demise, and my employer is thinking, well a new higher will make $2.00 less an our. Or a job where they apologize for giving you a 25% raise the first year you are there, because it is not any larger than that. I will take the second job. Which by the way, does not come with the boss who is a bully.

    On the plus side, yes Windows is the monopoly that it is today. On the downside, they have championed legacy compatibility at the cost of security. Finally we arrive at Vista, a prodcut that is out of touch with it users. Who needs it? Businesses? Home users? What is it's target audience? What does it do better than XP? Vista is like a car that costs 4 times as much as last years model, is larger, gets less than half of the mpg of last years model. It has less trunk space but "a bitching dashboard", with all of the controls and readouts moved from what everone else has used in the industry for the last 50 years.

    What kind of thinking do you think it took to make that product, what kind of leadership. What items were championed into the prodcut, and what items where championed and pushed the backer of it out the door? By which I mean, this bully attitude is NOT working for Microsoft. They are not going to stay "an industry leader" if they keep working that way.
  • by Wabbit Wabbit ( 828630 ) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @07:27PM (#19014431)
    For 6-odd months I was a programmer with MCS (Microsoft Consulting Services). MS had just rolled out NT 3.1, and were just on the way to becoming an Evil Empire, which is actually why I quit.

    I met billg during an MS-internal NT programming course in Seattle once, and he was obssessed with VB. Wanted everything done in VB. When I described the C++ work I was doing on some real-time newsfeed and stock quote applicaations for some big-name MS clients in New York, he started hammering me on why I wasn't using VB.

    I was either too stupid or too naive or too hungover from the pervious night out to care, but I argued right back at him, telling him VB had a looooong way to go on the API front, the performance front, the stability front, etc.

    He looked like he was ready to lock horns (and he was still *just* technically aware enough to have actually had an almost-descent tech conversation with), but his handlers ushered him away.

    I got a good reputation after that for being utterly fearless, but for me that meeting was the metaphorical writing on the wall and I left soon after.
  • by try_anything ( 880404 ) on Sunday May 06, 2007 @07:55PM (#19014693)
    Bill Gates is a smart guy who could have written the code right in the first place, but he decided to do a quick and sloppy job instead. Later, when confronted with the need for a rewrite, he didn't try to weasel out of the consequences of his original decision.

    Bad managers want to enjoy the upside of their decisions and blame the downside on somebody else. In this case, the upside was presumably that Bill saved time by writing a slapdash flood-fill implementation. The downside was the eventual need to stop and rewrite the flood-fill algorithm correctly. Bill accepted the downside gracefully instead of denying the need for the rewrite or getting all pissed off about the delay.
  • Like I was telling my daughter yesterday, the appropriate thing to do when you meet such a person is to drill them in the nose with your knuckles as hard as you can, unless they outweigh you by a significant margin, in which case you should hit them with a chair until they crumple to the ground.

    Or you could take the civilized course of action and simply make such a compelling presentation of, and argument for, your product that your opponent is shown to be wrong.

    The appropriate thing to do when confronted with a bully is to either a) ignore them, or b) make everyone else see how wrong they are. Physical violence is usually the worst way to achieve the latter, both in execution and outcome.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <.moc.cam. .ta. .rcj.> on Sunday May 06, 2007 @09:19PM (#19015391) Journal
    Bill Gates is a smart guy who could have written the code right in the first place,

    On what do you base this assertion? I've never seen any evidence of coding skill on Gates' part, and the quality of his company's products over the years would tend to support the opposite conclusion.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 06, 2007 @10:17PM (#19015843)
    It reminds me very much of when I was learning C in college (before I went to university). Microsoft quickC. What a joke! I remember having to write a game from scratch using it. I found that using the very core features, I could write my own functions that worked very much better than the 'advanced features' did. At the time I thought: If I can write (quickly as I'm learning the language), better, faster routines that the clowns who wrote this trash, either whoever bought it was an idiot, or whoever wrote it was an idiot (and the writer came before the buyer). I stole a copy for my own use (for the duration of the course), but formatted every floppy immediately after as I just couldn't stand to have that trash using up valuable floppy space anymore (they were 40 cents in bulk at the time!). Less than 2 years later, I was introduced to gcc and Free Software. Why is it that the good stuff is free and the bad stuff you have to pay for/steal? Perhaps its that the free stuff people wrote because they wanted great software, and the other stuff was created to make a buck.
  • by tsa ( 15680 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @01:30AM (#19017051) Homepage
    To one degree or another and how choose to interpret things, you just described just about everyone in society.

    American society maybe. America definitely is a fear-driven society. But there are other ways to live. Unfortunately, many politicians in Europe now also choose to frighten and bully their people. No wonder terrorist threats are up.

No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.