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Ballmer Turns To Geeks For Salvation 370

jfruhlinger writes "One of the critiques of Steve Ballmer as Microsoft CEO is that, as someone who came up through sales, he doesn't really get what running an innovative tech company is about. With the company board starting to question his performance — he didn't get his bonus last year because of the Kin debacle, for instance — it appears that Ballmer is planning to install engineers in high places to turn the company around."
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Ballmer Turns To Geeks For Salvation

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  • This won't work (Score:5, Interesting)

    by watanabe ( 27967 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @02:17PM (#35140606)

    Microsoft is dominated by high-end market-consuming business strategists at the top. Bill could do both; Ozzie stepped down because he couldn't replace Bill in that role. There's just no way that there's an internal tech person with the force of will to push the business guys around and all he or she needed was Ballmer's okay to make more impact.

    Much less five of these folks. I just don't see it -- in my opinion, Microsoft needs to acknowledge it's becoming IBM, and move on gracefully to another stage in its corporate development.

  • Re:lolwut? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PickyH3D ( 680158 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @02:19PM (#35140630)

    Business people. This is oddly similar to Apple actually, where they finally turned things around with Steve Jobs who, like Steve Ballmer, is not an engineer.

    Steve Jobs may be all about sales, but he effectively placed smart people with the engineering mindsets where they needed to be.

    I look forward to Microsoft doing the same, but I hope that they don't just promote/hire engineers for the sake of having an engineer in the position and actually find someone capable of doing both.

  • Re:This won't work (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @02:34PM (#35140874) Homepage Journal

    I think they could turn it around if they where willing to be humble. That will be the problem can the suits give the geeks the respect they need to get good products.
    Windows Phone 7 is a disaster at this point in time. If it had come out when the iPhone one hit the market they would have had a chance but it is behind in features.
    1. No cut and paste. "releasing it to developers doesn't count. It will count when customers have it".
    2. Less multitasking than the iPhone.
    And The excuse that it is a now OS really does ring hollow... Windows Phone 7! it isn't Windows Phone 1. Microsoft has been in the market for around a decade folks.
    Then you have the marketing side. I am really into tech and I know next to nothing about Windows Phone 7.
    Does it have seamless integration with exchange? Better than or equal to Blackberry?
    Does it have seamless integration with Hotmail? As good as Gmail is integrated with Android?
    Voice commands as good as Android? Hey they seem to work really well with sync which is a Microsoft product.
    What about Evernote and Dropbox? Pandora?
    What about bar code readers?
    What about shopping apps?

    I am picking on Windows Phone but it seems to be a big part of the problem. Tablets? Well Microsoft pushed them for years but they failed to catch on. Apple knocked it out of the park.

    What they need to do is make a dream product. Be bold and push the limits. They have a big pile of cash still and they better start investing it in some blue sky projects that will just blow peoples socks off.
    Or maybe turn the tablet and phone projects over to the XBox team.

  • Look at what happened to many tech companies (Intel, HP, Yahoo, etc) when they replaced the tech-founder-CEOs with suits. Growth stopped and the company stagnates. Same with Microsoft.
  • Re:This won't work (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DrgnDancer ( 137700 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @02:54PM (#35141112) Homepage

    It's rarely that simple in large organizations. The head guy can say "Invite this engineer guy to your meetings", but that in and of itself doesn't mean much. Did you chose a good "engineer guy"? Did you chose someone with a strong will, who is willing to stand up to bunch of alpha male type business people? Did you give the "engineer guy" any teeth? Or just throw him in to "advise" (read: give advice that we will ignore becasue he can't do anything about it)?

    Merely putting engineers into senior positions isn't enough if he doesn't pick the right engineers with the right vision; and make sure they have the will and corporate backing to make the vision reality. GP's post simply states that he doesn't think MS has that kind of engineering leadership sitting around waiting to be picked. That may be true, they've bled a lot of visionary engineers over the years. On the other hand they have a ton of money, and (love them or hate them) lots of interesting work going on. If they really went all out to find the right people (ignoring seniority, going out side the company, etc), and then empowered those people to really make decisions, it could work.

  • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @02:56PM (#35141146)
    If I was on the board, I would have screamed for Ballmer's dismissal in September 1999, when he drove the MS share price down by 3.8% in a single day by saying "There is such an overvaluation of technology stocks that it is absurd. I would include our stock in that category." Ballmer might be a good business person, but as far as setting the corporate culture, he is an epic fail. The big question is, who should replace him as CEO?
  • Re:lolwut? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @02:57PM (#35141152) Journal
    There's a difference: Steve Jobs is an asshole with taste.

    So when he yells at an engineer because something is not "insanely great" enough, that engineer knows that Steve Jobs is right.

    If some other asshole CEO was doing the yelling, the engineer would be thinking "when can we get this over with, I have stuff to do".

    Yes you need engineers, but without someone with taste, the end product would look like a Dell or a Thinkpad. The stuff works, but...
  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @02:57PM (#35141158)

    That's been my experience with 25+ years in a major IT player. What engineers want, is someone that will listen to them. And someone who will grab them under the arms and pull them up and support them when things get ugly, and they get knocked out cold. It's quite simple actually, but it's quite amazing how few managers can do it right. I have seen a few cases exemplary performance. When I was in southern France, doing some firefighting on a project where the shit had hit the fan, and knocked the damn thing over. A couple of the employees there told me that they were coming in on the weekend to work on problems. This was not an order from the management there. Their attitude so impressed me, that I said, "I'll be in with you guys!" The second line manager got wind of the renegade action and showed up in the lab on the weekend. She didn't ask any questions about progress, but just discretely sat at a terminal, and did manager email stuff. And brought pastry snacks for the folks. But you had the feeling that she was there for us, in case we needed anything. One manager did a great job of filtering us from nasty emails about bad management decisions, that would be reversed anyway. Some folks in another department asked us, "Hey, did you see the email about capping our overtime pay?" There was another email a week later, that it was retracted. So our manager had tried to shield us from some unnecessary stress.

    On the other hand, my manager left the company. A manager from another department was appointed as his successor. He did nothing for a month, aside from forwarding management and policy notes that he received to us. He didn't even come by to introduce himself. Well, duh! I started the rumor that he didn't exist, but was actually some kind of ELIZA type forwarding engine. Then he invited is to a meeting.

    One brilliant engineer colleague of mine had excellent people skills, but declined to be put in the manager career path. He told me, "I don't want to explain to employees all day, why they can't have a bigger monitor."

    So, back to the point, Ballmer has a very aggressive ego. I'm not sure if he will be able to take advice from a "mere" engineer. And I'm not sure that good engineers will be able to take his abuse for long.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @03:04PM (#35141250)

    The problem I see with Ballmer was he's merely a manager; he's not the leader that Gates was. He lacks the strategic vision and MS has been reacting to instead of leading the market the last 10 years. Take for instance the 'Vista Compatible' debacle. Some exec lower than J. Allard made the decision to reverse course and certify the Intel video chipsets as 'Vista Compatible' when they couldn't run Aero. This caused a lot of OEM grief and consumer confusion. Did Ballmer step in and address it before it became a PR blunder? No. He only stepped in afterwards. Same thing with the Kin.

  • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @03:04PM (#35141252) Homepage

    "Software engineers suffer from the same basic issue. They tend to be so extremely technology oriented that they get completely lost in all the features that should be included, all the bells and whistles, and seem to regard an interface as something you paste on afterwards (inter-face, something which is the area where the user rubs against the technology), when the interface is the personification of the whole system, as well as the public face of the program and the company itself."

    I think this perspective is heavily colored by the rise of software engineering as a mainstream career, and the youth-dominance of the late 90's early 00's. When I was a 28 year old code cowboy in 1998 NYC, working with other late 20's code cowboys, I would have heartily agreed with you. Now, however, those same cowboys (and I) are significantly more focused on ROI, usability, and discovering the customer's desires. Software engineering is maturing, and so are software engineers.

    Frankly, I have had as hard a time -- if not harder -- getting the sales people to put together a credible revenue projection to justify a new project as with getting engineers engaged in considering value for dollar. The engineers are interested in solving the problem once you show them it is just math and measurement. The sales people want to run with their gut and tend to be optimistic (admittedly; because that is important to successfully engaging a customer) about the probable revenue.

  • by romanval ( 556418 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @03:04PM (#35141254)
    Like it or not, computers are becoming appliances, so everything in the future needs to be designed with a UX in mind... which is why Apple places UX and OS designers in the top position, while all the engineers and salespeople work below them.
  • by Mike Buddha ( 10734 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @03:19PM (#35141402)

    Just an icon with a chair would be funny and insightful at the same time :-)

    Actually, it would be neither of those things.

  • by BlueStraggler ( 765543 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2011 @03:51PM (#35141808)
    Parent is right - an empty executive chair would be funny on so many levels. Balmer's MIA business strategy, defecting MS executives, the CIO purchasing logic that keeps the company profitable, and of course it's the weapon of choice in the MS executive suite.

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.