Culture at Microsoft & Google

About a week or two ago an anonymous blogger posted what is meant to be from an internal mailing list in Microsoft that compares the culture of the different workplaces. The comments, all 425 of them at the time of writing, tend to indicate that the email might be true but there is also an element of caution as nothing like this can be 100% confirmed unless you are on the inside. Having said that it is a very interesting read and highlights some interesting management styles. I have pulled out some of the interesting bits below.

  • What is the culture really like? How many hours are people actually working? What are the least amount of hours you can work before you are looked down upon?

People are generally in the building between 10am and about 6pm every day, but nearly everyone is on e-mail 24/7 and most people spend most of their evenings working from home.

Just one great big start up really, the thing is because Google is the place young engineers want to work there is no issue with people getting burned out and leaving as there is always someone else willing to take their spot.

Google provides nearly everything these people need from clothes (new T-shirts are placed in bins for people to grab *twice* a week!) to food

Smart business decision on one hand as it means people don’t have “other” things to work about. Longer term as long as Google as the attraction of being the place to work it will continue to work.

  • 20% of your time on personal project. How many people actually get to use it? If so, how do they use it? Does Google own your personal project?.

20% is your benefit and your responsibility….. Most people don’t actually have a 20% project. Most managers won’t remind you to start one

Not really that surprising, the whole 20% thing is a fantastic attraction too and if anything cool does get invented Google owns the invention. Win Win for Google.

  • What are the office arrangements like? Do you have an office or cube space?

Google believes that developers are, with few exceptions, interchangeable parts.

Long term people may figure this out and in due course Google might not be “the place to work” and then a new approach will be required.

There are even buildings that experiment with no pre-defined workspaces or workstations – cogs (err, people?) just take one of the available machines and desks when they get to work.

Hot/free desking is a great space management tool but what does it say to your employees about how you care about them?

  • What is the management structure like (hierarchy)?

There are front-line developers, and then their manager. My manager had over 100 direct reports and is the common case for managers at Google.

The overall structure is:

tons (a hundred or more) of individual contributors report to

a middle manager who reports to

a division v.p. who reports to

the management team (Larry, Sergie, etc.)

Oh boy talk about flat management hierarchies! Performance/salary reviews would take a huge amount of time

  • Do they actually have plans for career development?

Basically if you get good reviews, you get more money and a fancier title (“Senior Software Engineer II”) but that’s about it.

I would say many organisations are in fact like this paying only lip service to having true career development plans for employees.

  • Who would you recommend Google to? Is it for the college kid or family type, worker bee or innovator?

College kids tend to like it because it’s just like college – all of their basic needs are taken care of.

Say no more. Actually this highlights now hard it is to please everyone, kind of like the recognition discussion.

  • Please provide any additional information that you believe will help in our battle for talent against Google?

That single benefit gets people to work earlier because hot breakfast is served only until 8:30. And since dinner isn’t served until 6:00 or 6:30 the people with a home-life tend to skip it.

Kind of sounds like slave labour to me, or at least the type of environment you get in oil/mining but then they only have 10 days on and a full 4 days off.

The list is fairly hard on Google, but also reasonably hard on Microsoft. But gives us an interesting comparisons between and 10 year old organisation vs a 30 year old one, now let’s compare to one that is over 100 years old. Neither organisation made it on to Computer World’s 100 Best Place to Work in IT for 2007.

Testing out always on contectivity

Just got my hands on a demo HP iPAQ 6965 unit to trial over the next few weeks, as my boss is away who is testing it out and has another few weeks to go on the test program. It will give me a great chance to learn about how I would use such a device. A side note it almost meets my phone specs, just missing 3G, battery life and IM clients.

This afternoon got push email setup on the work email system, now I have my emails, calendar, contacts, tasks and note from Outlook real-time sync’d to my handset. For all you Blackberry folks I know this is not new for you but it is for me.

Some of the things I hope the learn in the next few weeks:-

  • Is Windows Mobile the OS for me
  • Can I continue my GTD practices that I have in Outlook with the device
  • Do I have the personal control not to allow the push email to completely invade my life
  • What will be the performance of sites designed for mobiles, given the device is only GPRS another device will be a significant improvement
  • Get Office Communicator working so I can do enterprise VOIP, and maybe some IM with federated partners
  • Learn some things to add to our discussion on Always On Connectivity and management
  • What other cool stuff can I do with it?
  • Finally decide if a device like this is worth the $1,000 investment, more if you take a plan.

Always on connectivity and management

I wrote about hyperconnectivity a few days ago which is essentially a technology trend, but it is and will continue to have a profound impact on management both professional and personal. The basic issue is with everything always connected and communicating where does one draw the line?

Let’s take the obvious examples, BlackBerry’s and personal email.

I walk around the office these days and people seem to be always checking personal web based email during work hours. 10-15 years ago back in the days when personal phone calls were monitored, this would be unacceptable. But today management in most “knowledge worker” organisations seem to have accepted that personal email will get checked.

A side note IT organisations have a paradox to manage, they don’t want the work email system filled with personal emails, however personal web based emails allow for virus ladened files to be easily deposited into the corporation.

The BlackBerry and other push email devices have taken over our personal lives. I walk around shopping centres, restaurants, parks etc and there we have people checking work emails. Spouses, kids and friends are ignored while the process takes place. Again a portion of society now seems to accept that this will take place.

I haven’t even begun to touch on RSS readers, SMS messages, blogs, mobile phones but the same is true for all.

It is only going to get worse.

Over the last few weeks Microsoft in the UK set up a tree house in a park in down town London to show that with all this great new technology people can work anywhere, at anytime. They even have a new name for this type of work Moof, “Mobile out of office” with a blog. Where is the balance?

Web Worker Daily wrote about Busy vs Burst working styles back in April, based on James Governor’s post , a FastForward post, and a post from Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee. The basic idea across all posts is that we have a clash of cultures brewing around how work actually gets done in the workplace. Web Worker Daily summed it up nicely:-

Busy: Show your face during all standard working hours.
Burst: If you produce what you need to, we don’t care when you do it or how long it takes.

The bursty style can only succeed when you have an always on environment.

Here are a few questions I think we need to explore.

  1. As a manager how do you control both, personal and professional so one doesn’t take over the other?
  2. How do we manage the “social/knowledge/collaboration tool junkies” James Governor talks about?
  3. How do we measure productivity of the “social/knowledge/collaboration tool junkies”?
  4. Do we need to change the definition of productivity?
  5. How do you recruit a “social/knowledge/collaboration tool junkie”, what would the job description look like?
  6. How do we explain to the Busy people that the Burst people are actually getting their work done?
  7. If Bursty people can, or are perceived to, get their jobs done so quickly, should we expect more productivity out of them during 9 to 5?

There are some easy answers to some of the questions but I feel once we add everything together management is going to get very interesting.

Social networks in the extreme

Today I was lucky enough to get an invite to Pownce, thanks JJ, which is cool as I can claim to be one of the first 10,000 no 50,000 no 100,000 people on the service which keeps up my street cred as being ahead of the curve. But it raises the same issue as I have had before on all of the new social networks.


I mean come on guys, I know you all want to control your growth and limit who can get in, but please make it easy for us to bring our contacts with us.

I have a few hundred souls who read my blog, thanks! I have a hundred more on LinkedIn that I connect to, some are the same as the readers of my blog others probably not. I have 146 friends and 119 followers on Twitter, I’m sure most of them don’t read this blog but they are fun to hang out with. I have friends on, friends at Jobster, Jaiku, you get the point. I have ignored Facebook, MySpace and Friendster etc because I just don’t have time. But if I had invested the time I would have different set of friends.

I am not the only person to complain about this issue, nor is this the first time the issue has cropped up. But we have had a solution (of sorts) for about oh 2 years now, being XFN. Before anyone jumps in and says XFN wouldn’t work, stop as it is open source and the community could have enhanced it over the last 2 years to support what we needed. I see there is an obvious reason this has not happened.

LinkedIn and Paxlo have started to solve this by using the APIs of tools/services such as Hotmail, GMail, AOL etc to pull in you list of contacts.

One of the simple foundations of Web 2.0 is that “Users owning the data on a site and exercising control over that data.”, but this does not seem to hold true when it comes to my friends and social networks. The reason being is the friend are the value in the product.