I was hired at Microsoft to be the business analyst for the small and medium search sales and service organization in 2007 by Jennifer. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing or how I made it through the interview. At some point I remember saying something like “global scale and local relevance” which seemed to come from nowhere but it turned out to be a pretty cogent strategy and appealed to Jenn. I cut my teeth every single day in the job learning to be a better professional, a better colleague, a better friend, and establish a grounding in strategic thinking. At Microsoft I became committed to and began to see and believe in the vision. And I endured the pain of many stumbles.
I failed greatly and learned so much from those experiences but I also did some pretty great work in that first job, some of which still survives today which is something to say at a place like MSFT. There was one month in 2008 where Christiaan and I spent an entire month without a day off camped out in my then windowless office, flailing our way through SQL queries and spreadsheets to try and reconcile the advertising business so that people could get paychecks for the work they had done. We learned so much during that time our brains nearly burst but I think the most important lesson was about the fine line between exhaustive reconciliation and allowable nuanced judgment. And I’m not just talking about numbers. I’m talking about knowing when it is right to forsake the relationship or outcome in lieu of being thought of as right. I’ve spent way too much time trying to be right.
I remember the day Randy gave me my first Microsoft Gold Star. I thought when he requested a meeting with me I was being fired. I was being given a reward. I think a lot of us lived with a lot more fear during those times.
I worked for Matt during the time the Yahoo deal was written under the most ridiculous of ridiculous codenames. I remember calling him on the phone while driving on 520 and gently telling him that he had sent his first organizational communication but had failed to remove my notes and edits. I think his actual response was “ah, well, no one really reads those things.” I moved to work for Gregory who’s lion-like-with-a-heart-of-gold approach was always well intended but sometimes not received as such. He’s still in my book of favorite people.
I worked for Todd who is now CEO of Booking.com and got to see Darren’s keen mind and incurable sense of exploration and met Kahly who I still work with today and who I often share a laugh with at Todd and Darren’s expense. I met Tami during this time, admiring as I still do her tenacious way of getting things done and focusing in on what matters and I’m so lucky for her friendship. And that of many others too.
I met Carolyn who sent me one of the kindest texts I’ve received who’s words I call on regularly when I’m rolling in self-doubt. It simply said: “you are a star, stay close.” It’s ironic — at the time, I wasn’t leveled high enough to get in to the room where some of what I had worked on tirelessly was being presented. Carolyn fought for me to be there and I stood in awe as every executive was in front of me talking candidly about the business. I am now fearless in that environment and just this morning filmed the intro video for our chief operating officer at our national sales conference. How things change.
I worked for Jason and Richard who I adore and admire deeply right after I worked for Pat who is off chasing his lifelong dream of being at home with his family on his farm filled with cows…though the farm is now a sailboat and in the middle of the ocean somewhere and the cows have been replaced with deep sea catch of the day. I met Frank who became an unexpected advocate in the fight for equality.
I have met so many brilliant people who have worked on the advertising business at Microsoft (like Mrs. Feldhausen who taught me pragmatism and Lucy who taught me to think of people…and Jenny who is single handedly changing how technology addresses the issue of accessibility and meeting the needs of those that might have different abilities than what is considered “normal”). I’ve watched Ryan go from nice guy, to SeaHawk mascot, to working in the Office of the CEO. We’ve all gone different ways and watched different futures materialize but damn…do I feel lucky for knowing this group of people.
So it goes without saying that I’ve been waiting many years to see this headline (served up to me by Bing and Cortana).
And not because of cockiness or a want of seeing anyone else come under pressure, but because of the countless conversations the brilliant people listed above had to endure where we were told that Microsoft sucked, that Windows phone sucked, that Bing sucked, that __________ sucked. The jokes we endured, some we told ourselves. The jokes we told ourselves were self-criticism masked with humor — and self-criticism is something that only those that have worked at Microsoft will understand.
Those “funny” jokes made around us ‘softies about the products we work on, toil over, and see the vision of…the products we hope bring value to the user…these jokes are not all that humorous — at least not to me. You see — that joke — we’ve already beaten ourselves up over the flaw you poke fun of. The missing thing you notice – we ran out of time and couldn’t squeeze more hours from the day. The feature missing when compared to X — we are punishing ourselves for it.
Many feel that technology is impersonal, but let me tell you that it is very personal, and while it may seem like “moving x over there” or “changing this to that” is just a simple magic wand maneuver for some super computer, it isn’t. All this text you see, the pictures you smile at, and the news stories you read are the craft of people JUST LIKE YOU. Yes, I said it — craft. That’s a word my friend Jason Wilson reminded me was still real.
And so I find it especially terrible when I see people commenting on how terrible Alaska Airlines is or how Facebook spit out a new feature that people didn’t like. I challenge anyone writing such a statement to operate a business at scale and do it flawlessly or to the liking of every audience. I’ve written scathing statements about my experience with companies; I regret them.
Be crisp and clear and unrelenting in your feedback when your objective is to improve and help others, but we all must discontinue the recreational bitching when we do so just to make ourselves feel better. Articulate the problem then help with the solution.
So as the Stephen’s move on to be brilliant elsewhere and we all move in to yet another phase of many phases in our professional and personal lives, my goal is to take a bit of time to remember how diverse and how rich my life is because of the network I’ve created in my professional life. And I’ll be more thoughtful before annihilating a company because I can empathize with how deeply those people care about what they work on, just as I do, and remind myself a good portion of them are really trying to do better.
And while I am charmed to know some pretty extraordinary people who have massive scope and greatest possible blessings, I want to make sure I focus on the unsung. This week I sent four different thank you notes:
- One to Safeway regarding Roberto and Cher for help in the meat department cutting extra thick porkchops where the clerks educated me on parts of the loin and I walked away more knowledgeable that I had arrived.
- One to Microsoft Dining Services regarding Juan who despite working almost non stop for many weeks always is cheerful and smiles and makes me laugh a bit while I get my lunch.
- One to Comcast for the exceptional service provided by Jeremy.
One note went to the company that employs the janitor of my apartment building. This man tends to the sloppiness of people much more privileged than he is; the lack of care and concern some show for their surroundings…their home…is astounding but Ted gladly makes it better. He takes great pride in his work. I say to him each week “thanks for all you do” and last week he paused and thoughtfully said more than the usual “you’re very welcome.”
My father once told me that a janitors job is not just to look down, but look up!
There are countless ways to interpret this, but a week later I stopped to tell him how much thought I had given to his statement, so much so that it made it on to a stickynote. His response: “Well, we’re the first line of defense when it comes to making people happy.”
I don’t think I pause enough to give thanks where it is due.
To each person named above and any that are unnamed as well, thank you for all the ways you’ve helped me and guided me. The AOL deal most certainly has made me reflect on things and I’ve been thinking about this for a while.
And to Google and my friends there, double down and rise back up because I truly believe that only via constant challenge do we achieve our best. You innovated once, you can do it again, and the story isn’t over. Don’t let the media tell you differently.
(This blog post is dedicated to the late Gayle Hoshino.)