So, Who Is Steve Ballmer Really?

I always chuckled at at the various comedic stories and faces of Steve Ballmer. YouTube videos of him ‘whooping it up’ and screaming on stage made him out to be more of a jester than the CEO of one of the world’s most powerful corporations.

I had the opportunity to see him going at it this past Thursday at the Microsoft Company Meeting at Safeco Field. Here’s my perspective. I have one question:

What is the role of the CEO?

A CEO should align the company’s operations with its long-term vision. The CEO should help provide the motivation and drive for employees to achieve all that they can. The CEO should ensure that the company achieves its goals quarter after quarter, year after year. In the case of Microsoft, the way that happens is through its employees.

As much as Ballmer is panned by the press for his antics, I have never heard anyone deliver any speech with such passion, belief, and inspiration as the one I heard at 3:00pm this past Thursday. I’d be a bit surprised if there was anyone in that stadium that wasn’t at all moved by the speech. In this capacity, Steve Ballmer more than surpassed his requirement to motivate the troops.

Yeah, he ran around slapping hands and yelling into his mic. Yeah, he grabbed an employee’s iPhone and pretended to stomp on it. But those ‘boos and jeers‘ from the employees? They were in support of Ballmer, against the iPhone. The thing these publications and commentors don’t understand is that the employees like Ballmer. His speeches are about how important the employees are to the company and to him. They are about his belief in the company’s ability to win. They are about making the employees feel great about their company and their past, present and future accomplishments.

The reaction to the speech was electric. You could feel the pride swell in the ranks. You could feel Ballmer’s unadulterated passion rippled through the crowd. If an hour of his time can increase productivity in the employee base by 1%, it’d be worth it. He left things off with ‘Let It Rock’ by Kevin Rudolf, an appropriate choice given the last slide of his presentation on how the employees and products of Microsoft rock.

I have a new profound respect for Steve Ballmer. Although only two weeks into my internship, I feel a deep pride for working at Microsoft, no matter what is said about the company or how people perceive it. While writing my intern commitments this past Friday, I re-listened to parts of the speech, because it was simply that inspiring. I wish I could convey to you some of the comments he made. I think it would change many peoples’ prejudices towards the man.

So, who is Steve Ballmer? He helps run one of the world’s most successful companies. He is loved by his employees. He is possibly the most inspiring and passionate person I’ve ever met. He is someone I would want to work for.

I’ll post up something ambiguous (as not to violate NDA) tomorrow on what I thought about the other company meeting presentations.

First Week In the Northwest

Okay. I’ve been in the United States Northwest for a week, worked at Microsoft for 5 business days and took a trip to the Boeing wide-body factory in Everett. I’ve experienced sun and some rain. I’ve driven around the area and now understand why Seattle is called the Emerald City. I’ve come to worship SlickDeals and the Zune Pass. Now, it’s time to put down some thoughts.

The Northwest is a dark, gloomy, wet, and dreary place to work and live. Being in the Northwest has upset many of my preconceptions of the region. I’d read about how few days of sun Seattle gets each year. I heard about constant clouds and rain and complete utter misery. Granted the amount of precipitation will increase throughout the months that I’ll be here, I can’t help but be so excited about being straddled by the Pacific Ocean and the Olympic Mountains/rainforest to the west and Mount Rainier and the Cascades to the east. There is simply too much fantastic nature to take in over the next 4 months. The Labour Day long weekend is shaping up to be a pretty rainy one, but Monday should be sunny and I’m planning a photo trek out towards Lake Wenatchee. The new camera backpack is purchased and ready to go (a Tamrac Aero Speed Pack 85). It also helps that the entire area, the city included, is filled with lush trees. Driving on the local freeways gives the air of being in the middle of a forest. Hence the Emerald City nickname; the color green permeates the region.

The first week at Microsoft consisted of drinking lots of the corporate kool-aid, which is a very tasty drink, I might add. It’s hard not to feel good about working for a company that’s so successful. The perks are awesome (Microsoft Prime, health benefits, private offices, car rental subsidies, and a generous salary) and the people all top caliber. Microsoft gets painted in terrible light, almost everywhere in the world, but being on the inside, there’s no indication that they’re out to destroy lives and businesses. Yeah, there are jokes and banter about the competition, but it wouldn’t be normal for that not to exist. Subpoenaed communications between employees taken in the contextual vacuum of a courtroom means the interpretation can be quite different from the intention. That’s not to say Microsoft hasn’t made some poor decisions in the past. Just don’t mistake Microsoft for Godzilla. There is a reasoning behind the madness.

I’ve started settling in with the Office InfoPath team. Security permissions are still a mess and I don’t have access to any of the internal Office resources, which is putting a damper on my knowledge ramp up. In the meantime, I’ve been using InfoPath and learning the ins and outs. As a PM, I’m discovering that much of the day is filled with meetings. It’s not so bad right now, since I don’t have too much to do yet, but I foresee it as a challenge to attend these meetings and still get all the necessary work done.

The team in general is quite young, with three PM’s hailing from the University of Waterloo. Everyone’s been super supportive of the new intern, and I’m beginning to feel comfortable. I’m eager to get to work with some of the devs on real tasks, but that’ll have to wait until I can do more benefit than damage, with my limited experience with the product, for now.

Yesterday, I, along with some fellow interns, journeyed north to the Boeing wide-body aircraft factory in Everett, where we partook in the Boeing factory tour. I stood in the world’s largest building by internal volume and watched as Boeing 747-8s, 777s, and the new 787 Dreamliners were built. I often take my flying safety for granted, but seeing today the extreme engineering marvel that is aircraft construction, I’m going to say a little prayer of thanks to those workers every time I step on a plane from now on. Business Process Management? You haven’t seen it until you’ve witnessed the assembly line in Everett. I can’t imagine the kind of pride an engineer at Boeing must feel when the first plane of a new line makes its inaugural flight safely.

Pratt and Whitney at the Future of Flight

I signed up to the Zune Pass trial, something that I’ve always wanted to do when I was in Canada, but couldn’t due to region restrictions. I fully intend on continuing with the paid subscriptions once the 14 day trial is up. The value proposition is fantastic and I’ve been itching to discover some new music. The internet connection at the place I’m staying at is quite slow, 1Mbps, so we’re trying to get that upgraded. Once that’s done, I’ll have nearly uninhibited access to a wide selection of music. That reminds me, Pandora should be available as well, now that I’m in the US.

Looking forward, next week will be a shortened work week, both due to the Labour Day holiday, as well as an all-hands company meeting on Thursday. I’m excited to see the executives talk about Microsoft’s progress over this difficult year, and perhaps even Steve Ballmer jump around on stage. On a more serious note, I’m very curious as to how Ballmer is as a CEO. Every time his name comes up, most people probably see the generic fist pumps or awkward facial expressions. I’m more interested in the untainted person who has such a large say in running one of the world’s most successful companies.

On The Bookshelf – Aug. 28, 2009

With some free time, finally, upon the completion of the 4A semester, I’ve gotten around to reading some books I’ve been meaning to for a long time.

The Photographer’s Eye

This fantastic work of art by Michael Freeman aims to address one of the key components of photography: composition. I sometimes get wound up in the technicalities of photography, cameras, lenses, accessories, that I forget about what’s important.

The picture.

Photographer's Eye

This book was highly recommended at some of the photography forums I frequent, and I picked it up to help refocus on getting the picture and not the gear. I’m only about 50 pages into the nearly 200 page book of fantastic imagery and tips, and I’m learning new stuff left, right, and center (literally?). Most of the basic composition concepts I know, including rule of thirds/geometric divisions, leading lines, contrast, have already been covered in only the first couple chapters. I’m eager to find out what fills the remaining 150 pages.

I really like how the book is designed. Each topic is surrounded by several examples, with commentary delving into the reason(s) the photograph ‘works’, tying back to the technique at hand. Photography is one of those skills that is most readily learned through the study of many, many samples. I got a glimpse of the technique via various online forums and Flickr, but this book condenses everything down into concise, to the point data.

Making Things Happen

In preparation for the program management position I’m about to throw myself into in a few days’ time, I’ve restarted reading Making Things Happen by Scott Berkun. I purchased this book not long after I got the Microsoft PM job, early this past spring. Something called university really got in the way of all my readings, so this book was left unattended to.

Making Things Happen

Scott Berkun worked at Microsoft as a Program Manager for several years, so he has great insight on the processes and mindset that happen there. Although I’ve held a couple co-op positions as a ‘Product Manager’, the level of responsibility and independence afforded by Microsoft to its PM interns is, from what I hear, quite unheard of. I don’t want to go blundering off a cliff, so I’d better learn as much as I can quickly.

Interacting with co-workers, especially in the Microsoft model of a PM working with a couple devs and testers, in a close-knit team, decision making, managing schedules and plenty more (I’m about 1/3 of the way through the book) are discussed. Being an intern, I’m uncertain of how the environment will look and the responsibilities that will be placed on me. This book has at least given me insight on how the full-timers do it. 🙂

Note: Both product links are through my Amazon Associates account. Help me pay for web hosting, if you’re interested in purchasing any of the books mentioned here. Thanks!

URA, Co-op, and Orchestra

The last week has been quite eventful.

After some scrambling, I was able to get an Undergraduate Research Assistantship with a professor in the Computer Science department, working in the area of HCI, which is a great match for my user interface interest. I’m slightly unsure how to approach the project I was given, which will involve interviews with others, so I’ve been absorbing all the research papers on the topic as I can get my hands on. In the meantime, I’m planning some meetings with my supervising professor to get some pointers. The excellent opportunity should give me an idea of what graduate research is like, before I apply to grad schools in the fall. It’s like… part-time co-op for grad school.

Although I didn’t need to apply for jobs this semester, I am more pleased than ever that I secured a job with Microsoft last semester. The Microsoft job posting for the fall semester was suddenly pulled from Jobmine earlier this week. I later found out that all the positions for the fall had either been filled, or were in the process of being filled. The head recruiter was quick to point out that it wasn’t a matter of Microsoft not hiring, but rather that the available positions had been filled. Although slightly odd to have interviewed a semester early, in retrospect that would have been the only way for me to work there in the fall.

Orchestra is in full swing now, and I’ve been appointed percussion lead once more. The others in the section are all musically talented, but their musical training, like mine comes from piano, and neither have much experience in percussion. Consequently, I’ve been ‘mentoring’ the section somewhat, with my decidedly meager skills. It’s a great learning experience for me, both in terms of making sure I know the technique well enough to impart it on others, as well as actively teaching something to someone on a continuing basis. I’m planning extra sessions outside of rehearsal to answer questions and help the other percussionists.

I’m headed home again this weekend as my cousin is coming to visit for the US long weekend. From what I understand, he’ll be bringing his newly acquired Nikon D700. I can’t wait to talk shop with him, not to mention try out a damn nice camera.

Elation – Microsoft PM

It seems like when things go right, they really go right.

No point beating around the bush here, I received an offer for a PM position at Microsoft for the fall semester earlier today. Furthermore, I found out yesterday that I (finally) passed PDEng 55.

On my second attempt at a Microsoft position, I did a significant amount of preparation, which paid off in the best way possible. I have a call scheduled for Monday, when I’ll get a chance to ask some more questions and maybe speak with the team that I would be working with if I were to accept.

Funny thing is, I actually had a dream about receiving a call from Microsoft last night. In the dream, my interviewer called me to inform me of their decision, but for some reason, I couldn’t hear what he had to say. I was in agony over not knowing, despite being on the phone with the person who was telling me. That dream was the catalyst that made me inquire about my fortunes. I sent an email to Microsoft before heading off the class this morning.

I picked up the real call in the the Davis Centre library, around the tables where it’s quite noisy, and yep, I initially couldn’t hear what the HR contact I’d been communicating with was saying. Talk about semi-deja vu. But once the message got through to my brain, I spent the remainder of the call tripping over myself and thanking her profusely. It was probably embarrassing, but I was simply too happy to care.

The opportunity is still 5 months away, so it’s a bit premature to get overly excited now, but I’m already thinking about it. It’s only natural, I suppose. In the meantime, I’ll be preparing for the last two midterms on Tuesday and Wednesday. Focus!