Boy, what Microsoft has done with Azure and Visual Studio shows how different the company has become. These platforms and tools now support Mac OS X and Linux. This truly showcases a return to the core concepts that created Microsoft.
One of the sayings that stuck with me from my time at IBM was Thomas Watson’s advice on how to build a company that could last centuries (and IBM passed the century mark a few years back). He said that to survive you needed to be willing to change everything but what you are. Microsoft at its heart is a company focused on developers. It is ironic that Steve Ballmer is perhaps best known for his stage appearance where he passionately said, “Developers, developers, developers!” and then when he became CEO his failure was directly tied to his forgetting about developers.
Satya Nadella is a developer, and he exemplifies why technology companies need to be led by technology experts, particularly by those who are passionate about the technology the firm builds. They never lose track of the customer because they were one. They typically resist being distracted by investors or focusing on maximizing personal compensation. They got to where they are by being great with the product, and we see this change in both Microsoft and Intel this year as people passionate about product have taken over those firms.
One key proof point that this is Satya Nadella’s Microsoft is that he is actually the keynote speaker at Build, not one of his subordinates. If developers are Microsoft’s core customers, then Microsoft’s CEO, who is the face of the company, should be qualified and able to talk to them. Satya was received at the event like one of their own.
Developers approach this market very differently than investors or customers. They approach it more like a mechanic approaches a car. They may be religious about the car, but they’ll tend to want to use the best tools they can get. In fact, good programmers, like good mechanics, are often defined by the quality of their tools and their competence with them.
To address this audience, Microsoft has to go back to becoming the best tool maker. Then they need to become far less religious about the things those tools are used on. We saw this demonstrated at Build as Microsoft launched Visual Studio Code, which runs on the Mac OS X and Linux. Microsoft explained how they had driven the open source approach out of what once was a dedicated open source advocacy group inside the firm and out into every key product group.
The initial demonstrations were less about end products and all about how to make developers more productive with the tools Microsoft provides (Visual Studio Code is free) and sells.
This step back from platform religion was also on display with Microsoft Office, which has not only been taken cross-platform as well but is also back to becoming a true platform that developers create applications for. This last was a core concept of Bill Gates Microsoft. Bill was and is passionate about product, and now it is back in focus for the firm.
Having worked both in companies with passionate leaders and those that weren’t, I can tell you that the passionate leader is both more fun and far more exciting to work for and with. As I watched the keynote, I could almost feel the energy spread from stage and into every Microsoft employee in the room. This is likely at the heart of what will make Microsoft into a better company—not a focus on kicking Apple's or Google’s butt, but a focus on creating incredible products again for a unique group of potentially very creative people who often need help to get around the obstacles that keep them from being creative.
This is a change that should permeate both inside Microsoft and through Microsoft’s customers to not only transform the company but the world.
At Build this year Microsoft showcased that it got its heart back, and I doubt there is a past or present Microsoft employee who isn’t just a tad touched by that.
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