Can an open-source backer thrive inside Microsoft? This one says no

Summary:People join and leave Microsoft every day. One open-source backer who is leaving Microsoft after a three-year stint there provides his take on why Microsoft wasn't a good fit for him.

In 2008, Microsoft hired Hamilton “Hammett” Verissimo, the founder of the open-source Castle Project, as a program manager on the Microsoft Extensibility Framework (MEF) team in the company's Developer Division. On May 17, 2011, Verissimo quit Microsoft.

People join and leave Microsoft every day. (In fact, the last of the original Xbox founders submitted his resignation from Microsoft this week.) But I was interested in hearing from Verissimo whether it was a conflict in open/closed source philosophies that led to his decision to go. It turns out many of his frustrations are similar to ones I've heard shared by those leaving Microsoft whether or not they were in the open-source camp.

I realize every story has two sides. For what it's worth, here's Verissimo's side of his tale about his three years in Redmond. I submitted questions to him via e-mail and he returned with his answers. I edited out a bit of the personal health-related information Verissimo included; otherwise, this Q&A is verbatim.

MJF: What are your reasons for leaving Microsoft?

HV: (Reasons) aplenty. First, it never felt they were making good use of my skills and potential. Instead, I had to develop skills to traverse a sea of politics. It's a very inefficient company, with very little or nothing being done to make it better. MS has small windows of actual product development (new code being written) followed by long period of stabilization. It's waterfall as its best. For PMs, like me, some manager pushes idiot time consuming exercises like scenario validation.. two months to produce collateral that is bound to be useless in six months, since everything is likely to change.

Secondly, the "toxic environment" and its impact on MS' products. Since MS has a performance review system that values "individual" contributions over team work, everybody want to make impact on everything. Another way to read it is that everybody wants to voice opinions and suggestions and drive them to execution, which commonly lead to mutually exclusive ideas, and you, as a PM, will have to figure out a way to make everyone happy if you want to make progress. That leads to dysfunctional products. As a matter of fact, I remember the template I *had* to use to set my commitments/deliverables had something like "you go to spec review meetings and make valuable comments"

One thing that really frustrated me was that those random suggestions come from intuition, instead of actual scenarios/facts/data, and commonly show how disconnected MS employees are from the real world. In my case, as I worked in the developer division, it demonstrated how people there were disconnected from how developers work, and what they value. I had to constantly remind them that we should strive for simplicity since developers don't have the time to become expert on our product, since it would be another tool in their toolbox.

Finally, there are the managers. I don't know how much time people spend reading Mini Microsoft, and specially the comments there. It was actually therapeutic to me. Finding out that what was happening (via Mini) is quite common.

MJF: Does this decision have any impact on Castle?

HV: Only positive, since now I have more time to spend with it.

MJF: What's your opinion on how Microsoft's interaction with the open-source community is/isn't changing?

HV: The internal (Microsoft) culture is about competition, which is unfortunate. MS never ceases to release projects and products with similar (or equal) open source counterparts. And they do so in the name of "our customers are demanding it" which is probably true.

What they don't realize is that this action undermines the very ecosystem they should foster around their platform. Startups for example hardly chooses MS platform given that the perception is that there isn't a strong open source community around it.

MJF: What could have made you decide to stay at MS (if anything)?

HV: A big change of chairs at the top would be encouraging. Starting with (CEO Steve) Ballmer, but not excluding (Senior Vice President of Human Resources) Lisa Brummel.

MJF: What are you going to be doing next?

HV: I'm moving back to Vancouver, BC. Will stay closer to my son and work for a local company there as framework architect.

MJF: Does your departure from MS affect any projects in MEF or other parts of the company? Will anyone be replacing you there?

HV: I assume someone will replace me, but haven't heard who. I assume they are trying hard to hire a bunch of new PMs, since three have left the CoreFx team (a team inside the Common Language Runtime, CLR, team) recently, including myself.

Topics: CXO, IT Employment, Microsoft, Open Source

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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