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

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, Microsoft, Open Source, IT Employment


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Not the least surprised

    These are precisely the reasons MS will eventually go under, unless radical changes are undertaken. They will not be able to compete in the new fast moving nimble mobile world, where they do not have an entrenched dominant legacy position. I get a very distinct impression that MS is doing little but reacting to external events it cannot control.<br><br>And let the fan boys respond with how much money MS has/is making. It is not relevant to the future, except MS has a lot more time to squander that money.
    • Message has been deleted.

      Will Pharaoh
      • He was specific about what argument he was &quot;shutting down&quot;

        @Will Pharaoh - throwing a yellow flag - he didn't say "don't tell me i'm wrong", or express any unwillingness to discuss - he just pre-defended against one single argument, "you must be wrong because they have a lot of money."
      • Yes, but....

        ...its the dumbest thing he could say! Saying a companies current and past performance and profitability isn't relevant to the future is beyond ludicrous. I suspect he was trying to point out that different things can happen in the future that could interfere with a companies track record...fair enough but thats obvious and without some even slight indication of what that change would be, its pointless to say any particular successful company is going down because things can change.

        He says Microsoft will not be able to compete in a fast moving nimble mobile world, where they do not have an entrenched dominant legacy position. Says he. And who is he? Clearly someone who thinks that phones are going to rule the world. I myself am betting not. Again so what. Neither of us have any hard facts to prove our position and as such predicting the downfall of one of the largest most successful corporations in the world based on unsupported personal opinion is hardly worth making the effort to write it.

        Don't suggest that the long term profitability of a company is not a good indicator of future prospects. It is unless there is some other REAL facts that indicate something new that is bound to have a new and negative impact. There is nothing like that right now, and no genuine sign that it may somehow be on the horizon.

        For Economister to say that all the money MS has made in the past doesn't matter is just nonsense. It does matter. A lot.
      • Say what you will @Cabyle, but...

        ...if you really think we're going to be indefinitely tied down with keyboards, mice and desktops for the next few decades, you are living in a museum piece from the 90s. Phones, tablets and other lightly-powered smart devices will come along and make the traditional desktop even less relevant as times goes on.

        Notice I said "less relevant". Not entirely disappear. I don't always deal in absolutes like you do
        blind obedience
    • Ive been pointing out the same for years

      It was obvious from the outside. Now confirmed from the inside. Expect the usual to apologize for them.
      Richard Flude
      • No apologies here. I think its too bad myself.

        @Richard Flude
        But in the long run, what does all that mean or indicate? Nothing I suspect. Its just business as usual in Big Corporate America, and will probably continue along that way just fine if we like it or not.
      • Hindsight is such a wonderful ability to have

        @Richard Flude
        it allows one to comment on things already known as to make one believe they had said that all along.
        Tim Cook
      • Spock, that's Hindsight bias

        The problem for you is the dozens of posts pointing out the disconnect between the USD8+ billion spent per annum by MS and the lack of new products.

        Then we look at your posts...
        Richard Flude
    • Typical nonsense.

      I guess then its the same reasons why Apple will eventually go under because unlike the Apple apologists, I don't simply believe everything negative about MS and give Apple a pass on the exact same crap.

      Its been established for quite awhile now that there are some practices at many firms, Apple included that create oppressive conditions and the reality is whats good for the goose is good for the gander. The bottom line is that Microsoft is so so far from going under you might just as well predict the demise of any company, no matter how successful they are.

      Do I believe what this Verissimo is saying? I suspect its at least mostly true. So what. Its going to take a lot more then this nonsense to make a company like MS go under. If you worked in fast food you could say the exact same thing about McDonald's, in retail you could talk about Walmart and the list goes on.

      Unfortunately, history has shown that a company that is hugely successful as Microsoft is often has many policies and ways of doing things that rub all sorts of employees the wrong way and for good reason. History has also shown that it never amounts to anything like enough on its own to put a company under.

      Wake up and stop wishful dreaming.
      • A little bit of critical reading and thinking.

        @Cayble<br><br>So you "suspect its at least mostly true". Maybe then you need to re-read his answer to the first question - slowly and carefully - and think about the implications, when the industry is going through an inflection point and things are changing very quickly.<br><br>We have a fairly long list of recent failures from MS as symptoms of precisely what he is talking about. Margins will be squeezed more and more, with MS's cash cows slowly losing ground. MS is reactive rather than proactive. By the time they come out with a product or solution the market has already moved on. You can literally see it happening before your eyes.<br><br>Will Apple last forever? probably not, but they started this whole ball rolling. They are setting the direction with vision and execution. MS is just lumbering behind, essentially without a clue. <br><br>I know that MS has the resources to stay in this battle for a long time. Unless they get their act together, they are just going to pi$$$ away the shareholders' money. The more they have/make to pi$$$ away, the more "criminal" it gets.
      • Going under?

        @Cayble You've created a straw man. No sane person thinks Microsoft is "going under". The fact is they've disappointed their shareholders for the last ten years. Verissimo has pointed out some issues that may be contributing factors. I think the company has gotten too big and would be worth more if it split itself up.
      • RE: Can an open-source backer thrive inside Microsoft? This one says no

        @Cayble 3 Letters IBM
      • Fat vs. fittest = fat wins

        @Cayble <br>I don't expect MS fall any time soon either. Independent on the company in question this is the unfortunate reality of our current economical system, fiercely defended by some and not challenged by others. In economical crisis fat survives the fittest, hence stalling innovation.<br><br>Hopefully becoming fat was honestly achieved by innovation. As I see it the unfortunate reality behind Microsoft's success was that it become fat on stalling innovation, and kept many challengers busy dealing with legal matters instead of technological.<br><br>However no one expect an ideal market. We've left to deal with what we have at the moment.
    • RE: Can an open-source backer thrive inside Microsoft? This one says no

      @Economister It's all about leadership and their strategic vision. MSFT has largely become a me-too company with a relatively flat stock. Based on the article, it would seem that internally MSFT has a lot of work to do (which takes the RIGHT leadership and Ballmer aint it) in order to improve things.

      Windows has essentially become a commodity. While I don't see them being threatened anytime soon on the enterprise server side of the house, certainly in the mobile and desktop/laptop/table/phone arenas there are other WORTHY alternatives out there.

      Case and Point. For the first time since the early 90s, I am finally running a non Microsoft OS (Ubuntu 11.04) and since May 1st of this year, I have had NO reason to boot up my Windows 7 PC. I am seriously considering putting Ubuntu (only) on that one as well this weekend.
  • On outsting Ballmer

    Mary, is it possible for you to do a piece or give some insight into Eric Rudder? He was supposed to have been the heir to the throne at MS a decade ago, but he's gone completely quiet. Did Ballmer put him on a "secret project" to keep him out of the limelight as a potential CEO replacement?
    • Rudder

      Hi. I've asked repeatedly to talk to Midori folks including Rudder to no avail. I think your theory about Ballmer putting him in a place to prevent him from being the CEO is way way offbase. I don't think he's on the short list. I doubt he has the skillset for that job, and would be he isn't interested in it, given what he's done in the past. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • RE: Can an open-source backer thrive inside Microsoft? This one says no

        @Mary Jo Foley , thanks for the reply Mary. I do look forward to them having to eventually talk to you. :-)

        I do ask about Rudder taking over because it seemed like he was commonly referred to as "heir" in the past. For example, this 6 year old NY Times article:

        But Rudder moved to run Midori and then rarely a peep about him anymore. Just given all of the management shuffling they've had, it's odd that we've heard nothing about arguably their most highly regarded lieutenant.
      • RE: Can an open-source backer thrive inside Microsoft? This one says no

        @Mary Jo Foley, EricR's Midori science project has been going on for 5+ years with high level (director, partner) team members. He is continuing his micromanagement and ultra-abrasive style even there. Those are poor imitations of BillG given EricR's own record.
        Apart from Sinofsky whose rise is considered inevitable, there are rising stars like Satya Nadella. But real hope is heroes like ScottGu who really get it (yeah, Hammett was hired in his org in the first place). Of course, Scott is a mere VP while there are lots of SVPs and presidents running their own mini-empires and fighting turf wars.
  • FOSS has no business model

    In the bizarre FOSS world where excellent performance is not rewarded with profit, subprime performance becomes the standard performance, standard performance becomes the excellent performance and real excellent performance is no where to be found.

    So of course it does not fit in a for-profit org like MSFT.