Episode 0023 · March 7, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

Jane Says (She’s Done with Microsoft)

Paul Ford: [00:00:00] Hey Rich, you wanted to tell me a story about somebody.

Rich Ziade: I do, and I’m gonna have, uh, a two for one advice on the other end of it.

Paul Ford: Oh, you think we’ll be able to extrapolate some advice from the story?

Rich Ziade: Two.

Paul Ford: Oh that’s exciting.

Rich Ziade: Not one, but for two distinct audience.

Paul Ford: Oh, let’s get, let’s get some advice in my friend.

Rich Ziade: My name is Jane.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: I am-

Paul Ford: Okay great, good [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: I’m a QA, uh, analyst.

Paul Ford: Quality Assurance analyst.

Rich Ziade: A QAA at Microsoft.

Paul Ford: Ooh, okay, wow.

Rich Ziade: And I do QA and I’m ambitious, I’m young and I’m ambitious, and I do QA and I do good job of it. But then I realize something. I realized that the usability of the QA tools at Microsoft [00:01:00] sucked.

Paul Ford: Oh, you were inside of these tools all day and you went, I need to– these need to be better.

Rich Ziade: I’m like, how many people use these? Oh, about 40,000 engineers.

Paul Ford: Oh my God.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Went to my boss and I said, “can I quote unquote, leave this role and let me recruit a small team?”. A UI UX person, a product manager, and a couple of engineers.

Paul Ford: Let, let me be your boss, “Jane, I admire your initiative”.

Rich Ziade: Give me six months.

Paul Ford: Alright.

Rich Ziade: And I’m gonna, I wanna create better tools. I wanna, first, I wanna spend, oh, gimme 12 months.

Paul Ford: Okay, okay.

Rich Ziade: You’re a very nice boss.

Paul Ford: Scope’s already creeping [laughter].

Rich Ziade: You [laughter].

Paul Ford: It’s Microsoft, what do you want?

Rich Ziade: I wanna spend four months studying how people test software at Microsoft. And then I wanna learn from that and then come up with, frankly, uh, a VS Code plugin, that’s gonna make life a lot easier and frankly be, make everyone a lot more efficient.

Paul Ford: All right, well, [00:02:00] our mission and our mandate is to help developers, so, Jane, you seem like you really want to get this going, and I got the budget over here and let’s make it happen. I’m gonna get outta your way,

Rich Ziade: Stan, thank you so much.

Paul Ford: Not a problem.

Rich Ziade: Uh, off we go. I cherry picked a few people. I pitched it on the internal job board at Microsoft. Got a UI UX person, got a product manager, there’s me and a couple of engineers.

Paul Ford: It’s amazing that that software worked that well.

Rich Ziade: It took two months to post-it.

Paul Ford: The sequel server disaster that they used, uh, okay.

Rich Ziade: Got the team together, I called it the QA Tiger Team.

Paul Ford: Rawr.

Rich Ziade: [laughter] And off we went, we studied how people work. I, my, my, my, um, instincts were correct.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Everybody had the same pain, everyone had the same issues.

Paul Ford: Ja, Jane, this is a lot of detail.

Rich Ziade: We came up with a beautiful new plugin. We wanted to de deploy it across the [00:03:00] org and we set up, I wanna set up a series of training sessions and guess what happened next?

Paul Ford: Oh what happened, Jane? This sounds great, sounds like you did a great job.

Rich Ziade: I went to the Bing team.

Paul Ford: OOH.

Rich Ziade: I went to the Microsoft Edge team.

Paul Ford: OOH.

Rich Ziade: I went to the Office 365 team.

Paul Ford: Oh man.

Rich Ziade: I went to about a dozen teams at Microsoft.

Paul Ford: SharePoint?

Rich Ziade: What’s SharePoint?

Paul Ford: Isn’t that what? Yeah, no, so, okay [laughter]. Onward, onward.

Rich Ziade: [laughter] Yeah, onward, I went to the Microsoft Dynamics team, and…

Paul Ford: Flight Simulator.

Rich Ziade: I gotta be honest, it was a bummer. It was really sad.

Paul Ford: No buy-in? No buy-in.

Rich Ziade: Out of about a dozen teams, two, let me even do the training.

Paul Ford: Oh, they didn’t want your people to use this, they didn’t want it-

Rich Ziade: No, no, nobody said don’t use it. They’re like, just send us the tool, add it to the plug-in library.

Paul Ford: Oof.

Rich Ziade: At Visual Studio. Like, can I put it publicly? No, this is internal Microsoft asset. So I put it on the internal plug-in library.

Paul Ford: Oh, huge. [00:04:00] Just a, like a hot air balloon crashing into the ground. Just hugely deflating.

Rich Ziade: And I made the business case, my boss is a QA manager, so he didn’t care about the fact that this actually translates into money and say could save thousands of man hours for Microsoft.

Paul Ford: Awesome. You just wasted a whole team for a year, Jane. You failed terribly.

Rich Ziade: Not just that. I loved my job for that period of time, I’m sad of how it ended.

Paul Ford: Oh, you liked leading the team and building the thing.

Rich Ziade: Uh, that, that was a, that was a byproduct of the fact that I was doing something that felt impactful in a very big place potentially.

Paul Ford: But now nothing’s happening.

Rich Ziade: Not only is nothing happening, but that feeling of rejection of disinterest in what I’ve been doing was kind of, I’m not a political person.

Paul Ford: Well now you have nothing to show for a whole year.

Rich Ziade: My boss said, don’t worry about it, Jane, come back to work..

Paul Ford: Okay, back to QA.

Rich Ziade: Come back Jane, you done good.

Paul Ford: [00:05:00] Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Come back.

Paul Ford: Nice try.

Rich Ziade: Nice try, and I have to tell you, my relationship with my job changed fundamentally after that.

Paul Ford: Got depressing?

Rich Ziade: It got, depressing, might be too strong a word. I work at Microsoft, I’m doing good.

Paul Ford: It is true, they, they actually treat their, I mean, it’s, you know-

Rich Ziade: It’s a good job.

Paul Ford: Any color of M&M you want.

Rich Ziade: There’s on campus dry cleaning, right? I’m doing fine, but-

Paul Ford: Just the word campus is always a tell.

Rich Ziade: But my passion, uh, the idea of having passion behind what I was doing made me happy to go to work every day.

Paul Ford: You were excited to lead product. You thought that was great.

Rich Ziade: I didn’t care if it made millions in value for Microsoft. That wasn’t the point, the point is I got to see something become real and they, I credit to my boss for giving me the chance to go do it.

Paul Ford: He’ll probably get fired for that too, but that’s okay. Let’s, we’ll just keep rolling here.

Rich Ziade: [laughter] On the other side of it, I’m a little ashamed as I’m looking [00:06:00] back now, this is a few years ago.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Um, I became kind of short in meetings.

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: I kind of assumed the worst of everyone.

Paul Ford: Well, this company sucks, it wouldn’t get behind you and your idea.

Rich Ziade: When someone really cheery, showed up, kind of waving the Microsoft flag, I kind of hated them out of the gate.

Paul Ford: Ah, well, I mean, they’ll smash your dreams. Why? Why have anything?

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah. Um, I was unhappy.

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: And you could say, well, understand your perspective. There’s work and then there’s life, and your life isn’t just about work and blah. But look, I wake up, I have breakfast and I go to work and I come home and I have dinner. It’s, most of my waking hours are at this job. And I’m in a place where nothing I do matters.

Paul Ford: Yeah, that’s sounds like working at a giant tech company in 2023 Jane, I don’t know what to tell you.

Rich Ziade: [laughter] Um, I wish I, I’m not a schmoozer. [00:07:00]

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: I don’t try to butter up the right people to get a promotion.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Uh, I thought this was a place that would recognize my passion and reward me for it, but it wasn’t, and now I don’t care about Microsoft.

Paul Ford: Well, Jane, this is very normal, very, very, very normal. You put your neck out, you say, I’m gonna do this. It’s gonna be great. I’m really excited. And then I, I think this is actually kind of one of the worst things about giant orgs, is they can absorb an unbelievable amount of failure. And so-

Rich Ziade: They’re designed to.

Paul Ford: If you were in a startup and you’d done that, it would be like, well, that sucked, and then you’d be depressed for a little while.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: But you’d have to go get another job and reboot your life and you’d find a different context.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: If you were a mid-size company, oof, they probably wouldn’t let you do it in the first place cause they don’t need all those tools. Let’s all calm ’em down and just get our jobs done.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: We’ll make progress as we go, but big companies are like millions of little tribes all kind of like [00:08:00] interacting, collaborating, and you can fail. And then they’re like, well, come in on Monday, we’ll figure it out, and then you just stare into the void.

Rich Ziade: They’re like investment portfolios, they expect a certain percentage of the portfolio to fail.

Paul Ford: It’s surreal, you and I, when we go and talk to big company people, and this is the fundamental difference I think between you and me and them, is we really still feel failure.

Rich Ziade: It’s absolutely a necessary ingredient for success.

Paul Ford: It’s, it’s existential and wired for us, and we were talking to people at a giant company the other day and they were just sort of like, yeah, that one’s not so good, and it like not so good is pretty like a large team and things are falling apart and you’re just like-

Rich Ziade: Hundreds of millions of dollars pissed away [chuckles].

Paul Ford: Holy cats, right?

Rich Ziade: I wanna turn this into advice. This one’s gonna be airtight, Paul.

Paul Ford: Alright, let’s do it.

Rich Ziade: I have advice for both sides of this story.

Paul Ford: Okay, Jane.

Rich Ziade: Jane, the easy advice is once you put everything into it and you tried, [00:09:00] if you are respected, you probably can try again. Don’t just fall into the job.

Paul Ford: That’s true, you don’t have to give up. You don’t get to go do the next one right away.

Rich Ziade: You don’t get to do the next one right away. And of course, there’s the option that I’m gonna throw out there, though, I know a lot of people, there’s too much at stake, they’ve got unvested stock, blah, blah, blah, is leave, leave to a different setting. If you’re that entrepreneurial and you wanna play.

Paul Ford: Let me-

Rich Ziade: Go play elsewhere.

Paul Ford: Let me throw a compromise solution in cause I, I think that you, you tend to see things like this, a little black and white. If I’m Jane, this is what I’m gonna tell Jane to do. Okay, go back to your job for a couple of months. Now you need to you’ve, you’ve gained valuable experience. You worked really hard, it didn’t work out. Admit and acknowledge that, and then go find a team to connect to, or a part of your org under your boss.

Rich Ziade: There’s job boards inside of those giant organizations, right?

Paul Ford: Go, go, go, take a step back and take a learning step. Go do something where the next time you do it, you’d be more likely to succeed.

Rich Ziade: Have coffee with a lot of people.

Paul Ford: People respect [00:10:00] that move.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Your next move has to be something where people go like, “well, yeah, that screwed up, but I really respect her because she’s taking what she’s learned and she’s trying to move forward, and I, I respect the ambition”, right?

Rich Ziade: Absolutely.

Paul Ford: You gotta show that, and then I think you really have a chance that the next thing you do now, does that suck? Does that take three years to get to the next big thing? Yes.

Rich Ziade: Potentially.

Paul Ford: it does, but if you want that sweet, sweet, giant corporate governance, nurturing, swaddling.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: It’s gonna take three years.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: It’s just gonna cost you otherwise go to a smaller org or go start something by yourself.

Rich Ziade: I wanna share a reality for Jane.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Uh, people in large org structures, this kind of applies to everything except for like democratic government. People defend the status quo, and what you’re gonna find is-

Paul Ford: Oh yeah, in government, they never defend the status quo.

Rich Ziade: The blockers are oftentimes put up by [00:11:00] people more, less intelligent and more tired than you.

Paul Ford: Well, you know, there’s a great line actually in government, which is, and other people said this too, which is, “don’t knock down the fence until you know why the fence was put up in the first place”.

Rich Ziade: Great quote.

Paul Ford: Right, it’s just-

Rich Ziade: It, it is, it is affecting change in a large place is hard. And the truth is a lot of the times it’s a terrible feeling when you’re pitching this thing that’s gonna get them 10% more productivity and nobody in the room cares.

Paul Ford: Hold on a minute, the architecture of the giant organization is built to insulate itself against an enormous amount of failure.

Rich Ziade: Exactly.

Paul Ford: And it’s built to create irrelevance in human beings.

Rich Ziade: Absolutely. That’s how-

Paul Ford: By design.

Rich Ziade: That’s how the broader being can survive-

Paul Ford: See the, the issue that, you could argue that the issue Jane was facing was that [00:12:00] she found this temporary zone where she was able to believe in her own importance and significance to the organization where the organization wasn’t paying much attention cause she was off on an expedition.

Rich Ziade: Agreed, again, credit to her boss, he let her, he let her give it a go.

Paul Ford: Yeah, but she comes back and people reject it, okay, that’s not a failure. That’s the organization behaving as designed.

Rich Ziade: That’s exactly, it’s not rejection by the way, it’s disinterest. The opposite of love is not hate. It’s disinterest.

Paul Ford: Uh, you know, the, the tricky thing in these roles over and over again, and you and I are going back and talking to very large organizations again, and we’re starting to, to, uh, you know, with the work that we do, um, this is something I now know in my heart, but it took a long time to understand. It might take them three weeks to reply to an email. And you know why? Because you, even though your world is very important, your world and the thing that you’re trying to do with them represents 5% of the portfolio.[00:13:00]

Rich Ziade: Or two.

Paul Ford: Or two.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And, and therefore, no matter how great the meeting was and how well everybody’s getting along, two, 2%, it’s 2%.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, um-

Paul Ford: But you do feel when you’re Jane and you feel like you’re actually– I’m gonna move things, I like the people here and I’m gonna move things in a good direction.

Rich Ziade: Let’s leave it with one last piece of advice, which is sales advice, all of this is sales.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: When you go into a room and persuade people to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do, and that could be a department across the campus, it’s just sales. the number one rule of sales is understand the setting and priorities of the audience you’re going into.

Paul Ford: Well, this is why as an agency we were often successful, partly was we could actually deliver software that was good.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Okay, but the other thing that we would do is, especially with high level clients, [00:14:00] as very, very early in the relationship, we would start to craft the story they had to tell inside of the organization about the software.

Rich Ziade: Well, even before that, yes, we did do that, but even before that, we were just there to observe. We would say very little that first meeting, because we wanted to understand the setting they were in, the context, they were thinking about things, how their priority. Sometimes you could tell they were so overwhelmed by something else, but they were told to go take the meeting with us. That was a, a tell. It was like, I’m here now because my boss said to do this with you.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: And you could tell their heads were elsewhere.

Paul Ford: Look, technology is nothing without a story.

Rich Ziade: Technology is nothing without a story.

Paul Ford: This, this is, it’s, it’s, it’s not a Silicon Valley truism, but it is a New York City truism.

Rich Ziade: Let’s flip over to the employer. I’m gonna give that boss, employer manage, one quick piece of advice.

Paul Ford: Go for it.

Rich Ziade: If you happen to have someone that is passionate about something, [00:15:00] uh, Jane’s boss gave her a green light, but if it doesn’t work out, you have a passionate person in front of you who wants to affect change. You could put them anywhere, you could oftentimes say, I trust you,I like you, you’re motivated, help me do a thing.

Paul Ford: See, the hard part though is when the failure hits, your instinct is to just kind of like limit the blast radius and maybe protect that person and try to kind of get it under the rug.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And you’re kind of saying like, Hey, you know what? Promote her.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.I guess what I’m getting at this isn’t after Jane’s thing fell through.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: I’m getting at is like you can, you could hire someone and just realize they are a tornado. They’re really looking to do stuff, they just want to do stuff.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: They want whatever they do to have a meaningful impact. And what I’ve found in my experience is when you recruit that person to something they didn’t even know existed, some secret project over [00:16:00] here, they were all in. That is a personality type, and you, if you have it, it’s gold, it really is.

Paul Ford: I have it, I can get excited about anything.

Rich Ziade: You are, well, it’s a little dis– you are ready to join any cult that is, um, aligns with what you’re trying to get done.

Paul Ford: It, it’s something I know about myself and so I avoid-

Rich Ziade: I’ve seen it.

Paul Ford: I avoid just about everything because it’s a danger.

Rich Ziade: One of the most talented engineers I ever worked with at my old agency, I pitched him coming on to work with me, uh, somewhere else, and he looked me straight in the eyes and he is like, I’m very lucky, I, I’m gonna pick what I actually care about and go work on that.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: And he went to Reddit and he became a senior person at Reddit cause he loved Reddit at that time.

Paul Ford: That’s tricky.

Rich Ziade: [laughter] We don’t have to get into that. Um, but he was very self-aware in knowing that he was gonna do a better job because he cared and actually had a, a [00:17:00] real passion for something someone could say to you, you know what? I want to work on climate, I care about it, I will do whatever. I’m not gonna be picky. I just want to join that cause and bring my skills to bear in that space. If you see that, and they don’t even have to tell you what they wanna do. If someone has that disposition, which there isn’t a lot of these days, I think the pandemic broke us. I think we’re on our phones a lot and we, it’s just hard to find people who really want that, and I’m not talking about ambition for the bonus and the promotion.

Paul Ford: No, I get it.

Rich Ziade: I am talking about someone who wants to ship stuff, right? Jump on it. Like as an employer, don’t waste that per, like, that person is gonna get dejected if they get shot down again and they’ll leave. So take advantage of it, that’s the person that works hard. You don’t have to tell them about how hard they’re working ever cause they like it. They like what they’re doing.

Paul Ford: Alright, there was.

Rich Ziade: That was like a half dozen pieces of advice here.

Paul Ford: Just gleaming advice nuggets.

Rich Ziade: Just oozing out of the sides of your podcast machine.

Paul Ford: The [00:18:00] California streams in 1849.

Rich Ziade: [laughter] I’m proud of you, Paul, as we close this podcast out, we didn’t sound like grumpy old men telling everybody to work harder.

Paul Ford: No, I look, humans-

Rich Ziade: It’s more complicated.

Paul Ford: Humans are gonna do what they do.

Rich Ziade: They’re gonna do what they do.

Paul Ford: Alright well, that’s it Ziade Ford Advisors. Check us out @ziadeford.com or send an email to hello@ziadeford.com. Rich, what’s our handle on Twitter?

Rich Ziade: If you’re on Twitter @ziadeford.

Paul Ford: That’s right.

Rich Ziade: The Ziade comes before the Ford.

Paul Ford: That was a, that was a thoughtful discussion, we’ll talk about that later. Alright, bye everybody. Bye everybody.

Rich Ziade: Have a great day.

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