John was introduced as a world-wide marathon runner. I asked him which was the most challenging; he answered, “Seattle” but quickly followed up with “LA and India.”
John has a very interesting job. While he didn’t phrase it this way, his job is all about creating new markets all across the world into which Microsoft can sell. When I consider taking a job or doing a startup, I consider a 4-5 liquidity to be a somewhat long-term play. Its hard to wrap my mind around the scale of a company that is able to plan this far ahead and justify the expenditure to do so.
I asked John how long MSFT was prepared to wait before it say an ROI from his efforts in a given markets. He said he expected to see large measurable results in 3-5 years across his entire program (where results are increased numbers of folks getting certifications, number of MSFT partner ISVs, etc.) but noted that some markets may take much longer than others to see any results.
His group works with 50 different countries. He talked about partnering with the US AID in Croatia to create educational centers where local students can select their own curricula and learn all about tech, etc.
When pressed by a questioner, John said, “It’s not about building with our stuff — its about getting them to build at all, and we believe that people will chose our stuff.” Uh huh.
John is the latest in a line of idealist speakers we’ve heard at this event that say things like, “We’re out to do the right thing in the community and we’re content to say that a rising tide lifts all boats.” These idealists are quick to point out that Microsoft is trying to make money, but they insist that Microsoft is willing to make indirect revenue on the back of some form of altruism.
This is the right message for many in this group, but I seriously doubt that the ultimate leadership of the company sees things this way based on a long track record of consistent behavior, and indeed, when we’re exposed to some of the more pragmatic senior leadership of the company (Bill Hillf, Don Box) those more traditional elements of the company poke out.
Kind of fun to see.
Some of the attendees suggested that by showing off WPF eye-candy to young kids in emerging markets, they would have more success in recruiting the rising generation to the MSFT camp than they would by making business deals and trying to grow economies, etc.
One of the attendees suggested that Dean Kamen‘s efforts at driving kids towards engineering through his robotic competitions are great for sending kids to hardware engineering but quite poor at driving them to software.
I asked if John’s list of programs was driven by, say, government representatives coming to MSFT and saying, “This is a need we have” or if its a result of their own research to identify these specific needs. He indicated it was the latter and claimed their approach wasn’t really all that scientific.
They have 110+ “Microsoft Innovation Centers” in 45+ countries through the world that offering training, labs, etc. and host local programs and so forth. He said they build these in cooperation with “local hosts”. I’m sure he didn’t mean that in the parasitic context.
He also used the expression “double-click” to focus in on a subject; this marks the second person in as many months I’ve heard use this. I really hope this doesn’t catch on.
I asked to see the list of all the metrics he really uses; he responded that “utilization of the innovation centers” is a big deal to him; making sure that they don’t go empty.