Sinofsky’s goodbye email: annotated

Yesterday, head of Windows Steven Sinofsky announced he is leaving Microsoft. In my eleven years at Microsoft I moved from resenting his management style (while working as an entry-level developer in Office) to becoming deeply appreciative as I matured as an engineering leader. It is ridiculously hard to lead teams the size of Office and Windows, and Sinofsky shipped again and again, on-time and on-scope. With Sinofsky, the trains always ran on time. In the case of Windows he inherited a situation that was bordering on self immolating chaos and turned it around. Whether or not you agree with specific choices, e.g. the Office ribbon, the Metro UI, or de-emphasizing .NET, he achieved what he set out to do – and that is no small thing. (Trust me.) I don’t know if working on one of Steven’s teams would have been the right fit for me, and I don’t personally agree with every decision he made, but I think his general approach was warranted and effective for the situation. I concur with Dare Obasanjo’s comments regarding Steven’s departure.

Steven’s goodbye email was leaked, and I could resist making some annotations in bold. My annotations are completely speculative and are not based on any current inside knowledge of anything that is going on at Microsoft. The annotations do not represent my own opinion of Steven’s work at Microsoft, or Microsoft itself, but rather my speculation on the message behind the message, with context thrown in for those who have never worked at Microsoft. (For what it’s worth, my feeling about Microsoft is that its destiny still lies in its own hands, because its potential remains enormous.)

Here goes:

“With the general availability of Windows 8/RT and Surface, I have decided it is time for me to take a step back from my responsibilities at Microsoft. [“I’m quitting.”] I’ve always advocated using the break between product cycles as an opportunity to reflect and to look ahead, and that applies to me too.

[Whether or not Sinofsky jumped or was pushed, this statement means that this move would have happened earlier if it were at all practical. It’s not cool to leave before the end of a cycle.]

After more than 23 years working on a wide range of Microsoft products, I have decided to leave the company to seek new opportunities that build on these experiences.

[Staying at Microsoft would have stifled his professional ambitions. He felt the future was too limiting.] 

My passion for building products is as strong as ever and I look forward focusing my energy and creativity along similar lines.

The Windows team, in partnerships across all of Microsoft and our industry,

[A pointed reference to a primary criticism: not a team player. This was obliquely referenced in SteveB’s email when referring to Julie Larson-Green’s “proven ability to effectively collaborate and drive a cross company agenda.” Also pushback at industry complaints about the lack of transparency behind Surface.]

just completed products and services

[A reference to SteveB’s statement that Microsoft is a “devices and services” company. This is either a coordinated statement to show solidarity with this vision, or subtle pushback at criticism that Windows is not sufficiently service-oriented.] 

introducing a new era [shared language with Ballmer’s email: surely coordinated] of Windows computing.  It is an incredible experience to be part of a generational change in a unique product like Windows, one accomplished with an undeniable elegance.

[“If you don’t like the hybrid Desktop/Metro interface: f*** you. I’m right and I have the telemetry data to prove it.”] 

Building on Windows, Surface excels in design and utility for a new era of PCs. With the Store, Internet Explorer, Outlook.com, SkyDrive

[a reminder of messes he has cleaned up, see for example this link via Dare Obasanjo] 

and more, each of which lead the way, this experience is connected to amazing cloud services [there’s that word again: services].

It is inspiring to think of these efforts making their way into the hands of Microsoft’s next billion customers. We can reflect on this project as a remarkable achievement for each of us and for the team. Our work is not done, such is the world of technology, and so much more is in store for customers.

It is impossible to count the blessings I have received over my years at Microsoft. I am humbled by the professionalism and generosity of everyone I have had the good fortune to work with at this awesome company. I am beyond grateful.

I have always promised myself when the right time came for me to change course, I would be brief, unlike one of my infamous short blog posts,

[playful and self-aware – no defensiveness here]

and strive to be less memorable than the products and teams with which I have been proudly and humbly associated.

[The message is that in spite of what you may have heard, it’s all about the work.]

The brevity of this announcement is simply a feature.

[A reference to the Microsoft/tech industry phrase “that’s not a bug, it’s a feature”.]

Some might notice a bit of chatter speculating about this decision or timing.

[Sinofsky is notoriously secretive and controlling with regards to message and its distribution. He took great pride in outsiders “getting it wrong” with respect to speculation regarding future plans. He is a strong advocate for analysis based on hard data and rejects out of hand “gut-based” speculation, such as this blog post.] 

I can assure you that none could be true as this was a personal and private choice that in no way reflects any speculation or theories one might read—about me [execs who regard him as a pain in the ass], opportunity [speculation as next CEO], the company [fading?] or its leadership [lacking?].

As I’ve always believed in making space for new leaders as quickly as possible [see: Ray Ozzie], this announcement is effective immediately and I will assist however needed with the transition.

I am super excited for what the future holds for the team and Microsoft.

[Sly in-joke: part of Microsoft-speak is to claim that you are not just excited, but super excited about everything.]

With my deepest appreciation,

Steven Sinofsky”

Author: natebrix

Follow me on twitter at @natebrix.

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