Windows 10 has been having major issues with its updates, with each new release seeming to break more things than it fixes, and now an ex-employee of Microsoft is pinning the blame on “made-men” in the company, as well as CEO Satya Nadella’s inability to get rid of them.
James Whittaker, a well-respected engineer who used to work for Microsoft, has written a lengthy blog post about his career there, which he says “spanned three different versions of the company, each deeply inspirational and tragically flawed in its own unique way.”
The three versions of Microsoft that Whittaker talks about corresponds to the three CEOs who have run the company: Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and now Satya Nadella.
While Whittaker commends Nadella for some of the changes he’s brought to Microsoft, he laments the fact that Nadella has been unable to rid the company of “people who thrived under Microsoft’s toxic management style”, and are emulating the flawed leadership of Gates and Ballmer.
“Both were consummate know-it-alls, convinced that no subject, no matter how subtle, was a match for their intellect,” Whittaker explains, and they “perpetuated their toxic behavior by surrounding themselves almost exclusively with leaders who emulated that behaviour,” and which “created a management monoculture of cocksure masculinity that ensured every manager looked the same, sounded the same and acted the same.”
These “made-men”, as Whittaker calls them, are still hanging around the Windows department, which is why the Windows team as continued its “tradition of boring, buggy software and consistently fumbled updates."
The men behind Windows Phone
According to Whittaker, “A know-it-all manager moves to a new product group and his know-it-all team follows him,” so if a new employee joins the team, and has an issue with the management style, or points out flaws with a project, the existing team members close ranks and shut down any criticism.
Nadella has managed to change some aspects of Microsoft, but with Windows, he “simply rearranged the made-men deck chairs. Instead of following his culture-change playbook, he simply swapped Windows’ made-men with Windows Phone’s made-men.”
The problem here, as Whittaker explains, is that “the same people [who were] unable, over the course of a decade, to craft a winning strategy for mobile were suddenly tasked with crafting a winning strategy for the desktop.”
Windows Phone is one of Microsoft’s biggest recent failings, so if some of the people who were behind that failure – and who are too stubborn to learn from their mistakes – are now in charge of Windows 10, it could spell serious trouble for Windows in the future.
As Whittaker puts it, “the residue of the past is thick in enough places that it is suffocating the culture of tomorrow.”
So, what can Microsoft do? “If you want real and lasting cultural change, sweep away the made-men who succeeded under the previous culture and promote the people who look, act and think more like their employees than their managers,” suggest Whittaker. Clear out the deadwood managers that have been at Microsoft for decades, and promote up and coming employees who have fresh and exciting new ideas.
“Leaders should reflect the ideals and values of those below them rather than those above them,” says Whittaker. “Promoting those leaders is the fastest way to fix a company’s broken culture.”
Sounds good. Let’s hope it’s not too late for Windows, though.
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Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.