An account of Bill Gates’ farewell

An unusual subject for this blog that has been mostly about components I have worked on. But the event yesterday was memorable and worth sharing. The event has been covered widely so I won't even try to broadly summarize. Insted I will list what I found interesting. I was lucky enough (one of 2k lottery winners out of maybe 20+k who were interested) to get a seat for in-person viewing.

There is no substitute to hearing from the man himself and his business partner of 28 years (and a friend/associate of 35 years or so) Steve Ballmer. The range of topics chosen was very enlightening - from "How did your parents react to you dropping out" to "What was the biggest screw up and what did you learn from it". Here are three things I took away from it:

Trust and personal networks matter the most 

There is no substitute for personal networks and personal trust and gut instinct. For all the talk of globalization, outcome/evidence-based hiring and rewards, creative processes like forming businesses are deeply personal rather than global; intuitive rather than analytical and grounded in optimism/aspirations rather than backward looking statistics. Maybe the takeaway suits my personality profile but I am always uneasy about decision making processes that try to reduce human judgement to an automaton. SteveB was a known quantity, his passion and intelligence was vetted long before there was any Microsoft, let alone a job opening.

How others see you differs from your self-model

Peronal motivations and self-image can be very far apart from the motivations attributed by others to you and their image of you. This gap is very important to understand. I was not an MS employee during the major anti-trust proceedings. But after hearing from BillG and SteveB about their mindset and approach and after hearing quixotic evil intentions attribute to my team and I during the last few years, I think the aforementioned gap explains a lot.I won't even bother talking about our good intentions. That is too touchy feely. But from what I have seen, my colleagues in various teams and I are so preoccupied with building what we are building and getting it out the door (before it gets killed for some bizarre internal reasons 🙂 ) that we have no time or smarts left to even think about doing any sinister things. Let alone plan for it years in advance and execute on it to perfection. Heck, like software engineers everywhere, we have a tough time estimating and meeting the estimates for the most basic product/component we would like to ship.

Decisions are based on aspiration and hope rather than just analytics

There is no shortage of blog posts or news items calling for radical strategy/personnel/... change. Most wonder why those in the position of power cannot see what the numbers and facts show. A lot is based on intuition about strategy/leadership/vision that can be counter to facts on the ground at a particular point in time. That doesn't validate the intuition or negate the facts. It simply means that it is futile to look for the fact-based-decision making automaton. Hear the vision, strategy and then lead. follow or get out based on your personal judgement.

Like the takeaways, my process of arriving at them was deeply personal. Take it (or not) FWIW.


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