We're trying to change the culture here. Its no secret. We want people who work on Developer Tools to have regular interactions with our customers. Part of a culture change involves a shift in the people. I guess this is sort of my plea to Microsoft employees who might be reading this and interviewing people in the future. Make sure that you consider community interaction part of the "Microsoft Culture Fit" you are looking for.
Ideally, every month, 100% of the organization has touched a customer in some way. Its not asking much; Answer one newsgroup question... post to a blog... respond to a bug from the MSDN Product Feedback Center. Go to a user group meeting. Sure,some people are better at these activities than others, but getting over 80% should be easy right? In February roughly 32% of people who work in the developer division touched a customer in some way. Not bad (albeit failing according to every High School teacher I ever had), but how do we get above this mark on a regular basis?
Part of the answer is to make sure we hire and retain people who are both good at developing software AND at forming connections to customers. I'm not suggesting we hire someone just because they are good for the community, but that we hire people who share the values of the community and understand how to work within the community and as a champion for their customers.
Everyone should be able to represent their customers, but the members of the QA team are generally the last line of defense and to properly test a product they had better understand how customers are using and intend to use the product. When I was SDET Lead these are some of the questions I would pose to potential test organization hires.
- How do you know if a proposed design change or bug fix is right for your customers?
- Describe a time that you championed to fix a bug in your product that was reported by a customer.
- Talk about how you would identify and work with members of your target customers communities to make your product better.
- Describe a time when you were able to make a customer more successful with your product than they had previously been.
I now ask similar questions to any PM candidate I interview and I hope that potential developers get similar questions. I'm not sure there are "best answers" to these questions, but I believe you can learn a great deal about how much a candidate values their customers through carefully listening to their responses.
As I said, everyone should be accountable for interacting with their customers on a regular basis. We'll be better off as a company if we continue to hire people who are capable of working with customers to both make them more successful (and therefore happy with MS solutions) and improve the quality of our products through customer understanding. Hire great people, but make sure they are a fit for your community.