Am I a Bill or a Kwame? I hope both…

I admit it--I watch “The Apprentice“.  For those of you outside the US that don't know, it was a show where a bunch of Donald Trump-wannabes compete against one another on menial tasks to get a job working for him as a CEO of one of his companies.  Normally, I hate reality shows, but “The Apprentice“ was more up my alley.  When it came down to the end, the finalists were two guys that captured the two parts of my personality.  Bill the maverick entrepreneur vs. Kwame the methodical MBA.  Bill emerged victorious.  While the entrepreneur in me cheers, the MBA in me isn't so happy.  As a guy who's spent spent 8 years in college + grad school, I marvelled at how everyone assumed Kwame was “textbook” simply because he took two years out of his life to go to Harvard. I've learned having an MBA creates this double-edged sword.  Some people assume your extremely bright and capable, while others equate you with a PhD because you're academic and not “in the trenches” and thus you have a ceiling in your ability.  Everyone took their cracks, including finalist Bill whose quote in his audition was “the business school guys, the Harvard guys, they're not gonna last past the early rounds because they're too theoretical“ and followed that up with his post-victory comment: “It just proves that you don't need an Ivy League education to succeed”.  That's very true, but having one doesn't preclude success either.  Given he's read Donald Trump's books, I imagine he knows where Trump went to school (the Ivy League Wharton, my b-school alma mater).  As a kid, all I cared about was getting into an Ivy League school.  Now, I have three Ivy League degrees and there are times when it serves as a stigma.  It's a really interesting nature of how we perceive people and rationalize their relative successes/failures.  I have actually had people actually tell me I had too much educational background.  Huh?

So you may be saying “Quit your whining Sandy and tell us what does that have to do with guidance”  Well, like my last post, I am getting some free venting out.:-)  But also, I think I feel a little of Kwame's pain right now as the tech industry “bigotry” against education can be pretty high.  Let's face it:  Bill Gates (undergrad) & Steve Ballmer (b-school) both dropped out of school to start Microsoft and proved that a B.S. can be just that.  Here's the thing:  I joke that my MBA was a technical lobotomy, but in all seriousness, I think I handle myself pretty well in understanding customers needs in a very technical environment and managed to maintain a decent level of technical acumen.  To that end, I think I also provide a pragmatism and capitalistic/opportunitistic spirit to my team that I think is important.  But I'll get the “there goes the MBA/marketing guy” looks when I suggest some things around rethinking our biz model  The latest example is where I've suggested creating a business model to generate revenue that, in turn, can support the creation of further blocks.  I believe some enterprise customers that need services/support/subscriptions/whatever for the blocks are willing to spend to get those extra servces and we can use the margin from that $$ to help fund the creation of more blocks.  At this point, our budget is tight and with finite resources, so we are forced to build a subset of the useful assets and, in addition, we are unable to resource better involvement in the community (which,in turn, can stagnate community involvement when they don't see us engaged).  There are only 25 or so of us, so we have to pick and choose our battles correctly and a lot of cusotmer needs go unmet.  But MS can't grow a cost center that can't justify its existence through some proof of customer demand--and that's definable revenue.  But I get comments of “that'll never work“, “we shouldn't be a product“, “customers won't pay for that“, and “taking on this responsibility will hurt innovation“.  Personally, I think the last comment is particularly incorrect.  If we generate sginificant revenue/margin, we can build more resources within this group, which in turn allows us to both build more guidance as well as better engage with the community and enable a collaboration model that works well for both us AND the customer.

So the question is: if patterns & practices created a paid subscription/support model to provide key unmet services today and help fund the growth of patterns & practices tomorrow, would people pay or would they ignore us (or worse yet, get upset with us)?  I am not interested in making Microsoft look greedy--just trying to build a sustainable business model.  Now let me be clear:  the  blocks as they exist today would still be available for free download.  However, I've heard customers asking the “what if is breaks?” question all the time and I'd like to be able to answer that better.  In addition, they make requests for a lot of features that we just can't provide at this time (like auto-updating).  I think of what Red Hat has done with Linux and, while I will refrain from making any commentary on the open source model and the wisdom of going that route for the OS, I think both sides have benefitted by leveraging the fact that major customers buy into the idea of paying for “free“ software.  Is that an opportunity patterns & practices is missing or am I being the naive MBA?  I will take feedback and private e-mails on this one as well (alias is sandykh).  If I am being a naive MBA, please be kind--I spent a lot of $$ on that education and I'm still paying off the loans. 😉

{Some random music in a cafe that is driving me nuts} 

Comments (8)
  1. paul says:

    Donald Trump is drowning in debt, if he lives seven lifetimes he still will not brake even.

  2. Charlie Hensler says:

    My experience – having worked in IT for years – including in a Microsoft IT group – is that developers aren’t naturally inclined to use the blocks. They may be interested in understanding the approach taken, but they’d rather write the functionality themselves.

    Why? I think the fundamental reason is that most developers don’t want to depend on a large block of code they didn’t write, when the functionality provided is something they consider within their own capabilities to produce and thus have confidence in.

    Another reason – because the blocks must be very abstractly designed, they can come across as too elaborate and code-heavy for relatively routine functionality (e.g. data access, exception handling, etc.)in more specific environments.

    Just my two cents…

  3. The questions is: which would you have taken, the building or the golf course?

  4. Brian LeRoux says:

    I think its a fantastic opportunity *wasted* if you make patterns and practices a subscription service. It is in Microsoft’s best interest that high quality code examples and documented techniques for successful software with .NET is freely available to anyone who wants to learn it. It proliferates the platform and enhances the reputation of the quality of code created with it. This is very significant.

    The business case for selling code, books and examples is there. O’Reilly wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t. But there is far more measurable value in accessible documentation and examples. By giving me, the developer, tools, inspiration and opportunity to create world class software for my clients you empower your platform.

    I don’t think this is a question of MBA or not either btw. It is a question of how you want your developers to feel and how much value you have in us. We are what sells your platform and we are Microsoft’s most critical sales team. Don’t make us pay for that.

  5. Jay Skelly says:

    Hey SandyKH,

    I’ll take the contrarian approach on your business model. I think both large and small enterprises would like the mentoring or serviced approach when architecting/developing distributed apps.

    Maybe you could push the work out to MSFT Partners :).

    {Stone Temple Pilots – Purple}

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