Ray Ozzie on Cloud Strategy and Washington Vs. Massachusetts: Takeaways from Tech Alliance

5/1/09Follow @gthuang

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germane—the 10,000 hour rule [to master a skill]. I don’t know about Steve, but Bill and I both started out using GE timesharing computers. If you do the math, it actually does work out. About 20 hours a week throughout high school, and 60 hours in the summer and in college. Around sophomore year of college, you reach 10,000 hours. Once you master the technology, you start to think about user aspects. There’s also the big serendipitous nature of what was happening in the early 70s.

Lazowska: For years, Bill Gates personified Microsoft. What is your role, and how do you work with Craig Mundie and Steve Ballmer as a team?

Ozzie: Bill’s presence is still at the company. The founder sets the tone and culture of the company. He set the rhythm, the processes, the belief system. There really is only one Bill Gates, and there will only ever be one Bill Gates at Microsoft. In the early years, the mythology of Bill having everything in his head was true. But as everyone is aware, that’s not scalable. Though his presence creates some organic alliance, things change over time.

Microsoft in many ways was trying to adapt to the size and scale of different things we were trying to accomplish. What are the ways we should structure the company? Currently, it’s line leadership that leads up to presidents. Craig and I have interesting roles in that we took on most of what Bill did. Everything I do is through influence and partnerships. I am more inwardly focused, and I work with the product teams. Craig is more outwardly focused, working with organizations and government. Craig starts at the atom level and works upward and ends up at the feature level. I might start at features and move to customers. I’m trying to drive alignment and synergy based on what will happen in this product cycle and the next one.

Lazowska: What has the transition to a 100,000-person company been like?

Ozzie: I worked at Lotus and then IBM. I had a feel for the challenges and opportunities when you’re at scale. Startups are amazing because you can put all your passion and energy into one thing, and you can make it so beautiful. But at Microsoft, you have the ability to have broad impact. With startups, if you’re very fortunate, you can bring it up and have broad impact, but it’s rare. [They're similar in that] processes are very focused on customer No. 1. The founding team needs to nurture the first 5,000 users of that product. You have customers counting on it as they run their business.

Lazowska: Talk about the ‘Internet Services Disruption’ memo you wrote at Microsoft in October 2005, and how Microsoft is doing its services these days.

Ozzie: One of the cultural things in the company is you get people’s attention with memos. Externally, when I was competing with Microsoft, it seemed like whenever there was a competitive threat, everyone [at Microsoft] even out in the field was on message. Internally, it doesn’t seem that way. People said, get it out on paper, and you’ll see, it’ll happen. I’m extremely pleased, if you look at where the products were at the time—how PC and server-focused people were— and now there has been a dramatic shift. There has been a tremendous reception. In this time, which IT investments will help my business? Shifting e-mail and communication infrastructure and document repositories, they’re happy to have someone else run it.

Lazowska: People say every five years, there’s a sea change in computing. In 1990, it was the graphic user interface; in 1995, the Web; in 2000, Internet programming; in 2005, Web services. What’s the next one?

Ozzie: It does look in retrospect like there’s an inflection point every 5 years. But it’s not … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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