March 28, 2006
@ 06:56 AM

Today I read two contradictory posts about Microsoft employees and passion. The first post I found via Mini-Microsoft. It is entitled Microsoft, Your Slip Is Showing (Passion) and is excerpted below

And this partly explains the passion of the comments you will read on this post at Mini-Microsoft.

Skewering the Microsoft leadership. Calling for heads to roll. Frustration. Disgust. Dark humor. Cynicism. Optimism. Pessimism. Rage. Love. Hate.

Another reason -- big reason -- why the Microsoft commenters are so passionate: They give a damn. Whatever else you may think about their comments, their Give-A-Damn meter is registering in the Green. Sure, it may seem like I've got it ass backwards and they're pegged out in the dreaded Red zone.

I'm sure a few are indeed red-zoning, but what I see mostly are folks who want to to be the best. They want their team to be the best. They are proud people. They are winners. They hate the thought of losing -- in any endeavor... to any person or thing.

The people who work for Microsoft are not only some of the best minds in the computer industry, they give a damn about what they do. That is a good thing.

I could be critical of this post but Rory Blyth beat me to the punch in his [unrelated] yet quite relevant post entitled Ten Minutes of Sincerity - Enthusiasthma where he writes


The contemporary blight of communication, at least at Microsoft, is passion. You can’t walk three feet on the Redmond campus without hearing someone talk about passion. If you interview for a job at Microsoft, you will get drilled about your passion. During the course of your job, you will attend meetings in which people constantly refer to passion. You will receive emails about passion.

Again, like communication, passion is a good thing. It’s good to talk. It’s good to be excited. But, it’s gotten to the point that the passion has become a sort of disease. I call it "Enthusiasthma"
This notion of constantly being excited is exhausting. It’s not healthy. It isn’t normal. It’s downright stupid and counter-productive.

People at the company are so terrified now of not appearing to show passion that they’ll give you Oscar-winning speeches about what they had for lunch and why it was so great for customers. If you end a sentence with fewer than three exclamation points, offset by several spaces to isolate the excitement and drive it home, then you clearly aren’t really behind whatever it is that you’re talking about.
As long as employees feel pressured to constantly overflow with passion, they’re going to be terrified to speak when it’s time to address what isn’t going so well. I’ve watched projects continue, and not with any great success, fueled mainly by passion. In those cases, yeah, people are being passionate, but they’re putting all this passion into things that aren’t really helping. They’ve been fooled by their own passion.

And this is happening company-wide. It’s like open honesty and skepticism are getting brushed aside for passion. It’s spreading thanks to that other often celebrated social disease, the meme. It’s everywhere. And the word is used so often that it’s losing its meaning.

At Microsoft, one of the other words you’ll hear left and right is “innovation.” I’ve already said what I want to say about this awful word, but regardless of how overused I think the word “innovation” is, I still understand its importance.

So here’s something to think about: As long as people are running around with all this passion, having left their critical thinking and skepticism in the late 90’s, and while they’re driving these sometimes winning/sometimes losing projects with all this passion, they’re handicapping their ability to innovate. Innovation is only good as long as what’s being created is actually useful.

We have this situation, then, where one company ideal, innovation, is getting squashed by another company ideal, which is passion.

The problem is that all of this reeks of extremism and zealotry, which never lead to real success. The way you win with extremism is by fooling yourself into believing that everything you think is right, and then bludgeoning your enemies with your abundant resources until they give. That’s not really winning.

Rory says a lot of what I would have said in criticism of the passion post I found via Mini-Microsoft and does it with a lot less bitterness than I could ever muster. If you ask me, Microsoft could do with a lot less of its so-called passionate employees.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006 5:57:28 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
As an current interview candidate for a position within Microsoft, all I hear and read about is the necessity to be passionate during the interview process. Having previously interviewed with Microsoft and not recieving an offer, I'm going on the assumption that my passion wasn't up to par for Microsoft's interview process and now I need to rachet up my passion.

Having worked with many Microsoft employees I feel that there is a huge disconnect between the interview process with its focus on passion and the reality from actual longer-term Microsoft employees. I think a lot of the passion paranoria ("Am I being passionate enough?") comes from new employees who are worried that their position and possible promotions depend on their "passion quotient" because getting through the interview process and recieving an offer depended largely on their display of passion.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006 6:14:21 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
this is the key bit from the second quote: "but they’re putting all this passion into things that aren’t really helping"

I have a Dilbert cartoon that illustrates this principle quite nicely. I will paraphrase: PHB says to a clueless minion: "Your P/U ratio is skyrocketing". Clueless minion: "P/U?" PHB: "Productivity to usefulness. You produce a lot of work, but everything you produce is a mistake or a distraction."

There's an article called "When Metrics Stink" that uses this cartoon as an example. Although their metrics are financial compliance metrics, you can embrace the concept and extend to a software environment.
dilbert fan
Tuesday, March 28, 2006 8:09:39 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
The problem is not "passion" -- it's being in a culture where one must fake it. I've spent more than a decade studying (and teaching, and applying) what is meant by the word "passion" used in the context of, "he has a passion for..." and the kind of passion I hear thrown around the Web (and the worst--the MS tagline "our passion, your potential") is just silly.

It makes no sense to say, "We're passionate" or "He's passionate." Passionate about WHAT exactly? Can you really compare the idea of "passion" you describe here to, say, the passion a serious mountain climber or extreme skier has for thier sport? The passion a grand master has for chess?

The idea of having to demonstrate passion in a job interview is just bizarre. There is one simple test to see if someone really *does* have a true passion for something: they are always trying to be better at it, and always because of their own intrinsic motivation. Not because they're forced to, or expected to, or need to -- but because it brings happiness and flow into their life to keep growing, learning, improving at [whatever it is for which they have a passion]. Most of us are lucky to have even a single passion at any given time -- and it's nearly always a serious hobby, cause we're deeply committed to, or what we feel to be our professional calling.

A person who has a passion for something will behave in very specific ways related to that passion. Although I've met a number of people at Microsoft who I believe really do fit that criteria, those people are rare. It's doubtful most of them will be able to fulfill that passion in their current jobs--in the same way my passion for skiing would be thwarted if I were forced to live in the desert all year.

I'd love to see the word "passion" NEVER be used for things which are merely enthusiasm, cheerleading, team pride, ego, defensiveness, etc. If it doesn't pass the intrinsically-motivated-to-keep-growing test, it is NOT passion. And real passion is not demonstrated through "breathless enthusiasm" or exclamation points.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006 4:41:22 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
In my experience, I've felt the exact opposite. People are hired as "passionate" employees. When I interview candidates I try to look for the 'spark' in their eye; when someone talks about something they really care about, you can just tell. These are the people that are motivated to get things done. The problem is that people exhibit this behaviour when first hired, but over time that passion is worn away to a withered bitter and jaded shadow of its former self. People lose their passion, and without knowing it, so when someone mentions it, they get that 'twinkle' again; but they no longer apply it to their work. Work becomes something they just have to put up with; nothing productive really gets done (fast); and the whole thing spirals down a black hole.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006 9:21:52 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I don't think hiring for passion is bizzare at all. Part of my mission when I interview candidates is to look for someone that's really excited about technology and the huge benefits it can provide. I want someone that knows a lot, if not more, about my product than I do. I get excited when I hear that they've been a computer hobbiest since they were knee high to a cricket. I want people that suffer from early-adoperitis (I definitely have this). I want people that have more great ideas than an army of 100 devs could ever code in a year. These are the people that pour their sweat and tears into the project (and blood if they cut themself while installing the dvd burner they brought in from home). And if they meet enough of the other competencies, these people will ship great software.

Passion is seen all over the place outside of Microsoft. My cousin that started his own restaurant and worked 100+ hours/week for a few months to get it off the ground, and then did it all over again with a second restaurant has passion. The engineers at JPL that continue to drive their miniature Mars humvees over some red sand and doing everything they can to fix a broken wheel from Earth have passion. Tiger Woods has passion. These are extreme cases but I'd be happy to bring on board new hires that have half the passion those people have. But you gotta have some.

As for people that give "Oscar-winning speeches about what they had for lunch and why it was so great for customers". That's not passion. That's called grandstanding. And in my experience 9 times out of 10, Microsoft employees are smart enough to see through the BS. Yes, even the managers I've worked with over the years can see through it. Your mileage may vary.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006 5:46:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
DevDuck and Charlie -- I agree with one exception on wording -- hiring for "passion" doesn't mean anything unless you know what that passion is *for*. I DO put passion at the very top of my priority list when we look for authors, editors, etc., for the same reasons you mention. But exactly WHAT they're passionate about definitely matters. We've all seen the person who hates the work--can't wait till it's over (the "twinkle" is gone), but they can't wait to race home to pull an all-nighter with their garage band. But I think we're saying the same thing -- I just don't like using the word "passion" outside a specific context.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006 6:16:26 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
The roots of "passion" in Catholic lore always tied it to "masochism" or "catharsis" in my mind. In fact, the examples cited in mini-msft (and comments to this blog) show that the shared understanding of the meaning "passion" is so imprecise that we might as well not even be using the word. I don't look for "passion" or "spark" in a job candidate. I look for someone who is engaged, energetic, bright, and has potential to love what they are doing. These adjectives are also vague, but a hell of a lot less likely to get confused with "tempermental", "obsessive", "cathartic" as mini-msft has done for "passion".
Wednesday, March 29, 2006 7:12:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Duh, companies want to hire people passionate about their work because passionate = works long, hard hours for no compensation.
Wednesday, April 5, 2006 7:56:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
This is similar to Lou Gerstner telling the press that 'vision' was the last thing that IBM needed when he was brought on board to turn it around.
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