Microsoft must be the easiest place in the world to have job security. All you need to do is tell your supervisor, "Google just called about...
Microsoft must be the easiest place in the world to have job security. All you need to do is tell your supervisor, “Google just called about a new opening they have.”
Suddenly a 10 percent raise, an extra week’s vacation and a corner office with a view become a lot more doable. In hiring away high-profile talent from Microsoft, in out-recruiting Microsoft among computer-science graduates, and in beating Microsoft to market with key innovations, Google is proving over and over Bill Gates’ concession to Fortune magazine:
“They are more like us than anyone else we have ever competed with.”
The analogy holds up historically. CEO Steve Ballmer belittled Google, according to a court document, as a “house of cards.” Monopolistic IBM initially dismissed Microsoft-run PCs as toys.
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Last year, Google hired away Windows architect Mark Lucovsky. In 1990, Gates spirited away Brad Silverberg from archrival Borland, paving the way for Windows dominance on Silverberg’s watch.
When Kai-Fu Lee recently jumped ship from Microsoft to Google, one couldn’t help but think of Mike Maples’ defection from IBM to Redmond, where he masterminded Microsoft’s takeover of the PC applications business in the early 1990s.
And when Microsoft sued Lee for deserting, the historical parallel was its suit against Rob Dickerson, who left Microsoft in 1987 to join Borland.
The reason why Ballmer allegedly threw a chair across the room at Lucovsky’s departure and Gates fretted over Lee is that they know from firsthand experience how well raiding the competition works.
IBM crumbled. Borland withered. Apple, Lotus, WordPerfect, Novell, Sun, Netscape — all faltered under Microsoft’s relentless theft of top talent and cherry-picking of grad schools.
Now the tables are turned. In recent years I’ve known nearly a dozen top computer-science graduates frantically wooed by Microsoft and Google. All have wound up going to Google.
None of this is particularly surprising, given Google’s glamour status, market valuation and seemingly limitless upside. Deep down, Microsoft executives know why Google is winning the recruitment war. It’s for the same reasons Microsoft once won.
Still, Microsoft has a hole card at this table. If Google stumbles ever so slightly, Gates & Co. are primed for the attack.
The Dickerson case is instructive. After the initial flurry of court filings, the parties settled and Dickerson went about his job at Borland under certain noncompete restrictions — just as the court has limited what Lee can do for Google. The case was quickly forgotten everywhere except in executive offices on the Microsoft campus.
A few years later, when Borland hit a soft spot, Microsoft conducted a hiring raid worthy of a German blitzkrieg. Borland sued (later settling), saying Microsoft had poached 34 of its employees over a three-year period in an attempt to put Borland out of business.
Memo to Google: Bill and Steve have long memories. One slip and you’re just another farm club for the New York Yankees of the software business.
Seattle freelance writer Paul Andrews has written about technology for more than two decades. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.