Managing news in a high-tech company town

Kathleen Atkins

The widely covered and “immediate” departure of Steven Sinofsky, the now-former Windows chief at Microsoft, late Monday night is a big story.

It’s also a story full of speculation and qualifiers such as “some say,” when the topic turns to why Sinofsky left the company.

Steve Ballmer, longtime CEO of Microsoft, and Steve Sinofsky both made public statements about the parting of the ways, and in neither case are frank motives revealed nor is linen — clean, dirty, or otherwise — aired.

In the greater Seattle region there’s no shortage of folks with direct experience of working for or with Sinofsky — or his boss, Ballmer. And as long as the conversation is private, plenty of people are more than eager to ponder the reasons for the abrupt end to Sinofsky’s Microsoft career after 23 years at the company.

But don’t expect current or former Microsofties to go on the record for a published account of anything that happens at Microsoft. It rarely happens. One reason for the careful public silence is the nondisclosure agreement every Microsoft employee and contractor signs. Disclosure is an employment-ending offense at Microsoft.

Another reason for prudence is that the Seattle metropolitan region (which includes Redmond) is stuffed full of engineers and marketing folks who work or have worked for Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Google (locally and in California), and a host of hopeful and growing spinoff tech companies. All those current and former employees and entrepreneurs plan to, and likely will, work with one another again — as long as they can trust each other to protect corporate secrets.

I worked for Microsoft Press, the company’s book-publishing division, for more than 20 years. I have plenty of current and former Microsoft friends and colleagues with whom to discuss Microsoft matters — as long as I don’t attach their names to any published statements.

Strictly off the record, my contacts affirm what everyone else says: Sinofsky was exceptionally effective but also extremely difficult. And although both Steves have enemies within the company, Sinofsky had more. Challengers for power get elbowed out of Microsoft.

But nobody is saying anything about the success of Windows 8 or whether its public reception in any way undid Steven Sinofsky’s career.

Don’t depend on either Steve Sinofsky or Steve Ballmer to explain any time soon exactly what happened Monday. And it’s unlikely many other Microsofties, current or former, will speculate publicly about it, either.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2012-11-15:

Kathleen Atkins

About Kathleen Atkins

Kathleen Atkins is the Windows Secrets associate editor. She's also a freelance writer, editor, and photographer. Prior to joining Windows Secrets, she worked at Microsoft Press.