August, 2008

  • Steve Clayton

    5 Tips for Hiring A Star Team


    [image credit –]

    In Bill Taylor’s post on A Geek's Guide to Great Service he talks with Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad. I’ve already mentioned on this blog why I think Geek Squad is a great idea and I hope they do well here in the UK. Their blend of quirkiness, attention to detail and genuine customer focus should serve them and their customers well.

    It’s another area of the interview with Stephens that piqued my interest that – that of hiring. I’m no expert at hiring but I have been involved in my fair share of it at Microsoft and thought it may be useful to share some things I learnt that seemed to work well. These are not things I miraculously concluded myself but things I picked up – most often from folks I consider mentors like Neil, Karl, Terry and others.

    I hired for teams inside of Microsoft and though this post started out as a post about Hiring Geeks (hence the photo) I thought it was a good way to think about hiring a STAR team. Inside The Borg, I wanted to build a dream team of the right individuals but I would take the exact same approach externally. So here goes – 5 tips for hiring a Star Team.

    1. Hire for diversity, not consistency – I wanted people in our team as diverse as I could. Having twenty brilliant but unmanageable tech wizards in the team doesn’t work. Balancing out the wizards with the delivery guys worked out well.
    2. Hire Delivery Guys (and girls) – I don’t mean postal workers. I mean make sure you have folks who simply deliver – again and again, on time and with minimum fuss. When the chips are down, they come to the fore and your wizards take a back seat. As a side note, figure out what makes these people happy and reward them well. They’re gold.
    3. Hire Wizards – in my experience everyone great team has one (ore more) who are just brilliant minds. They’re the creative ideas people who differentiate you from the average team. They’re often a nightmare to manage but they’re worth it. How do you know a wizard? They’re curious
    4. Hire Curious People – by this I mean people who have natural curiosity. Stephen’s mentions this in his interview with Bill Taylor and it struck a chord with me. These are the people who ask questions. Constantly. They may not ask questions out loud but they will questions things and often go away and explore to find the answer for themselves. They may never need the information or us it – but one day they may. Trust me this is a very valuable skill. These people become information hubs and you hear their names again and again in the company as they’re “go to” people. I learnt some of this from my Granddad…but that’s a story for another day.
    5. Hire Passionate Readers – this doesn’t mean hire people who read Mills and Boon. It’s similar to curious people but worth calling out separately. A friend (who is a wizard and curious) taught me this interview question when I joined Microsoft. Ask someone what magazine they regularly read. Lets say they answer with WIRED. Then ask them how many back issues they have in their loft. It’s not a deal breaker question but my guess is if you’re reading this you know what I mean. People who are passionate about stuff read about it. A LOT. Okay so they may read online now and this question may be dated but try it anyway. They may say "ah I just auctioned off my 8 year collection of National Geographic on eBay”. That’s a hire.

    This isn’t rocket science and there are people who are way more qualified than I am to comment on this stuff. I hope some of them chime in here with their views but this approach has worked for me so hopefully there is something in there for you.

    Some other great resources

  • Steve Clayton


    Overall Winner
    IT Blog Awards
    Blimey! I was very surprised and extremely happy this week when I heard I had won the Computer Weekly Best Company Blog. However, I was blown away when the CW team told me their judges has also awarded me their 'Best of the Best' not least because of the comments you sent to them.
    All I can say is thankyou – thankyou for voting, thankyou for your kind word and thankyou for continuing to visit my blog. It really makes my late night writing all worthwhile. My mum is also dead happy for me :)
    I’d also like to congratulate all of the other winners and nominees but most of all the my colleagues in Microsoft UK who also won because of the hard work and dedication they put in to their blogs. James Senior likens it to the UK Olympic Team bringing home a haul of gold's :)


    • Jason Langridge’s “Mr Mobile” blog won the “Wireless and Mobile Blogs” category
    • Mike Taulty’s “Bits and Bytes” blog won the “Programming and Technical Blogs” category
    • Ray Fleming’s “UK Schools” blog won the “Public Sector Blogs” category


    Again, thank you very much. You have made me a very happy chap. I’m off to have a celebratory Guinness…or two


  • Steve Clayton

    Why Do I Still Work Here? Part 1



    I did an interview with Management Today earlier this week about intrapreneurship at Microsoft and it got me thinking. I think I was asked to be interviewed partly due to the Blue Monster thing but also because I tend to get involved in off piste stuff. I have ideas and like to pursue them. Unlike many organisations, Microsoft lets me. In fact I’d say we actively encourage it.

    It’s not the only reason I’m still here but it’s a big one – Microsoft loves ideas IF you can find the way to channel them. Lots and lots of people at Microsoft I talk to have great ideas, world changing ideas even. Many of them never see the light of day though. One of the things I learnt in my 10+ years here is if you really, really believe in something then get on with it. Send it up the chain. If it doesn’t get a response, keep sending it up until you get a response. If it’s something you can go do, go do it. Asking for forgiveness is easier than asking for permission :) This isn’t carte blanche to pursue every mad idea of course but people are often surprised how open the upper echelons are to ideas around here.

    So fellow Sofites……your ideas count. You know who you are. Stop procrastinating and bring your idea to life. That’s what I was told early on by a senior executive who also said this

    Never assume someone else is working on the problem/idea. Ever.


    If your first idea dies on the mountainside of corporate email, don’t despair and keep being full of ideas. The world, and Microsoft needs ideas people.

    (just for the record, I hate the word intrapreneurship)

  • Steve Clayton

    Did Google just make me look like an idiot?


    A quote from a Google Apps customer in the Infoworld post last week on Gmail leaves Google Apps admins nervous. I talked about this in a post myself earlier in the week that highlights the perils of a SaaS solution when you have to rely on connectivity and also running paying and non paying customers on the same platform.

    There are some interesting quotes in here that raise question about GAPE but also SaaS more generally and it’s something as an industry we’ll need to address. 100% uptime is tough but I’ll maintain that a hybrid approach is the way to address this for now. Those using POP or IMAP access for GAPE were able to continue to work whilst those who were using the web interface were the ones clamouring loudest for fixes.

    The IMAP and POP users – that’ll be Software plus Services in action once more and whilst you many will say I’m bound to say that because I’m from Microsoft, I genuinely believe that for the foreseeable future, this is the way to go. Whether S+S is the right terminology I don’t know – I spend half my time explaining to people that S+S is not SaaS but at least it starts a conversation that allows some explanation of the differences. Hmm, maybe our marketing folks are cleverer than I thought :)

  • Steve Clayton

    Running Vista? Get Windows Search 4.0


    If you’re using Vista, make sure you installed Windows Search 4.0 – trust me, it’s worth it. I suspect some folks may have been unsure whether to install this as they weren’t sure if it was Windows Desktop Search or an update to the search technology in Vista (I was confused for a while). The answer is, if you’re running Vista you should download this and you’ll have our fastest, bestest search technology on your PC.

    I know this isn’t new news but I just though it was worth repeating :)

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