Satya Nadella says the 'brilliant jerk' phenom in tech 'is done,' but it isn't (MSFT)


Satya Nadella developers conference

  • Microsoft was one of the original “brilliant jerk” tech cultures.
  • But Satya Nadella has done a lot to overhaul the company’s culture.
  • Nadella became CEO five years ago, but has worked at Microsoft for decades, through those early culture years.
  • He says that that kind of culture is over and that super smart programmers who behave badly to others are no longer tolerated.
  • That’s a great ideal. It’s not true yet.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Microsoft was one of the original “brilliant jerk” tech cultures. Its genius founderBill Gates has mellowed over the years and is now known for being a thoughtful philanthropist. But even he recently admitted that some of his past behavior toward people that worked at Microsoft was “over the top.”

He was referring to his tantrums. And that culture of the impatient tantrum-ing jerk behavior filtered throughout the company. We’ve heard of stories over the years of male division heads warring with each other, trying to take each other down, well into the Steve Ballmer era of the company.

When Nadella took over as CEO Microsoft in 2014, one of his missions was to shut that nonsense down. He led a giant round of layoffs, flattened the organization (getting rid of middle managers), and ditched the company’s controversial stack-ranking employee review system. Stack ranking is a system in which employees are compared against each other instead of against their own goals. Today, all managers have diversity as part of their bonus-earning goals. It’s not a hiring quota but they are expected to build and maintain diverse teams.

In a recent interview with Wired, Nadella was asked about diversity and inclusion at the company.  

He said that the days of turning a blind eye to “brilliant jerks” who mistreat their teammates are long gone.

“That’s done,” he told Wired. “In 2019, to succeed, I hope anybody joining this industry starts by saying, ‘I want to be great by honing my skills but I want to create energy around me where people of all genders and ethnicities can contribute.'”

And yet, earlier this year news came to light of how some Microsoft women still felt stymied in their careers. The uproar caused others to jump into discussion forums and decry some of the company’s efforts to hire more women, minorities and other people from under-represented groups.

And it’s not just women and minorities who wind up at the other end of such jerk behavior. Business Insider just talked to a newbie male programmer who got into programming after serving in the military. He was thrilled to join Microsoft and quickly quit the company after dealing with such behavior that threatened to immediately tank his career, he told us.

Microsoft’s is such a big and important company that its culture has ripple effects across the industry. Nadella deserves kudos for taking this on, telling programmers that being kind to your coworkers is expected behavior. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence indicates that even in 2019 this kind of behavior is far from over.

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