Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
How to be like Steve Ballmer (medium.com)
763 points by drb311 on Dec 3, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 188 comments

Let me add some color to the speculation here, I worked under Ballmer for sometime leading a product.

Ballmer was a math genius, he was also a spreadsheet whiz and knew as much as a CFO did at anytime. His memory was that of a thousand elephants, and could recite forecasts, actuals and numbers for multiple years in one go.

Microsoft played in the enterprise space, and Ballmer was a marketing genius when it came to enterprise positioning. I credit him with driving the attach revenue concept within the enterprise. Companies that bought Windows, bought office, bought Exchange server, bough maintenance and more.

Even more, he was a relationship marketing genius. He had a photographic memory and remembered names of people he would meet once and recall entire conversations after months/years. And this was globally, he took the company global in a very aggressive way.

He rewarded people, both Bill and Steve weren't stingy about doling out stock - unlike Jobs. This kept a strong talent pool of A players at Microsoft.

He had a strong penchant for the enterprise and where he started faltering was when the Internet started maturing and consumer experiences started converging with the enterprise.

Nevertheless, this man took Microsoft from $15B to $70B in revenue and you can't belittle that.

Furthermore, the company made a quarter of a trillion dollars in profit during his tenure as a CEO. Early in his career, he was also the first manager of the Windows team, which went on to become one of the most profitable software franchises in history. I should hope to be such a failure.

Thank you for the real substance and redressing the balance! I'm glad to give people reason to reexamine Ballmer.

I didn't expect more than a few people to read the story. I hope He wouldn't be pissed if he read it.

Yeah the enterprisey turn of MS, which is an extremely profitable business, was definitely all Ballmer. He deserves all the credit for that.

But the Apple turn was a pure consumer play, all bottom up.

So your saying it might take more than just sticking my tongue out and saluting in the next conversation I have?

Yeah, and not to mention screaming out DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS!

Something rarely mentioned: Ballmer could've been a first-rate mathematician. He graduated magna cum laude with an AB in math, and beat Bill Gates on the Putnam exam, finishing well within the top 100 contestants that year.

Along that same thread, Ballmer was also in the middle of a Stanford MBA and he was heavily recruited by Gates himself. (1)

Guy didn't exactly fall into MSFT by accident, and in fact MSFT was no where near an incumbent, their revenue mark was sub $8m while Apple was literally going public a few months after Ballmer wound up joining MSFT. (2)

(1) https://books.google.com/books?id=klV_BAAAQBAJ&pg=PA37&lpg=P...

(2) http://www.thocp.net/companies/microsoft/microsoft_company.h...

This is something that puzzles me. I've met many people like him who I know objectively speak are highly intelligent. But still on many levels they just come across as really stupid. Like they believe in completely wacky ideas or conspiracy theories or make obviously faulty reasoning.

I really have trouble understanding why people can be so smart and stupid and the same time.

I have a pet theory on this. Smart people tend to go in depth on things in a way the average person doesn't (generally more to laziness rather than capability). The one trait I noticed in smart people is they never just stop at the convenient answer, it has to fit into a coherent world view, and they tend to integrate ideas into larger wholes.

Lets say you try to explain quantum physics to a lay person. We know quantum mechanics is basically correct, but it sounds batshit insane if you try to go directly to the conclusions of quantum mechanics without starting at the first principles. You can't just go from A-Z, you have to go A-B-C...Z. The average lay person just goes from A->"wow quantum physics are weird, murdering cats and stuff"

The thing is, we can believe some of the more outlandish claims of physics because physics is a trusted institution and we know claims are checked, etc, so we don't need to check it ourselves.

So that works for science; because smart people made it work, but what happens with things that aren't science? The same people smart enough to study quantum physics might also be just as interested in politics. So maybe their thoughts start at the mainstream, but they keep growing sideways off it in their own unique branch. In science, these branches get clipped when they're falsified by the community, but other areas don't really have a bar for determining the correctness of a theory, those branches don't necessarily get trimmed.

Anyway, I guess my point is that if you know a very smart person and they're saying something seemingly insane, what you're probably hearing is step Z in their thought process, but for it to make sense you have to hear the preceding chain of thoughts A..Y that led to that. Not to say their theory is right, it probably is loony, but since they probably haven't gotten anyone to critique their A..Y coherently, when they get called a crackpot they probably rightly assume that nobody quite understand what they're getting at.

Context matters;)

Lol murdering cats. Great explanation!

Outstanding. Clarification

Nice explanation.

Intelligence and nuttery/crackpottery are two separate things. In fact, intelligence can even enable nuttery because an intelligent nut is better at rationalizing his own nuttery than an unintelligent nut. Someone can be literally a world-class brain surgeon and still believe that the pyramids were constructed to store grain, for instance.

Four factors:

0. Intelligence is hard to "measure;" and even informally, there are mostly inferred attribute from a subject's performance filtered through the viewer's (fallible/biased) perception.

1. There's many domains of intelligence:

- critical thinking (i.e., lawyers) - fact memory - abstract thinking - spatial - problem solving - social - political - emotional

... and far too many others to list.

2. Biases - upbringing, environment, experiences and so on tend to influence a person's preferences and beliefs, and they may be expressing what it is their social group expects or how they view themselves.

3. I'm sure there is at least one belief each of us clings to that others find wacky. Sometimes person don't pick up that a certain view is social unacceptable. Examples:

- The guy in Starbucks with backpack supporting "the missile men of gaza"... de-facto endorsement of terrorism. - I happen to be vegetarian (not driving around with "meat is murder" and slaughterhouse shame pictures)... a lot of people are offended by that and heap on certain biases. - People struggling to survive, yet don't support unions, basic income or higher taxes on large trusts and estates, and are still libertarian "completely unregulated market" types.

> still believe that the pyramids were constructed to store grain, for instance.

But, in civ 2, the pyramids gave you a granary in every city, so obviously they were for storing grain!

I really like the idea that Carson played Civ and thus holds this tidbit of knowledge

> a world-class brain surgeon can believe that the pyramids were constructed to store grain

Carson is a world-class surgeon trying to convince whatever subset of the Republicans (a) can decide the outcome of the primary and (b) aren't already secured by Trump.

He probably says whatever nonsense he thinks will please rednecks with a 90 IQ and an sinking feeling that "their" country and its core values are being pulled from under their feet.

And I can understand if he's a hard time empathising with people who think that >6k years ago, when pyramids where built, the Earth didn't even exist.

TL;DR: I think/hope he's failing at understanding plebeians, not Life. It might be wishful thinking because I don't want to live in a world where someone could be both so smart and so dumb.

This isn't a new position for him, unfortunately. Here's a link to a video[0] of him in 1998 explaining it at a commencement speech.

I guess this could be taken out of context, and he's actually just being sarcastic, but I don't think so.

[0] http://www.buzzfeed.com/natemcdermott/ben-carson-egyptian-py...

And I can understand if he's a hard time empathising with people who think that >6k years ago, when pyramids where built, the Earth didn't even exist.

I think he's one of those people, actually. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/ben-c...

The problem is that you assume people who feel their country and its core values are being pulled are necessarily 90 IQ rednecks. There are a lot of intelligent socially conservative people. One who can't admit that is brainwashed.

> you assume [conservative] people are necessarily 90 IQ rednecks.

I don't; I assume that the "90 IQ redneck" subset of conservative voters are the ones worth trying to seduce, according to GOP candidates. Because that's whom their political speeches and positions seem targeted towards.

I guess that's because there are many of them, and until recently they've been easier to influence. I must admit there's a bit of shadenfreude in seeing Trump out-rednecking the GOP elite at the game they invented for themselves.

Smart people are outliers, hence their ideas are also outliers. Also, never underestimate the intelligence required to tailor a message to its audience.

The comments in this thread are exceptionally ironic.


His example is poignant because it falls out of even normative doctrine in the cultural/religious context it's referencing. It's like a double-inconsistency and yet...the guy can separate conjoined twins at the head. (Shaking mine.)

Two hunches:

1) Expertise may cause certain types of bias.

Recent studies have examined this idea of "earned dogmatism": the idea that once you gain expertise in something, your ego builds, and that actually makes you less open minded and less able to revise or challenge your existing beliefs.[0]

2) Overcoming bias is different than overcoming ignorance. Categorically different, and perhaps massively harder.

A different study found expert philosophers exhibiting cognitive biases at the same rate as nonprofessionals, even when dealing with undergraduate-level philosophy problems.[1]

[0] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103115...

[1] http://cushmanlab.fas.harvard.edu/docs/schwitzgebel&cushman_...

Some smart people carry the scars of having accidentally hurt someone's feelings in conversation by inadvertently making them feel dumb.

Consequently, some smart people choose to play down their intelligence during conversation because it's disarming to do so, and they want to help people feel at ease.

Good point, never think of it.

I see this a lot. You could argue RMS fits this category. I don't think he's stupid, but somewhat strange for someone who could've been a first rate Physics or Computer Science researcher.

A few weeks ago someone commented how some academic was disappointed that Gates had become an entrepreneur, calling it a "waste". It is interesting to think about what him, Ballmer, or Stallman would've done in academia.

Microsoft now employs 118,584 people with many of them working in research laboratories. Had Gates pursued academia he could have at best accomplished a fraction of what he has.

That's 118,584 - 7,800 employees that were laid off in July or 2015 (the 118K number was from March 2015).

>>It is interesting to think about what [Gates], Ballmer, or Stallman would've done in academia.

Considering the current state of academia and the many articles regularly posted here, they probably would have burned out and left. That would have been the real waste in my opinion.

Seems like a strange argument to make given RMS' gigantic impact on the world.

Good point. I should not devalue his work (nor Gates' or Ballmer's), but it is nonetheless interesting to think about.

Let's not even start on ESR.

Who (or what) is ESR?

Eric Scott Raymond, a very bright and often abrasive person.

Wrote Cathedral and the Bazaar, and was responsible for a lot of the realpolitik and branding that got Open Source to where it is today.

Had varying amounts of a hand in gpsd, ncurses, reposturgeon, and various other tools people actually use.

The big problem is that his worldview is exceptionally conservative culture war while at the same time being fairly social liberal. If something isn't productive to expanding Western Civilization (by his definition), for whatever reason, it must go. This includes Islam, this includes a lot of SJW theory, this includes homosexuals (not out of malice, but because they by definition can't make more population), and so forth.

He's quite interesting to read, and he makes very interesting points--unfortunately, if you have a visceral reaction to his politics it is quite hard to bear him.

He also has an annoying habit of claiming expertise and skills that aren't quite there, such as forensic critique of a police shooting.

"Interesting insufferable intellectual independent" would be my classification of him.

Eeeeh, have you ever actually met the guy? Cuz I have and I came to the conclusion that he does have a lot of overt malice towards almost all minorities. He's just like every other old, bigotted white dude. He and my grandfather and father-in-law would get along quite well.

He literally believes that black people are biologically incapable of being as smart as white people and that they are genetically predisposed to violent behavior.

His delusions even extend to his own health status. He thinks he could use martial arts to beat up an intruder on his house. The guy has cerebral palsy so bad he can barely stand. It'd be tragic if he wasn't such a dick.

Eric Scott Raymond

It's Eric Steven Raymond. That Scott fellow has a Wiki entry but it's not who you're talking about.

Here's the ESR guy's Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_S._Raymond

Some guy who wrote a HOWTO on cunnilingus

Erick S. Raymond: http://esr.ibiblio.org/

Author of the Cathedral and the Bazaar.

Eric S Raymond, wrote The Cathedral and the Bazaar, co-founder of the OSI (Open Source Initiative)

I have seen this phenomenon a few times. I think because they got so much positive reinforcement early on; they feel at ease spouting off their wacky theories? After all, they are geniuses. They are allowed to say what ever comes to mind, but only later in life? After they carved out a comfortable life?

I've seen the same behavior in way too many wealthy individuals. Just because they are filthy rich; they can spout off whatever comes to mind, and we give them a get out of jail card because we assume intelligence equates with wealth. Trump comes to mind.

I don't know much about Balmer. I just saw a huge, out of shape guy, playing cheerleader for Gates. Sorry--it's just what I saw on the tube. It was obvious Apple, and open source was going to trounce Microsoft. I do think Balmer saw the fall of Microsoft comming--maybe before Gates? Hell--I'm being modest--we all hated Microsoft. He did his best at milking a sinking ship. That is genius, but wouldn't a simpleton do the same?

I have met very few geniuses who were wealthy. The extremely smart individuals, I have known, or watched, did not become very wealthy. Their intelligence seemed to hold them back in too many situations, or maybe they had a higher level of integrity? That integrity that needs to be broken/desimated in too many business situations? That integrity that need to be twisted when becoming very wealthy? What really bothers me most is way too many of the best students/best minds had nervous breakdowns. I have seen too many great people just crack?

I wish we would stop calling these guys geniuses just because they are wealthy in business. It's getting old.

Now the guy who can carve out a comfortable life, not steal, not take advantage of the weak, has a few people who truly love them, add a few original ideas to this thing we call life; that smart?

Intelligence is different from wisdom is different from knowledge.

Wisdom is the eyesight (degree of visual acuity) of a consciousness.

Your knowledge is what you've heard and experienced and accepted through your individual consciousness.

The issue is that knowledge can be right or wrong – because people hear what they want to hear, generally speaking, and are not aware of the difference between their thought and the reality. Plus, people understand the same things in different ways, when they do not have sufficient wisdom to see the thing itself.

The problem is that some conspiracy theories end up being completely true. Others do not.

My question to you is, given that 'theories' are commonly defined as things still unproven, by what criteria do you distinguish a wacky conspiracy theory from one that seems plausible?

In my opinnion the flaw in your question is that 'all' conspiracy theories are wacky or can be made wacky by the believers. At that point all you can do is weight the evidence for and against and come to your own conclusion, but at the end of the day the conspiracy theorists have the burden of proof.

There is a tendency among a lot of people to make a post-hoc rationalization that--because certain, historical, geniuses were eccentric--being eccentric makes you a genius. There are other, similar, false rationalizations around being "complex" vs just being difficult, being "brave" vs just being reckless, etc.

Also sampling bias, since the wacky or loud geniuses may get more publicity.

Being smart in a particular subject requires a certain coalescence of talent, training, and timing. Most people do not have the prerequisites to be smart in all subjects, or even a significant amount of them. The economic division of labor also encourages specialization rather than general expertise. This is why one should be wary of experts speaking far afield of their expertise.

I guess I qualify a bit in that respect. The question I ask you: how do you know they are nuts and not in fact correct?

You learn the nature of a thing by developing and testing hypotheses around it, I would suppose.

Maybe they're actually right and they see connections on a broad scale that other people are too stupid to make. Intelligence is after all often described as the ability to discern the hidden structure behind things. (half kidding ;))

I don't think "stupid" is the right word to describe Ballmer. Maybe unsophisticated but not stupid.

That may be a certain relaxation point, way to entertain themselves. No need to seriously analyze something, just having fun going with it. Especially if you don't really care about what other people are thinking about you.

It's easy to understand if you just abandon the idea that stupid-to-smart is a single 1-dimensional spectrum. There are all kinds of intelligence, and having one doesn't imply having others.

I also think he could be a winner on Dancing with the Stars contest. I mean he is a heck of a dancer.

You can see he still makes use of that math degree by making perfect sinusoidal waves with his arms.

Yeah, that undermines the "non-genius" part of the premise.

I think it already undermined itself by using Jobs as the example of a genius. Da Vinci and Goethe were geniuses. Jobs was charismatic, had good business sense, and understood his markets, like virtually all successful CEOs, but I think "genius" is quite a stretch.

True, but if one allows that genius is also a way to say "able to do something few others can" then Jobs would meet that definition, along with Elon Musk, etc.

At that point you've expanded your criteria to Hitler and Jesse Owens.

Hitler was a genius at politics and charisma. No one raises to power like without some sort of gift. He was also crazy and evil, but no one said all genius is used for good causes.

Hitler was an awful human being. But he was a genius orator. Jesse Owens was a physical genius, though we'd perhaps more easily say that someone performing a more complex skill was a genius, such as Steve Nash etc. In any case, I think it's interesting and useful to think there are many kinds of genius.

I'd like to see you lead a whole nation to believe your batshit crazy ideas. It takes a little bit of genius to do that.

and people who speed-solve rubik's cubes.

Your definition doesn't really fit in the context of the article though, since it applies equally to Ballmer.

The author was clearly trying to foil Ballmer (in the literary sense) by painting Jobs as a much more classical type of genius than what you described.

Also easier to be a genius, when you have an actual genius (Wozniak) creating things the world had never seen before.

THIS exactly. It's surprising how we're trying to place "genius" and "social/ extrovertism/charisma" as two ends of the same scale.

you just seriously insulted iSheeps.

and so did I.

to3m is absolutely correct with sheeple term for them

and yes, it's not my native language indeed

I assume English is your second language? The plural is in fact iSheeple. (This is a very, very rare form of irregular noun. I'm not surprised you weren't taught it, nor that you haven't picked it up by osmosis. You just have to memorize it as a special case.)

Isn't it just a different word entirely? (English is also my second language)

> Sheeple (a portmanteau of "sheep" and "people")


Yes, it is. This is my strange English humour failing to cross cultural boundaries (again), I'm afraid. The correct plural of "iSheep" is however still certainly "iSheeple"!

For what it's worth, the latter does not imply the former. But your broader point stands.

Ballmer was the "business guy" at the startup that created the greatest ever amount of money for its founders and employees by holding off an IPO and raising a minimal amount of outside investment. The amount of equity he and Gates retained allowed Microsoft to take a long term rather than a quarter by quarter Wall Street driven approach for about twenty years following the IPO.

If Microsoft is currently undergoing a renaissance, it may be because Ballmer got the supertanker turned onto the right heading. Unlike the much beloved Sun, Microsoft is still around and its works are trending toward the right side of history while Sun's legacy is increasingly sliding into the pale of Oracle.

Ballmer was incredibly successful for the majority of his career but by the time I arrived at Microsoft (2011), I really think his hubris and attitude had a deleterious effect on Microsoft employees.

His style of thinking about competitor's and their innovations trickled down to all levels of the company; people anywhere in the company displayed the same dismissiveness of almost anything Google or Apple or others did. Working at Microsoft is weird and feels like your in some special universe where other technology doesn't exist; socializing with Microsoft engineers (of any age and almost in any environments) and realizing they all had their blinders on was really disheartening.

Things may be really different now, I don't know, but Steve was right to leave when he left.

Huge bummer to hear that. Was the exact opposite of that for my 1996-2000 tenure. Many decks used UNIX, many PMs used Macs--it was encouraged so you'd know the competition, whom they respected.

Really interesting. It was nothing like that while I was there. Being caught with an iPhone just felt so awkward.

Given the work on MS' github and Azure, it really feels like the wall has come down and MS is opening up. They're now contributing code with active engineers to open source projects.

"Here’s somebody who’ll wear their mediocrity with such energy, with such boundless enthusiasm and unbridled passion, that nobody else even tries to compete. You’re not Steve Jobs. You’re mediocre, like me. You’re reading shabby online articles about how to be like somebody else. Do you think Steve Jobs did that?"

A+ Be all the Balmer u can be. Balmer forever and ever.

No, this is dumb. Balmer was never mediocre.

The piece is so obviously satire and not based in reality

What other term do you use to describe his failure to see modern smartphones coming, even after Apple waved one under his nose?

That said, while I've often been critical of Ballmer, I've been reconsidering my attitude towards him now that I've seen the aggressively-invasive direction in which Satya Nadella is taking Windows. Under Ballmer's leadership, Windows 7 never popped up unsolicited ads for Metro on the toolbar, much less ads that I couldn't turn off.

By that measure Dr. Chris Barnard is mediocre, for supposedly performing ~50 heart transplants on dogs. Similarly Nelson Mandela would qualify for his role in founding and leading a militant wing of the ANC. One fact, error, moment or even period do not a mediocre person make.

This is far off topic now, but...

My only context with Nelson Mandela would be his autobiography, but founding the militant wing of the ANC seemed fairly reasonable from that perspective. Just about all forms of peaceful protest were cut off from the ANC and the ANC it's self was criminalized and attacked.

Few people criticize the deceleration of independence and the subsequent revolutionary war, but unfortunately sometimes in history violence was the only reasonable option.

Well, this thread got irrelevant in a hurry.

Since your initial complaint was the start of the irrelevancy, this is mighty disingenuous of you

I think Microsoft saw smartphones coming for a while. See for example "Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphone." That said their offerings were not very good but that's another matter.

fun read but i'm not convinced about the advice. I'm sure Balmer is a smart guy and lucked out by joining MS as #30 (is it really so unlucky to be #30 at MS?). He was also outspoken, loud, and perhaps had some leadership qualities lacked by other nerds at that moment. And now it's easy to pick him apart and "be more like Balmer" but I doubt mirroring his annoying personality will get you far.

Next time you give a presentation, repeat the same key word or phrase at least 5 times. Preferably 10.

i think Balmer succeeded despite this behavior, not because of it.

When you sense a gap that’s closing push yourself in with full energy. Love the party, get into it, then make it your own

the "make it your own" is almost like saying "tell a funny touching story that everyone will love".

Imagine you are — or be — the tallest person in the room. (Create situations where you’re standing and they’re sitting?)

this reminds me of the NLP craze back in the day, i.e. micro behaviors that are subconsciously making you more attractive / easy to relate to / superior etc. Dubious at best.

* not to dismiss micro behaviors completely. There are numerous TED talks about body language that present convincing evidence that it works. I think they are especially applicable if you're the kind of person that tries to occupy least space and remain un-seen in meetings. For an average person I just think this is a minor tweak, not the big change standing between you and tres commas club.

> Imagine you are — or be — the tallest person in the room. (Create situations where you’re standing and they’re sitting?) > this reminds me of the NLP craze back in the day, i.e. micro behaviors that are subconsciously making you more attractive / easy to relate to / superior etc. Dubious at best.

I'm short. Like 5ft 2 (160cm) short. People have literally given me comments to the line of "You're short, but you have a tall personality. I, like, can't think of you as a short person."

This shit works. To an extent at least. It doesn't help me reach things in cupboards.

you're right, and i didn't mean to completely dismiss micro behaviors. but even as you said they commented on your "tall personality" which means you're probably eloquent and outspoken, and people are not promoting you just because you're making yourself look bigger in meetings. I just think working on micro behaviors is like fine tuning whereas developing your knowledge/personality/people skills are the major improvements.

Here is a personal anecdote:

A few years ago, I started taking burlesque dance classes. A lot of the lessons concerned "how to look sexy". Which, it turns out, corresponds with a lot of behaviors people read as "confident".

I started learning how to carry myself to give the appearance of being more confident and in control. And the funny thing is that over time I started being more confident in my social interactions. Whether it was because some inner instinct was responding to me adopting confident body language, or because other people were responding to that body language and acting like I was the dominant one, I don't care. It worked. I can do something weird and crazy and people just deal with it, instead of shunning me as awkward.

Sure, if I just naturally had a confident personality then I'd have the same body language. But I feel like the causality on this is not a one-way arrow; confident personality causes confident body language, but confident body language causes confident personality, as well.

>micro behaviors that are subconsciously making you more attractive / easy to relate to / superior etc. Dubious at best.

Have a look at primate domination behavior. It's a big subject of study for zoologists/ethologists. Displays of dominance are a real thing, even if NLP sold it as pop psychology.

Don't conflate NLP with pop psychology. Willpower or The Marshmallow Effect or even Thinking, Fast and Slow are pop psychology. NLP is overt psuedoscience that has never had any basis in fact.

Funny anecdote about NLP: I accidentally took a NLP class because it had Programming in the name, and for some reason I didn't bother to read the description. First lecture, second slide in the lecturer presented the quote: "We only use 10% of our brain, imagine what we could do if we used 100% of it" ~ Albert Einstein. And continued to claim that we could use more of our brain by using NLP or something like that.

Never dropped a class so hard in my life.

i was prepared to snark. i don't like steve ballmer, i don't want to be like him. i don't like what he stands for. i can't think of one positive thing about the guy, other than perhaps his loyalty. but this article has a bunch of interesting insights nonetheless, delivered in a funny way.

Another positive thing about him was that he was a genius, or at least incredibly smart. He scored in the top 100 in the Putnam while at Harvard.

Loyalty. Wasn't he a key player in screwing over Paul Allen?

Despite his public perception, he's incredibly intelligent. He has an IQ of 150.

His strategy of being a fast follower worked great for Microsoft when it had crappy competitors - it was ill equipped to deal with good ones like Apple and Google.

"He has an IQ of 150." Source?

That's a very good point. People don't seem to realise now just how damn mentally challenged their competition was in the beginning.

He has an IQ of 150.

There are multiple IQ scales. Stanford-Binet, Cattell etc. Isn't just the number pointless, unless the type of test is also mentioned?

IQ of 148 here (not that I put much stock in it). Ballmer is an idiot. What he lacks in idiocy, he more than makes up for with... lack of leadership, lack of charisma, lack of ethics, and just raw lack of coolness period.

Anyway, that's what I thought BEFORE I read the article. This article is actually pretty awesome! And points out some good things about the guy. I like him a little more now. Nice work, Medium!

One thing I would note is that sticking with 1 company for a long period of time is not necessarily great. You (and the companies you switch among) can learn a TON from each other if you move around a bit. There's even studies that show this (your value to a company is largely exhausted after 2 years).

If there is one unequivocal truth I have learned about social interactions, it's that nobody wants to know what your IQ is.

This might be the best Hacker News comment I have ever read. Excelsior.

Start talking about your children and your audience will be hoping you move onto your IQ.

I would agree. I said it in direct response to someone pointing out his IQ of 150. I was making a point... Or would you say that it's OK to talk about someone ELSE'S IQ?

I also suspect that people would rather not know your phallus size or six+ figure income. All these things are left to discover as a side effect of normal interactions ;)

> All these things are left to discover as a side effect of normal interactions ;)

Haha. Bingo.

lectrick "There's even studies that show this (your value to a company is largely exhausted after 2 years)"

could you please give some links to this studies I am very interested. Thanks



I think this is the actual study?


Basically, a skilled employee gets the most out of a job in the first 3 years. And the new company gets the most out of the employee in the first 3 years (or so). After that, in order to restart the learning experience for both parties, a "change of venue" is necessary.

Nice Work David Barnes! - FTFY

Dude has passion. Worked at Microsoft for a few years, and even though I didn't agree with many of his decisions...he does what he loves, and loves it so much, that it passes on to others as well. We need more of that everywhere, in every aspect of life, not just business.

Ballmer was there since the earliest days of Microsoft. Only a fool would somehow think he just came along for the ride.

Gates chose to give him a large slice of equity because he saw that he wanted something that Ballmer had and as far as I can tell that worked out extremely well.

I won't argue that Steve Ballmer was the technical creative genius that Microsoft needed but to suggest that in some way he stumbled in and rode the gravy train, well I don't buy that.

The new generation probably have little concept of how absolutely and totally Microsoft dominated the computer industry, in a way that no company does now (nope, not even Apple dominates today anything like the way Microsoft dominated in the 80's and 90's). It was Microsoft's world in a very real way. There were two men behind that complete domination - Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates. The cynical (and there are many) might say "well it's Ballmer that lost that domination", but I wonder if such ongoing utter domination was even possible in the greatly expanded industry post WWW, regardless of who the leader was.

Steve Ballmer is more than worthy of admiration, if you were smart you'd try to learn from him rather than portraying him as a buffoon sidekick to Bill Gates. To evaluate him in this way just displays ignorance.

I think Gates brought on Ballmer as the business partner he needed, not the business partner he started with (Paul Allen). I'm not knocking Paul Allen but Bill Gates felt he needed Ballmer as his partner and as far as I could tell Ballmer and Gates were a powerful team, not Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

And when compared with Steve Jobs, it's worth remembering that Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates comprehensively beat, pounded and dominated Steve Jobs' Apple until "Steve's return". Apple was on the brink of going out of business when Steve returned and stayed in business because Gates and Ballmer provided Apple with $150M to stay in business - a wise move at the time because Microsoft was in trouble with the justice department and needed to ensure that there were companies still in existence that could even vaguely be argued to be valid competitors to Microsoft.

Many, many entrepreneurs tried and failed to get the better of Gates and Ballmer until eventually a perception formed that you were an idiot if you tried to compete with them. VC's wouldn't invest in anything that was even seen as potentially an area that Microsoft might be interested in being involved with. Ballmer is one of the most formidable and, in his time, feared businessmen ever.

Ballmer is one of the greatest business people of all time even if he doesn't have the romantic and charismatic story of Jobs or Gates.

Respect is due.

Ballmer actually levered up and bought Microsoft stock on margin in the late 80s when it tanked on something silly like a delay in shipping Microsoft Word.


> Apple was on the brink of going out of business when Steve returned and stayed in business because Gates and Ballmer provided Apple with $150M to stay in business - a wise move at the time because Microsoft was in trouble with the justice department and needed to ensure that there were companies still in existence that could even vaguely be argued to be valid competitors to Microsoft.

I'm tired of this myth being propagated. The $150MM wasn't even the most important part of the deal for Apple: http://www.zdnet.com/article/stop-the-lies-the-day-that-micr...

Thank you for the clarification.

Good point, I agree that Gates must have saw something, but what precisely did he see see? I don't see Ballmer as some sort of marketing or technical genius (or even close). I'm having a hard time imagining what he offers.

Developers, developers, developers, developers, developers. Developers! Developers! Developers! DEVELOPERS DEVELOPERS DEVELOPERS

'SteveB went on the road to see the top weeklies, industry analysts and business press this week to give our systems strategy. The meetings included demos of Windows 3.1 (pen and multimedia included), Windows NT, OS/2 2.0 including a performance comparison to Windows and a “bad app” that corrupted other applications and crashed the system. It was a very valuable trip and needs to be repeated by other MS executives throughout the next month so we hit all the publications and analysts.'

'The demos of OS/2 were excellent. Crashing the system had the intended effect – to FUD OS/2 2.0. People paid attention to this demo and were often surprised to our favor. Steve positioned it as -- OS/2 is not "bad" but that from a performance and "robustness" standpoint, it is NOT better than Windows'.


"I have written a PM app that hangs the system (sometimes quite graphically)."


Informative and interesting. I like how the emails are straight to the point.

You know, in the same vein... Salieri was a pretty decent composer. He got some fame and recognition. Maybe it's not so bad to be a Salieri and not Mozart, because he's still a hell of a lot better than most.

He'll always be known for being an also-ran, but most of us won't even get that far.

The photo of Gates and Ballmer is from this article, online here:


The one thing Ballmer did right was double down when he saw a huge, once in a lifetime opportunity.

Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger say that without their top 20 performing stocks, they'd be also-rans. Which really goes to show that when you find a great opportunity in life, you should go at it as hard as you can.

So Ballmer is the ultimate PHB?

This is a great way to build a career, but if you look at his track record at Microsoft, I'm not sure Ballmer is the guy we want to be emulating. He was hard-headed, amazingly risk-averse when it came to Microsoft's core platforms, and was not a great manager (he was unable to control a lot of the culture problems that plagued Microsoft in the early 2000s).

It's fine to make bold moves that fail, but Ballmer's failed moves weren't really all that bold. They were big, but not incredibly bold, and were often doubling down on a failing business inside Microsoft.

People usually don't get credit for what didn't happen, but in the case of CEOs, they deserve it. There are so many choices that could've been made, and would've been made by a worse exec, that would've destroyed MS. It takes effort to maintain the status quo in a competitive world.

Microsoft might not have been as hip as Apple or Google, but they became and remained the most significant software company in the world for decades. They're still the number one desktop OS by a huge margin. Compare Steve Ballmer to Carly Fiorina, Jonathan Schwartz or Stephen Elop and tell me he wasn't a good CEO.

I also think Ballmer deserves credit for .NET. "Developers developers developers" has been MS's saving grace as OS X emerged, and Nadella is essentially banking the company on .NET-as-a-platform via Azure. It's entirely possible that we'd all be using Solaris on SPARC workstations by now if .NET hadn't existed.

Ballmer also served during the toughest time in Microsoft's history. He took the reigns right before the final ruling in a massive antitrust lawsuit that literally almost broke the company apart[0]. The DOJ continued to have oversight over Microsoft until 2012[1]. I'm sure Microsoft would have loved to make much bolder decisions during that decade (particularly when it comes to hardware), but they were hardly in a position to do so legally[2].

A lot of the good things Microsoft has (deservedly) received praise for recently under Nadella were started under Ballmer's tenure. Yes, he is not personally responsible for everything that goes on at the company, but it's important to keep that in mind.

[0] While the decision was reversed on appeal, Microsoft was literally ordered by the courts to split itself into separate companies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Microsoft_Cor...

[1] http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2011/04/depart...

[2] Incidentally, the Surface, which now appears to be Microsoft's attempt to clean up the wild west that OEMs have created, was announced right at the end of the DOJ's oversight. I cannot believe that this is a coincidence.

Your comment and the parent comment hits close to home.

The anti trust investigation killed Microsoft's mojo. They never under estimated any one in the past. They were paranoid and always responded to "potential threats" with crappy solution but they responded nonetheless.

In my opinion, Google and the iPhone owe their dominance to time granted them by the anti trust suit.

The same tactics that got Microsoft in trouble is being used my Google and Apple today.

Google services is bundled in Android. There is no alternative browser in chrome OS by design. The default browser can't be changed in IOS(not sure if that's still the case).

It's difficult to take risks when everything you do is under a microscope.

> The default browser can't be changed in IOS(not sure if that's still the case).

Not only can it not be changed, but you can't even ship true alternative browsers at all.

You'll find plenty of "alternative browsers" in the App Store, of course. But they're all just UI wrappers around Apple's UIWebView or WKWebView. Apple doesn't allow anyone to ship an alternative browser engine.

So even if Apple let you change the default, it really wouldn't be all that interesting.

You can install Firefox on Android, and it has proper integration. But the rest of Google Play Services, yeah I see your point.

> You can install Firefox on Android, and it has proper integration.

You can (and I do, because it's the only way to block ads without root on Android).

But that was literally the same claim that was made against Microsoft - while you could install alternative browsers, you couldn't really uninstall IE. And as parts of IE were factored into separate components for reuse by other applications, the concern was that IE was being turned into part of the operating system.

(The difference is that Android's market share, while still dominant, is still not as high as Windows's was back in the 90s[0]. Ditto for iOS, which has a minority market share. But in terms of the software vs. OS components, it's almost exactly the same.)

[0] or even as high as the Windows marketshare is today, for that matter.

It's not the same claim. The claim against Microsoft was that browser and OS dominance had killed competition ("cutting off the oxygen supply" of other browser makers) and was literally distorting the industry.

Browser dominance on its own was not the problem. The problem was that Microsoft's strategy was deliberately anti-competitive and monopolistic, and the browser was one symptom of that - not just because it gave MS massive market share, but because it created a technological chokepoint which limited the commercial potential of everyone working in the PC and Internet industries.

Remember, MS spent a lot of time and money promoting site/browser technologies like ActiveX that only really worked on Windows PCs, and seem to have been an attempt to look out everyone else.

It's hard to argue that iOS or Android are anywhere close to doing the same. Both may be walled gardens, and both have toxic effects. But they're not de facto standards setters, and they can't use their influence to kill competing products at equivalent scale. (They can and have killed or assimilated smaller products - but that's plain unethical behaviour, not clear evidence of monopoly. Taking steps to crush Twitter, WhatsApp, or Facebook would probably count as monopolistic. Killing SmallAppCo is just shady; sad, but true.)

If it was found that Apple and Google were colluding, that would be a serious problem - just as both had problems when it was proved they'd made secret agreements about employee mobility and salary negotiations.

He said you can't install anything else on ChromeOS, not Android.

Right, but Microsoft completely mis-identified their core platform. Windows is not the core platform - Office is. They should have gotten a consistent Office interface on any device with a screen back in 2010.

Instead, they embargoed Office on every platform but Windows and a shitty, incompatible and infrequently updated Mac port. They tried to leverage Office to make their other platforms (Windows, Windows Phone, Azure) successful, rather than focus on making sure Office runs on everything and the licensing works.

The Mac was always an original platform for Office dating back to Word and Excel in 1985.

It also was never incompatible. Better than Windows at times (circa 2003 when they had a big team in the Bay Area) and Entourage was better than Outlook's usability. Shitty at times, especially the last several years until Office 2016.

With Office 365, they basically get your point. Unfortunately the new generation mostly uses Google Docs and Pages now, but most over 30 still use Office.

Mojo? Or they had to start playing by the rules a little more, and stop cheating the game.

I was with you up until "It's entirely possible that we'd all be using Solaris on SPARC workstations by now if .NET hadn't existed."

I admit I don't follow the Windows world very closely, and I'm no developer, but Wikipedia says .NET got started in 2002, by which time Solaris was already on its way out.

I'm not sure what you see in .NET that you think killed Solaris/SPARC, or where you see the overlap (where a lack of .NET could have presented an opportunity for Solaris), but from my point of view Solaris was an also-ran by 2002, even though I continued to administer it until after the Oracle acquisition.

Without .NET, Java would've been the undisputed champ of enterprise programming, meaning Sun would've had a lot more clout than they did, and the need for metal that "runs Java better" (as SPARC/Solaris would've been sold) might've been much more influential.

Once .NET came out, a lot of companies used that instead of Java since they were already familiar with Windows and the x86 hardware that ran Windows was much cheaper than SPARC hardware that ran Solaris. All this massively diminished Sun and Java's influence in enterprise systems, and caused the sales of expensive specialized hardware like SPARC to plunge.

Ballmer's greatest failure was betting on Sinofsky. Elevating him forced a number of other great execs to eventually leave the company. It was bold and it was wrong.

Out of interest, which execs left? Also, under Sinofsky Windows 7 was shipped. That's significantly better than Vista, and still clasped to many-a-person's bossom in a cherished embrace as they refuse to upgrade to Windows 8 or 10.

allard, muglia, mundie, and lots at the baby VP level. The path windows 7 was on was largely sets before him. Windows 8, which was his baby led to him leaving the company.

I agree. The only major success from Ballmer's career that the article highlights is his capturing of that eight percent stake early on. A better title might have been "How to Be Like 1980 Steve Ballmer".

Being risk-averse is typically a good way to keep your job. If he was riskier, there's a greater chance he'd have been fired faster or reduced his earnings.

It is also a very good way to stagnate under fear of trying something new

out of all of ballmer's blunders, this one is my favorite:


... he says, about the product that is about to do to his company's phone division (and arguably the entire industry) what microsoft did to ibm, a few decades earlier.

but the article you are commenting on is not about that. it's about how you can use your less-than-stellar god-given gifts to propel yourself to the top, just like ballmer did.

The most interesting part here is the second quote where he describes that a modern iPhone is as compared to what the iPhone was then:

> "We wouldn't define our phone experience just by music. A phone is really a general purpose device. You want to make telephone calls, you want to get and receive messages, text, e-mail, whatever your preference is."

edit: Turns out he was dead on. Problem was that the iPhone combined two devices people already had AND eventually gave you all of this.

People had been trying to make devices very much like the iPhone for decades before Jobs pushed through a mass-market-acceptable iteration. MS had a tablet and natural voice UI projects as major priorities around the turn of the century while Apple was working on the click-wheel of the original iPod.

It takes a lot of iteration before something becomes mass-marketable, and there's almost always a long, multi-competitor heritage in devices that seem to appear overnight, like the iPhone.

I suppose it is also a skill to make it seem fashionable and desirable, in the way that Apple did. Compare that to PocketPC and Palm Pilots etc. that came before the iPhone, and remember that you wouldn't see a teenager using one.

I suppose it also helps that mobile phones have become widely acceptable. I remember when it was rare to see someone with one (can't even imagine how bad the coverage was with so few masts around), and people would label them as "posers" for having one or using it in public. Perhaps the earlier Windows devices (which were very capable, and allowed apps to be installed, albeit not from a central repository like the App Store) were just too early in the market, and by the time people accepted them they wanted something different and new. Android and iPhone rode this wave.

> So Ballmer is the ultimate PHB?

Yes, for values of "H" equal to "head". The first Ballmer Peak is the one his skull comes to.

> Go to the mirror and practice these faces.

Great piece. This article is worth a click for that lead image alone. I really wonder what the context was for such an expression.

IIRC, Ballmer at one point went double or nothing, margining his stock to double his position. That explains half of his stake right there.

That's when he was worth $100 or $200 million, not long after the IPO.

Jim Treybig of Tandem Computers did something similar when he lost half his stock in a divorce.

I would have passed this article anywhere else if not for Hacker News. This is a great insight and great way to work on your personality.

It all comes down to sales being easier to measure than other parts like development. Something like "doubling revenue" can be reasonably objectively measured. Trying to do the same thing for a developer is way too hard: double X? halve X? where X is lines of code, bugs, hours of attendance, appraisal scores, or other measurements don't remotely cut it, and are easy to game. (Revenue can also be gamed to some degree, but people/companies parting with cash is a higher hurdle.)

That let him make a measurable deal with Gates & Allen. A new developer as employee #30 doesn't have anything comparable.

I thought the article was serious until I reached the "Steve Ballmer mission pack". Author can't be serious.

It's serious, but not literal.

Perfect summary of what I hoped to achieve. Thanks for reading. And defending!

It's not serious; it's a humour piece. People are taking it far too seriously in this thread.

The Charlie Rose interview is a pretty decent insight into the man. Certainly shuts up the armchair quaterbacks here with 20:20 hindsight calling him an idiot for certain career moves.

Sauce: http://www.charlierose.com/watch/60463433


Am I doing this right?

Anyhow -- Steve had all the personality at the Windows 1.0 launch. Well, Steve and John Dvorak. Mike Maples and Jon Shirley, however, seemed like bigger deals in the company than Steve a while each.

Steve is basically a great salesman. He's both a huge extrovert and a great listener. He's delusional enough to completely believe, yet well smarter than other similarly delusional people. I presume he has all the sales process mechanics mastered too, but I don't actually know that for a fact.

This just shows that terminal net worth is not that important.

from wikipedia: In 2007, Ballmer said "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance."[55]

And in a funny sort of way he was kind of right :) http://www.forbes.com/sites/dougolenick/2015/05/27/apple-ios...

Android: 79% versus iOS: 14%

That quote isn't the smoking gun people hold it up to be, did he really believe this or was he just a salesman trash talking the competition? Steve Jobs crap talked a lot of products (e.g. tablets & then smaller tablets) right up until they day Apple was ready to sell them.

Did Ballmer ever do any programming?

If not, why?

Did he just have no curiosity or interest?

Sounds like he had far more capacity for maths than Jobs.

My personal opinion of Ballmer is that he was/is brilliant but he failed to prioritise in the right areas during the mid 2000s. He did well with investing in Azure and cloud tech but he was an idiot for letting Sinofsky run Windows into the ground with Windows 8.

So introvert vs extrovert?

You forgot "do a line of coke before giving a presentation"

> i was prepared to snark

I don't know why but this just got me laughing so hard. I'm thinking about one of those infomercials. "They laughed at me when I sat at the piano... but when I started to play!"

It's like the Hacker News slogan or manifesto or something. HACKER NEWS: WE'RE PREPARED TO SNARK.

> It's like the Hacker News slogan or manifesto or something

I know you mean this in good humor but I have to protest. Snark is an invasive species, and part of keeping it under control is not to forget that or identify with it.

We detached this comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10671199 and marked it off-topic.

You can't stop us from snarking, Dang.

Oh believe me I know. But it's more about what kind of community the community wants to be—and I do think that can shift over time. Indeed we've seen it do so.

No, please.

Awesome article.


its a shame this is a joke.

you really could learn better from ballmer than from jobs imo.

i'd much rather be successful for the like ballmer than jobs. cult following is creepy, and recieving kudos even when you do nothing makes it easy to lose perspective.

jobs was great at what he did, but massively overrated thanks to the excellent work of the apple marketting guys. those guys are absolutely amazing at what they do. its a shame they don't get more credit.

The author said so himself:

> If you’re a non genius who hasn’t formed a globally important company in your early 20s — and especially if you’re funny looking — you’ll probably learn more from Ballmer than you can from Jobs.

Just because it's funny doesn't mean it's not true!

How is Jobs overrated because of Apple's marketing team? He was the CEO; it was his marketing team. Even if you want to argue that it was already great when he got (back) there, it's still to his credit that he built the company around making such good use of it. If you want to blame CEOs for everything that goes wrong with a company, you pretty much have to give them credit for everything that goes right, too. Normally I don't think CEOs are nearly that important either way, but in this case it's fair to give Jobs a lot of the credit, precisely because Apple's brand marketing was so effective and the company positioned itself and its products around that brand as well as it did.

That's exactly what Microsoft, and especially Ballmer, never did. As the author points out, maybe Steve Jobs crashing your party would make the other guests feel less cool, but the reality is that a lot of people want to be hangers-on and aren't sufficiently introspective to feel uncool about it. The completion of the analogy is that Jobs got a lot of your guests to pay him $300 for the privilege of following him to crash the next party, while Ballmer brought $20 worth of bad vodka, then robbed your apartment while you were passed out. They both made money without creating much value; the difference is at whose expense they did so.

i shouldn't have said it maybe.

you are right that he deserves some credit, it just always irks me that the cult follower types seem to think he was single handedly responsible for all of the success of apple.

like most CEOs he set a direction, and it was the people underneath him that took the company there under his guidance, but without that direction nothing would have happened. (or something else would have happened)

Jobs was the primordial Apple marketing guy. That's why he was so damn great (and hyped).

true i guess. its easy to forget this...

i don't think this article is a joke. i think it's serious and makes some good points in an original and humorous manner.

it also does it with an original (or at least not cliche'd) perspective, and is refreshingly honest about money.

Apple's best marketing are the product themselves. In fact, if you look at the money Apple spend on advertising, it pales in comparison to Samsung or even Microsoft who constantly spend almost twice as much as Apple on Ads (from 2008-2012):


> its a shame they don't get more credit.

What do you mean? Is there any company whose marketing department you would rate higher?

well, the designers at apple get a lot more credit is what i mean... but that is one aspect of the beauty of their marketting.

i guess if they got the credit it wouldn't work so well. :)

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact