My work with Satya Nadella, my thoughts on Microsoft’s new CEO and his Oscar Wilde quote

I’ve spoken with Bill Gates in person and I’ve spoken with Steve Jobs on the phone. Both were relatively brief conversations. However, among major US company CEOs, Satya Nadella is the only guy who has come to my office to speak with me.

An ill-fated project: This was a long time ago (1994/1995). I was a recent campus hire at Microsoft and Satya was an (individual contributor) Product Manager at the time (At Microsoft, product managers are people who work on marketing the product. They are typically not in the product development team organization).

We were both among hundreds of people working on the ill-fated “Interactive Television” (ITV) project. Satya had described the video-on-demand app that I developed (in C++) as the “flagship” of our pre-alpha ADK release.

Thoughts on Satya: I didn’t know Satya very well and haven’t met him in recent years. However, I remember him well from the ITV project in 94/95. At that time, he struck me as a good fair-minded person. He also came across as someone who looked out for others.

Thoughts on Microsoft: Microsoft was most successful when it had a programmer at the helm. That programmer – Bill Gates – will now spend one-third of his time at Microsoft. Satya has been very successful in leading the cloud and enterprise group at Microsoft. I wish them both the best in their new roles.

Satya’s letter and Oscar Wilde:  On his first day as CEO , Satya wrote an email to employees and it had a good mix of humility and inspiration. Interestingly, he paraphrased a quote from Oscar Wilde “we need to believe in the impossible and remove the improbable”. That quote is paraphrased from ‘The Decay of Lying‘ and is spoken by a character named Vivian who says “Man can believe the impossible, but man can never believe the improbable”.

What the Oscar Wilde quote meant: Vivian deplores a “degrading concession” to realism and says that ” The growth of common sense in the English Church is a thing very much to be regretted.”. He goes on to say that they must “revive this old art of lying”. In context, Vivian was clearly asserting that the church must lie to its members because the absence of lies may lead to the church losing its credibility.

Satya altered the quote a bit, but it is intriguing that Satya chose this particular Oscar Wilde ( Vivian) quote. Presumably, he wasn’t suggesting that Microsoft should act as per Vivian’s exhortation. I’m guessing he included the quote because it sounded interesting and inspirational. It also seems like he correctly guessed that the tech media and most Microsoft employees would miss the essence of Vivian’s quote.

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