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Monday, November 29, 2021

Review: Renegades of the Empire

 Scott Macdonald told me that his group at Microsoft (DirectX) was so famous that a journalist wrote about it. The book was called Renegades of the Empire, and not only was it not available at any of the libraries near me, but there was also no kindle version. Which meant I had to buy a used copy from Amazon and read it on paper with a booklight and everything.

The book describes Alex St. John, Eric Engstrom, and Craig Eisler's careers at Microsoft, how they started the DirectX effort, shoe-horned it into Microsoft (killing off WinG in the mean time), and then proceeded to try to create a web-browser (named oddly enough Chrome before being called Chromeeffects) which would fail.

The trio's antics are famous and very politically incorrect. The kind of statements regularly made by Alex St. John, not to mention the antics (hiring contractors using the marketing budget), deliberately dissing their own company at product rollouts, would undoubtedly get someone fired today. There's even a story of a food-fight in one of Microsoft's meeting rooms, with the clean up bill sent to then Microsoft VP Brad Silverberg, who wrote an e-mail saying, "I hope you enjoyed yourself."

Having worked with a few ex-Microsoft employees, I now understand much of their behavior. For instance, there are several instances in the book where a manager going on vacation would come back to discover that his team had been taken away from him. That explains why many former Microsoft employees would never take vacation. (To be honest, I think that attitude permeates much of tech companies today --- even at Google one of my friends once reported that taking vacation was given as a reason to deny someone a promotion, so I won't pretend that things are any better today)

Anyway, the book is eye opening, hilarious in parts, and well worth reading for the insight into the way various people you might encounter at work behave. Recommended.


Cindy said...

I was gonna pick up the book, then noticed on GoodReads how bad the reviews are, mostly from engineers :/

Piaw Na said...

I looked at the reviews on Goodreads. They're clearly by people who have no historical context and don't actually understand that it's a very accurate account of the pre-antitrust era at Microsoft.

G C said...

I picked this book up and am enjoying it. Pretty wild work environment. Thanks for the review.