Missed big HR meeting (MyMicrosoft is now improved)

Wow. I missed a HUGE HR townhall, er, employee meeting today (they announced new compensation and review changes). I just got the email from Lisa Brummel and, wow, wow, wow.

Is Lisa reading Mini? Damn straight she is.

This is the "Mini-smackdown" I wanted to see. Hopefully these changes will get us on a more customer-centric path.

One big thing that's gone? Stack ranking. No longer am I judged against Charles and Adam and Tina and Jeff. Now, either I'm doing a good job for Microsoft or I'm not and my review will now reflect that.

I LOVE these changes!

Also, I love the transparency that the Office team is experimenting with (you can see the Office team's ranking, and guess pretty closely what salary each employee there is making).

One thing I love about Microsoft is that we are willing to play with the business and make improvements. For a big business these kinds of changes aren't made easily, nor often, and I appreciate when they happen and the amount of work that goes into making them happen (I know someone in IT for HR, for instance, and he told me about all the work that's going on behind the scenes to change the review system).

Oh, and thanks Mini! These changes are due in no small part to you. Even if you don't get official props in the press releases.

Can one person change a huge company? Mini did. And we don't even know his name.

But, don't miss the work that Steve Ballmer, the leadership team, and Lisa Brummel did here either. Wonderful. Cheers. Now, let's get back to work figuring out how to make our customers lives better.

Lisa announced MyMicrosoft, a series of initiatives that'll make Microsoft a much better place to work.

There's a lot more to what she announced than I'm talking about here, but as I read over the list I'm just astounded.

These are not small little tweaks. They are wholesale changes to how Microsoft treats its employees.

Well, I'm off for a three hour drive from Livingston to Billings. I'll link to more on this topic later (I don't see anyone talking about this stuff externally yet).

By the way, my cell phone isn't working. So, stick with email until tomorrow.

Fun on the TechRanch let’s send Jen to BlogHer; BillingsBloggerBreakfast

Montana has everything to build a great tech economy.

There's plenty of capital. Why? Because rich people love coming to the state and settling down (Bill Gates owns a home not far from Bozeman, I learned today, among other famous technologists).

I just opened a safety deposit box here in Emigrant, MT, and learned that it is a profitable bank and quickly growing because of all the big money that's moving into Montana. Lots of Hollywood types buy homes here and need some place to bank.

Then there's land. Unlike Silicon Valley, which can't build out anymore, there's plenty of open space here that can be built on.

Oh, and Montana is only a 1.5 hour flight from either Silicon Valley or Seattle.

But, what is needed? John O'Donnell, executive director of the TechRanch says entrepreneurs.

Today I met several of the companies that are working with the TechRanch to establish a foothold in Montana. I'll definitely be meeting up again and writing about them when we have some more time to spend together.

But today wasn't about them, it was about getting me among the geeks of Montana and having some pizza and have a fun discussion.

Thanks to everyone who showed up today, I definitely needed that! It's always fun to be around problem solvers (which, really, is what geeks and entrepreneurs are).

One fun entrepreneur that I met was Jen Boulden, co-founder of Ideal Bite. She wants to make the world more green, but like Treehugger blogger Graham Hill, she isn't willing to do it the hippie way. I love her tag line "a sassier shade of green."

I told her "you should go to BlogHer." Her answer disturbed me. She said she couldn't afford to go.

Hey, I have an extra $100. Can anyone else kick in some money? It costs about $700 to go Silicon Valley and stay for a couple of days.

By the way, if you wanna see who Jen is, just pick up this month's Vanity Fair magazine — she is featured there along with Graham and a few other environmentalists.

Anyway, I'm going to come back to the TechRanch. It's an interesting place with its own .NET user group, a small set of companies that are being funded and helped along (interesting discussion too that we had about getting non-tech-friendly customers to try out new Web sites and services aimed at them).

If you're considering a college to attend, by the way, you should consider Montana State University. It's in a stunningly beautiful part of the world with skiing, hiking, and lots of other activities nearby and seeing the kind of support that they are getting from the community (the governor of Montana dropped in on the .NET user group a while back) I'd say that entrepreneurs here have a high chance of success. Ted Turner (the guy who started CNN) has two sizeable buildings within sight of the TechRanch and John tells me that the TechRanch is going to be expanding soon. He says that he's well into getting funding for new buildings that they are planning.

Some other anecdotes. The other night in Livingston I talked with a city planner. He said that he's planning for really rapid growth (housing prices are going nuts in Montana, he says to expect them to triple over the next five years). Livingston was rated one of the top five places in the United States to retire. If you have an average house in California that costs $1 million, up here that'll buy you an entire ranch. Or, you could buy a very nice home like my mom has for $300k and live off of the interest from the rest.

Tonight we're driving to Billings, but my cell phone isn't working. My brother isn't feeling well, so looks like dinner tonight won't work, but I'm game for breakfast in Billings. How about at 8:30 a.m. — meet in the Sheraton lobby and we'll go head out from there?

Lunch today at the TechRanch

I'll be over at the TechRanch in Bozeman today at about 11 a.m. and then we'll be going out to lunch with a bunch of geeks from Montana State University. It'll be nice to get a break from taking care of mom.

My brothers and I have decided to go back to our lives tomorrow. My mom is in good hands with her sister and the hospice. She has said goodbye and is resting comfortably. She's getting weaker and is awake less often now.

I think this will be the last time I'll write about my mom. I've said my goodbyes. Now we're just waiting for the inevitable. Yesterday the doctor came over and checked one last time for any improvement in neurologic condition. A speech therapist also visited to see if mom was able to drink on her own. She wasn't. I already knew this. I had tried to give my mom some water and she wouldn't even open her mouth. There wasn't much good news from the doctor who basically said "I'm sorry."

Certainly not enough to consider torturing my mom with feeding tubes and surgeries (she still has a major heart condition which is what dragged her into the hospital in the first place) and other life support that she told us specifically that she did not want if she were in such a situation.

So, another chapter of our lives closes and a fresh page appears before us. Thanks momma for helping us write that chapter of our lives!

If you'd like to come to lunch, call me on my cell phone at 425-205-1921. Thanks!

Disturbing family stories

It's really been great having my mom's sister, Wilhelmina, here this week. She's been going through boxes of my mom's photos and telling us lots of fun stories. The kind every family has in its background.

Last night, however, the stories turned to World War II and the holocaust. I had heard some of these stories before, but I was interested in hearing them again.

As you might know, my mom is German. She was born in 1940 and lived near the Black Forest in southwestern Germany near the Swiss border.

My mom's sister (we call her Purzel, which is a nickname she received from her father who called her "my little Purzelie" — it stands for doing a summersault, she had tumbled and was laughing instead of crying) told us about how her mom (my grandmother) had stood up to the Nazis and had faced scorn from her family. How did she do that?

Well, every German family who had four or more children was given a medal for bearing children for the "fatherland."

My mom's mom publicly denied that medal several times telling officials "I bear my children for God, not for Hitler." Purzel told us that my grandmother even forced the mayor of her town to come to her home and offer the medal to her, and further rebuffed his attempts. By then she had added an economic component onto her denials, pointing to the small pile of coal she, and other families in their communities, had to heat her home and said something like "when you get all of us enough coal to heat our homes then you can come back here and offer that medal to me again."

Now, in today's world that doesn't seem to be very dangerous speech, but then Purzel added some context to the story.

My grandfather was one of the first in his communities to witness the atrocities personally. He told my grandmother that he had seen Jewish people being forced to dig their own graves and then being forced to shoot each other. Long before those stories were officially known.

He was later arrested for speaking out about this in Switzerland (he was released because not every Nazi was a bad Nazi, Purzel told us, and one of the nice ones stood up for my grandfather saying "Mr. Bolanz would never say such things" and released him).

So, telling the mayor of your town (among other officials) to go pound sand was very dangerous and could have caused grave consequences to come down on the family.

Her decision caused a split in the family and in the community that never was healed. Some family members never forgave her for putting them in danger. Community friends never talked with her again after that.

Last night we talked with Purzel about how that experience had changed her outlook (she and my mom were only a few years old during the war, but what happened then has caused deep beliefs in both of them, which today get passed along to the next generations as stories). She is very anti-military. She told when she visited Israel that she wouldn't even go into a military elevator, which astonished her hosts. She also has very little national pride.

She said my grandfather would never speak with her about the war because she said he had been heartbroken. He saw his country do horrible things.

Purzel didn't know I was going to blog these stories. We were just talking as a family. She wanted to make sure we never forgot and was pleading with us to fight against misuse of power, particularly military power, and particularly against minorities.

She can't understand why these kinds of human atrocities still go on even to this day.

Me neither, Purzel, me neither.