Microsoft's BUILD conference does many things well, but my personal favorite is that it provides personal access to high-level executives and developers as well as new staff to the organization. This exposure allows us to gain a better understanding of the internal culture at Microsoft, from a micro and macro perspective, and what we have found is a a considerable amount of drive behind new company CEO Satya Nadella.
Microsoft's third chief executive has massive shoes to fill, and the stories that came out of our casual and sometimes extremely personal conversations is that Microsoft is no longer blinded by its former success. The idea of being the challenger rather than the dominator was noted several times from people who work in Internet Explorer, Windows and Windows Phone as being their push for creating better products. Even the Office team, while not as driven in the challenger sense as other teams, knows that they have to maintain a steady course of feature improvements and platform enhancements (building the touch version of Office for Windows faster) so that they don't lose their competitive advantage.
Across the board, though, the feeling for Satya was overwhelmingly positive; the idea that a coder was back at the top of the org chart was a "sigh of relief" for many of the developers that we spoke too. Yes, obviously they are not going to openly bash their new boss, but many had genuine feedback about Nadella when they worked for him before his promotion. The feedback was consistent: a focused individual who knows how to build great services and he has a track record to back this up.
But it goes beyond the idea that Nadella is simply a coder. Many felt he truly understood Microsoft's current core competencies, and his moves to push out Office for iOS before the Windows version was finished promoted the fact the he is a software-first leader. As one individual noted, this would have not happened under Ballmer, under the guise that software followed devices.
All is not perfect, however. While Nadella has the confidence of all the employees we talked too, many still questioned what his true path for Windows Phone and Surface may be and how he will handle the injection of all the Nokia employees. Further, the execution strategy of Windows Phone still feels too slow, according to some of the conversations we had. There is a big push for market share, but not everyone feels that the company is executing in a way that gives it the best approach for growth.
Of all the two dozen or so conversations, what stood out the most was how everyone said Nadella is bringing new energy to the company and that he is providing motivation for expression not previously present inside the company. You can begin to see the "new" Microsoft with the way the BUILD keynotes took place by offering up more casual conversation and the forward-looking roadmaps, such as the Start menu's return and windowed modern apps.
At the core level, it feels like those who are working at Microsoft are highly encouraged by the direction Nadella is looking to take the company. Even in his short time at the top, he is already making decisions that are taking Microsoft in a direction that will keep the company on a path for growth and resurgence, his employees say.