My Steve Ballmer Moment
It was late summer 2003 and I was once again on the test team for “NBA Inside Drive,” which Microsoft created with a Chicago outfit, High Voltage Systems. By this point in the Xbox timeline we were relegated to the provinces of the Millennium buildings in Redmond. Just take 520 east until it ends and turn right. It wasn't on the Microsoft campus, it wasn't near anything but a small cemetery, but there were lots of parking spaces.
This was my fourth or fifth go-round with Test and I'd already determined it would be my last. Turns out it would also be the last not only for “NBA Inside Drive,” which would know no 2005 iteration, but the sports software group itself. Microsoft would kill it in late summer 2004.
In Redmond, there are six Millennium Buildings, A through F, and we were in F, which, on the sign, was shortened to Mil-F, which caused a bit of Beavis-and-Butthead-like snickering from the mostly male members (cue more snickering) of the test group. The cafeteria? That was in Millennium E. You could drive into town, Redmond Town Center, for Red Robin or Arby's or some such, but what was the point? More and more, particularly that last year, I opted for the cafeteria. On nice days I also liked to sit in one of the few outdoor spots available, in the cramped space between Mil-D and Mil-E, and eat and read at one of the few tables there. It was small and sad but it was something. That's what I was doing this day, eating a grilled cheese sandwich and reading a book of essays by Gore Vidal, when a group of men walked hurriedly, importantly by, from Mil-D to Mil-E.
One of the men was Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, and he gave me a look. Well, you never know. He could've just had that look. He could've been completely in his own mind. Lord knows enough people have misread the look on my face over the years. But as I read the look on his face that day, that afternoon, it seemed to be saying, “Who the fuck is this fuck readingin the middle of the fucking workday?” Or something.
Then they were gone and I went back to Gore Vidal. Then I went back to testing “NBA Inside Drive,” a job which, by this point, gave me little pleasure.
Today, Steve Ballmer announced his retirement from Microsoft. Here's Nick Wingfield at The New York Times:
Mr. Ballmer, who joined Microsoft in 1980, will be departing a company that is very different than the fearsome software giant of the 1990s. Under his leadership, the company has failed to capitalize on some of the most important tectonic shifts in technology, including the rise of mobile devices and Internet search.
Mr. Ballmer also watched as Apple, an old nemesis that nearly went bankrupt in the late 1990s, and Google, which didn’t even exist until then, have soared.
As chief executive, he has faced regular calls for his ouster from investors and analysts in recent years because of the company’s missteps, and in fact Microsoft’s stock — which has languished for most of his tenure — rose 6 percent on the news Friday.
Maybe he should've read more Gore Vidal.