After 22 exciting and productive years, I decided to retire from Microsoft. In Microsoft tradition, I sent a goodbye email to all of my teammates past and present, my friends, and my family.

From: Alex Hinrichs
Sent: Wednesday, January 24, 2018 7:14 AM
Subject: I’ve been busier than a one-legged-man-in-an-***-kicking-contest…

I set foot on Microsoft campus in June 1995 as a fresh-faced Microsoft Program Management intern working on Windows NT. Being from Texas, I was of course wearing a necktie, which my flip-flop clad manager Eugene Ho promptly urged me to remove. Within my first week, I knew Microsoft was the right place for me. A bunch of smart people with great attitudes working on hard problems with giant scope. I thought I’d stay for five years, but every new opportunity was too irresistible, and I was having too much fun. Now, after twenty two years, I’ve decided it’s time to move on to the next chapter in my life. Lynn and I have always wanted to go back to Texas, so I am retiring from Microsoft and returning home.  

I was fortunate enough to be the Release Manager for four incredible product lines: 

Small Business Server: We integrated NT Server, Exchange, SQL, Proxy Server, Modem/Fax server all onto one box. So, I learned how to beg for features and fixes in a world where the only code we owned was the integration and management code. We were damn good integrators-as-beggars as SBS 2003 won best of show at Comdex. 

Windows Server 2008: The week after Vista shipped, I was given ownership of Windows Ship-room with the goal of shipping a server with five nines… from the same code base… during a major windows re-org. Good times. Eighteen months later, we shipped with five nines and Windows Server 2008 made billions. 

Windows Phone 7, 8, 8.1: Man did we have a good product and good team, and we did some damn fine engineering work. We were simply two years too late, and couldn’t win the app platform. I loved that phone and carried the Nokia 1020 running Windows Phone 8.1 through 2017.   

HoloLens & Mixed Reality: When I die, I want the second sentence of my obituary to be “Release Manager for the first HoloLens ever created”.  Everything about the work was implausible. Too many unsolvable physics problems, schedule too tight, manufacturing requirements too precise, thermals too high, too many miracles required. It simply couldn’t be done. Until we did it.   

By the Numbers 

250,000+:  words written in weekly “Roar” or “The Hub” mails to the engineering teams working on HoloLens or Phone. 

3000+:  ship-rooms run in HoloLens, Phone, Windows Server, and SBS teams. 

10:  managers. Eugene Ho, Keith Logan, Laurie Litwack, Ken Oien, Eugene Ho (again!), Eric Lockard, Iain McDonald, Darren Laybourn, Joe Belfiore, Ori Amiga. 

12:  number of products I released managed. SBS 4.0, SBS 4.5, BackOffice 4.5, SBS 2000, BackOffice 2000, SBS 2003, Windows Server 2008, Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8, Windows Phone 8.1, HoloLens, Windows Mixed Reality.   

Being immersed in the problems of the day, it’s easy to forget what a remarkable place Microsoft is. The opportunities are limitless, the company encourages and aids you in moving to different teams, management really and truly cares about both people and product, and you can go as far as you want. I know I sound all rosy, but it’s all true. If you’re good enough to be hired, the only limitation is yourself.   

Here are the 11 most important lessons I’ve learned at Microsoft 

  1.  Engineering is all about people. Big software projects are built by giant human systems, and giant human systems run on relationships. Good relationships require trust. Trust is built via daily face-to-face rituals. When there is trust, then and only then do you have an environment where the best ideas win.  
  2.  Define and agree on the PROBLEM… And then work on the SOLUTION. So often, people will argue and argue about how to solve something, and 95% of the time, they can’t agree on the solution, because they don’t agree on the problem they are trying to solve. Once you step back and truly define the problem, frequently the solution is obvious.  
  3.  Public accountability is how you drive results. People do not want to let down their boss or peers, so get people to publicly state a commitment. If they don’t deliver, they are judged as unreliable or inconsistent – worse than being wrong. 
  4.  If no one knows who is doing something, then YOU do it. Grow your scope by aggressively taking ownership. Don’t wait for your manager to give it to you – just go take it. When doing this, you risk stepping on someone’s toes, but don’t let this stop you. They’ll yelp and let you know if you over-stepped. 
  5. Whoever writes it down first wins. Bring clarity to chaos, and then write it down. It’s difficult, time consuming, requires lots of face-to-face time, and often needs re-working, but it’s the way teams make progress with confidence. When YOU are the one to write it down, then YOUR version of what to do is what gets done and everyone else is an editor – not the author. 
  6. Idea -> Proposal -> Plan. When talking about what to do, make it clear to everyone what stage of thinking you are in else they may mistakenly execute on what they think is a “plan” when it’s really only an “idea”. Idea: we should paint the living room. Proposal: let’s paint it blue this summer. Plan: On June 20th, Acme painting company is painting the living room Nobility Blue. Oh.. and every plan must have actions, owners and dates, or else it’s not a plan.  
  7.  If you bring a problem to your boss, you must have a recommendation. When presenting solutions to your boss, give them a menu and tell them your recommendation. “Hey boss, choose solution a, b, c, or d… I recommend a”. 
  8.  Right Decision, Wrong Decision, No Decision: No Decision is the worst. Make a decision and start executing, rather than leaving the team in limbo. If the decision is wrong, then you and the team will learn quickly and course correct.
  9.  “No a**holes” hiring rule. No matter how smart or talented, they destroy your team. The smarter and more talented, the more destruction. Your team members waste tremendous amounts of time mollifying them, or worse, working around them… and losing faith in management for not fixing the hiring problem. 
  10.  Grow your superstar powers and be known for being excellent at something specific.  Being well rounded is over rated. Get awesome at something and people will seek you out as that-thing-you’re-great-at person. 
  11.  Finish – no such thing as a “starter”. If you don’t know how to finish, then you don’t know how to start. And the only way to learn is to do the painstakingly hard work of actually finishing.  

What will I remember most? The people. There is a cliché that “it’s just work, it’s not personal”. I completely disagree. I spent the majority of my waking hours at work or thinking about work. I invested myself into what we were building, and I was deeply committed to the people I worked with. We put our hearts and souls into the work. What is more personal than that? 

There are few joys greater in life then building something together that is really REALLY hard, and results in a product that we KNOW is special and that people find amazing.   

I got to do that.   

With all of you.