Mystic Microsoft: A Journey of Transformation in the Halls of High Technology

Mystic Microsoft: Table of Contents

Prologue: A Trend Inverted

One: Homecoming

Two: Baby Steps

Three: Pole Shift

Four: Opportunity

Five: Leap of Faith

Six: Esprit de Corps

Seven: A Bigger Pot

Eight: A Mile in Their Shoes

Nine: Only So High

Ten: Flash Flood

Eleven: Name, Fame, Guru Game

Twelve: Purpose

Thirteen: A Flick of the Switch

Fourteen: Breakthrough

Fifteen: Enoughonaire

Sixteen: Fade to Light

Epilogue

Afterword to the 2016 Edition

 

How this book came about

I started to tell this story during my July 8th, 2007 interview on Portland's KBOO radio, but didn't finish it because we ran out of time! So here's the full story.

In February 1998, the spiritual community of which I was part was hit with an incredible blast of negative energy–a jury had found the organization guilty in a vicious lawsuit that had twisted any little kernels of truth beyond recognition. It was a shock to all of us. In response, all of us knew that the best thing we could do was to put out positive energy in some way.

Now I'd originally written the article on the subject of "The Power of Thoughts and Words" (see that original article here) and wanted it instead to be on the these of "You can't be out the darkness with a stick."

However, the rewrite was more difficult than I expected, and the article refused to cooperate. After several attempts, I took the question into one of my morning meditations and prayed for clarity on the project. In a wonderful moment of clarity, how I needed to rewrite the piece appeared fully in my mind, and that's what became Chapter 13.

Then, in the next moment, as I marveled at how an incident I experienced at Microsoft could have such deep spiritual meaning, I suddenly realized that every major circumstance of my entire career also had such significance! It was a thrilling moments, and I realized that I didn't just have an article, I had a whole book!

I then wrote the first draft in the next ten days. Some of the chapters weren't really complete at that time. Chapter 7, for instance, was difficult to write. I knew the story and that it was significant for some reason, but didn't quite understand what it meant in the larger picture.

Over the next months, until going to India for a month in September 1998, I worked on filling out the chapters and bringing it to a readable state. I was happy with that draft at the time and able to let go of the project during the India trip.

After India some other projects came to the fore and Mystic Microsoft needed to sit on the shelf for a while. I was happy with the manuscript, yes, but wasn't quite comfortable putting it out in public yet.

Well, it wasn't until early 2000 that I was able to come back to it again, at which point I wanted to make some significant changes. Most chapters had about 6 more pages of exposition on directly spiritual subjects, but it seemed to heavy or heady. I could really see that the stories would speak for themselves, so I edited most of that material out. (I'm thinking to put it into a companion volume sometime.)

I posted that revised manuscript on a website so I could begin sharing it and seeking a publisher. One publisher was very interested in it for a while but decided to opt out by early 2001. Shortly thereafter a legal team at Microsoft asked for my help in defending against a lawsuit in which the plaintiffs had quoted some of my works on the OLE technology. Since I was slated to be an expert witness, we all figured it would be a good idea if I didn't publish Mystic Microsoft during that time…so back on the shelf it went.

I finished with the lawsuit in August of 2003 and started working with another publisher. We came really close to having a contract, but it fell through. I'm glad for it, because what they wanted was a book on how to use spiritual practices for business success. The story I wanted to tell was how to use business experiences for spiritual success. Very different!

I was a little disappointing, of course, but in the end it gave me the clarity to position the book how it really needs to be. The present Prologue came from that clarity.

My wife and I moved to Portland, Oregon in 2004 and quickly got involved in a number of other projects, so Mystic Microsoft was still pretty much on the shelf, though I had it posted on a website. Finally, when those other projects had run their course and the birth of our first child (October 2006) suddenly gave me quite a bit of time sitting on the sofa and watching a baby sleep, I brought the book to completion. (And later, in 2016, I did another editing and added an Afterword.)

And there you have it!

 

Responses to Reader Questions, Comments, and Criticisms

Mystic Microsoft has been floating around the Internet for some years now since I first started to share earlier versions, and occasionally finds itself linked through someone's blog. Accordingly, people have seen fit to comment on or critique this work (or myself), though few comments or questions have come to me directly. It's fitting then to collect those comments here and offer responses when needed (but note that I haven't looked for comments for some years, so most of this is somewhat dated). I'm also happy to entertain additional thoughts or issues.

Praises

(1) From David McNamee on his personal blog, www.davidmcnamee.com:

Kraig Brockschmidt – yes, that Kraig Brockschmidt – has written a book about his experiences at Redmond.  I was pointed to chapter 11, "Name, Fame, and Guru Game," and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It's a good read for anyone who's job description includes learning, parsing, and disseminating new technology to the developer community. Kraig, if you're reading, thanks–it helped.

(2) From Merill Fernando on his personal blog, www.merill.net:

This was a fascinating ebook, it was so good that I read the whole book in a weekend.

(3) From "Pooran" on http://heyitzme.blogspot.com:

Kraig Brockschmidt, former employee of Microsoft, ardent fan of DonBox wrote this book… it is still in draft.. worth a read :)

(4) From Helga Waage http://helga.hexia.net/roller/page/helga/Weblog?catname=%2Fsoftware_development:

I have been reading Kraig Brockschmidt's book and what a fun read. Every now and then he goes off on a new age tangent, but mostly his is a story of a eager young man finding (and then rejecting) his place within one of the most influential companies of our time. He has some very entertaining stories about the two groups of coworkers that we are supposed to appreciate–but all developers have secretly (or not so secretly) wished to that place where the sun doesn't shine. [Product Managers and Testers]

Response: I would have to say that it was more a matter of outgrowing or needing to move beyond my place at Microsoft rather than rejecting it outright. "Rejecting" implies a degree of negativity that wasn't really there; I was much more embracing a new positive than merely rejecting a negative. Of course, walking away from anything is, to some degree, an act of rejection, if only in the recognition of its inherent limitations. Yet one can still walk away with gratitude and appreciation (even for product managers and testers!).

(5) From "Tom" on http://desperado-list.blogspot.com, March 8, 2004

How an ubergeek finds God, leaves Microsoft. Or maybe God found him in Microsoft and snatched him out. This is apparently the full text of a book by the author of Inside OLE in which he delivers all sorts of insider detail about his life in Redmond intermixed with his spiritual journey out of there.

One touching chapter deals on how he went from being "the OLE man" to "the Active-X nobody". It mattered not that Active-X was OLE. What mattered was that the words had been changed and somebody else was now "the Active-X man".

Indeed, one of the Amazon reviewers of Inside OLE comments, "Surprisingly, I found the book not dated at all even though the notion of ActiveX did not exist at the time of writing. Just about everything that one would currently do with COM today is in the book and still applies 100%."

The online book on the spiritual transformation is fascinating. Lots of technical detail and corporate life and strategy, not an overwhelming amount of mysticism.
 

(6) From KNB, a reader via email, August 18, 2006

I have just finished reading your Mystic Microsoft book which was kind of a pageturner because it is well-written, and I am in kind of a similar situation: stuck in spiritual development, stagnation, maybe a turning point at the workplace. Be it as it may, I'll certainly re-read some parts from your book because the first reading was too rapid.
 

(7) From RJ, a reader via email, June 19, 2001

I went to the site, and started reading at random, and before long realized that several tasks I have assigned to myself between now and bed time were going out the window. Since wearing two hats requires discipline, I made myself stop. Suffice it to say that I was seduced in no time by the bits I read–and I normally have a very high threshold.

(8) From Rosie Perera, a reader on goodreads.com, June 16, 2007

It's been a long time since a book made me weep. This one did. It's about how God used Kraig's years at Microsoft to bring about spiritual transformation in him. Kraig grew up Missouri Synod Lutheran. Throughout his time at Microsoft, he considered himself an atheist. But by the time he left there, God had made himself known again. Though the form of his spirituality did not return to Christianity, there are still amazing things to be learned from Kraig's journey about how God works in and through the marketplace. Very well written, and a joy to read, though the editing starts getting sloppy towards the end of the book.

Response: Yup…there were a few typos there…thanks for pointing them out. They're corrected on this site and in the PDFs.

 

Comments (not necessarily positive or negative)

(1) From Dave Delay on http://runtimelog.blogspot.com/

I just skimmed Chapter Two. After telling the story of how he attempted to circumvent Microsoft protocol to add a feature to some Windows accessories, Brockschmidt says:

"It's clear to me now that through this whole experience with Calculator and Clock, God was simultaneously showing me something about the importance of idealism itself along with the importance of being practical in that idealism.”

Not to belittle his beliefs, but that's weird.

Response: Yeah, I thought so too! I have to add also, though, that what I've shared is experience, not mere belief.
 

(2) From "dion" on http://www.almaer.com/blog/archives/000025.html:

We so often talk about the "religious-ness" of Tech, especially when it comes to topics like Emacs vs. VI. When it comes to Microsoft tech, it is seen as part devil, or part saint, depending on what side of the fence you are.

I fell upon a book draft by a former Microsoft developer, Kraig Brockschmidt (author of Inside OLE). The title was Mystic Microsoft. It seemed like it would be a "Microsoft is the best! RA RA RA" book, but then as I read the Prologue I realized that it really WAS religious. As in real religion!

"I was employed by Microsoft in various capacities for about eight and a half years, from March, 1988 to November, 1996. Somewhere between these two points in time, my life underwent a somewhat drastic spiritual transformation. At the beginning of 1988 I was a young college sophomore whose burgeoning dreams were wholly centered on worldly success. At the end of 1996, on the other hand, I was a (still young) Microsoft retiree whose ambitions and aspirations were now wholly centered on God."

How bizarre is this! I wonder if the "Cult of Microsoft" will soon be a real thing?

Response: A "cult" has nothing so much to do with religion or spirituality, though of course those contexts often give rise to fanaticism if for no other reason than many religious beliefs are completely unprovable. We actually see "cults" all over the place including business, politics, health and diet, educational systems, and so on. And what is a "cult"? The best definition I've seen is from a book on spiritual communities called Cities of Light by J. Donald Walters.

[A cult] is a group of people whose system of beliefs prevents them from accepting any reality other than their own. It is a self-enclosed body of worshipers, separated from society at large by their beliefs, a group of people who either lose or renounce the ability to communicate with others, and who pit their own interests against those of others.

The word "worshipers" can easily refer to religious worship or the worship of money, power, fame, influence over an industry, etc.

It's not hard to see that such a mentality exists as much in corporations as in fanatical spiritual groups. Attend any first-day employee orientation and you pretty much get your dose of indoctrination (see Chapter Nine). As with religious cults, what we call "company culture" comes with its various levels of elitism, penalties for leaving (or otherwise "betraying" the group), reverence for some leader or guru-figure, and so on. (These "memes" are explored in Virus of the Mind by Richard Brodie, one of the original authors of Microsoft Word.) Microsoft was certainly strong in its company culture.

Being part of that culture, however, does not mean that every individual "drinks the Cool-Aid," so to speak, or is some sort of brainwashed victrola. Many people in Microsoft, and I count myself in this group, constantly sought to integrate others into our reality, to communicate with them clearly and openly, and to create win-win situations as often as possible.

In truth, very, very few people are so independent as to not have any kind of group-identity whatsoever. Most of us generally find groups (companies, churches, social clubs, sports teams, etc.) to which we choose to belong for at least a time, because the aims and ideals of that group are compatible with our own personal aims and ideals. Having a supportive group is a fabulous way to aid our own growth in those ways. So long as one is free to also choose not to belong, that is, to leave the group, then there is no problem.

 

Criticisms

General Response: You might notice a key distinguishing difference between criticisms here and the other comments above—all of the outright criticisms are anonymous. To my mind, this is sheer cowardice, like shooting someone in the back from a hidden alcove, then running away in the dark. Anyone who is willing to scrutinize others publicly should also be willing to stand and be scrutinized themselves.

Nevertheless, such criticisms can raise interesting or important issues, which deserve a thoughtful response.

 

(1) Two anonymous posts on www.joelonsoftware.com:

"Holy cow! What a long-winded version of 'How I found myself'."

"Must love to hear himself talk, too."

Response: First, it's really quite fascinating that people find it necessary to complain about something that they're not in the least way forced to read, as if posting a link on a blog is an imposition on one's personal freedom. The real freedom comes in what one chooses to manifest in the world. Will it be constructive or destructive? Supportive or negating? Uplifting or depressing? That people choose to bitch (anonymously) and to actively discourage others from finding joy and inspiration through a book like this speaks volumes about their character.

Second, I have no regrets about sharing a unique story of "how I found myself" if you want to call it that. I'd much rather see more of this sort of thing in our world than the rampant negativity that exists. This is my personal choice, and I certainly invite others to make that choice. And as far as "finding oneself" is concerned…one, I don't make that claim for myself in the book; I make that clear in the Prologue. Two, if you aren't yourself making some kind of effort to discover your innermost reality then it seems to me that you're wasting your life energies! But this sort of effort takes courage and honesty….

And I guess that to certain minds, any act of writing, sharing, or simply opening one's mouth is an expression of extreme egotism, unless, of course, it's done anonymously!
 

(2) Anonymous post on www.joelonsoftware.com:

"Interesting how the uncompetitive practices only started after Kraig left so he was not tainted by it all…"

Response: First, I'm not aware that I made such a claim. I clearly state in the Prologue that I deliberately chose to emphasize positives rather the point out negatives. But I'm grateful for the challenge of this this post; I modified Chapter 16 in response to it.

Were there any so-called "uncompetitive practices" while I was at Microsoft? It's hard to say, because it's a matter of definition. Early on, nobody in the industry cared how Microsoft behaved because Microsoft wasn't king of the mountain. Think about it for a moment: when the underdog tries to gain market share we call that "being competitive." When the market leader tries to protect or extend market share, we call those activities "uncompetitive" or "monopolistic."

You have to admit it's something of a double-standard; we do it, obviously, because ours is a country that tries to protect the weak from the abuses of the powerful. Before mid-1995, Microsoft was one of many players in the market, considered an underdog in many areas. Regulatory bodies thus allowed them plenty of leeway in their business practices. When Microsoft won the markets in 1995, however, those same behaviors suddenly fell under scrutiny precisely because Microsoft was now on top. An excellent example of this double-standard is how Microsoft and AT&T, both antitrust targets in the past, have recently been invoking antitrust ideas toward the new dominator, Google (see MSNBC).

What also happened, I think, was more subtle (and this is what I added to Chapter 16). People who are inherently competitive change when they finally emerge victorious from a long struggle. Once on top, it's natural for that kind of person to defend and preserve their winnings at all cost. This is where much of the "uncompetitive" stuff came from.

Before that time, the competitive-minded people who are "struggling to win" work very well side-by-side with people who are more motivated by other ideals—those who aspire, for example, to serve others (as in simply creating the best software they could). This co-existence works because both groups are moving in the same direction: the upward-moving projects serve both those who struggle to win and those who aspire to realize an ideal.

When the goal is met, however, their directions diverge. Competitively-minded types seek to protect; aspiring types seek to continue that upward movement through some new project. Conflict then emerges.

Microsoft certainly had plenty of both sorts. As I wrote in Chapter 16, it was precisely when Microsoft was emerging as the unquestioned market leader in 1995 that the energy in the company shifted. The dominant consciousness shifted from being upwardly aspiring to being protective. The strugglers, in other words, were dominant and as a result, there was a significant exodus of the aspiring types. At the same time, the magnetism of the dominant energy also attracted more of the same to itself: there was a simultaneous influx of newly competitive types (such as the manager I call Ned in that chapter).

I can say unequivocally that I was in the aspiring camp, period. I had no interest in the competitive game. When I worked in Developer Support I gave information about Windows programming to direct competitors (like WordPerfect) that our own Applications division didn't have. When there arose a big stink about Microsoft's applications supposedly using secret undocumented features in Windows to gain an edge, I was one of the main forces behind leveling the playing field. I personally wrote the expanded documentation that went out to the developer community. This showed how in a number of cases Microsoft's use of certain "secret" or internal functions actually harmed the app's performance. (Some such functions had been in place for years and no one ever realized that there was a better way of doing it.)

So yes, many questionable behaviors existed in Microsoft. That in no way says that everyone who worked in the company subscribed to such a philosophy, any more than living in the United States says that you unquestionably support the policies of the current president. There were always opposing factions on many issues, and I, for one, can honestly say that I fought against questionable practices whenever possible. Like many others, I chose to leave the company because the opposite consciousness became more dominant.
 

(3) From "Meganonymous Rex" on www.joelonsoftware.com:

"Gaa!  After a few lines I kept doing that thing where I read the same line over and over again."

Response: Well, if there's a reading impediment here, you have my sympathy. Otherwise, I can only say that people have their tastes. Not everyone likes to listen to the same music. There is some music that I can't stand, and what I like is probably intolerable to others (like some of my performance recordings). The same goes for writing style: it's simply impossible to please everyone.

The underlying principle here is that all communication is a transmission of consciousness. One's level of consciousness, moreover, determines what one finds attractive and what one finds repulsive. Simply said, you are attracted to things that express, reinforce, support, or otherwise resonate with your present level of consciousness, and you are generally repulsed by things that express, reinforce, support, or otherwise resonate with other levels of consciousness. A good example of this is the experiment once carried at a convenience store where drug addicts, prostitutes, and other such sorts generally hung out in the parking lot. The researchers installed loudspeakers over which they played classical music. In a short time, all those people left of their own accord, clearly repulsed by the consciousness of the music.

All forms of art including music and writing, function in this way. The more an artist is clear about the consciousness he or she is trying to communicate, the more powerfully it comes through the various layers of filtration (like the medium) and has the ability to affect an audience. The greater the clarity, the stronger the response, whether positive or negative.

In writing this book I strove to communicate a consciousness of joy, discovery, love, understanding, and mystical wonder. Therefore it doesn't surprise me in the least that those who don't resonate with such a consciousness will find it difficult to read or downright repulsive, just as others have found it very inspiring. All I can ask is this: as you have the freedom to judge this book for your self, give others the right to judge also for their own selves.


Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Epilogue | Afterword

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