The world is learning this morning that Steve Ballmer is leaving Microsoft. I’ll be sad to see him go. Under his leadership, Microsoft has allowed me to help my son with Autism in ways that I don’t think would be possible at any other company.
In October 2005, I left a very promising job at Amazon.com to join Microsoft. I loved my job and my team at Amazon but the benefits at Microsoft, especially the benefits specific to Autism therapies, were better at Microsoft than anywhere else.
I went from paying out of pocket for my Program Manager AND my ABA therapists (who were working 25 hours per week at the time) to having that covered at 80% as well as no caps on speech therapy or occupational therapy visits. The dollar value to me was at least $45,000 per year! Microsoft also has a philosophy behind it’s benefits where the goal is to take care of their employees so that they can take care of their families — so they can actually focus on their jobs. They have that right. I spent countless hours on the phone with insurance companies before joining Microsoft to get them to actually cover the things that they were supposed to. Microsoft has spared me that stress and hassle so I can focus on my career AND the needs of my son and family.
I had the opportunity to meet Steve just before the release of Windows 8. I was on the OneNote team at the time building the first version of OneNote on the new Windows 8 platform. Steve wanted to check out the app so his admin called my team and I ended up in Steve’s office along with another member of the OneNote team.
We installed the application on his machine. It was a gigantic touch screen. I also gave him my Surface so he could use the application at normal size. As he toured the application, he was looking for how easy it was to figure things out because he wanted it to be easy and simple for our customers. At the time of this encounter, I was engaged and had a OneNote notebook that I was using for my wedding planning. He noticed the content and said, “Are you getting married? Congratulations!”
Then he began to ask hard questions about features we hadn’t built yet in this version of OneNote. I don’t need to explain software development schedules to him. And frankly he didn’t care. But he DID care about how our customers would feel about what features we included and which ones we didn’t. He cared A LOT!!
When all was said and done, I’d been there for over an hour answering some very hard questions. I left feeling inspired and motivated. His passion for the customer was infectious. And I did my best to infuse the motivation he’d given me back into my team as we finished our work to ship OneNote on Windows 8.
When it comes to Steve Ballmer’s passion, this is the kind of leader I want to follow and the kind of leader I want to be. We all need to surround ourselves with people who are passionate about what they do. The people I work with on the Outlook team have passion like this and it makes me love going to work. The teachers at my son’s school are passionate about helping him succeed and it makes our partnership even stronger and makes us all want to do our part.
So a big thanks to Steve for his leadership at Microsoft all of these years. You will be missed.