Getting Fired From Microsoft

Posted on January 6, 2013 by TheSaint in DirectXFiles
Fired From Microsoft

Fired From Microsoft

Well, I hate to publish this, but my old friends from the DirectX days tell me that I wouldn’t be doing my DirectXFiles stories justice if I left this out.  By way of advanced apology, I was young, I was trapped in a role I felt I couldn’t escape because I had sold an entire industry on DirectX and felt that I couldn’t let them down by not holding Microsoft constantly accountable to them and last of all I was going through a divorce that wouldn’t end.   The guys I had built DirectX with had moved on to bigger things and my baby had been transfered to another group at Microsoft.  I badly wanted the obligation I felt to the game industry removed from my shoulders.  15 years later I do wish to sincerly apologize to the folks I libled in this apology letter, they were all hard working and well intentioned.  I’m friends with many of them to this day, even Hecker who was a great and worthy adversary.  This of course was the end of my story as a Microsoft employee, I got walked out the next day.  It’s also a great starting point for the many amazing stories and events that preceded this culmination.

*The broken GameCenter link at the beginning of this email thread was a link to a press release authored by Chris Hecker and signed by many game industry luminaries including John Carmack endorsing OpenGL as Microsoft’s 3D standard.  A position I found myself in staunch opposition to for reasons nobody outside Microsoft was in a position to understand at the time.  Here’s a link to Hecker’s modern blog on the subject including his open letter;

http://chrishecker.com/OpenGL#Blasts_From_the_Past

…and a link to the original GameCenter article that triggered the blast, thanks to LeeK for finding this for me;

http://web.archive.org/web/19990127171343/http://gamecenter.com/News/Item/0,3,929,00.html

<<I also found some of my last email exchanges with Bill Gates preceeding this thread which I’ll share in another post>>

_____________________________________________
From: Alex St. John
Sent: Monday, June 16, 1997 2:40 PM
To: Deborah Black; Paul Maritz
Cc: Bill Gates; Brad Silverberg; Morris Beton; Moshe Dunie
Subject: RE: GAMECENTER.COM – game news – Developers demand support for OpenGL

I have expressly warned you and Deborah about this guy in email Paul.  I have absolutely zero feedback from you or Deborah that anything I’ve said has ever sunken in.  I have never been invited to any meetings where any of these decisions have been discussed or made, so how am I supposed to have any idea what is transpiring.  The mail from Hecker to Deborah threatening to ship the press release was viewed by you and Deborah four days before he shipped it, forwarded to me only after it was released.  HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO MANAGE THESE ISV’s or manage the media on something like this when nobody is communicating with me, or DirectX marketing?

I can’t think of a better vote of no confidence from you guys then to be bypassing us to handle disgruntled ISV issues directly.  Isn’t “developer relations”  my job?  Not that Hecker is actually a developer, he just writes articles on it, in which case he needs to be handled like press.  I knew this guy would backstab anybody at MS who tried to work with him, I’m still pulling knives out from WinG.  It would have been your name in that press interview if you’d met with him Paul.

I have tremendous knowledge and experience in this space that nobody is using, and while I’m shouting “LOOK OUT FOR THE ROCKS!” at the top of my lungs and being ignored, you’re telling me to apologize for getting angry and frustrated with Deborah for running the ship aground.  I told you and Deborah that the guy was on an angry vendetta and heard no response.  What am I supposed to think when I know the guy is having regular meetings with people in her group, spraying that internal information into public forums, and nobody does anything about it?

You know, I sent a piece of mail to Bill asking him if he wanted me to continue this debate or just move on to something else quietly.  He forwarded that mail to you, and asked you to deal with me on it.  I still haven’t gotten a response.  I’d really, really like to be done with this, and all you have to do is relieve me of this lingering sense of responsibility to all those companies who listened to me, and I’ll be happy to move on with fresh air in my lungs.  Somebody please just tell me it’s not my job to worry about them anymore, and I’ll instantly stop being a headache.

I actually have soooo many things to apologize for, I’d just like to vet them here if I may;

  • I’m sorry I personally promised so much technology and support      to so many ISV’s and IHV’s and lived to see them burned so badly by our      blundering and lack of focus.
  • I’m sorry that I’ve been so ineffective in getting our      multimedia strategy on an even keel when the course has always seemed so      clear to me.
  • I’m sorry I falsely accused Deborah of maliciously leaking      internal information to Chris Hecker.  It’s clear to me now that it      was just a foolish mistake that she made despite being warned.  My      humble apologies.
  • Deborah is really just one of dozens of probably well      intentioned people that have contributed so much to this well oiled      machine that is Multimedia at Microsoft that I’ve maligned unfairly over      the years.  I’d like to apologize to them as well;

In no particular order, I’d like to apologize to;

Tony Garcia, Bruce Jacobson, and Patti Stonsifer.  I see now that they weren’t making dull, uninspired multimedia titles just to annoy me and deliberately loose money.  They just couldn’t help themselves.  It’s too bad about their DreamWorks legacy.

Paul Osborne.  I realize that he’s just a nice well intentioned guy who did his best to beat QuickTime by wrotely pursuing the uninspired strategy of doing whatever Apple did, a year or two after them, without ever dreaming that “multimedia” could mean so much more.

Joel Spiegel, and Dick Neese.  A couple nice guys from Apple who showed us how great multimedia technology could be made through compromise and cooperation.

Jay Torborg, Mark Kenworthy, Jim Veres.  Three great worker bees who did their level best to satisfy their management, and justify the massive R&D investment of our brilliant 3D luminaries. (who I also must apologize to, that progressive mesh thing is actually useful for something) I also grudgingly acknowledge that that “Scrunch” compression thing they came up with is actually a pretty good idea to.

Colin Campbell; Salim AbiEzzi.  I’m sorry I gave ActiveAnimation such a hard time for being useless and having no identifiable customers.  I realize now that it’s just the kind of API morass I can use to tangle lots of web page designers with if only I had a tool that sprayed the stuff out like a PostScript driver.

Alistair Banks  I’m sorry I stepped all over you trying to stop you from announcing “Quartz”, and promising Adobe and Macromedia it would deliver them from QuickTime, two years before the entire development team in England was finally disbanded, and you had moved on to another project leaving me with the angry press and developers to answer to.  I see now that my effort was futile, and challenging your video architecture just made its inevitable failure more stressful for everybody without actually solving anything.

Mike Van Flandern I apologize for the run in we had over the “Raptor” joystick API that you still haven’t shipped.  In retrospect I think Consumer might have sold just as many newfangled digital joysticks without DirectInput driver support, because your group still can’t seem to make a simple joystick driver work, let alone the vastly complex one you envisioned delivering one day, told all of the game developers about, and never wrote a line of code for.

Mike Abrash, On-Lee,Otto Berkes, Steve Wright, Hock San Lee,  And all the other folks at Microsoft who aspired to deliver a real-time 3D API before and after the acquisition of RenderMorphics.  With so many people working on so many different API’s and drivers how could we help but stumble onto a solution one day.

Finally I’d like to apologize toChris Hecker, who taught me that the only way to get WinG to ship after promising it to 300 developers and not finishing it was to have Craig Eisler sit on him to get it done.. and really.. really piss him off.

I’m sure there are other things that I should apologize for, and I invite everyone here to submit them for my consideration.  I’ll do my best to get to everyone.  I’m sorry.

———-

From:   Paul Maritz

Sent:   Monday, June 16, 1997 12:08 PM

To:     Alex St. John; Deborah Black

Cc:     Bill Gates; Brad Silverberg; Morris Beton; Moshe Dunie

Subject:        RE: GAMECENTER.COM – game news – Developers demand support for OpenGL

Alex – this is completely uncalled for.

Deborah “does not have plenty of time to talk to Hecker”. Hecker sent me a piece of mail some weeks ago asking to meet with me. That mail sat in my mail box, I ignored it, until he sent it again. This was after we had made decision to focus our energies on D3D – a decision that was made with input from DRG. One of the key reasons for decision NOT to focus on OGL was because Deb & co. explicitly asked DRG to give them numbers of people doing D3D development.

At any rate, I then fwd’d the Hecker mail to Deb and asked to meet with him (he was asking to meet with me) to see if there was any way to get him to calm down.

IWe may very well have had other folks leaking stuff outside of MS during this process, but it is not Deb, and you owe Deb an apology.

—–Original Message—–

From:   Alex St. John

Sent:   Monday, June 16, 1997 11:21 AM

To:     Deborah Black

Cc:     Bill Gates; Brad Silverberg; Morris Beton; Paul Maritz; Moshe Dunie

Subject:        FW: GAMECENTER.COM – game news – Developers demand support for OpenGL

Importance:     High

You know, I find this pretty stunning Deborah.  I thought the foolishness of spewing this kind of stuff to Chris Hecker and external people happened beneath you.  I guess I understand now why you’ve never bothered to discuss any of these issues with me, but seem to have plenty of time to talk about it with Hecker, a guy who has never written a game.  I can’t work against this kind of BS, apparently  you feel I’m full of shit, or deliberately lying to you and are going to pursue a course of action without my input, and you’re actively going to subvert my evangelism work, by directly leaking your own message out there.  You’ve made it clear that my effort here is unwanted, and unrespected… they’re all yours now.  I’m fed up with trying to help you here.

——-

One of the reasons Microsoft has not supported OpenGL as fully as it supports Direct3D apparently owes to the feedback Microsoft has gotten from its evangelists. Many evangelists have assumed that Microsoft wanted to “own” the API, and since Direct3D was Microsoft’s creation, that the company would be interested in supporting only this proprietary product. However, Hecker has been told otherwise. It seems upper management has been kept in the dark, with Direct3D evangelists telling the leadership there’s no demand.

Hecker says Deb Black, director of the systems division at Microsoft, asked him what the demand was for OpenGL and wanted him to reconcile that with the fact that so many developers are currently using Direct3D. “Some of the developers on the list [the open letter] are using Direct3D right now, but it’s not like they have much of a choice. That’s what the letter is all about: We want to be able to choose OpenGL, and we’d like Microsoft’s support in this decision.”

———-

From:   Jason White

Sent:   Monday, June 16, 1997 11:05 AM

To:     Alex St. John

Subject:        GAMECENTER.COM – game news – Developers demand support for OpenGL

Importance:     High

<< File: Send Mail Message.url >>

 

http://www.gamecenter.com/News/Item/0,3,929,00.html

27 Comments

  1. Ah, the good old days. I miss them. Of all the thousands of API’s Microsoft invented in the latter half of the 90′s, the most successful (only successful?) ones were DirectX. DirectX was a brilliant piece of work and the passion with which you pursued it is a case study of how change an industry.

    Thank you, Alex, for the beautiful post. It reminds me why I affectionately coined the term “Beastie Boys” for you, Eric, and Craig back in the day :)

    • You are too kind Brad, especially after the extensive grief I’m sure we caused you. Brad was the Borland Executive who joined Microsoft and was responsible for delivering Windows 95. Brad was the lucky Microsoft executive who got to directly manage Craig and Eric and put up with my crazy antics. I have a good story about my introduction to Brad that I’ll share at some point.

      Brad you and John should really tell a story or two about managing Engstrom at some point. I doubt I could do the subject justice for you. :)

  2. What brad said. You guys broke a few eggs. Great times.

    Thanks for the blast fom the past.

  3. Anyone who is worth a shit has been fired at least once!

  4. I had heard stories about this email…the actual text is much calmer and more polite than the stories implied. Thank you for sharing.

    • Wow, I’m having difficulty imagining how I would go about making it worse! But thank you Ben, I guess that was pretty temperate by Microsoft email standards in that era. :)

      -For the history books, Ben here is the man credited with creating Internet Explorer at Microsoft and leading the effort to make the Internet a strategic focus for the company in the late 1990′s.

  5. You jumped from Lion King to Getting Fired. That skips so much! There needs to be more context for folks to understand this thread.

    I still remember the determination you had to send that email and the visible relief on your face afterwards as you knew it would push you out the door you somehow couldn’t walk through on your own.

    The next couple of weeks without you on the team was so strange. Eventually DRG itself was gone and I think the last decade or so of MSFT shows the result of losing such an important and talented group of battleaxe wielders and misfits as Cameron collected.

  6. Oh those were good times! Do not go gentle into that good night Alex.

    Going through your apology list brought back all kinds of crazy memories. I’m just glad my sins were too small to warrant mention. It’s great to have you back on the net. What’s next in your life?

    • You are not getting off so easily mr. Winser, I have great plans for you. I just didn’t want to introduce you until I could do you justice. I’m doing great and we should all have a reunion one of these days. You don’t happen to have a picture of you in one of your pastel suits I could share?

  7. Alex stories are really the only true “good ol days” stories there are. An amazing time, for sure.

    You should dig up/post that video of blowing up the Windows Logo on stage. That was the first of many times people wanted you fired.

    I get tears of joy just remembering.

  8. Wow, blast from the past seeing all the people posting comments. Alex, I hope all is well with you – working with you was never a dull moment. :-)

    • Hey Joan! I think I started a virtual reunion here. All is well, as you can see I’m causing trouble as usual.

      For everybody’s benefit Joan was the infinitely patient Microsoft event planner who had the unenviable job of planning crazy developer events with me. You’ll hear about those in later blogs.

  9. There was another memorable exchange that I associate with you. Something along the lines of “I would rather drill a hole through my head with a rusty fork than work on this game. You must have me confused with the BORING games evangelists. They work over in [MS Studios]…” or some such.

    Great post though!

    • God I remember that email. I can’t remember what I was reacting to. Your memory is better than mine on that story. Funny. i’ve got a couple good ones about you and Craig I can never burn out of my neurons.

  10. good stuff Alex. enjoy the stories, especially the Lion and the Hanger in the desert..

  11. I seem to remember hearing you state, “Today is a good day to die” just after sending that email. But as you’ve alluded to in your postings, the years have made some memories more fuzzy.

    But they also seem to have allowed us to realize what a truly amazing time that was at MSFT. Unlikely to ever be repeated…

    • he..he.. I think I said that everyday. I do remember leaving some Hershey kisses on my keyboard for the IT guys I knew would be coming to collect my computer. I also brought poor Morris Beton, who had the job of firing me, a polished Apple and set it on his desk. He asked me what it was for and I said; “So you’ll have a good story to tell when people ask you how it went.” I also did genuinely apologize to Deborah Black, she was hardly the real reason for my frustration.

  12. Hey Alex thanks for posting. What an amazing and exciting time. You were always an unstoppable force, which was great when we were working together and oh so challenging when we were at odds. BTW, Manolito Adan and I took Raptor to the USB forums where it ultimately became HID. I had to go outside the company to get around your strangle hold on device APIs, but we did eventually get it shipped. Whew!

    • Hey Mike it’s good to hear from you. I know, I went pretty hard on you guys after we decided you were competition. With your permission I’ll tell the story about our interactions back then and I promise to apologize at the end of it. :)
      Hope you’re doing well.

      -Alex

  13. Alex,
    I’d love to hear your perspective. I look back fondly at that time and have considered it a badge of honor that I was personally called out in your resignation letter.
    BTW I was working for Eric a couple years ago. We tried valiantly to revive the old days but didn’t meet with much success. We could have benefitted from some of your audacity. ;)
    Hope all is well with you too. Looking forward to hearing your recollections. -Mike

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