“Hi guys,” Steve Ballmer said as he walked into the meeting room where Emily, Amanda, and I were already sitting down with Frank Shaw, VP of communications. That morning, Steve had given a press conference about the release of the new Windows Phone 7 (WP7), a very smart smartphone, I dare say. After Steve shook hands and sat down, Frank proposed that we go around in a circle and ask questions one at a time.
Emily started with the obvious comparison to Android phones and the iPhone. He quickly pointed out that Android phones “don’t look very good” with large variation in hardware. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft is taking a middle ground on this, with the WP7 having “real consistency and real diversity.” Compared to the iPhone, Steve pointed out the different features of the hardware (keyboards, screens, speakers) that iPhone users don’t have.
Stanford is a very Apple-friendly campus, and when asked about dealing with the college market, Steve seemed almost willing to concede the market in the operating systems battle. First, he pointed out that high school is still largely a Windows-based environment, which, last I checked 4 years ago, is still true. Second, college students, however, are “tend to experiment, particularly when… I’ll just say people tend to experiment more.” . Finally, he pointed out that somewhat surprisingly, college students are “among the most brand-sensitive people out there”. Those 3 points seem to me like a big question mark for Microsoft in approaching college students.
“Yeah, with my kids. Yeah, I did [like 'Wall-E']. I don’t remember it very well, I think I was sleepy, but my then 10-year old liked it quite a bit… it was a Friday night.” I recounted how I had asked the same question of Mark Zuckerberg, he gave one clap of amusement, head in hands, and a laugh about Mark going on about wanting to make the world more connected. I guess we’ve all been there in storytelling.
“Greatest choice you could ever make,” he said when asked about advice to college students looking to get into tech. “I’ve got one word for you, son: plastics, plastics, plastics,” he quoted and imitated from “The Graduate.” “Come on, the future IS tech,” he continued, explaining how valuable technical skills are in any field. CS105: do it.
“You gotta have an insatiable ability to move forward,” he began when Amanda asked about Microsoft’s biggest challenge. “You don’t want to look too far forward because if you shoot too far forward, you’re not going to deliver things that are meaningful, and if you shoot too close, you’re not going to build it. So you need to pick the right timeframe… so how do you push push push push push (with the hand gesture) and then how do you make sure that you’re executing… you want to repeatably be able to do the unexpected.”
“Can we take a picture?” he asked after the end of the interview. Arrogant? Not in the least. I really wanted to get a picture and was certainly too scared to ask. After the interview and picture, he asked us what schools we were from and mentioned that his son is at USC, which we shared a laugh over the football game this weekend. Life is tough. Not really.
(Huge thanks to Emily for sending me her recording. I was depending on my quicktime audio recording of the interview, but unfortunately, I closed my computer when a photo op came up and discovered that that action breaks the recording. Whoops. And more coverage from the event to come when I get my life back in order.)