Microsoft Plays Hiring Hardball

In quest for dominance, vendor sweeps up XML, Web services experts.

Like baseballs New York Yankees, Microsoft Corp. has been paying top dollar for top talent in an effort to dominate the new playing fields of XML and Web services.

During the past 18 months, the Redmond, Wash., company has gobbled up some of the best-known XML, Web services and application development brains around. Most recently it hired Cape Clear Software Inc. Chief Technology Officer Jorgen Thelin, who last week announced he would be leaving the Web services infrastructure company to join Microsoft. The effort, which runs counter to Microsofts traditional strategy of scooping up complementary companies, has concerned developers crying foul and claiming the company is only looking to improve its standing among standards groups.

The moves are paying off. Since early last year, Microsoft has co-developed more than a dozen Web services specifications and helped push through the SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) 1.2 standard. "This was a barnburner year," said CEO Steve Ballmer at the Microsoft financial analysts conference here last week. "We have hired more great people this year than any time on record. Weve hired people from IBM, from Oracle [Corp.], Sun [Microsystems Inc.], from startups, failed startups. Weve hired distinguished engineers, fellows, top-level technical talent from the best companies in the business."

"The opportunity was too good to pass up," said a recent hire, Chris Sells, a .Net guru formerly of, in Beaverton, Ore. Sells said he can do more as a Microsoft employee "simply because I get to focus on what I want to focus on without having to spend all my time scaring up my next paycheck."

The talent hunt started with hiring Don Box early last year from Los Angeles-based DevelopMentor Inc., a software development training and consulting company. Box, who was instrumental in creating the SOAP specification, later hired more top talent from DevelopMentor, which he co-founded and served as CTO.

Microsoft has also approached several other leading developers with job offers. "Almost everybody I interact with at Microsoft tries to hire me," said Juval Lowy, founder of Web services and software development shop iDesign Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "I can understand the lure of joining Microsoft, especially the opportunity to take part and influence the future of the software industry."

Not all developers are happy about the issue, saying that once again the company is using its might irresponsibly. "Microsoft is trying to buy the standard; you own all the soldiers, and then you win," said one industry insider, who requested anonymity.

"I have heard hallway grumblings about Microsoft trying to corner the market on Web services experts, especially from companies looking to hire people who can represent them on Web services committees," said Iona Technologies plc. CTO Eric Newcomer, of Waltham, Mass.

Key standards bodies include the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards and the World Wide Web Consortium. Many of the new hires, including Martin Gudgin, Colleen Evans and Rebecca Dias, have been vocal and active in these committees.

Thelin vied heavily for his spot on the Web Services Interoperability Organizations board of directors, campaigning on the platform that smaller companies were underrepresented in the organization. Thelin, who will be moving to Redmond from Ireland, said hed continue with standards efforts.

"I will be helping to manage the progression of new Web services technology through the specification, standardization and adoption," Thelin told eWEEK. "It will involve working with many of the contacts and standards bodies I currently deal with, so it is quite similar to my current role."

How much sway Microsoft will have in the bodies is not clear; the rules differ at each organization. Karl Best, vice president of OASIS, based in Billerica, Mass., said a person who is a member or chair of a committee while working at one company could retain that spot if hired by another because "membership is per person, not per organization." At the Object Management Group, "for the most powerful positions, if you change companies, you lose that seat," said Richard Soley, CEO of OMG, in Needham, Mass.

At the W3C, if a person changes affiliation, there is an automatic resignation, and a new representative needs to be appointed. Often, the same person is reappointed, said W3C spokeswoman Janet Daly, in Cambridge, Mass.