Meeting Canceled: How Ex-Microsoft Workers Converted to GitHub’s Ways

When Paul Betts worked as a software developer at Microsoft, he was so frustrated by the number of meetings that he created a program for himself that looked at the job titles of attendees, estimated their salaries and tallied up the amount of money being wasted sitting in the conference room.

“In a typical 40-hour workweek, I’d have maybe 20 to 30 hours of meetings,” said Betts, who was tasked with squashing bugs found in Microsoft’s computer operating system. “Too many people are invited. They last too long. Too little is accomplished.”

Betts left Microsoft in August for GitHub, a San Francisco-based service that makes it easy for coders to collaborate on projects. Now he works without those interruptions, Betts said.

For example, GitHub’s first program designed for Windows was created without the typical inefficiencies of face-to-face gatherings. The Windows client, released today, allows Microsoft users to easily synchronize with code hosted on GitHub, rather than having to micromanage files using the website. The release is part of a bigger push into the personal computer industry’s biggest market, which will require converting many of those developers to the ways of open source.

GitHub, which has 79 employees, hired another person from Microsoft in December to work on the company’s Windows program. Phil Haack (pronounced “hack,” an appropriate name for a programmer) ran the software giant’s Web-development platform, ASP.net.

Haack also felt the burden of meetings at his former employer.

“Microsoft is a very meeting-driven, e-mail heavy, face-time culture,” Haack said. “It’s a stable company. It pays really well. There’s a lot of great projects you can work on. But what I found is, I spent a disproportionate amount of my time in meetings and dealing with political issues.”

A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment.

GitHub’s approach to work is shaped, in part, by open-source thinking, said the Microsoft converts. The management structure is flat. Workers are expected to follow through on their assignments without being closely monitored. Ideas are exchanged through an internal communication system, providing a permanent log. People can work remotely. All of this has translated into hardly any meetings.

Much to the satisfaction of the former Microsoft engineers, the number on Betts’s meeting-cost counter is a lot less these days.

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