Microsoft’s Brad Smith at the Washington Innovation Summit

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith delivered a pep talk followed by an alarm bell during a presentation this morning to Seattle-area technology leaders — saying that the region is second only to Silicon Valley in terms of its technology prowess, but risks following in the path of Detroit and the auto industry if it doesn’t shore up its educational system.

“The sun set on the glory of Detroit,” Smith said during the opening keynote at the Technology Alliance Washington Innovation Summit this morning.

When he goes to Silicon Valley, he said, he encounters people who think the sun will never set on them. “Well, I think we have the advantage of living in a rainy climate,” he said. “We know, on a beautiful day in August, you cannot take that sun for granted.”

Smith proposed a series of reforms, including upgrading the status of computer science courses at the state’s high school, enabling more flexible schedules at community colleges to accommodate working students, and investing to increase the capacity of the University of Washington’s computer science department.

At the same time, Smith defended the company’s call to increase the inflow of immigrant workers to the U.S. to make up for what Microsoft sees as a talent shortfall in the meantime. “We’re happy to hire people from Amazon, but then where’s Amazon going to hire people from,” he said. “The truth is we’re chasing each other’s tails.”

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  • WalSoftMart

    Put H1-B, the call for education “reform” and the ongoing systematic layoffs of employees over 40 together and what you’ve got is Microsoft really asking for a steady stream of employees it can use and discard when they’re too expensive and are burned through.

    He would do well to look at the Detroit analogy more closely and see that unions helped hurt Detroit. And people unionize when employers systematically treat employees like throw-away resources.

    If he wants Microsoft to not be Detroit the maybe he should look at a different approach to employees rather than trying to replace them.

    It’s no accident that this attitude to employees has developed since Kevin Turner came from WalMart. And it’s no accident that WalMart is looking at increased attempts by employees to unionize and get better treatment.

    If Microsoft is really hurting for employees, maybe they should look at rehiring some of the thousands of people they’ve laid off and dumped into the Puget Sound employment region.

    Political leaders need to stand up to these bogus claims and see that this model brings people into the region and then leaves them here needing support from the state once they’ve been discarded. Which is just what happens when WalMart comes to town.

  • guest

    Brad is confused. The sun setting on MS != the sun setting on Seattle.

    • guest

      MS put Seattle on the map. It always amazes me how little MS is appreciated here.

      • GuestGuest

        MS used to be loved as a local success story. Just look at Almost Live! skits from the early 90’s and you can see how the region was proud of them and Gates.

        MS is to blame for the current state of things. They’ve systematically cut themselves off from the region, imported people from far and wide and locked them up in a campus and culture that views where they are as “drive through” country.

        The fact that Brad here is talking about bringing in more H1-Bs rather than working to give people in the region jobs is a fine example of how they’re not part of the community.

        I expect some day they’ll do like Boeing and move their corporate headquarters. They’re so detached now it’s not hard to see.

        • same guest

          This is even more ridiculous. MS would have been 1/10000 as successful had it relied soley on local talent. Never mind that this region is a much more interesting place to live thanks to the infusion of recent transplants.

      • guest

        Ah no. First timber did. Then the gold rush. Then ship building. Then Boeing. Then MS. Now Amazon and many others are taking the lead. Seattle will be just fine post MS.

        • guest

          Ridiculous. Without MS this would still be the podunk outpost it was under the reign of “timer, gold rush, ships, and boeing”. All cultural institutions, pro sports, professional services, universities, local airlines, you name it, have enormously benefitted from MS being here. And those “others” taking the lead would never have located here without MS’s presence.

          • guest

            Yes, it played a key role in the past. But those others have now located here and will pick up the slack as MS continues to decline. They already have been.

          • Guest

            I grew up right near the Redmond MSFT campus. I lived there before MSFT moved in. My parents greatly appreciate their home value going up 5x what they paid for it. It was 8x what they paid for it, but then the housing market crapped out and MSFT stopped making millionaires like gangbusters (you know, all those people from pre-mid 90s).

  • guest

    So I know it’s Brad Smith…but why is he only referred to as Smith in the whole article?

    • Todd Bishop

      Thanks, the first paragraph somehow got lost — I’ve added it back.

  • guest

    So how about not dodging your state tax MS? Put your f**king money where you’re mouth is.

  • LD

    It’s always so easy to ask others to be a good community citizen rather than trying to do it yourself.

  • exmsrecruiter

    This is a pathetic attempt to hide the fact that MS has been losing the recruiting wars for years. They continue to hire at the campus level and Visa’s because experienced industry folks especially in Engineering are not interested in MS. Until they address the toxic culture that currently exists- the real US talent is not interested in working at MS.

    • guest

      Got fired, huh?

      • Guest

        We don’t hear Amazon or Google ask for more H1-Bs. They seem to do very well recruiting the existing talent. Maybe there’s something to what exmsrecruiter said. Don’t just dismiss it as a rant from a disgruntled ex-employee.

      • exmsrecruiter

        Guest- I was never fired or am I disgruntled, I think MS is a great company that delivers great products. One thing that I have learned in my 17 years of recruiting in this region is the value of having a great culture to work in …which MS does not. I actually make offers to candidates at my current company at or below the candidates current salary and we don’t sponsor H1’s. Culture counts and unfortunatley leadership at MS thinks it’s still 1995. Note the comment below- others aren’t whining for changes. If you have a good company- they will come.

  • Guest

    I don’t understand why Brad is leading this charge. It seems better suited to MS’s VP of HR or R&D, if anyone. As general counsel he should have been the person making sure MS didn’t violate its legal obligations to the EU. Instead, due to his and the company’s entirely avoidable oversight, its shareholders face a fine of up to $7b. How many highly skilled people could they have recruited from competitors for $7 billion?

    • exmsrecruiter

      LB is busy shopping for new cargo shorts and sneakers. She should be the first Exec to be fired.

  • Paul

    “We’re happy to hire people from Amazon, but then where’s Amazon going to hire people from,” he said. “The truth is we’re chasing each other’s tails.”

    No. The truth is that MS can’t hire anyone from Amazon and instead been losing lots of top people to them for years. Blame that on MS’s stifling bureaucracy, lack of innovation, moribund stock, and fact that it’s being disrupted by Amazon, Apple, and Google. Seeing as MS is by far the largest H1B consumer, and yet those companies have been kicking its butt for a decade, there doesn’t seem to be much support for the argument that H1Bs are so critical to company success. MS’s insatiable for H1B’s seems more related to hiring and endless stream of cheap workers which they can use up and then spit out.

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