There’s an interesting article, Moonlighting Within Microsoft, in Pursuit of New Apps, in the New York Times today. The premise is that Microsoft is allowing, even encouraging, its employees to moonlight (i.e. work in their own time) on Windows Phone apps. Apparently, this sort of thing was implicitly forbidden before. But because Windows Phone is a new platform that Microsoft is trying to promote now, the shackles are at least somewhat off.
As the article notes, however, Microsoft’s biggest smart phone competitor Google has a long-standing policy called 20 percent time (also nicely described by the NYT, back in 2007, in The Google Way: Give Engineers Room) that I think is a better model: Here, Google engineers are allowed to dedicate up to 20 percent of their time while at work to side-projects. And 20 percent time has really paid off for Google: It’s led to such things as Gmail and Google News, for example.
Of course, there is one important advantage of Microsoft’s approach: Employees who succeed with their side-projects get to keep (most of) the money (when there is any). That is, they get the same 70-30 split for app revenues for paid apps as do external developers.
(Update: I forget to mention that Google’s 20 percent time only pays off for Google, not employees: Those who do create something in that time don’t benefit directly from whatever profits the resulting products generate.)
Microsoft has relaxed a strict rule and will let employees moonlight in their spare time and keep the resulting intellectual property and most of the revenue, as long as that second job is writing apps for Windows Phone 7-based devices.
The company is having weekly pizza parties for workers who pitch in to write code for the platform and is planning ways to publicize their work, including posters and awards of recognition, said Brandon Watson, director of developer experience for Windows Phone 7. Free Windows 7-based phones were given to all employees in the 19 countries where the phones are available.
The rule change at Microsoft change is a departure for a company that, like so many others, has traditionally wanted its engineers to give their all to their core jobs.
The incentive seems to be helping. More than 3,000 employees have registered to submit apps, he said, and about 840 have been published so far.