Microsoft’s midlife crisis

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto on July 11, 2016. Credit: Microsoft/IDGNS

Microsoft’s attempts to be cool, hip and relevant to ‘baes’ are having the exact opposite effect on the next generation of talent.

Another week, another Microsoft "open mouth, insert foot" moment. Last week, Microsoft sent a recruiting email that opened with "Hey Bae interns" and careened downhill from there; finally crashing to a halt with, 'Hell yes to getting lit on a Monday night.'

An apology was hastily composed and delivered, explaining that the email was "poorly worded and not in keeping with our values as a company."

This is becoming something of a regular occurrence for Microsoft. March was an especially bad month, PR-wise, for them. At an Xbox game developer conference, the company hired scantily clad go-go dancers dressed as schoolgirls to work the crowd. A week later, the company's Tay Twitter chatbot was shut down after parroting racist, sexist and homophobic language.

To be fair, not all of these missteps are Microsoft's fault -- the Tay incident, specifically, highlights the problems inherent with AI and how to monitor and moderate human-machine interaction -- but so many gaffes in such a short time has me feeling like the company's struggling with its identity, trying too hard to be hip and failing miserably.

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Satya Nadella's trying his best to keep Microsoft relevant and appealing to a new generation of technical talent, but instead of feeling authentic and fresh, these attempts reek of desperation and an utter cluelessness about what's really important to the millennial and Generation Z talent they're trying to recruit.

They want to work on meaningful projects. They care deeply about equality, diversity and inclusion. They want flexibility and growth opportunity. They want to work with their friends, or at least be able to make friends where they work. They want to feel as though a company cares for and invests as much time, energy and thought into them as they do into their workplace.

The next generation is, if anything, even more perceptive of media messaging and skeptical of advertising, corporations and authority in general than even my generation -- Gen X, if you must know -- is, so they'll take one look at your forced, ill-conceived email and know that, instead of focusing on issues they truly care about, you're trying to lure them with a cheap facsimile.

Look, I'm almost middle-aged, too -- it's hard to keep up with the new generation. Especially this one -- always on, digitally connected, mobile and tech-savvy like no other generation before it. The trends, language, technology and culture can change overnight. But at some point you have to take a long, hard look in the mirror and accept who you are. In Microsoft's case, they're a large, established, (mostly) well-regarded software company with a solid history of accomplishments and some pretty great tech. They're working diligently to address diversity and inclusion. They are innovating with HoloLens and AI as well as cloud, database and software technology.

That's plenty of street cred without having to stoop to throwing around "bae" and trying to lure talent with promises of "dranks" and go-go dancers.

Now, you kids -- get off my lawn!

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