Friday, February 18, 2005

working at microsoft

people often ask what it was like to work for microsoft; here are some of my impressions. before I started at ms, I was basically platform agnostic. I still feel the same way -- except for my halo-fueled affection for the Xbox.

although I am a stockholder, I'll try to be as objective as possible on this blog; I don't have to worry about getting fired (like that unfortunate ex-google employee).

hard at work in redmond
- working in redmond, building 1 - well on my way to gaining 18 pounds (now lost)

I wrote these lists shortly after I started working at MS...

ten best things about working at microsoft
10. MS is truly multi-cultural (on our team we had people from: Canada, US, Romania, Russia, Iran, Israel, India, China, Hong Kong, Australia, etc)
9. the company isn't crushed by a recession
8. easier to remember than 'NCompass Labs'
7. the company truly is high tech. wireless access, everything online etc. you can order starbucks from your phone, seriously :) (note: that pilot program quickly fizzled out)
6. grand scale and seemingly endless opportunity
5. being a geek is cool
4. great resources - you can speak to the people who wrote the code
3. lots of smart people
2. cheap software for friends and family
1. you can write code that people all over the world will use

ten not so good things about working at Microsoft
10. bill kicks my ass at foosball
9. the grand scale also comes with grand process
8. being arrogant isn't necessarily viewed negatively
7. the stock hasn't gone anywhere in a while
6. long hours
5. "the microsoft way" - a euphemism for "do it my way"
4. Microsoft Starbucks cafes don't serve caramel macchiatos (note: they were eventually added to the menu)
3. so many people want the company to fail
2. there is talk about 'work-life balance' but it doesn't actually happen for most people. in my first 18 months at MS, I gained 18 pounds. this was from a combination of long hours, little exercise and cafeteria food.
1. if you mess up, they make you clean the death star with a toothbrush

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work at MS and I still keep in touch with a number of my friends there (read: we kick each other around on Xbox live).

10 more - interesting aspects of the Microsoftie lifestyle
10. it's unusual for anyone at MS to stay in the same job for more than two years. in 3.5 years, I moved my office eight times (note: office moves have been reduced now that each team must pay for them)

9. free soda (that's pop to all you Canadians out there)

8. there are about 25 cafeterias within the buildings of the Redmond campus

7. the tv show urban rush recently showed some footage of MS ceo steve ballmer pumping up the crowd at a conference (a.k.a. dance monkey boy). ballmer is not just super-hyped when he's on stage; he's always like that! of course, he's not jumping up and down all the time but he has an endless supply of energy.

6. MS interviews are as crazy as people say they are. I was lucky -- I only had to do four. many people have to go through eight or nine. although this practice is now frowned upon, I was asked brain teaser style questions during one of the interviews.

5. I had many positive experiences with the execs at MS. on one occasion, I was on my way to a large conference. a senior VP was on the same flight and he offered me a ride to the venue. unfortunately, the airline had misplaced his bag. I was disillusioned to discover that even if you become a senior VP, you can still have issues with baggage.

4. the hiring process at MS is whacked. this has been documented in How Would You Move Mount Fuji? : Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle -- How the World's Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers by William Poundstone. issues include the practice of sending out feedback e-mail as soon as the first interview is over -- by the time the candidate meets the second interviewer, the interviewer could already have the feedback on his screen. just to give you an example, the MCMS team once interviewed a person who literally was the most qualified person in the world for the job. they didn't hire him. so for all you people out there who have been through ms interview loops, don't take it personally!

3. it is common at ms for different groups to work on similar technology. this practice encourages a sort of 'survival of the fittest' approach. a Microsoftie once said to me "the MS way is to give a few people knives and see who is left standing." the internal competition surrounding the Xbox is documented in Opening the Xbox : Inside Microsoft's Plan to Unleash an Entertainment Revolution by Dean Takahashi.

2. the rumours you hear about iPods, Macs or Palm PDAs being banned are pretty much all untrue. many people use devices from competitors.

1. when I first joined MS, I was blown away by the scale of the company. until last year, there was an annual company meeting that included roughly 20,000 people. the last few years, it was held at Safeco field in Seattle. another good example is the annual company picnic. the event attracts 10,000 people and features free food, drink and entertainment; just the flatbed truck piled high with soda was enough to impress someone who had come from a 120 person company.

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