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Working at Microsoft

Althought all the web articles I've read till date about experiences of working at Microsoft have been on the positive side, I found this interesting article that speaks just the opposite.

I've a positive bias for Microsoft but this article made quite an interesting reading and I wanted to share with all you guys.

Merry Christmas!

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

To be fair this person wasn't a programmer...

Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Oh so....if one is not a programmer one should not expect to be treated decently at Microsoft?

I am a programmer myself but I would never imagine treating a non-programmer with such disdain

Code Monkey
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Joel, would you know this guy who worked on the Excel team around 1994?

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Let's put it this way. If one is a programmer, one will be treated extra-well at Microsoft.

Same applies to program managers and to a lesser extent testers. And it's still considered a great place to work, no matter what the job, although they do tend to rather take advantage of "temps" who often end up being temps for years on end.

But look -- Microsoft has something like 50,000 employees now and different people are going to have different experiences.

Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The same site has also another article with a diammetrically opposite view.

But this isn't as interesting because its commonplace to hear goodies about Microsoft. I too would love to work at Microsoft and I won't mind at all the insane working hours. I am already used to them. At least one gets to do the work they love to do most, and then be appreciated.

That apart, think free Diet Coke, T-shirts, three week out of town vacations after a fire drill and all. This guy has got wonderful things to say on Chris's site about his getting interviewed there.

Philo, its time you come up with a prolix detailing the interview process you underwent.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

>Microsoft has something like 50,000 employees now and different people are going to have different experiences

Yuck! I agree with you. There's no debate in that, Joel. It was just that I found the article very interesting besides being written well.

Of course, I dig that it isn't the same for all. For me particularly, I am sure like many others, MSFT is my dream workplace I'd like to be in.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

And, also to be fair, that person worked at Microsoft a decade ago. Who says it's anything like that anymore?

Brad Wilson (
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

>MSFT is my dream workplace I'd like to be in

Yeah I am sure like those Microsoft geeks you cannot resist the temptation to look down upon those whom you deem to be "non-programmer"....probably the place to hone your for anti-social skills.

I accept that there is a bias against temps everyplace e.g when I was a contractor at HP were were supposed to have our voice mail message say "Hi I am XXXX a HP contractor" but  never was I or even the other non-technical people like tech writers treated badly.

I shudder to think how Microsoft must treat those "non-programmer" janitorial temps. 

And for all the well treatment of programmers one would think that atleast those programmers would have delivered something original  over the years :-)

Code Monkey
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

It was dramatic in her description of the way she met Melinda.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Hopefully you learn some valuable things from your work experience no matter where you are.  Clearly the author of this article learned some valuable things about herself and the kind of work environment in which she can thrive, though Microsoft was not that place.

We should all be so lucky.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

>Yeah I am sure like those Microsoft geeks you cannot resist the temptation to look down upon those whom you deem to be "non-programmer"...

Good you braught this up. I was itching to post a question last night about this. I believe it is not so much about haughtiness than it is about seclusion and lack of sociability. I'll speak for myself. I, for instance, find it extremely difficult to relate to a conversation out of work when amoung a group of people. Unlike others, I do not enjoy loud routine type trite conversations. For the most part, I find myself trying to avoid a conversation beyond banalaties and/or an exchange of pleasantries. The other day, at the coffee vending machine, I found myself utterly helpless when my only companion, a guy from the marketing team, who was also a complete stranger to me just started to talk to me about things like how difficult he found it getting his toddler an admission in one of the pre-nursery schools. It left me in a completely helpless and embarrassing situation just counting time when I would relieve myself of this claptrap.

Does it happen with you too?

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Look, some companies are good to work for, some aren't, it's all down to the leadership, it's also down to the guy who you report to.

Say you work at google, and people may say it's great to work for, or microsoft, but the guy right over you is making your life hell, but things are getting done.

1) Work is happening.
2) You life is hell.
3) 99% of the people in the company may feel treated great.
4) You believe you're being treated like crap.

Is that a good company to work for?

Ideals are great, they are, but life isn't perfect, that company would still be great to work for, alas a small group may have issues with somebody.

Don't paint 100,000 people with the brush, if it's good or bad.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

I wonder how much it has changed since September 1997.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Sathyaish, I suspect you're probably in a certain sort of company that attracts certain sort of people. It is perfectly OK to dislike brash, loud people. I can't stand them either.

There are lots of other types of people though, including in marketing and other fields.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Salon, as a psuedo-hipster publication, is obligated by its status and reputation to shit on the acheivements of successful corporations such as Microsoft.

Because we all know that big companies are evil establishments run by heartless white males. All programmers are antisocial geeks incapable of thinking about anything besides Star Wars the same way black people are naturally funky and talented at dancing and white people are unhip lamers who can't play basketball well.

Lousy hack writers will always fall back on stereotypes and play to the reader's preconceived notions in a pinch.

Warren Henning
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The article is actually quite interesting, not because it says anything new. but because it states clearly and concisely what has been said in any other book I know about Microsoft.

The tensions between programmers (normally male) and "content" or "design" (normally female) has always been there. The standard book to describe this is "I sing the body electric", which describes the writing of a multi-media children's encyclopaedia. Now in that case the designers had the whip hand to some extent over the programmers because they were the ones who were deciding the way the project went, but when the product is mature then the "designers" get low grade maintenance jobs, like going through every entry in Encarta to see if it should be cross-referenced.

Now, we actually have complaints just like that woman's all the time on JOS; Bored Bystander is the most vocal in this respect. The difference is that instead of it being liberal arts graduates viewed as unimportant low level production workers by overweening programmers, it is tech-savvy geeky  programmers being viewed as  low level production workers by  business types and rednecks. And sales and marketing of course looks down on all three, but is equally despised as parasitic, loud-mouthed and brash by all those who depend on its success for its salary.

Geeky bullying is very common; I think it was Paul Graham who pointed out that whereas physical bullies had to learn to adapt when they left school, intellectual bullies found that with the importance of IT and the knowledge economy they could get away with it all the way through college, grad school and all the way up to VP.

However much of what she is complaining about is simply a lack of social skills among programmers; most of us have been told that when introduced to somebody we are not supposed to say what we think ("Do I really need to know you") but to effusively shake their hand and say how pleasure meeting them gives, even if we are going to forget their name immediately (hint for those that have to meet a lot of people; do what actors do and call everybody "darling" - saves alllocating stacks of memory). And much of it is simply that what she takes for rudeness is simply unawareness; people often complain that they see me in the corridor or the street and I walk straight past them. I tell them I hadn't seen them because I was thinking of something else, but to them the idea of walking down the street while having an internal debate is as alien as the idea of walking down the street and keeping your mind blank so you can respond to random stimulae and greetings is.

The final problem is that the girl was just too inexperienced. She went to MS straight from college, and found that her first "real job" was working in a completely alien environment for which she had no sympathy. Anybody who can work for years with software developers and not udnerstand why it is both normal, healthy and necessary to argue for hours, or even days or weeks about whether a button should go at the bottom or top, is clearly in the wrong place, and lacking some kind of empathy. Her inexperience sometimes turns into breathtaking naivety. Look at this comment: "Microsoft was simply offering money-making schemes aimed at the young -- just a small notch above Joe Camel. "
This woman clearly has never ever worked with the mainstream educational companies that provide the textbooks that children everywhere in the world use. Microsoft is a Yale and Harvard combined compared to those places. We once went down to the office of the Spanish Catholic churches leading educational publisher with hundreds or thousands of captive schools. We were supposed to be rewriting their English textbooks. We passed by marketing, and the chief salesman's comment was "We've got to have these books out in time to put them on the Disneyland promotion; what do they mean they can't write three textbooks in six weeks!".

The article does remind us of one thing; that most companies have a core culture, and that it is incredibly difficult to push things if you are outside the core culture. With MS it's code, but that has proved successful. Britannica had everything going for it in the online Encyclopaedia market; after all it was content oriented, and that is what Encyclopaedias are about. But it's programming was such crap Encarta took over most of its market. (I think with the 1999 version you had to actually manually change the proxy settings in Internet Explorer if you connected to the Internet through a proxy even though you were running the encyclopaedia offline, and it would throw a javascript exception (object not known) that meant you had to stop WDM from running automatically (an MS idiocy that one) or you couldn't run Britannia at all).

There is also a final thing to bear in mind here; Gates tries to hire the best even for non-programming positions. However very often the work they are given is many levels below their intellectual ability. To use somebody with a major in education to cross reference every entry in Encarta is just asking for dissatisfied staff.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, December 25, 2003


I want to thank you so much for your post! I enjoyed every moment of it! Really I did!

Just wanted to try the darling thing yeah it works for me that's cool
Thursday, December 25, 2003

Oh Come On.  She said she never wanted to work there to begin with.  That alone would taint her entire experience.  And then to blame it all in Bill?! Ridiculous!

I worked as MS straight out of college. It was a blast.  Yes I am a geeky programmer.  And sure there were some "not friendly people". But MS is full of happy, enthusiastic, commited and friendly people who want to be there.  They hire at least 3K new employees every year, so you can always find fellow newbies.  IIRC retension is way above average about 95%, and the average MSFTie works for 5 years. ( Conincidently options vest in 4.5 years ). 

My group and my building were ~85% Male( we counted), thats just a reality of our field.  And yes we would sometimes have lunch in other building where there were more women. Hey, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the company of women.  It was a running joke that single women didnt last long at MSFT, they got married. 

I left MS to join a startup. Mostly I dont regret it,  but I got lucky...

Friday, December 26, 2003

Only if I were that lucky, xMsft. I wish I worked at MSFT. I really do.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Friday, December 26, 2003

The situation with the woman in that article seems to be more about not fitting in, and having a disdain for, the culture that existed in Microsoft, and not about any systematic mistreatment from them (except maybe the contractor vs. employee aspect).

She could hardly be from a more foreign background.  Female, an English major, with no experience in a technical firm.  The things she said showed that she had no desire to go near any techie types in college.  And she took the job out of desperation.  I'm not surprised she had a bad time there.  Both Microsoft and she are better off that she's gone.

T. Norman
Saturday, December 27, 2003

>>The situation with the woman in that article seems to be more about not fitting in, and having a disdain for, the culture that existed in Microsoft

I can’t agree more with the above.

Most, if not a VERY large portion of the people who get education at University do so for reasons of prestige. You know the types, and the only real important thing is people with a bunch of degrees (and, if you don’t have one, then who now is getting the dis-respect? No degree = dog)

In other words, the commodity in people is based on the degrees and letters after your name, NOT what you can actually accomplish. Microsoft is the exact opposite!  Even Joel’s has some amazing stories about how even seniority and number of years of service to the company in many cases DOES NOT hold weight when trying to complete a project. In other words, instead of things like political in-fighting, and seniority being the rule of the day, the rule at MS is simply incredible people get incredible things done.

To quote from her article:

No matter your number of degrees, your age


The developer was probably 5 feet 6 inches tall and around 25 years old; the editor had a law degree and at least five years on the guy, not to mention a few inches

Sure, the law degree is what should harbor the most respect here? The fact is the law degree means bunkus at MS.

I sure this person wishes that MS was like most institutions where things like gossip, politicking, and in fighting, and climbing the corporate latter is the most important aspect of work. Of, and lets not forget all the gossip about what people are doing, who they are dating, and the kind of clothes they wear! (gee, really important stuff to be sure for a women like this).  A large portion simply live for this type of stuff, and going to a company where all the fluff is gone was most certainly a culture shock.

Unfortunately, the culture at MS is simple one of performance, and getting  the job done seems to be the only commodity that has any value. For most people, this is not the kind of company they want to work for. This is especially so if  you are not a performance based type of person. For a lot of other people, a company based on performance and skills is exactly what they are looking for. (and for many others, a company where you can get by on social climbing skills is the most value)

Each to their own. I certainly know I hated the arts in school since everything was so opinion based. At least in math and physics, even if I did not like the teacher, or the teacher did not like me...there was usually a right answer to be found (I could get great marks, and still be my own person). In the arts, if the teacher did not like me...I was sunk, since so much of the results was based on opinion, and not a definable answer.  If they don’t like you, you get crap marks.

The same goes for companies like General Motors. If you are a bit different, or don’t like to get involved the local gossip train, forget about EVER GETTING  promotion. The real smart people can’t bail out and get away from companies like GM. You can see the trouble in GM, as they have been loosing the car market for 30 years in a row, and are now in danger of loosing the entire passer car market to competitors. As a company, they need a serious culture change to turn around this terrible slide. In fact, as a company they are  now in danger is having to get out of the passenger car market altogether! This whole issue is much like many teachers and educators who now want to remove exams and testing as to not hurt people’s feelings.

The problem is, we as a society need companies that are based on good skilled people, and in the real world, good skills do in fact count. Worse, is we need to know how well the schools are doing! Many wish we could wish away performance...but we can't.

I can certainly see why this person did not like working for a company that is not based on the yours vs my opinion arts type crowd.

There is nothing wrong with her attitude, but in survey after survey, MS comes out consistently as one the best companies to work for.

She really belongs in a Government job.

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada

Albert D. Kallal
Saturday, December 27, 2003

Sometimes I wish we could declare threads as finished, because IMHO there's some good discussion here, and Albert expertly summed up the whole thing.

I honestly don't think there's anything more to be said. :-)


Saturday, December 27, 2003

We'd all sure love it if we could email this thread to the lady who wrote that article.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Saturday, December 27, 2003

Sorry Philo, but much as you would like the thread to end with a resounding exoneration of Microsoft and the expulsion of she who dared raise her voice to the deepest depths of the cocktail lounge in Trendy Hell, Albert's comments do not sum up the problem; they simply lift the scab off the wound.

First let's take the discussion over the respect due to the elder guy with the law degree.

First of all it is pure naivety to say that a law degree means bunkus at MS. The place is crawling with lawyers. Does Albert seriously think that there was a meeting of senior engineers and they all said, "Hey, I've got this great new idea for Win 98; why don't we right lots of spaghetti code to integrate IE with Explorer so that people can have all their business docs mixed up with the porn pages they surfed for last night, and we can compromise the sandbox so much that we'll have jobs for the next ten years doing fortnightly security fixes." Nope. What happened was the MS marketing decided that the best way to kill Netscape was to give away IE for free and then went along to the lawyers and asked them to find a way they could bundle it without breaking previous legal agreements not to bundle.

The second point here is that the law PhD was in charge of the content for the app. That is to say he was the guy who was in charge of the stuff that people were actually paying for. The situation is analogous to that of an editor being told to get all "his little writers" off the book because now they were going to do the man's stuff and actually print the book, so no more airy-fairy namby-pambies please.

Now, the request the developer was making was reasonable. It was near shipping time and to ensure bug free delivery it is quite reasonable to put a freeze on further content changes, but the way he spoke clearly shows that he considered all non-programmers inferior beings and contractors fair game for bullying and humiliation. In the normal world of course, the other guy would have punched him on the nose, and he would have learned manners for next time, but MS is sufficiently skewed that he is able to get away with this kind of deviant behaviour.

Because many of the things the woman is complaining about are not the result of snobbery or a shallow worship of appearances, but normal social conventions. It is a normal social convention to answer somebody when they greet you, and the only people who wear shorts, apart from children and Bavarians, are those, like footballers, whose legs merit public inspection - computer programmers rarely come into that category.

----"At least in math and physics, ...there was usually a right answer to be found"----

What you are saying here is very common among programmers. They hate the gray areas and therefore gravitate towards programming because everyting can be reduced to zero or one. There is nothing wrong with that; the problem comes when they pretend that their inability to deal with uncertainty is a virtue. I once had a friend who became a Muslim because he said he could never understand the concept of the Trintiy. I called it "conversion through mathematical incapicity".What we see in 'Albert's attitude is the same thing; anything that can't be reduced to zeros or ones is "opinion" and therefore not worthy of analysis.

I am on the other side to Albert. I studied English Literature, and I can assure him that, whilst what you are dealing with is opinions you had better have pretty good arguments and evidence  to back up those opinions or your tutors and fellow students will have you for breakfast. In fact most of a degree course in English Literature is actually training you to argue logically and muster evidence.
True you will get idle chatter masquerading as profundity, but you get scientists who simply learn by rote vast amounts of data. You cannot judge any field from the badly educated.

As I said above, the woman was unsuited to work at MS, but the fact remains that MS is a programmers culture with the associated baggage of immaturity and bullying (or shall we say obvious immaturity and unrefined bullying since go to a publsihing house or an art auctioneers and you will see both again, but in a rather classier package).

And the fact that MS sees programming as supreme explains why it rarely succeeds when it  branches out and spends billions trying to take over the universe (MSN, Web TV, X Box) or even tries to branch out into "creative" software (look at the abandonment of Photo Draw, and the relative failure of Front Page).

The fact that MS culture considers "content providers" to be inessential parasites probably explains why it fails to pull its weight in the multi-media market ( and the quality of most educational software is atrocious, so MS doesn't have to do much to shine). It has the odd flagship orogram, but just hasn't got the mindset to produce the hundreds of titles it could do to be a serious player up there with Mindscape or Doreen Kinderlsy, or the dead wood brigade.

(An aside but the contempt of people in one field for those in another was most joyously explained by the film director Stephen Frears in 1973; this was well before he became Hollywood's darling in the 90's with "liasons dangereuses". He had been hired by a Hollywood studio to produce a Bogart pastiche set in Liverpool starring Albert Finney, called 'Gumshoe'. During the shooting of the film on of the studio execs came on set, looked around and started to talk to Frears conspiratorially: "You know the trouble with moveis?" he said. "It's all these parasites; get rid of all these goddam actors and cameramen and sound men and script writers and then most films would stand a fair cnance of making a profit!")

Stephen Jones
Monday, December 29, 2003

Umm, Albert, applying for a job at MS eh? *Must* love how people sell themselves by sweet mouthing Microsoft on this forum to get Vault's ( attention.

Keep it up guys, I know at least 3 guys at Vault's who frequent this forum every single day. Phil's strategy worked so Albert, be more engaged.

An observer in North
Monday, December 29, 2003

After reading that article I have to agree with Stephen, I didn't see any intellectual conceit in her complaints but rather understandable disbelief at her coworkers behaving like monkeys.

The guy opposite her office stopped ignoring her for the first time when he shot a paintball gun at her window! Is that a normal and regular occurrence where you people are working? Assuming that she didn't just make up all these stories (maybe Philo can comment) I can certainly sympathize with her irritations.

Chris Nahr
Tuesday, December 30, 2003

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