Organization Men

As is my custom lately, I will be composing this dialogue while attending other meetings. Currently I’m in our thrice-weekly “war” meeting where we go over our product’s current bug status and general management mayhem.

I came to Microsoft just over seven years ago after attending another brand-name institution, Harvard. (I will fear for my sense of self-worth—and ability to make small talk with strangers—when I no longer am associated with an institution that everyone has heard of.) My first job was as an SDE (software design engineer) for the Outlook product, where I took part in a definitive programming geek experience, complete with late nights poring over code, finding and fixing bugs, and consuming mass quantities of Coca-Cola. At the time I thought it was both fun and unbelievably daunting. Now, I’m shocked when I see people running Outlook on their machines; all those appointments are being kept with my code! After Outlook shipped, I became an SDE lead for the next release. This meant I had a team of five developers working for me, and it brought me into the more meaty bureaucracy of our large organization. I began to do a great many interviews, schedule work, and corporate morale events.  After helping to ship another release, I went off to Slate where I worked as the GPM (group program manager). (Ah, the nepotism begins. …) Here I not only managed developers, but also testers, designers, and the operations of the Slate Web site. Again I was subjected to the woes of a large organization, though now as a bit of an outsider; Slate commands a bit less clout than Outlook. (At Microsoft, much like life, revenue matters to one’s status.) After two years at Slate, I switched directions yet again and am now a development manager for part of the .NET (pronounced “dot-net”) applications group. I’m back to managing developers, but now I also manage other SDE leads. This reduces my sense of accomplishment in a given week as the majority of my time is spent in meetings as opposed to the glory of actually writing code.

People always ask me if I like Microsoft, and some of my more savvy friends demand to know why I’m still here. (I think they recall me saying as a headstrong college sophomore that I would never, ever work for Microsoft. Ah, those youthful indiscretions …) Like you, most people I meet have many preconceived notions of how things work at Microsoft. Though unlike you, I meet plenty of folks who think it sounds like an enchanting, lovely place to be. I’m sure this no doubt has to do with our TV depictions. I have yet to see the NYPD Blue of the software world—the closest thing that comes to people’s minds is Revenge of the Nerds or their memories of those math club guys in high school. (Note to aspiring software nerds, some of the best interview questions come from the math club days!)

My problems with the Microsoft image come more from when I visit our comrades-in-arms in Silicon Valley. There I get the knowing glance when I tell people that work for a “small Seattle-area software firm.” In good cases this leads to recruiting conversations; in bad cases it devolves into something I’m sure you and I share: the dreaded conspiracy theorist. So many people are convinced that Microsoft is a toned, shapely behemoth, able to turn on a dime and destroy competitors while lapping up all the profits. I met a fellow once who was sure that the articles I used to write for Slate were all in the name of promoting Microsoft technologies. He imagined a deep organization that knew all that was being said and done within it and could always project a positive image. If only we could actually be as nefarious as people think, then my job would be a little simpler. Who needs middle management if the whole organization is just conspiring away?

Anyway enough about me; what I want to know is how the NYPD works. Do you have technical interviews? Like do you make people shoot apples off your bookcase? Do you have to prove that you can shake down a suspect before getting promoted? I want to know the goods; it will help me in my next career I’m sure.