Organization Men

All those numbers, they are indeed fascinating. We have badges as well, though they are the more mundane plastic ID card variety. There are two schools of thought with the MS badges. Some folks wear them with pride on necklaces around their necks or clipped to their shirts in proper old-school, IBM-geek chic. Others keep the cards in the wallet. Your card also functions as your key to all buildings on the MS campus. This means the people with cards in the wallet often perform a strange buttocks-mating dance with the card readers. They sidle up to the door and gracefully turn so the rear hip can smoothly slide along the reader and open the door. (One such expert card-reader-seducer is none other than our editor Michael Kinsley. He appears to take great pride in his door opening dance moves.)

We do indeed call our status meetings “war” meetings. We generally try and use muscular language wherever possible. As anyone following our DOJ case knows we talk about “cutting off another company’s air supply.” Internally we have “triage” meetings; we discuss ways to “kill” bugs; and our internal tracking databases are called “tactics” and “raid.” Such lingo no doubt helps to increase our level of commitment, or at least our sense that we are doing something important. (For example in this morning’s “war” meeting I was sharply reprimanded for attempting to write my dialogue entry. We are trying to ship a product here, you know.)

This forms an interesting contrast to the aggressively politically correct universe of Microsoft. I’m sure you too have strong rules on what can and cannot be said to the customers and interview candidates. Our rulebook goes on for quite some length about things I cannot ask people in an interview. Age, sex, religion, marital status, children: these are all off limits. Strict adherence to the rules makes small talk a very challenging endeavor. It probably also adds to the preconceived notion that we are an inhuman bunch of folks.

Of course, the truth is we are just a bunch of happy-go-lucky computer geeks (much to any conspiracy theorists’ chagrin). This can probably be best seen in the various morale events that groups cook up for cheering up the troops. In addition to the obvious amenities like foosball and free Mountain Dew, we also have the big-ticket items. For example, the Friday, 9:00 a.m. trip to the local theater to see The Grinch (the week before it opened, thank you very much). Any science fiction film is especially well received and usually well analyzed in the subsequent “war” meetings. I fondly remember one development meeting where half the meeting was spent discussing the physics involved in The Matrix.

They are all great outings, though at a certain size a morale event goes a little overboard. The annual company picnic takes place on a farm outside Seattle. Each employee has to sign up for which day you want to attend, because there isn’t enough room for everyone to go on the same day. Similarly the annual company meetings are held at Safeco Field, which otherwise serves as the Seattle Mariners’ stadium. I attended this year’s as a bit of a self-motivation trip. After the tough year of bad MS public relations, I needed the kindred spirit of 65,000 people chanting “Windows, Windows, Windows.” Nothing is better than feeling like part of the team, especially a nice big one.