Tag Archives: career

My New Job

Color-BlockI left Microsoft last October to spend more time with my family, and when family life was about as sorted as it was going to be (and they were sick of me kicking around the house) in January, I started to look for a new job.

I’m incredibly fortunate and happy to announce that I report for new employee orientation March 11, 2013 at 8 AM, at…

Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.

My roots are as a founder of a startup, and the desire to climb back on that roller coaster was very strong. As I talked to startups and later-stage companies around town, I realized something: I liked working at large Internet scale and startups by definition don’t have much of that.

The intersection of the top Internet companies and the Seattle area is a relatively small set, so this really focused my job search.

As has happened to me a few times in the past, a gig opened up at just the right time that offered what I was seeking. (Did I mention how fortunate I think I am?) And after interviewing last Monday, I was offered the job and happily accepted Microsoft’s offer. 🙂

I’m joining the Microsoft Office Division, where I will be leading the team of people who publish and maintain the Office TechCenter and Office Dev Center websites, and the related IT Pro and developer communities.

As to scale, Microsoft Office is used by over a billion people worldwide. The IT Pros and developers that visit those websites have hundreds of millions of people behind them that they support and write solutions for. Now that gets me out of bed in the morning. Even better, it won’t take me months to learn the corporate culture and I know many of the people I’ll be working with on a regular basis.

Finally, if you’re a customer that uses the Office Tech or Dev Center, please feel free to drop me a line – I’m listening and would love to have your input as we plan for the future.

What It’s Like to Work at Microsoft – A Field Guide, Part 2

(View Part 1 of this series.)

Right! Back from lunch? Good!

It’s great to see facilities on top of replacing that pesky doorstop that kept getting knocked off the wall,

Now back to your office – if you’re in a group that still has offices instead of the open plan spaces that are popping up everywhere.

The single person office used to be a nice perk at Microsoft, but due to continued headcount growth over the years most new hires will spend years doubled, tripled, or more in offices. These tight quarters can foster a very collegial atmosphere.

It’s very collegial in the sense that you can make some great friends with the right officemates or be reminded why you wanted to become a hermit and not see humanity any more when they microwave leftover fish for lunch and stink up the whole floor. Or they walk into the bathroom in bare feet with their overgrown toenails clacking on the floor. Or they leave the remains of their snacks on conference room tables and chairs right before your big presentation. Or they brush their teeth at the kitchen sink. Or, Never. Stop. Talking. When. You’re. Trying. To. Get. Work. Done.

The two shortest routes to a private office are either tenure,

or management. (There’ll be much, much more about management at Microsoft in a future post…)

Until either of those events occur, try to liven up your windowless office,

Some people try to make their isolation spaces as personal as possible, ranging from shrines to Star Wars,

to model railroads,

to more externally-facing accoutrements,

So you shut yourself in your office, ignore the email, and you work, and work some more. And more. And more again. And…

Well, then, a miracle occurs! You actually get something done from vision to completion and through some crazy lobbying, you produce a physical artifact destined for distribution,

then the budget gets cut, and it is distributed as a PDF only. Oh well! On the upside, most editors don’t check hex codes, so you were able to sneak 4B696C626F onto page 97.

While you’ve been working, other groups ship,

and then suddenly, they play their last pink note and are disappeared down the memory-hole,

(Where does a pink piano go to live, anyway? Elton John’s house?)

Then through much harder work by others, the product you’re working on ships!

To celebrate, you get to participate in what turns out to be an infamous parade,

and you drink so much vodka at 10 AM,

that by 2 PM you’re not quite sure where the pink flamingo came from,

The post-ship period is a bit of a lull, so some people take the opportunity to change jobs and even companies,

But if you hang around, you eventually get your ship gift,

Then, it’s lather, rinse, repeat time to ship again,

and party,

Then you change groups and offices, and ask facilities for a 12 gallon garbage can for your office, and this is what they deliver,

(Those pesky decimal point errors crop up everywhere!)

And you lather, rinse, and repeat again,

and since you know the folks in Marketing, you luck out and get the first voiceover slot for the ship party video, and the ship gift even turns out to be something useful. A zipper pull! (Attached to a nice jacket,)

Then it’s time to get all fired up again for another run and,

You  have time to think about when you turned down a job at Microsoft in 1995 to start your own company (page 33), and wonder if it isn’t time to put the work grind on pause and attend to family for a bit before deciding what to do next.

Microsoft will always take your call if you know the proper extension to dial,

So relax a bit and let the warm fuzzy memories seep in as you cozy up for the winter,

and as you drift off, you enter that half-awake dream fugue state where time is elastic, and your subconscious feeds up images that flow like water, and this one floats by,

and then you’re suddenly shocked back wide awake, and you remember the other parts of working there.

(To be continued…)

What It’s Like to Work at Microsoft – A Field Guide, Part 1

At Microsoft, bugs get opened, triaged, de-duplicated, assigned, re-assigned, re-re-assigned, resolved, closed, re-opened, and re-resolved on the glide path to zero blocking bugs for ship. Software engineering is true engineering, but it’s messy – it comes in fits and starts, and just when you get rolling along,

Oh. Time for a break.

A soda sounds good,

Microsoft will keep you well-caffienated and hydrated. There are coolers with carbonated and non-carbonated beverages, dairy, juices, flavored waters, dispensing machines with over 100 options, tea, hot chocolate, hot apple cider, Starbucks coffee,

(they don’t go out of order all that often, but people post some great signs when they do,) and filtered cold, room temperature, and hot water,

conveniently labeled by facilities. These kitchen areas can be a cornucopia of amusement. From the corporately-mandated slapstick attempts to do the right thing,

(those first-generation biodegradable utensils just couldn’t stand the heat in the kitchen; yuk, yuk,) to the anonymous and sublime posters that appear on the bulletin boards before disappearing into the night on the last Friday of the month,

Speaking of posters, there was an era when every minor product launch or internal initiative required putting up a poster on what seemed like every wall in every building. It’s become much better than it used to, but like cicadas, they seem to have their own rhythm.

It can be barren for months, then messaging explodes and appears everywhere in riotous superlatives and exhortations on cafeteria tabletop placards, in mail slots, on walls, on banners hung from stanchions, on stickers, in elevators. Even on bathroom entrances, stall doors, and mirrors, leaving everyone wondering,

Microsoft Redmond is a very large campus, and has many far-flung offices around the world, so try not to think too much about the costs of printing, distributing, and displaying this marketing propaganda.

Instead, go back to your office to work. Think about if you’re nailing your commitments and who else on the team might be doing better than you. Write and respond to some email.

And now some more email.

Even more.

Keep going.

Oh, crap, I should have responded to that a week ago…

I need a rule for this stuff.

Wait! What was I doing before email? Oh yeah. Back to that!

Now…maybe if I just try this, I’ll be able to…crap!

Maybe a walk around campus will help. Microsoft has recently upgraded its walking/jogging trails, with clearly marked signage,

(yes, those cameras are everywhere,) trails that take you through some tranquil and restorative settings,

and there’s even some signage that displays the company’s quirky sense of humor,

Seriously, if you ever work at Microsoft, get out of your office and look around. There’s always something beautiful or interesting to see. There’s gorgeous seasonal landscaping in some places,

scenes of calming stillness and vibrant practical jokes on St. Patrick’s Day,

whimsey,

and SWAT armored personnel carriers when dignitaries visit.

Truly, don’t miss the seasons go by, (from your office of course!)

Often, there are some great snacks for breakfast that are available,

Of course, after all that caffeine, it’s time for a bio break, which turns into another opportunity for your co-workers to display their humor by trying to help explain the new water-saving toilets that are being retrofitted into older buildings,

If you forget to wash your hands during flu season, handy mirror clings will remind you to. Now, back to work, and this time, ignore the email.

Are you feeling it now? That groove of getting stuff done? It’s great, isn’t it? Keep going…stay on target…almost there…damn!

OK, let’s wait this one out. It’ll just be a quick reboot and…oh holy hell!

Don’t panic.

Call helpdesk…

Fuck it. Let’s go get lunch. Where’s the car parked?

There is no singular Microsoft garage or parking area. Parking ranges from vast, cavernous appeasements to the motor-car that could house a city of people in a pinch,

to cramped, beam-studded, angular, landmark-free mazes local body shops love for the customers they send. Luckily, the more confusing garages have maps posted,

If you’re a gearhead, Microsoft garages and parking lots are great for car spotting,

but even with tens of thousands of spots, parking can still be tight and some will take shortcuts when they’re in a hurry,

(As an aside, it’s mostly BMWs I see doing this and many Directors at Microsoft drive BMWs. But we’re engineers, so correlation does not imply causation unless we gather more data!)

In a word, traffic in the area during working hours (10 AM – 4 PM) sucks, and when other people are trying to get to where they’re going before or after, it can be hellish,

If the traffic congestion doesn’t give you pause, do consider the tens of thousands of Type-A people from around the world, some who come from places where they drive on the other side of the road and have no traffic signals, (like Medina, WA,) all gunning to cut in front of you to turn right.

Continued in part 2…

Coming Soon… – What It’s Like to Work at Microsoft

I’m planning on sharing what my seven years at Microsoft was like this weekend. Stay tuned.

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Passive-Aggressive Capitalism – A Short Story

The contract job I landed in 2003 at Starbucks corporate headquarters thankfully removed the “un” from the employment I had been sinking further into for months.

Things had become desperate, so while I wasn’t thrilled about the job, I was thankful to have something. The merry-go-round of taking a cash advance on one credit card and then paying it off with a zero- to low-interest balance transfer from another had come to a lurching halt, with my last application for a new card being having been denied. I had sold everything I could sell on Craigslist. I had applied for over one hundred jobs and from those efforts had secured one in-person interview where I crashed and burned so hard that I’m sure my name is still on a “do not hire” blacklist there, and one phone interview that seemed promising but I never got a call back or had my calls to them returned. I was about two weeks away from having no capacity to pay any bill and was facing being homeless.

I got the job through a friend’s girlfriend. She worked at a temporary agency and vouched for me. I did have to go to the agency for an interview with the account representative for Starbucks, and she seemed to have a hard time wrapping her head around the fact that I was looking for entry-level contract work when my last gig had been as CEO of a 25 person high-tech startup. I spun a bullshit story about taking a break from technology and evaluating Starbucks as a future employer from the ground level.

Body shops being body shops, I had a pulse, was well-groomed, could carry a conversation, and represented that I had skills, so I was phoned back the next day and told when and where to report – 8 AM sharp at 2401 Utah Avenue South. Oh, and dress was business casual.

My business casual wardrobe was jeans with a belt, a collared shirt, and a decade-old pair of penny loafers. I figured I’d blend right in.

I had an inauspicious start before I even made it through the threshold of the building.

Their headquarters occupies a gigantic and historic brick building built in 1912 by the Union Pacific Railroad that successfully lured Sears, Roebuck and Co. to Seattle. Today the complex also includes two large parking garages. Traffic and parking is what made me late that first morning.

The house I shared with a college buddy was in North Seattle. Wedgewood to be exact, and not having commuted across the Ship Canal Bridge for eight or so years, I completely misjudged the traffic on Interstate 5. And how long it would take me to slog my way past downtown. And then navigate a course through the warehouse and industrial area, which is also bisected by a working railroad carrying commuters, travelers, freight, and garbage to points North, South and East.

I’ve always strived to be a punctual person, and when it comes to jobs and business, I try to build buffer time into my travel so I can arrive early for appointments so as not to have to feel rushed. As my buffer was chewed through stopping-and-going down I-5, twinges of anxiety began to pluck at me. Being fairly unfamiliar with the destination area, locating the correct thru street that would carry me all the way westward to where I needed to be was, to put it mildly, difficult. I became more agitated at the dwindling time, the lack of my ability to locate the correct street, and my ill preparation as I executed illegal u-turns and blew down alleys at unsafe speeds.

I thought that the dead halt I had to come to at the clanging South Lander Street railroad crossing somewhere around 8:15 AM was as bad as it was going to get, until the freight train before my eyes slowed down and then actually stopped for what seemed like an eternity before it reversed direction and then slowly chugged out of the way.

Bulleting across First Avenue, I went to turn north onto Utah Avenue towards the parking garage, only to discover it was a pedestrian promenade. Foiled, I roared around the back of the building and past the loading dock to Colorado, only to discover that it summarily ends without a dead end sign unceremoniously in an acute angle of cinderblock wall and chain link with no access to the parking garage. Frantic, I pulled the car around and zoomed back towards First, and finally found myself before the Starbucks Partner Parking garage entrance.

Whipping in to the driveway, I screeched to a stop.

It’s a cardkey-only parking garage and I most definitely did not have a cardkey for entrance.

When pushed beyond panic, a clarity can emerge from deep within the fight or flight response.

If I had had any money in the bank or not been under crushing debt or even had the slightest glimmer of another job, I would have flighted myself right back out of there home, climbed back into bed, and pulled the covers over my head.

But I was broke, over $52,000 in debt, and was seriously considering camping and scouting food banks as my next occupation.

Choking down the fearful freak-out that I was already fired for being late before even getting through the front door, I made my way back south and hunted for street parking. I’m not exactly sure where I ended up that day, but it was likely on Colorado, somewhere around Hinds. Lucky for me at the time, since that’s an industrial area, there were no timed parking restrictions.

There was a curious mix of parked vehicles in the area, ranging from empty, shiny BMWs to cluttered, rusty American sedans and semi-truck cabs and trailers. During the following months, I would play leapfrog throughout the neighborhood in my Jetta with the nicer cars as we battled for closer parking to Starbucks, and learn which local residents it was better to avoid. That first day my dash clock showed somewhere close to 8:25 and I couldn’t afford to be discriminating about parking location.

I uneasily left my car parked in front of a vacant building and near some derelict cars that looked like dumpsters, and quickly hoofed it down Utah.

I’m Leaving Microsoft – A Personal Update

I’m leaving Microsoft at the end of this month.

The decision to leave was simultaneously hard and easy. It was hard because I had just begun some new job duties that I was very excited about being involved with. It was easy because in the hierarchy of my life, family comes before work.

It sounds trite, but I’m leaving to focus my entire attention on my family. Simply put, they could use some extra help, and working a more than full time job is incompatible with the type of help they need.

I have some broader thoughts about Microsoft that I’ll share at a later date, but right now I’d like to thank everyone that I’ve worked with. You’ve been tremendous, and I have to keep pinching myself that our work has touched tens (hundreds?) of millions of people. Microsoft the company gets a bad rap for many things, but the people have always been amazing in their brilliance and I’ve been continually impressed by everyone’s professionalism, deep thinking, and focus.

It’s been an honor to work with you.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!

Chris