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Frustration, Disappointment And Apathy: My Years At Microsoft (techcrunch.com)
206 points by transburgh on Apr 22, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 107 comments



My story is similar. I was looking to get a tech job out of college a couple of years back, and Microsoft picked me up first (Google was also interested with talks of similar offers but they moved much slower).

It was all interesting and new for the first few months. The team was going through chaotic transitions at the time, so I was shuffled around many challenging projects, all with tight deadlines and technical brokenness up the yin-yang. Luckily for them, this kind of environment was my forte.

Being the workaholic hacker I've always been, I spent day and night slaving away trying to fix everything. Processes, tools, bugs. I broke the daily build a couple of times but surprisingly, nobody gave me heck about it; I was earning a reputation as the new guy who got shit done. In retrospect, I was probably deliberately thrown into the projects that seemed hopeless and bug-ridden because I actually cared about this stuff.

And I realized I was the only one who cared.

The day I received my "Gold Star" (which was actually far more than the $1K the author got), I remember walking by a sign someone had posted that said "Change the world or go home". And then it hit me -- nobody here believed this except me. Everything was a business case analysis. Shit remained broken and bug-ridden because some key stakeholder needed it to work that way on their even more broken systems. Meetings about when to schedule the next meetings. Blame being thrown around abstract "teams", so no actual person had to be accountable when the shit hit the fan. It was all so pointless. Sure, it made money, and I was taking a happy slice. But I didn't care about money. I cared about changing the world.

I deliberated for a day or two, then sent in my resignation.

What followed was several weeks of escalation and meetings with higher-up execs trying to convince me to stay with the company, explaining their idea of where the division was headed. The problem was that everyone literally had a different idea of what that was. It just did more to convince me that this was sinking ship, and they saw me as a plug.

Needless to say, I broke free, and I don't touch Microsoft products anymore. I saw the brokenness from the inside, and I have no faith in the byproducts of their "processes" and managerial wankery.

I'm doing the startup thing now, which in retrospect I should have been doing in the first place. And I couldn't be happier.


I was chatting with a friend of mine on Thursday that MS seem to have a 'get shit done' team that magically pops up every now and again.

Like the EF migrations project was looking really, really awful[1] and someone's managed to turn it around and it's ended up lookig like it might be great[2].

Or like when Rails/Django were the talk out of the town and a new MVC PHP framework came out every day and ASP.Net was looking marginalised and extremely dated with every passing day. Then all of a sudden from almost nowhere comes a really great MVC framework.

Or when C# 3.5/F# came out.

There's good teams in there, it's just hard to find them I think.

[1]http://www.hanselman.com/blog/EntityFrameworkCodeFirstMigrat... [2]http://www.davidhayden.me/blog/asp.net-mvc-4-and-entity-fram...


You are talking about small projects, which, in the scale of things, are insignificant. They are all DevDiv projects, and even within DevDiv, they are fairly small. It's a company of 92000 employees, with some of their projects worth billions quarterly. Your perspective, from your examples, is completely skewed.


Other examples include Windows Phone and XBox both of which seemingly came from nowhere in a 'just get it done' style.

There's some real love and skill that's been put into the XBox for example, just browse around it some time.

My perspective is coloured by the developer stuff as that's what I'm most interested in.


Windows Phone came out 3+ years (almost 4) after the iPhone. It was the most obvious and slowest product launch in recent memory. It also hasn't been a great success. If Windows Phone is proof that Microsoft is doing well....It also wasn't some spontaneous/organic product that just sprung up. It was a massive coordinated company-wide event that took years to "pull off".

As for the Xbox, it's a huge loss leaders. The division is billions in the red. XBox 360 (which had a 33% failure rate) started to make a bit of money last year (or maybe the year before that)..but it's a fraction of what they've put into it. In the long term, the strategy of owning the living room might work out, but so far, no, it neither "came out of nowhere" nor is it a succes. The problem with consoles is that, you are only as good as your current generation. Also, no one has managed to crack the living room yet, and they've all tried. History tells us it's a waste of money.


As for the Xbox, it's a huge loss leaders. The division is billions in the red. XBox 360 (which had a 33% failure rate) started to make a bit of money last year (or maybe the year before that)..but it's a fraction of what they've put into it.

From what I've gathered, the entertainment division has been making a profit since 2008. It's tough to get solid numbers on the contribution of the 360 to that, since the division contained things like the Zune for a while. I would be surprised if they don't end up profiting overall on the 360.

Sure, that might not make up for the losses on the original Xbox, but that generation was always about gaining a foothold, not making a profit. MS didn't have a horse in race until a year after the release of the PS2. To go from that to the market share that the 360 commands right now is impressive.

Eve that said I don't think making money on console sales was ever the main reason MS got into the market in the first place. I think they realized that gaming consoles were going to become an important part of household entertainment, even outside of gaming itself. Consoles are becoming one-stop shops for all forms of enterainment nowadays. I use my systems to watch disc-based media, streaming off other devices in my house, Netflix, etc. MS would be in a really tough spot if they had let Sony snatch up this market without putting up a fight.


Windows Phone definitely didn't come out of nowhere. A good friend of mine was one of the PM leads there. We used to have conversations on the bus every evening— him sweating decisions, fighting for inches, and showing off slow weekly progress on his debug unit.

Windows Phone was a lot of hard yards by some talented people working too late for too little. I long since left, but I expect it was the typical herculean project where 80% of the team left after it was out the door.


I'm starting at Microsoft out of college in July and this worries me. Could I ask which product you were on?


I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. Anyone who thinks his experiences on one team in a 100,000 person company (or even a 10,000 person company!) are in any way broadly representative is full of shit. Microsoft has some dysfunctional teams, as does anyone, but it has plenty of good ones, too. I worked there for quite a few years after college and it was a great learning experience. I had friends in other teams who had both good and bad experiences. It just depends.

OP was an "account manager," which means that anything he tells you has absolutely no relevance to the engineering side of things.


When I worked at a very large software company, I worked for a division that was absolutely riven with bugs. As time went on, I noticed that the developers were arrogant, yet they also weren't as good as they thought they were. The QA process was broken as nobody could touch their code, the Product Management them were technically clueless so they didn't know how to handle the situation, and the guy up the top, well, he was too busy playing politics that the whole ship o' fools was springing leaks everywhere.

I got angrier and angrier. In the end I didn't give a crap and I was sending angry emails pointing out the problems daily.

And you know what? I was part of the problem. Hindsight is a great thing, but I wish I'd left on better terms, without anger. If you can't change the firm, don't get angry. Smile at the people around you, be pleasant, and then resign. You'll be much happier for it, and the foolish group you leave behind will probably fall behind you. Getting angry didn't change this for them, they were bound to fail anyway - why be dragged down by that?


So these kinds of peeks inside a large company are fascinating in a voyeuristic sense, but it's best to not to take them too seriously. Even somebody with no ulterior motives will only have a experience of a narrow slice of the company. And it's even worse when there is an obvious reason for bias.

Certainly much of what I've seen written about Google had little to with the reality I observed there, regardless of whether the source is a current Googler or one of the, err..., rather vocally dissatisfied ex-Googlers. So I don't see much reason to believe this story about Microsoft either.


Yes, rationality means that we don't believe everything we read 100%. That said, critical "insider" pieces are far in the minority, which means overly rosy stuff dominates.

Take for example Steve Yegge's accidentally public Amazon rant. He later said it was a mistake because it was "unprofessional"; it would be more professional to focus on positive aspects rather than negative. (https://plus.google.com/110981030061712822816/posts/AaygmbzV...) This ideology of professionalism dominates, skewing the news we get.

Personally, I don't like to talk much about the corporations I work with, either. But to succeed under their constraints, it's helpful to coldly analyze their many dysfunctions. Then adapt to the bizarreness. Though I respect those who don't adapt, and get filtered out.

BTW, Carrie Lane studied tech industry workers in _A Company of One_, and observed how they much rather blame themselves (and each other) for losing their jobs, rather than use institutional analysis. I think we see this phenomenon a lot in comments sections.


A sidenote, but over the top of that Steve Yegge post is an ad:

Join Google+: Share the right things with just the right people.

Made me snigger, anyway...


Could we please somehow make these incessant ad-hominem attacks against michaelochurch stop?

I know it's backed up by 'a story only us Googlers know' that explains it all, but the whole thing is starting to get rather childish.


Sorry, I certainly didn't mean to pick on anyone (and that was after my time, so I don't know the story any more than you do).


> Could we please somehow make these incessant ad-hominem attacks against michaelochurch stop?

Could we please somehow make these incessant off-topic google baiting posts from michaelochurch stop?

This thread about MS has like many other threads been hi-jacked. He knows it's going to happen; he's seen it happen before; he knows it's off topic, yet still he posts.

I happily accept that Googlers should spit the fucking hook.

IHBT.


I didn't see grandparent post as an ad hominem attack on me. Never would I deny that these companies are huge and that people can have widely differing experiences of them.

If you get into MSR, Microsoft is probably a great place to be. Working on the F# team? Hell yeah. Google has great projects as well. If someone ended up on one of Google's best projects and his Google account wasn't quite opposite to what I've described, I'd be surprised. You experience a radically different $BIG_COMPANY if you end up on the best projects or have someone powerful looking out for you.

For the record, the people I worked with in-person were mostly great. There were some unethical managers I encountered, and it seemed that the quality of people was lower in the managerial part of the organization, but I'd never hold that against the rank-and-file Googlers. I have nothing but good things to say about the vast majority of people I encountered at Google. The problem wasn't the rank-and-file engineers. It was a failure of leadership and a staunch resistance against doing the right thing.

Stories like the OP give us a sense of the average-case scenario-- what people who haven't established themselves yet will get. Big companies can be great places to work if you're an established researcher who has 15 published papers. If you're in that "good, working to become great" category that I think describes most of us, then your odds are best with something else.


I know that there are lots of smart people at Microsoft and that they are perfectly capable of making effective products, but I think this effectively sums up all of my feelings towards today's Microsoft:

> This company is becoming the McDonalds of computing. Cheap, mass products, available everywhere. No nutrients, no ideas, no culture. Windows 8 is a fine example. The new Metro interface displays nonstop, trivial updates from Facebook, Twitter, news sites and stock tickers. Streams of raw noise distract users from the moment they login.


Which is a fitting comparison because McDonalds is also wildly successful.


Spot on. Also McDonalds just works how you expect it to.


Here's my experience working at McDonald's back when I was in high school:

There were two types of managers. Those who really cared about the customer experience, and those who just want to get paid. I was lucky enough to work under a manager who really, really cared. The manager was not the store manager but the assistant manager. Store managers would move into our McDonald's, and 6 months later they'll be promoted, all because of the effort of the assistant manager. Sometimes I would make a salad, tossing all the ingredients inside, the assistant manager would look at it and say: "That looks like shit. I know it's really busy right now but the customer paid EIGHT DOLLARS for it. Go take your time and make another one. I'll come around to help while you're doing that". He spends a lot of time trying to make the restaurant as good as possible, and follows all guidelines to the letter. He really worked us hard, but I loved it.

One day, he finally got promoted, and left our store. The managers after that did not care. Using wrong gloves? Go ahead. Really busy and the food looks like crap? Who cares. You want free food? Take it. Oh and don't worry about cleaning the back of the grill today, I want to go home early.

I quit soon after.

I was trying to make a point of McDonald's being different to Microsoft, but they now seem to me more same than different...


> Windows 8 is a fine example. The new Metro interface displays nonstop, trivial updates from Facebook, Twitter, news sites and stock tickers. Streams of raw noise distract users from the moment they login.

There is a concept called "Give them what they want". If Windows is successful because it gives customers what they want, it is nothing but folly to criticize their product based on your own personal value set.


It's still fair to point it out since you can certainly go the other way (make something and then make people want it) successfully. There's bound to be frustration in a company that has forgotten how to balance the two, and these days Microsoft seems to be playing a lot of follower games. Granted, companies like Apple have done the same by taking an existing product and making it not suck, but it can spread a company thin on innovation and lead to exactly the sort of management that the article is discussing.


FGS I don't ever use the start menu other than to pin my apps to the start bar the first time they are installed so get over it.

Metro is only in your face if you ask for it.

Noise? Remove the damn tiles.

I rather like a Big Mac so I'm probably biased though ;-)


Disclaimer: MS Employee To add to his comments about higher-ups dismissing his ideas. I don't know if the OP was in a technical role or not. But I regularly see emails from guys in my team with some radical new idea that they think will work. In 99.99% of the cases, the ideas don't work (Scalability issues, cost, complexity etc). It's very important for employees to also accept and see the flaws in your ideas rather than start bawling and throwing a fit. Likewise, it's very important for the leadership to keep encouraging these ideas no matter how stupid they are. Our partner/principal SDEs do just that. They're always open to new ideas. This probably varies wildly from team to team though.


Replace "Microsoft" with $LARGE_COMPANY and most of the article still makes sense.


"... my communication style was flagged as inappropriate and antagonistic."

That's from the anecdote about the beginning of his tenure at Microsoft. Ironically, I think the excerpt from his "resignation" letter shows that his communication style is inappropriate and antagonistic. Sure, he was angry when he wrote the "last laugh" letter, so the emotions were likely quite different. But he did not express himself very effectively, instead focusing on his feelings and his certainty that he's correct. If he did that in his initial suggestion, no wonder no one listened.


In my experience, I haven't gotten along with 9/10 people I've met who work at -- and are passionate about -- Microsoft.

It's not because they're not driven to succeed (they are). Nor is it because they're overly confident.

It's because all 9 have lacked empathy and/or the ability to listen.

Now I can tolerate that, provided you do great work.

I've learned that if you can't separate the art from the artist, you may not enjoy much.

But since I think Microsoft creates pretty crappy art, its employees' personalities have really rubbed me with wrong way.

(Which I find interesting, because I think empathy plays an integral role in making great products.)


Realistically, what "great products" has MS produced? From my perspective, MS has always been vastly better at winning the market because they're nearly always competing with inferior products.


They are at least mature products. I've worked on kernel code in Sun product, linux and Windows. And Windows was the only one done professionally, with mature complete APIs and some kind of design.

linux was the least mature. The kernel was a maze, there were 3 similar-but-fatally-different APIs for modules depending on where you graft them in (app, loadable driver, kernel driver), only 1 model of memory mapping was supported. And the code quality was very low. Nearly identical complete methods for trivial differences in argument (instead of calling common code). The same variable names used in different places for very, very different things (e.g. 'page' used for a page table entry, a page table pointer, a page directory pointer, a page directory, a page directory entry...) Spaghetti style code paths.

A large company like MS may have no coherent ethics or direction. But they have Lots of resources to actually, completely, exhaustively complete a code module with everything tested and in place.

So the products may not be great, or apply perfectly to solve your problem. Consider we're developers and our problems are pretty not much on MS's mind anyway. But they are responsibly coded and completed, which is a big thing.


>linux was the least mature.

This I can agree with. I'm surprised that MS was well done though because their API appears to be a mess if Wine is any indication.


A non-exhaustive list of great MSFT products (I work for Google, no pro-MSFT bias here beyond a dash of meta-contrarianism):

* Windows 95

* Windows XP

* Windows 7

* Office 2010

* Zune HD

* Windows Phone 7

* XBox

* XBox 360

* Mice and keyboards

I'm sure I'm forgetting tons of stuff. Before you start pointing out minor bugs or flaws in these products, or making irrelevant arguments (e.g. "Zune HD had low market share"), remember that Google products aren't perfect either. Google Docs has no equation editor (Word does). Android sucks as an mp3 player compared to Windows Phone 7. I can't play Starcraft 2 on Chrome OS. Etc.


Win 95? Really? Not Windows 98 with the plus pack? Not Windows 2000?

The Office suite collectively is impressive, and I've loved some features. Getting a better replacement for Excel and some of the other features is important, and I'm pleased to see Libre Office moving towards that.

You don't mention the killer combination of Exchange and Outlook. As far as I know[1] there's no real competitor to that combination, and that's something that has kept many offices[2] locked into an MS ecosystem.

[1] Happy to be shown wrong. Last time I really looked was several years ago. It's have to include calendaring / scheduling like Outlook. Yes, I know that having Exchange facing the Internet has been disastrous for some versions.

[2] Rightly or wrongly, many people did get locked into MS Small Business Server because of the Exchange / Outlook combo, and because they didn't know any better. There's a solid niche for a similar but better and cheaper setup. You'd monetise by selling cheaper than MS and selling support, but having decent customer led support too.


>Win 95? Really? Not Windows 98 with the plus pack? Not Windows 2000?

I was thinking of the OSes they released that were big leaps forward for their vast numbers of users. IIRC Win 98 was only an incremental improvement on 95. But I could be wrong; in 1998 I was 12 years old.


No, you're right. People were queuing at midnight to get Windows 95. It was a huge thing for many people.


I've seen this type of story many times. All that can be concluded is that Max and Microsoft simply aren't compatible with each other. Nothing shocking with that... he picked the wrong place to start his career and they hired the wrong guy.

I take more seriously the critiques of long-time employees who are truly devoted to a company or project, try and try different approaches to improving things (which of course includes putting up with a lot of unsavory BS), and eventually (and usually sorrowfully) have to part ways because they can't influence things enough and need to move on with their lives.

Max's account is of someone who was annoyed within a year or two, started protesting in a way that wasn't effective, and pushed it until he got fired.

There are ways to get changes made in Big Co., but it won't be 100% on the individual's terms. You need to first get them to really listen to you, and I don't think that occurred here.


> There are ways to get changes made in Big Co.

Very true. I have this book in my head that might one day get written. Title would be something like "Intreprenauring: Innovating within Large Stupid Organizations" with a focus on practical "hacks" for getting stuff done. Probably all been said by Dilbert already though.


Please kickstarter that book right away. Dilbert identifies problems but does not provide solutions, only an outlet for the rage.


That's a great idea. Now you've got me thinking... Initial hurdle is I'm in Europe, based in Switzerland and kickstarter T&C require US citizenship. Looking for solutions right now (anyone with advice appreciated)


Why not do it the normal way of submitting a proposal to suitable publishers?


There's always the tried-and-true option of writing it in your spare time, and then finding a publisher or self-publishing with Amazon or the like.


I'm happy to offer publishing advice. Contact information is on my profile page.


Hey, I'm from Switzerland too, are you working on anything interesting atm?


> "Intreprenauring: Innovating within Large Stupid Organizations"

Please write that book



Anyone trying to learn to work in LSOs, should read the Political Savvy book first: http://www.politicalsavvy.com/docs/book.html (ignore all the colour scheme and additional monetization junk, just borrow/buy the book itself)


Really looking forward to this...


How times changes - just compare this to Douglas Coupland's short stories in Wired aka "14 days in the life of a microserf" (was later published as a book http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microserfs )


I can empathize with the OP, but why go through the hassle of causing a commotion, and making it a Techcrunch story? Just leave amicably - they're NOT forcing you to work. You can get up and leave anytime you want, which is the mature thing to do.


If an employee does NOT publicly speak about her or his experience she or he is providing the company with less of an incentive to value his or her experience there.

The public image of a company has value to a company and if the company knows that an employee can speak out about the employee's experience at the company they will have more of an incentive to ensure that employee's experience is pleasant because to do otherwise would harm their public image and their hiring abilities.

By being silent you are creating information asymmetry(the employer knows more than the employee) in the job market which contributes to people making less informed decisions. Less informed decisions leads to inefficiency.

The mature thing to do is to inform the public to ensure that competition between companies does not stop.

By being silent you are throwing wrenches in the wheels of regulated market capitalism.


This one can be taken even farther and be applied to the "don't discuss your salary". My opinion has always been that this rule exists so that companies can continue to underpay employees.


Great post. Information asymmetry leading to market inefficiency (and poor outcomes for the info-poor side) is how I think of it too.


I think we should encourage people like OP to speak up.

For years, we've had a climate where people are terrified to speak up about unethical management practices, bad hiring and worse firing, and other idiocies within organizations where they've worked. Why? Why is the employee supposed to protect an employer that might have screwed him over royally?

This is American Spring. People are speaking the fuck up, and it's great. It puts a damper on the idiotic and unethical behaviors that companies will pursue if they can get away with it. Companies will be less likely to pursue unethical management practices (or, failing that, more likely to cut generous severance checks; and generous severance to people like OP means more startups) if people are unafraid to speak up when they're treated badly.


Yeah, there is definitely a balance to strike between just venting your spleen and calling out real douchebaggery. I have always suspected the "never talk about being screwed over/speak ill of a previous employer" meme is strikingly similar to the kind of meme sociopaths would want to become "the norm". Absent anyone talking about their experiences (good or bad) there would really be much less downside for terrible behavior, since no one would ever mention it so the offenders could just continue on mistreating people with impunity, of course as I said, balance is called for and not all situations are really so one-sided. I was reading a Marshall Goldsmith book awhile back and he made a good point, to paraphrase: "There are the facts and there is the story we tell ourselves about the facts. These are two different things but most people don't differentiate them".


I have always suspected the "never talk about being screwed over/speak ill of a previous employer" meme is strikingly similar to the kind of meme sociopaths would want to become "the norm".

Not sociopathy. Managerial tribalism. To be fair, you probably wouldn't want to work with a company that didn't respect technical talent, right? Well, that goes both ways. Most people making hiring decisions are managers, and therefore don't want to hire someone who seems to dislike managerial authority. Managers and executives tend to protect their own.

I agree with the "no-badmouthing policy" on job interviews. In that context, time is so limited that wasting any on what went wrong at previous companies is just worthless. We're here to talk about the future, not the past. On the other hand, that principle shouldn't have to extend to all quarters of a person's life. I don't think OP is a loser because he failed at Microsoft, nor that he's a douchebag for exposing corporate silliness. I think he should have that right.

The disquieting thing about managerial tribalism is that the good protect the bad. No programmer would argue against the fact that there are some people in software engineering jobs who don't deserve to be there... but managers have a hard time admitting that the bottom 40% of their tribe (at least) are counterproductive, unethical, or even destructive.


>>The disquieting thing about managerial tribalism is that the good protect the bad. No programmer would argue against the fact that there are some people in software engineering jobs who don't deserve to be there... but managers have a hard time admitting that the bottom 40% of their tribe (at least) are counterproductive, unethical, or even destructive.

That is because the default job of a manager doesn't involve 'getting things done'. That itself brings their profession a degree of inefficiency. Add to this some managers just perceive their jobs as merely exchanging emails, calling for pointless status meetings, asking questions about things they have no clue of, approving leave requests, pushing things as they are as long as they can and things like that. And for that they need to build faithful loyal gang of people, to can bend to their service at command.

True managers lead with example. Bring business, build business, promote meritocracy, and building strong teams that can form common goals and achieve them.


The "speak no ill of a previous employer" is not about tribalism or protecting other managers. It's that your prospective employer doesn't care to be disparaged by you when you leave them.


No, it's tribalism. Tribalism mixed with an expectation of authority.

Companies don't make decisions. People do. When someone speaks ill of a previous manager, the reason he is unlikely to get hired is that the person assessing him usually is a manager, and managers don't like people who have the gall to speak out about executive decisions, even when they're objectively bad ones.

Software engineers have a similar tendency, except we don't take it as far. We avoid working at companies that have a reputation for not respecting engineering talent. The difference is that we don't protect the malevolent or incompetent among us. They do too much damage, and we're too rational. No engineer would protect the scumbag consultant who puts a time-bomb in software to hold the client hostage. Yet bad managers are just as destructive, while run-of-the-mill managers routinely defend the actions of the worst managers.


"American Spring"? Hardly. We're not talking about the government, here.

Look, you want to make complaints about your former employer? Fine. But if you do so publicly, be prepared to have a much harder time finding your next job (or if you've already found your next job, they may reevaluate their decision to hire you). Any company should be wary about hiring someone who has a history of airing their dirty laundry in public.

The truth is that if you want to, you can create change, even in large companies like Microsoft, and even without being in a management position. Most people are simply too impatient and not willing to do the work. --It takes time to build influence and figure out what has to be said in public vs in private. Most(?) engineers aren't very good at politics - we're blunt and worry more about saying what we think needs to be said than how people will take it, an approach that tends to fail miserably when dealing with non-engineers.

And, of course, eventually you'll probably move to another company no matter what. When I've decided to move on, I've always made sure to send my manager an email describing what I think the company was doing right, what it was doing wrong, and what made me decide it was time to leave. At that point, they can decide how much of that they want to share up the management chain, and this way I don't burn bridges.


>>The truth is that if you want to, you can create change, even in large companies like Microsoft, and even without being in a management position. Most people are simply too impatient and not willing to do the work.

My experience has been the opposite. Every time I've tried to create some nice stuff, the manager above me always perceived as a threat to his position.

And he purposefully rewarded under performers and build his own gang around such people to gather support.

In fact one manager told me, I am not a good player because I was going too fast, and good team player always goes as fast his team.

In other words, he wanted me to become as inefficient as others if I had to become his best man.

Good experience in $LARGECOMPANIES are exceptions, not rules.


"American Spring"? Hardly. We're not talking about the government, here.

Yeah, but in this country, it's corporate (not governmental) malevolence that is the problem.

Any company should be wary about hiring someone who has a history of airing their dirty laundry in public.

Attitudes like yours, while not uncommon, are the reason companies are able to pull so much unethical shit. People are afraid to speak up because they're worried about what will happen to them in the future.

If companies don't want to be disparaged by ex-employees, they should treat them well. And if things get to a point where someone decent still needs to be fired, they should write a severance contract. If you fire good employees without severance, you deserve to have your name dragged through the mud. If you're completely cash-strapped and can't afford a severance check, at least have the decency to (a) write a good reference, and (b) not contest the person's unemployment.

The truth is that if you want to, you can create change, even in large companies like Microsoft, and even without being in a management position. Most people are simply too impatient and not willing to do the work.

Ha! Not so. Important change steps on the toes of people who are entrenched and powerful. Always. Sure, you can clean up a few desks, but real change is just hard to push through.

It takes time to build influence and figure out what has to be said in public vs in private.

Right or wrong, many people find white-collar social climbing to be disgusting and slimy. One could argue that this attitude reflects defensive dismissal or "sour grapes" (i.e. because people aren't good at it, they decry it as an immoral mode of combat) but I think there is some valor in that attitude, nonetheless. Ideally, decisions should be made based on whether they are right or wrong, not based on political extrinsics.

When I've decided to move on, I've always made sure to send my manager an email describing what I think the company was doing right, what it was doing wrong, and what made me decide it was time to leave.

I've never seen that have any kind of effect. In fact, when leaving a company is the time when I'd be least inclined to try to "help" it, because I have no reason to care anymore, and because a departing employee has no credibility anyway.


What's wrong about ranting about it? If it's interesting and useful, people can learn from it and not make the same mistakes? I don't think you should have to leave amicably if you felt like you weren't treated well, otherwise every company can just treat all their employees like shit and nobody would know/care.


I'd love to see Microsoft respond to this!


The writer didn't mention any drive of his own except to work at a company whose products he liked, but didn't learn about the company culture before joining.

If you want a great job, you have to take responsibility for making it great. If you don't take that responsibility, blaming the employer won't help. The company had a strategy long before you joined you can learn about before joining. If you didn't learn about it before joining, how can you complain about it?

The email to the VP he closed with didn't help the company. He just vented. Who wants a petulant employee?

We can learn from his experience to find out before joining a team if we can create the environment for ourselves we want, then to do so.


How do you change the culture at a company like Microsoft though? I think in this case he tried to change it and found it too daunting. He got jaded and burned out. Sure, he should have handled it differently but sometimes stuff happens.


The rule of "show not tell" was wildly violated here. Could have been a good story if it had been rooted in reality.


Very truetruetrue.


Sort of lost his credibility after he revealed that he was canned. If you're spinning your wheels at a company and hate the culture, why not do something about it? You're as bad as the useless meeting-goers if you can't actually do something and simply complain all the time.

For what it's worth, I was at MS for 7 months. Left on my own volition and now I'm heading up iOS development at a small startup. And it's a lot of fun.


I had the same reaction. He would have kept his respect with me had he lobbed a few grenades in his resignation letter. However, kicking the devil in the nuts and then expecting something positive to happen was surprising.


Perhaps I have this backwards, but these "why I left Company X: they suck" articles just remind me of people who leave games in a huff and a puff and a flurry of forum drama.


well, does not seem too different from other big companies i met over the years. but blaming "the system" is just the easy way out. it is your job to be productive in an environment, if you can't, leave, better sooner than later - you are just becoming part of overhead you are complaining about.


You can cut to the chase pretty fast if you read between the lines at Mini-MSFT (especially the comment threads). Sure, some of it is outright BS. I'm sure trolls fabricate some comments. But in the middle of the curve, disputed by no one, are some real management horrorshows. They name names and pull no punches.

I can add my anecdote. I have a high-performing friend at Microsoft who got screwed last year after a mid-year promotion (because of how Microsoft works their performance-related rewards, I gather he got stuck at the low end of a higher-level salary curve and dinged for the next years). He started sending out his resume.

It sounds like a bloodsport, and I'm not evil enough to want to win. So I'm not heading to Microsoft this side of forever.


Something about this struck me as odd – having interned in the Windows org in Redmond, there are no such things as “business managers” – this may be a byproduct of Sinofsky’s leadership, but up to the VP level core product teams only have SDEs (devs), SDETs (tests), and PMs (program managers). GPMs and others above the manager level were busy with meetings for much of their days, but the ICs were not expected to be at all of those, so the obsession with colorful boxes he describes wasn’t something I ever witnessed. Maybe his experience was with a different product, but Windows and Office are certainly quite different from this.


I completely understand how OP feels. but the sad truth is when companies grow big enough, bureaucracy happens. I don't believe other giant tech companies are doing any better than microsoft. You either suck it up and play the games along or leave and start your own. sometimes you have to grow up and accept the fact that no leaders like rebels. if you want to change the game, become a leader first.....


I completely understand how OP feels. but the sad truth is when companies grow bigger, bureaucracy happens. i dont believe other giant tech companies are doing any better. you either suck it up and play the game along or bail and start your own. sometimes you have to grow up and face the truth that no leaders like rebels. if u want to change the game, become a leader first....


Microsoft allegedly has fourteen layers of management. They're not the biggest company around, many have significantly more employees, but this is a disproportionate amount of bureaucracy.

A more tightly run ship can get that down to six layers at most, some even less. The shorter the chain of command, the more reactive the company will be.


that being said, this article holds a different opinion. http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/04/why_you_wont_get_breakthroug...


Been there. I can't express how I hate those meetings. The problem is deep. I mean they would have to change the culture, and therefore have to fire off a lot of top managers. Of course, that is never going to happen.


s/microsoft/yahoo/ig and it would be dead on.

After reading this rant, I'm starting to think that all software companies become like this after a while. Extrapolating, I'm guessing Google has 2-3 years to go before they are ruined...


I just had a moment of clarity.

Bill gates had vision to make millions of jobs.

What if Microsoft was efficient?

Relative to the amount of money it could make, it would only take a relatively small team of developers and R&D teams (in a perfect world). How many teams of managers etc does it really take? Think of the amount of money that would make. Think of the money businesses would save not having IT support teams etc.

But the fact is, Microsoft aren't the bad guys.

These guys employee countless numbers of people. Around the world, Think of all the products that every business needs that Microsoft ressellers profit out of. How many IT support staff are fed by microsofts hand.

Personally i think Microsoft are doing a good job of sharing the wealth.


I don't think that's a very good argument. You could just as equally ask how many talented people they have employed who could be doing more productive things that generate more wealth and jobs.


Not sure I'd feel comfortable working at a place where you can be fired and escorted from the building after 5 years because you voiced your concerns about company direction.


Which is why everyone should aspire to be majority owner of their business. Because that place your not comfortable with is every job on the planet.


He was fired for not doing his work. He had recieved several HR notices before being fired. This was just the straw that broke the camels back.


Whatever maybe the motivation behind this post, but I think people should refrain from bashing out there previous employer, leaving in bad suit is very bad.


At Sun, they ended up promoting this one troublesome executive to "Vice President in Charge of Looking for a New Job".


Is it professional to badmouth your ex-employer?


Your ex-employer certainly doesn't think so. Especially if they were awful.

Personally, I'd like to see as much transparency as possible. Jobs are a market like anything else. The more transparent, the more possibilities for efficiency.


On one hand MS's huge cash cow can hide so many horrible decisions, but as a company they are doing great. Especially for a "dead" one. According to some bloggers they should have been decomposed by now but they are making almost $25 BILLION a year in pure profit, while investing in a lot of new stuff that can always be put in the market by another mgmt team (imagine what sits on those Microsoft Research labs /hard drives /notepads)

This company is becoming the McDonalds of computing. Cheap, mass products, available everywhere. No nutrients, no ideas, no culture.

I love McD's. I love getting the same burger almost anywhere in the world and it's exactly what I expect it to be. No, not cholesterol lowering food, if I want that I'll eat salmon or some other stuff. But McD's is great and it does what it promised.

Windows 8 is a fine example. The new Metro interface displays nonstop, trivial updates from Facebook, Twitter, news sites and stock tickers. Streams of raw noise distract users from the moment they login.

TURN it off on your system. The world is spending a gazillion hours on FB and Twitter, do you expect MS to ignore that? Image the "MS ignores reality on Windows 8" headlines had they not done this. Companies are notorious for moving slow, those wildly profitable even slower. Don't expect them to change a winning formula because you write a few emails. Start your own company and beat them.


OP's story is unfortunate, but this is tame compared to some of the things I've seen or heard of in the past five years. If this is TC-worthy, I've seen enough dirt to fertilize the Sahara.

This is a case of company and person who didn't work out, but it doesn't leave me feeling that Microsoft was unethical or mean-spirited about it (which is more than I can say of many, many companies). Badly run, sure, but not evil. Microsoft offered him a severance, and they gave him ample warning. Besides, if the company (or, at least, the part of it into which he landed) was that bad, why'd he stick around for so many years?

Why look for work elsewhere when I could coast from meeting to meeting, uttering and typing meaningless busywork. I could not relinquish that kind of comfort.

I may be unusual, but I get nervous and antsy in this kind of "comfort". It just makes me feel like no one is getting anything done and disaster is coming. Also, experience has led me to conclude that when the group is underperforming, the "rebel" rather than the cause of the underperformance is the one to get smited, utterly regardless of individual performance. So, environments where nothing is getting done scare me. Even if I am individually doing great, there's going to be blame to be allocated, and the fact that I'm individually an asset to the team is no shield.

In my mind, working itself is fun. Even when difficult and frustrating, actual work is not stressful, except in very rare moments of crisis. Those interminable sitting-down "stand up" (do people not know what the fucking words mean?) meetings that many companies have, on the other hand... fucking intolerable. I would not be "comfortable" if my calendar had 5 hours per day of status meetings and pointless chatter on it. I'd go insane.

My planned and promised promotion was cancelled.

That should have launched a thousand resumes. Or at least five or six. Why delay in getting ready? As OP has learned, they won't. Corporate "loyalty" is dead. Just don't "job hop" if you chance upon the one company in 20 that actually treats its employees decently and knows what it is doing... because, unless you know where you're going and trust the people you'll be working with, you probably won't find another. Job hopping is only stupid/dodgy when you leave a good company for a pay raise.

Official HR warnings were sent.

Anyone who is not looking for another job after the first "official" warning is sent is a fucking moron. It doesn't even have to come from HR. Negative verbal feedback from the boss might be genuine constructive criticism. He might be trying to groom you into a leader. Negative written feedback, such as an email? That is not ever to your advantage. If your boss is genuinely trying to improve you or groom you for something better, all such feedback will be verbal. Hostile email? Then get the fuck out. The case is being built.

For the record, PIPs (which is what the "dubious case" sounds like) are a kangaroo court and they can be emotionally draining. The trick is to recognize what they are and not get emotionally drained. (The reason to avoid emotional drain is not to save your current job; that's over. It's to do well in your transition and next job.) Don't get emotional. It's just a damn game, and the only way to win is to get out. Forget the shitty sweet talk. This manager doesn't want to "improve" you. He wants to get rid of you. Your job is to leave on your own terms before you get fired-- or, if that can't be done for some reason, engage in the legalistic fighting but realize that the best-case scenario is for the PIP to be ruled "inconclusive" and, unless you can transfer after that, have the manager PIP you again. Almost no one ever passes a PIP. Most people leave; the rest either get fired or the PIP is ruled "inconclusive".

I was offered 12-weeks’ pay for an amicable departure.

Take it. More than enough time to get another job.

Instead I decided to escalate the thoughts above to the highest echelons of Microsoft.

Terrible move. Like, Ned Stark in Game of Thrones. Managers and executives are fundamentally tribal. Most of them will protect their own, at any ethical or business cost except their own skin. If you go against one manager in front of another, your credibility is shark-shit at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Likewise, never threaten to leave a job over managerial misbehavior. You'll just get fired. You don't threaten to get another job (unless you've found one and are trying for severance). Just get another job.


Thanks so much for sharing this! Your other comment(link: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3871688) and this post show(link: http://skloverworkingwisdom.com/blog/index.php/performance-i... ) how common this is. In my personal experience, even startups do this.

Which I guess is more fault to US law having high severance cost, than people being sociopaths.

In fact, don't try to anthropomorphize the companies (Bryan Cantryl said that out loud recently about Oracle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v... , but it applies to all companies and all bosses).


"Fault to US law having high severance cost"? No. That's not it.

When you factor in morale damage and the amount of managerial time spent on them, it's more expensive to run a PIP than to let someone go with a severance package.

PIPs are paper shields in a lawsuit, and do nothing about disparagement, which severance contracts usually cover. A PIP doesn't actually establish that the employee was an objective underperformer, only that he "should have seen it coming".

The real purpose of the PIP is two-fold. First, it's to make the employee feel like he deserves to be fired or that he has no recourse, even though that's not true. Second, it's to make the HR and finance offices look good because they "saved money" on severance packages, when what they actually did was externalized the costs to that employee's team.

PIPs make no sense. When companies fire people, it's typical to close out that person's computer access and take him out of the building immediately, as if it's a danger to have him in the building for another minute. Yet companies have no qualms about keeping an essentially fired employee in the office for a month on a PIP.


PIPs have a purpose. Just as there has to be an orderly and codified system for promotion in larger companies (to avoid favoritism, etc.) there generally has to be a codified system for termination due to under-performance. A manager shouldn't just be able to fire one of his team arbitrarily when they haven't broken any rules/policy.

PIPs provide a codified, constructive way to deal with these situations; they make explicit to the employee that they're on the edge of being let go, and they force the manager through a process to demonstrate that the employee is not appropriately qualified or motivated for their job. No manager _wants_ to do a PIP. Frankly, it's usually easier to just pawn an underperformer off on on another team. But the reality is there are appropriate situations to do one where just passing the buck is unacceptable.

I have seen folks get PIP'ed and let go, and I've seen some come back and have a good career with the company. (Obviously the latter is less common.) In some cases where you have a young guy who just isn't stepping up, the PIP process serves as a wake-up call that the manager isn't kidding around.


> Terrible move. Like, Ned Stark in Game of Thrones.

Thanks for the explicit warning. This may even deserve a tvtropes name, like "Stark Blunder". That move is so tempting, it feels so right, so virtuous, that really, the sheer karma boost should make you invincible.

Except it doesn't.


It's the opposite. Honorable people (like Stark) tend to assume their enemies are like them. Big mistake. They assume that, when confronted with proof of their own dishonesty, they'll shrink away quietly. Oh no. It's the opposite. Dishonest people have no sense of shame. They don't care that they're dishonest, but they'll do anything to prevent other people from knowing it.

If you want to rise in the typical corporate world, you really can't afford to make enemies at all, which means that you often have to turn a blind eye to unethical behavior if you want to succeed. In typical companies, 70 to 80 percent of upper management is scumbags. Even in good ones, there are usually at least a few. You can't beat all of them, and chances are that you can't even beat one of them.

The problem with OP's letter to the upper management is that he thinks they actually give a rat's ass about "the company", rather than their own careers. He actually believes that company-man drivel and that these people care enough about the firm to stand up for a "rebel" who is good for it. Not so. They won't.

One explanation of large-company idiocy is corporate consistency. People would rather be consistently wrong than admit past error and be inconsistent. It's the same with companies. The companies has already made the decision (right or wrong) that the manager outranks the employee. Asking a higher-up to do something about a shitty manager is asking him to override the corporate consistency, which people seldom do-- especially the sorts of people (ethically flexible, lacking creativity, politically minded) who get into upper management in the first place.


Gee, you sound as if you'd been reading the NY Times piece on Walmart de Mexico...


Hmm, it isn't clear if you're not-so-subtly putting him down. I find such clear writing to be refreshing. Not a whole lot of people saying these things.

I, for one, found the line about "no enemies at all" to ring too true.


Personally I have been thinking that anti-discrimination laws are fundamentally flawed for a while now.


No Game of Thrones spoilers, please!


Arg, read the books. Don't wait for the TV version. There is so much more to enjoy in the longer format.


Leave that up to us, please, and do not spoil.


Sorry, but the event referred to was in the book published in 1996. There has to be a statute of limitation on "spoilers".

PS Titanic sinks.


Ned Starks blunder was also on TV last year. Unless there's a fantastic unguessable twist.


It's being aired NOW though.


Frodo reaches Mount Doom and destroys the Ring.


Similar story here, though I left on my own. Couldn't be happier!


True and sad story.

Frustation, disappointment and apathy happen in most workplaces (startups included). However, best approach: evolve.




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