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In 8 months at Microsoft, I learned these things (ahmetalpbalkan.com)
567 points by philk10 on June 12, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 269 comments

I'm not sure where to start. This is a person at his first job out of college and he's been there for less than a year (two if we're being generous). And yet he has the audacity to say "I learned that one will see this sort of problems in all large scale companies."? Really? This is absurd. I can't wrap my head around the sort of arrogance and myopia that makes a 21 or 22 yr old think that he can describe an entire world from such limited experience.

I've been working for over 20+ years now. During that time, I've worked at half a dozen large corps, a few medium sized ones, and a few startups. I've seen both great teams with great practices and bad teams with poor practices. One thing that I can say though: the size of the company didn't seem to have much to do with it. Even with my experience, I don't think I've seen much more than a thin slice of the variance in practices that is out there.

Note, I'm not saying that this guy didn't experience what he wrote about at Microsoft. But at a corporation that size, you'll likely find that different groups have different practices. This was certainly true at the large companies I've been at. Some teams were super-sharp, others were sloppy beyond words. Even if all teams at MS suck (which I doubt, but I will admit it's possible), this says nothing about how other companies operate and very little about how large corporations operate.

Word of advice: don't mistake the worlds you extrapolate inside your head for reality.

>This is a person at his first job out of college and he's been there for less than a year. And yet he has the audacity to say "I learned that one will see this sort of problems in all large scale companies."? Really? This is absurd.

Can you just learn from his experience that he describes, and get over an inconsequential phrase at a tiny part of the post?

Even if it's not applicable "everywhere", it's a nice description of what he found in his parts of Microsoft.

Not to mention that as a senior engineer that's seen several companies (and had done contract work for others), it's pretty much spot on in general.

>Even with my experience, I don't think I've seen much more than a thin slice of the variance in practices that is out there.

Which is besides the point. What he describes it pretty normal stuff, going on all around:

1) companies not having much internal documentation for lots of their stuff,

2) not everyone being overly enthusiastic for coding,

3) code fixes that doesn't have business value are not very welcome,

4) people can mostly squeeze 3-4 hours of good coding a day, etc.

That's not some obscure practices, or some arcane rituals that only happen on a small slice of companies. Those are pretty much the norm all around.

Some companies might do better or worse in some aspects, but it's not like there are some alien practices or some novel ways to deal with software that are out there in companies and you have to explore very hard to find them... Even if they were, they would be so little spread that it won't matter.

>I can't wrap my head around the sort of arrogance and myopia that makes a 21 or 22 yr old think that he can describe an entire world from such limited experience.

Are you fucking kidding me? That's what 21 year olds do. Make strong statements and have strong opinions on their limited experience.

It's the myopia of not knowing this very basic fact, that I cannot wrap my head around.

> Can you just learn from his experience that he describes, and get over an inconsequential phrase at a tiny part of the post?

Actually, no. The post wasn't phrased as "here was my experience", and rightly so: there are lots of terrible engineering organizations, and many readers wouldn't hugely care about yet another such horror story. Rather, the post reads as advice that new grads learn early to be resigned to what they might otherwise perceive to be dysfunctional engineering. I think there's too much of that already, and it's frustrating to see a post advocating that.

> Are you fucking kidding me? That's what 21 year olds do.

Not all, i have the pleasure of working with some 20-22 year olds who would be very unlikely to make such a statement.

Sure, not all.

That goes without saying as the intended meaning for every* use of "everybody", "nobody", "every", "all" etc in normal conversation. Those are statistical qualifiers, not absolutes.

(*well, almost every -- which reinforces my point).

Thats why i personally try to not used absolutes conversation, because some people do think like that where of every X is Y.

As long as you don't remind anyone that uses it implicitly that he is wrong, feel free to use it as you wish.

Is thinking these problems are likely common across all gigantic companies really so egregious?

Hey there, author of the post here. I thought I may justify what I said.

I have friends in almost all big companies and I discuss them about these issues a lot. Almost all of them agree that they are in a similar situation.

I know that even Microsoft is a huge world and NOT all organizations are the same. All organizations have their own culture so there's no common culture in the company I can describe. In a way this is good.

So the statement "Even if all teams at MS suck" would be really wrong. In addition to this, organizations get better and develop culture over time. Thanks for the comment.

I am at the same point in my career as you. My first job out of college was at HP. I must say that everything you mentioned was the case for me too.

Now I'm at a smaller company, and my quality of life has improved tremendously.

Ex IBMer here. Spent some time there when I was OPs age and my experience was similar. I'm at a mid-size company and it's better but still not perfect! Nothing is, at least all the time, I assume.

> I have friends in almost all big companies and I discuss them about these issues a lot. Almost all of them agree that they are in a similar situation.

Really? You have friends in almost all big companies?

There's a lot of truth in the points you mention, but even in my limited experience (six years at two companies, one very large and one pretty small), it's much more complex than you suggest. Many of these things were flat out not the case at both companies (e.g., the points about "the world outside"), some of them were absolutely true of both (2-3 hours of coding per day is common), and some were worse at the small company (e.g., documentation).

I'm with the parent: these issues have little to do with company size, but they do reflect the quality of an organization. In both environments I've worked in, to the extent that these issues were present, they were considered problems to be fixed, not something to be resigned about.

I pretty sure he meant most of his friends work at big companies.

Also there aren't that many tech companies as big as Microsoft, in terms of either market cap or number of employees. Seems pretty easy to have friends at all of them if you were friends with a lot of people in a CS department at college.

Yeah, that's a more plausible reading. Thanks.

But that undermines the original point about big companies even more. Having friends at mostly big companies is not only not enough to generalize about big companies, but it provides no information about whether other companies struggle with these issues too.

Some teams at Microsoft do have internal documentation. We decided about 10 years ago, before our product got away from us, to start documenting the architecture. This is something that our management completely supported (they may have even suggested it), and we added this effort to our schedule, not as a "slack time" thing. Turns out that forcing yourself to document the architecture also helps keep the architecture sane because it really hurts to document something ugly.

We also have a ton of specs, archived off over the last 15 years. Those can sometimes be quite useful.

Good luck. I don't really envy you for the next 1:1 you'll have with your manager.

Good point. Utterly unprofessional of him to post something so specific for a company instead of discussing it privately. Even then, he should probably work on providing some suggestions instead of engaging in the blame game alone.

I was reading this post as if he was not working for M$ anymore. Also, he might be safeguarding a future for him in small startup with the same attitude... if he is fine limiting his options so much, good luck.

> I have friends in almost all big companies and I discuss them about these issues a lot. Almost all of them agree that they are in a similar situation.

As you get older, you'll find there's a stark difference between first & second-hand experience.

The thing is, he's (mostly) right. I've consulted/worked for over a dozen of the F100 and have run across varying degrees of everything described (some better, some worse) over 10 years.

This isnt to say you can't make change. You just have to play work as a very strategic game of chess and, often, take risks most others won't/don't. I've done it and that is one of the only reasons I still play the game. I'm genuinely interested in making things better and pushing out the cruft.

The downside is that it wears on you. I generally get burnt out or bored after a couple years and look for something new to reset and challenge myself on. And as bad as this reads for Microsoft (really - were you surprised?) I don't think there's any other factual data to support Azure being a market leading product and these sort of indicators only solidify that position (garbage in/garbage out).

These types of perspectives are good for those who are considering the reality of working for these size organizations. Not because it's a guarantee that things will surely mirror what's been outlined, however it lends candidates a tool to ask questions which would be indicators of the reality of the work environment.

Kudos to the author.

"I learned that one will see this sort of problems in all large scale companies. "

The way that reads in the paragraph makes it seem as though it was thrown in as an afterthought and that it applies as a separate statement on its own - unrelated from the 8 months. It's the only line that says anything about other companies. Maybe someone read his post, and said "hey, you know it's like that everywhere right?" Or, "Hey you know higher ups might not like you hating on us like that." And so he throws in a sentence to solidify the fact that he's not trying to single out Microsoft.

He probably got fed that idea day in and day out while there.

I have worked for a few different large organizations and have often faced the size excuse for being unorganized and ineffective. I personally feel it is a cop out, and self fulfilling prophesy once it becomes an accepted perspective, because then people stop trying to be better.

I have also worked in big organizations on kick-ass teams who are willing to fight uphill battles against "we are too big to change" attitude. Thats what made them awesome teams.

>This is a person at his first job out of college and he's been there for less than a year. And yet he has the audacity to say "I learned that one will see this sort of problems in all large scale companies."? Really? This is absurd.

Fwiw, I read it as a way of (plausibly) covering his ass if he was ever hauled in front of management about the post, not a way of overstating his experience. YMMV.

It's not absurd. Perhaps he shared his experiences at Microsoft with friends and relatives who work at other large companies and they told him they had the same experience?

I read it as "An Ironic, Passive-Aggressive Retrospective on Microsoft's Wonderful Practices".

> I can't wrap my head around the sort of arrogance and myopia that makes a 21 or 22 yr old think that he can describe an entire world from such limited experience.

I like him already, If were Microsoft I _will_ hire him asap. He's the type of person who wants to make things better.

Wanting to make things better really isn't enough. You need to be able to make it happen. Writing a blog post to the world from your limited experience that a particular company has problems is cute and probably feels good, but not really helpful to fixing the problem. If he actually explained what he would do to make things better, that would be a start.

Yeh, he is still young enough to change the world.

Not knowing anything about large team programming (I'm doing a biology startup) I took it to mean "you well see at least one of these problems at any given large scale company [fill in the rest]."

I was at Microsoft for 5 years, in a completely different group from the OP. My experience matched his exactly, in character and specifics.

one of the things i liked about Microsoft is that you can move teams (pretty) easily. i myself have had different experiences/practices in both the teams i was a part of.

I didn't think having to maneuver around passive aggression and outright blocking by current management, or having to pass full interview loops for each new position, were particularly fluid. Perhaps in a culture of hyper-competitiveness, some find those circumstances exciting. I found them good reasons to leave the company.

I spent 5 years at Microsoft as a dev and share almost none of the author's sentiments. I had very few meetings, my manager went out of his way to make sure that I was not blocked, code reviews were mandatory, blogging on technical aspects was ok, had ample free time to work on any side project I wanted (even encouraged to work with MSR on things that were more researchy), etc etc... I could go on for a while.

Sure, there was a huge emphasis on shipping rather than spending days space architecting the codebase and sure, not every piece of code was a stellar example that would show up in a college textbook but I'm having the exact same problems while doing my own startup, where at times I knowingly incur some technical debt in order to ship on time.

I worked at Microsoft as well (and even on the Azure team as little as 2 years ago) and I agree, none of this sounds like any of the teams that I worked on. I'm guessing it has more to do with his perception as a junior dev suddenly working on a large team than with reality.

I think on a large corporation like Microsoft, both your cases can happen at the same time. The OP wouldn't blatantly lie and I assume you are not lying too...

This huge disparity between teams are normally a sign of very big management issues.

which is why blogging this is dangerous for him. First off, it his team reads it what will they think? He is inadvertally calling out problems with his management team and got a lot of exposure.

honestly, i'd love to have this guy in my team at Microsoft. its good to have a reflective nature on what's not working.

Also, worthwhile to note that this guy is an SDET and not an SDE at Microsoft.

VAST difference in quality between the two disciplines.

Not everyone is familiar with Microsoft's acronyms, I had to google it.

For others: SDET: Software Development Engineer in Test


Hey there, author of the post here. Yes I believe there are different realities in Dev and Test organizations and this may be the pure source of my experience (in both positive and negative aspects). Thanks for pointing that out.

You should add that to your blog :)

T for testing?

I have a gut feeling that he works as an SDE in Test (SDET). I have been through the same experience in my first 2 years. SDETs go through a very different experience as compared to a PM or SDE at Microsoft.

Hey there, author of the post here. Yes I am an SDET but what does this change? Are SDETs supposed to go through all this experience? Why nobody is fixing this? So if people are escaping from being a Test engineer, what can we infer about current test engineers?

I tend to agree with your post as I have been through what you are going through. I still regret taking the SDET role. In general SDETs do a lot of janitor kind of work. Cleaning up after the Devs and PMs. At the end of the day what everyone cares is that you have tested everything and not how you do it. I used to do a lot of system admin kind of work i.e. setting up machines, installing OS, running scripts, running existing test suites, etc. instead of writing new tests or new test frameworks. I am afraid this will take a long time to change. The only thing we can do now is move away from the SDET role. I can't guarantee if it'll be any better but it won't be as worse as being an SDET.

I spent 3 years as an sdet; loved it! Know for sure that my dev skills were superior to the senior sde's. know this coz I wrote their code on more than one occasion.

Been at msft twice - first team was shit, second was awesome. Impossible to make blanket statements, the org is just too big.

Also if you get a chance read this blog post written by a Microsoft Dev Manager.


Any chance you could shoot me an email through the contact form on my website? I have some questions.

Out of curiosity, which division were you in? Given the size of Microsoft, I'm not surprised there would be some major differences between different teams.

He said Azure.

How long ago? Do you think it was different when you were there, that it was better in your group specifically, or that it's better in most other groups?

I was in Online Services (aka Windows Live) about two years ago. Some groups are obviously better than others, that can be said for any company. I think the problem here is that the author does not realize that unlike college, corporate world requires you to be a bit more proactive. Large companies may suffer from bureaucracy but on the upside, they have vast resources and smart/accomplished people you can tap into if you check your ego at the door, don't expect everything handed to you in a silver platter and tone down the poisonous attitude.

This seems extraordinarily unfair to the author. Being "proactive" can't retroactively make your team write documentation, make them care about engineering quality, or stop them wasting time in meetings, it's just a lame, corporate-speak, equivocation; the kind used by managers in reviews, and nowhere in the real world.

Kids fresh out of college may need to adjust their expectations to the real world, but most of his complaints are legitimate problems if true, and accusing him of having a "poisonous attitude" for raising them is exactly the kind of oppressive, censorious behaviour that allows such mediocrity to exist.

I'm actually in the windows services group now (no longer called Live). I can confirm that the author's experience is quite different from mine. Papercruncher's assessment is pretty much spot on.

Given there are 10k's of employees here in Redmond, it's not surprising that different groups are, well, different. I've noticed that rather large subcultures emerge in different areas. Once you're in the door, there's encouragement to move and find your "fit". All this blog post taught me is that I probably wouldn't be a good fit for Azure :)

I got that encouragement too, after I realized I was never going to be happy at devdiv, but I still don't understand how it was ever supposed to work. It's not like you get special visibility into the working conditions you would encounter in some other group just because your badge will get you into their building. I just said "fuck it" and quit, and I've never regretted that decision.

I wish I could say things were better on the academic end of scientific computing.

Expect no documentation in corporations. --> Expect no documentation in research code.

It is not what you do, it is what you sell. --> It is not what you do, it is what you publish.

Not everybody is passionate for engineering. --> It is not what you do, it is what you publish.

2-3 hours of coding a day is great. --> It is not what you do, it is what you publish.

Not giving back to the public domain is a norm. --> Not giving back to the public domain is a norm because you might not own your data, or because you might not have any documentation.

The world outside is not known here a lot. --> Ivory towers?

It is all about getting shit done. --> It is all about getting shit published.

Copy-pasting code can be okay. --> Copy-pasting code is okay.

Code reviews can be skipped. --> Code reviews? You're lucky if we keep track of revisions.

Your specialties usually do not matter. --> You are your specialty.

At the end, you are working for your manager’s and their managers’ paychecks. --> At the end, you are working for your advisor and your advisors’ grants.

To be fair, the job of the academia is to do research. Coding is just a means to an end. If on the other hand, you're distributing your code or it's intended as an ongoing project, then good comments and architecture are important (Disclaimer: I'm a PhD student).

The job of the engineer is to ship products, not code. (Unless you sell code or maybe library-components)

See, it's easy to ship responsibility on either side, with the exact same line of reasoning.

Usually though that product code will be worked on by many other people. The same is often not true of academic projects.

There's still an opportunity cost to writing documentation. How many other people will work on that code? 2-3? 12? 100? 2000? If it's 2-3 or even a dozen, you're better off explaining in person how it works, while if it's 2000 there better be some persistent written documentation.

It probably also doesn't help that the number of people who look at a given piece of code follows a power law, which means that when you're doing the looking, you are probably looking at a piece of code that many other people have looked at. Everybody remembers the terrible mess that they had to puzzle out without any documentation. Most of the time they don't remember all the little experiments they did that never saw the light of day, where time spent documenting would just be wasted.

If the product you're working on is a long term project of the company, it's likely you'll leave before it's over in which case there will be a future person who'll have to figure out your code. In such a case, documentation is essential as otherwise this person would have to contact you after you've moved onto other projects and may have forgotten the intimate details of the code making things tricky.

That's why you have at least two people work on every part of the code, ideally together, but you could easily arrange a hand-off. Solo-developer projects are bad ideas for other reasons, notably that if you get hit by a truck the company is SOL.

Hey there, author of the post here. Thanks for pointing that out, this is supporting and it feels good. I was also thinking about the academia path before my graduation.

Expect no documentation in corporations.

True anywhere. Lots of OSS is horribly documented. Documentation is not only hard, but adds debt that now must be maintained. No documentation is better than wrong documentation.

It is not what you do, it is what you sell.

Welcome to business (and life really). While selling styling changes is going to be hard, selling bug fixing, code changes to be more robust and easier to manage are easy sells. If changes will make it easier (aka cheaper) to add new features even the least technical business person will get it.

Not everybody is passionate for engineering.

Not everyone has the same engineering passion. I don't care that my new router with IPV6 gives me some large number of IPs, but I do get excited when I can integrate a new framework which makes my job easier.

It is all about getting shit done

This is life. Do you really think the small companies of the world don't care about getting shit done? The small companies of the world are often more concerned because they don't have MS Office level cash cows keeping them afloat.

Latest software, meh.

Because it often breaks shit and gets in the way of getting shit done.

* I spend most of my time trying to figure out how others’ uncommented/undoumented code work, debugging strange things*

Programming is mostly reading code. I don't feel like looking it up right now, but Clean Code references the study. Reading code is coding.

> Programming is mostly reading code. I don't feel like looking it up right now, but Clean Code references the study. Reading code is coding.

Well said - certainly the most valuable skill I've picked up post education and working for $BIGCORP is the ability to quickly read and understand other people's code.

Hey there, author of the post here. Thanks for your comments. I agree all your arguments. This post was intended to be expected vs reality and you are also pointing out the reality. So I am just sharing what my reality is publicly. :) thanks for the comment.

I am doing an internship in Windows and I have to say his first few points are right on the dot.

The windows debugger does have proper documentation. I know this because two separate people on opposite ends of Windows Org made a point to mention this. Yet the documentation itself is not more than one would expect from complex software's man page. This contrasts well with the software I am integrating with for one of my projects. The only mention I could find of said software was a slide saying "This software has no documentation, here is a link to .NET decompilation software".

One surprise I can add is that Windows does not have an internal package management system. I expected to see a apt-get like tool. Instead there are various download.com like sites hosting installers.

If you're interested in package management solutions on Windows, you might want to see http://chocolatey.org

Hey there, author of the post here. By "documentation" I mean docs for millions of lines of code written for the infrastructure running our systems internally and not shipped to public. These are dark areas that one can't easily find documentation in corporations, IMO.

Windows has a package management system (Windows Installer). It's crufty and quirky and gets abused (package files that are just wrappers around standalone installer programs, for example) but is generally pretty usable. I've always wished more Windows developers would use it.

What about NuGet? It seems to work well enough.

"I am surprised that no one I met in Windows Azure team heard about Heroku or Rackspace, which are direct competitors. That’s acceptable, not everybody has to know these."

WOW! It's one thing to ignore competitors, it's another to not know who they are. I thought (by reputation) that Microsoft was a competitive place.

"It’s hard to find a position in corporations matches what you love to do."

Seems obvious, but hindsight is 20/20.

It was a risk for them to post an article that could be considered critical of the mothership.

Ya, he's not paying attention. I work for Azure and everyone is very clearly aware of the world and the competition.

scott, hope he is not creating controversy by publicizing his team n stuff..

I find that statement hard to believe. The Azure Insiders mailing list has multiple threads mentioning other competitors such as Heroku and Rackspace.

I don't.

Microsoft has such a high level of not invented here (NIH) syndrome sometimes that I'd find it easier to believe that engineers on the ground are simply unaware of the competition.

That was certainly my experience in devdiv. People barely seemed to realize that a world outside the Microsoft ecosystem still existed. I have forgotten the details, but there was a meeting once where I suggested we look at some open source project for ideas about solving the problem we were working on... possibly LLVM?... in any case the response was completely blank, like, what possible relevance could that have, why are you wasting your time thinking about some weird open source thing in the first place? It was a really strange attitude to encounter, as someone who had never even used Microsoft tools before going to work there.

Matches my experience as well. I was there for nearly a decade, with several years in windows client, and I was always amazed that nobody there ever seemed to learn anything outside of microsoft tech. It's stunning how there are two almost completely separate worlds. Just taking web development as an example, outside microsoft, there's this whole culture of github, ruby, python, node, various open source frameworks, gems/eggs/npm. If you're a web dev outside of microsoft and you are completely ignorant of all this stuff, you're stunted. Whereas inside of microsoft, most people will stare at you blankly if you mention ANY of that stuff.

Mind you, none of this says anything about developer competency. There's no shortage of great developers at microsoft. They're just very insular and good at using microsoft tech and that's it. Oh, and these great developers are obviously hamstrung by the fact that microsoft isn't in the business of making great software, but that's a whole other rant.

I'm not suggesting they should all know, but I don't believe all are completely oblivious to the outside world.

I guess this once again proves that a lot of people simply don't read mailing list emails.

:-) Everyone's inbox gets flooded. This highlights what people self-select to ignore.

It's not that unbelievable, I've seen it at Oracle too.

Interesting. I thought that Oracle was hyper-competitive too. Is it because they are now the defacto standard?

My guess is this is because of the separation between engineers and product managers (PMs). Engineers are supposed to focus on development and PMs (and more businessy folks) are supposed to focus on the competition.

An alternative explanation is that what he says is not true.

I can't comment on MS, but I can certainly tell you that not all large companies work that way.

Some points just don't apply - I happen to be lucky enough that I do work with passionate engineers, manage to get about 5 hours of coding done, and actually look at reasonably decent documentation.

And some things are as they should be. Your "specialty" rarely matters that early in your career. Most of the things mentioned (create iOS app, know MongoDB, etc.) are things that I'd expect a good developer to pick up as needed. Working as a software engineer is about being able to think logically, not mastering a particular subset of skills.

And yes, latest software is frowned upon. You'll know why once you've been on a project that went completely off the rails right before finish just because somebody needed to upgrade the compiler. Those are things you plan for. You test the new software extensively, and see when you can best absorb the inevitable cost of switching.

He sounds like someone who is significantly lowering his standards. Seems like working at a big corporation is killing his spirit and energy. That is just sad.

Edit: Unless he is being sarcastic?

Yea, I had a similar experience at a Wall Street firm to the OP. However, my conclusions were different. My advice to this guy is the same advice I had for my younger self back in 2009: "Get out while you still can!".

I wrote a blog post reflecting on my experience. Here is the relevant snippet:

  Working at the bank was a huge change from the rest
  of my life. The primary focus of my job became my
  paycheck. Technology decisions were made for me, by
  external committees. I was expected to follow all sorts
  of processes and procedures. I was expected to become 
  a conventional programmer. I found myself building
  products that had an unclear end-user.
  I did learn things there, too. I learned what it was 
  like to work with engineers on a daily basis. I learned
  a lot from my managers and colleagues, many of whom were
  just astoundingly intelligent individuals. I learned how
  big companies operated. But mostly, I learned a lot about

  I learned that work meant more to me than a paycheck. 
  Work should be about solving problems, helping people, 
  and creating enduring value. Money is important, but 
  it wasn't what attracted me to technology in the first
  place. And that's why I knew I had to leave that firm.
from "What One Does", http://www.pixelmonkey.org/2010/10/16/what-one-does

I doubt he is sarcastic.

The very fact that there is so much doubt means it is not sarcastic. Or it is exceptionally poor writing.

His standards weren't based on the real world though.

The real world is an awfully broad place. There are plenty of places you can go where mediocrity is not encouraged, people do more than 2-3 hours of real work a day, they're passionate about their work and curious about outside developments, and your specialties do matter. If you want to work there and find that you're not able to do that in your current job, change your job.

You tend to get the life you believe you deserve - if you're willing to put in the leg work to make it happen, you can very easily reconfigure the world around you to something you're satisfied with.

I'm another one-year-out-of-college developer working at Amazon. This article describes how I feel almost exactly.

You might consider moving teams if you can. Not all teams at Amazon are like this.

It reads as sarcasm - "that is acceptable" meaning people in the group/team/culture accept it.

Yeah I think sarcastic but still wanting to keep the job for a while.

I can't decide if this post is a joke or not. Yes a lot of what he describes goes on in many large corporations (although rarely ALL of what he describes unless you're one of the unfortunates stuck at one of the REALLY dysfunctional companies), but the way this article is written makes it sound like you should expect and be satisfied with all the things he describes. If the company you work for suffers from about half of what he describes that's probably about "average" for the industry, but that just means you've got a mediocre job. If your company checks 3/4 or more of that list, your company sucks, look for something better. If your company exhibits none, or only a couple of the problems, that's a pretty good company, consider yourself lucky (although try to fix the problems if you can).

Just because something is dysfunctional in the company you work for doesn't mean you should just accept it, you should try to change it if you can, but depending on how far down the totem pole you are you probably won't be able to make that big a difference. In general, the better the company you work for, the more likely you'll be able to fix what problems there are. If a company is so dysfunctional that there's no hope for change, start looking for something better, don't put up with a horrible working environment just because the company is "big" or well known.

I understand his experience. I've been mainly, (70% of the time), a third party Windows developer and admin for the last two decades and have spent thousands of hours working with and talking to Microsoft folks. Even have a few family members that work for the corporation.

NIH: Many Remondites live in the "bubble" where technology from the outside doesn't exist or doesn't matter. (It reminds me of the hard core Republican base.) This extends to much of the user base as well. There is a strong denial of OSS and there used to be taunting of Apple. (Until the iPhone kicked the smartphone market in gear.)

Future: Redmond has some serious issues to deal with: dysfunctional management, growing OSS usage, rejection of Win8/Xbox One and how to get people to use Azure when it's known you are the NSA's bitch.

(It reminds me of the hard core Republican base.)

hn works better without this kind of snark. I'm sure the "hard core Democratic base" believes most of what they read on the Daily Kos, too. Almost everyone has a bubble around something in their lives.

> I have seen the knowledge inside the company is mostly transferred by talking and hands-on sessions.

Yes. Exactly. IMHO this is the factor that's responsible for at least 50% of corporate clumsiness.

> If this would have been my own company there would be tons of wiki pages.

Just having wikis won't help much. I worked at a company that had wiki, people were putting things there as an afterthought. I was total and complete mess. Lot's of information was outdated, duplicated, horribly messy but it still was something. There should probable be some person with sense of structure to prune those pages, nag people about details, construct some sort of tree from these splinters of information.

Corporation also had task tracking system. But it wasn't helping. It was used as afterthought to leave a trace that some work is to be done and some work was done. What's actually to be done was passed via face to face contact. Therefore noone cared about task tracking system and what's written there.

If you want to keep information, you have to use the system that stores it as crucial (only?) communication chanel.

Wikis for documentation: great in theory, sucks in practice.

Make a change to source, then you have to figure out where the wiki page is for it. Can't find the wiki page? Make a new one. What folder does it go in? Do you make a new folder? What if a page does exist, but it's wrong? Do you fix the whole thing? Just the part you added? Email the person who last updated it?

After 6 months it ends up being a tangled mess of insanity, and no one relies on it. You complain about outdated/indescipherable comments? Imagine that multiplied out. In fact, it's almost worse; at least with code you can try to think like a compiler and figure it out. Without code--yikes!

Every time I see an OSS project use a Wiki for documentation, I run.

In the opposite direction.

Wiki documentation 99% of time: we have no documentation, nobody cared to write any, and we setup a barebones wiki app in the hope random people can write some documentation for us.

Do you have any recommendation for documentation then ?

In my experience wikis are far from perfect and need regular gardening BUT they are vastly better than a shared folder or a sharepoint with a ton of word documents...

Depends on the project's scope, who is working on it and also users/usage I'd say. Sometimes embedded documentation can be useful (Doxygen comes to mind). Given a ton of time, it probably should be done in stages, and created starting with the requirements document(s) to at least set the stage for the thought process. There's no blanket right/wrong for all projects. For Microsoft, my guess is that it would make sense to do the inner documentation in much the same way as external documentation is done--people are used to it, the system is already in place somewhere, etc.

I've had this vague idea about what to do if I'm ever in charge of a project. How well would it work to put documentation in with the source, not just doc comments but standalone, and not pass a commit for review unless it has appropriately updated documentation? Maybe an emergency valve for tight deadlines, or turn it off for hotfixes generally. Besides the obvious dependence on some degree of discipline, what are the main problems? I feel like if I actually tried this, it would blow up in some unexpected way.

Pretty much every single thing in here is false for my team.

The first thing he should have learned about Microsoft: every team is almost completely separate.

Not just Microsoft, any company that has a size greater than three digits.

On average, at a big company, you're going to spend 95% of your time interacting with less than 1% of the employees.

I dunno. Numerically that seems right - Google has 30k+ employees, and I definitely spend 95% of my time interacting with less than 1% of them.

But I've found that the breadth of interactions in that remaining 5% reaches across a wide expanse of the company. I work in Search Features. I have friends and professional contacts not just in Features, but also in Ranking, Maps, Glass, Google+, GFiber, Chrome, Android, AppEngine, YouTube, Research, Brain, CourseBuilder, Doodles, legal, and PR - not to mention a whole bunch of infrastructure teams and research projects that I can't tell you about.

And I've found that one's effectiveness in a big company is to a large extent dependent upon the breadth of your internal professional network. The folks who seem to shoot up and don't get pigeonholed into just writing code for their manager are the ones who have a wide network and always seem to know somebody who can get this thorny task done.

"Expect no documentation in corporations" -- Don't expect code to be documented anywhere, ever. It's great when it exists. Even then, don't expect it to be accurate.

"It is not what you do, it is what you sell" -- Capitalism -- welcome to America.

"Not everybody is passionate for engineering" -- You could probably find a place to work where everyone is passionate about engineering, but I sense that these places are uncommon and highly competitive.

"it is almost impossible to get 2 hours straight of coding for me. I spend most of my time trying to figure out how others’ uncommented/undoumented code work, debugging strange things..." -- That doesn't count?

"The world outside is not known here a lot." -- This is probably symptomatic of the time when Microsoft was the center of the universe. It's not true everywhere.

"Copy-pasting code can be okay. If somebody sees you doing this outside the corporations, you’ll probably get punched in the face. I’ve seen source files copy pasted across projects." -- In college, you have to show that you can do the assignment yourself. In the open source world, you have to be mindful of copyright and licensing. Inside a company, it's all the company's code, so there's nothing wrong with it. You don't have to prove that you can write it yourself.

"Almost 90% of my colleagues use older versions of Office, Windows, Visual Studio and .NET Framework." -- It's pretty common knowledge that that's true outside of Microsoft, but it's interesting to know that it's true inside.

"You are hired to do get something needed done. I was not expecting that. It’s hard to find a position in corporations matches what you love to do." -- Again, capitalism. You make things for other people, not yourself.

There's always a tension between competing priorities; the thrill of engineering something wonderful, the reality of being part of an organization made up of people, and the need to keep money coming in the door. A lot of things are just facts of life, but an environment can also become toxic. At that point you have to leave.

Obviously, these things exist a long a continuum. For example, at Google, people do tend to write design docs, maybe because writing and sharing them are so easy with Google Docs and Google Sites. We also write lots of "Getting Started" docs, so a new team member can check out code and know how to get his project up and running quickly. How to commit and test changes. How production works. Privacy, Security, Logging, and Monitoring related docs.

Source Code documentation seems better than most companies I've worked at, and Code Reviews are not skipped. The source control system won't allow you (without overrides) to commit without review and approval for most projects.

We also don't like committing hacks just to get something to work. It is generally understood that a //TODO -- will clean up later, or promise to do so will almost never actually be cleaned up later. Rushing creates technical debt. Not saying it doesn't happen, but the degree to which people commit something they know to be wrong just for expediency is low.

This certainly affects agility. All of the burdens of docs, reviews, testing, et al do slow down iteration, but I've also been slowed down by hacky code at other companies. It's a trade off.

Personal projects are a way to let off steam and feel agile again. There you can bypass reviews, tests, docs, and just hack hack hack.

As a community, we should react responsibly and warn our members against sharing posts like this. There is almost no useful insight, clearly parts of it are exaggerations, and the whole thing looks like it was written for 15 minutes of HN fame.

Couple of karma points isn't worth pissing your co-workers. If you really want karma, just make an empty post with title "If you don't vote up, I'll write a stupid post that will ruin my career." I promise I will vote up.

There's a lot of truth to this article. Some of it might be team specific. I've heard Azure in general is still evolving. I spent 6 years in Bing, a few months on internal MS tools, and a year in Exchange. In Bing, I had 20 managers over 5 years whereas in Exchange, I had just one for the entire year.

Overall, Test was a joke in Bing and most of the people there weren't passionate about coding. They were simply concerned with their bonuses and paychecks. 360 feedback was all about bringing others down. Managers cared about their promotions and fat checks. This problem might be common across large companies - I've heard that from several friends across the industry.

Since I left MS, I've been happier than ever!! Now, I'm making a difference in the world saving millions of lives and the extra time that I put in is well worth it as it's not about competing against yet another product! :)

I'm pretty sure this is Asok from Dilbert.

"Everybody loves finding Stack Overflow answers on search results, but nobody contributes those answers."

Nobody OFFICIALLY does that. Probably because subsection 89 paragraph 12 clause 9 specifically prohibits that kind of activity on company time, and the company owns everything you produce or think of outside work blah blah blah, only company officers may speak for the company and you're not an officer, and you are never off duty and always working for the company who owns everything you may ever say, therefore you may never communicate with another human being in any manner... officially... in theory...

In practice psuedonymity is the rule. No one he's met in 8 months has seen fit to give a kid leverage over him for no apparent reason.

There are quite a few people from Microsoft answering questions on SO with their full name. I don't think this one is a real issue. The % of people who participate in SO is probably small in the total dev population in general.

Hi, I'm the author. I don't think there is a company policy that restricts that or any manager that would be mad because you're answering comments on Stack Overflow. It is all about culture in my reality and I personally post answers whenever I solve stuff.

I wonder if he's been to one of those back stabbing Microsoft Performance Reviews yet, probably not since he's only there 8 months.

I joined MS straight out of college as a SDET too and I agree with most of what this. This is a broad statement, but SDET is generally not the best bet if your goal is to be technical or entrepreneurial. My big regret is that I stuck around for 3 years before deciding to move. My advice - change your role/team/company soon. Realistically, nothing is going to change overnight in your current role or team - the culture has been established over several years. It is important to work on what you are passionate about and in a culture that fits you, especially when you are young and when career is a big part of your life.

> Expect no documentation in corporations.

I've worked with enough small to large companies, to feel confident saying that if the culture does not value and encourage documentation, then you shouldn't plan on staying. Back in the day we made do with SMB/NFS shares, but with todays wikis, SharePoint, and google docs, there is no excuse.

From internal APIs docs, VPN setups, build env. setup, POs, to expense reports, you shouldn't have to find the right person. Any company < 2 years should be in the process of developing this stuff, and any company older should either have it or you should be looking for a new job.

> Not giving back to the public domain is a norm.

Uh, this is Microsoft, they may have a slightly more close-minded view of the open source movement than, say RedHat or Google, or hell, even Oracle.

That isn't entirely true. While "giving back" may not be the norm, there are other relevant details to consider:


Legal departments also get in the way of contributions to open source. "We don't want any of our proprietary code to end up in that library" is a common theme found among legal teams that paint with too-broad of brushes. I am currently experiencing this.

Not to mention Microsoft is terrified, and I mean terrified of any open source code accidentally getting copypasted into some Windows or Office. A team I worked on there had to indirectly use linux and there was literally one designated person who was allowed to have a linux machine, and the machine had to be set up by a contractor whose job it was to ensure it was scrubbed of any source code before being handed over to the one guy who was actually allowed to touch it. I swear, you could make the lawyers jump a mile by sneaking up behind them and whispering "GPL"

Not to mention someone suing you because you infringed on their software patents, with source code proof.

Started a company... failed. Came crawling back to the corporate world, regretfully; it hasn't been all bad but I've experienced most of your pain points.

I really hope that this is a sarcastic post? If not, this article is an absolute fking disgrace.

First of all this is not how all large companies work. This is how bad companies, with poor leadership, bad process, and a complete lack of understanding work. And no, the answer isn't to be stuck so deep in process that you cannot move! The answer, like most things, is a considered, fitting and appropriate balance.

Secondly this attitude stinks. There is no way on Earth I would employ you to work for me. Is it any wonder that the software industry has such a lackluster reputation? An industry full of cowboys and CPs (copy and pasters) like yourself. If you really think like this then you should be looking to change your profession. Yes things need to ship, and no we can't develop forever, but without continuous improvement where do we end up? I am sick of hearing the 'people have lives you know' excuse for utter laziness. If you feel like this then you picked the wrong (rapidly changing) industry to work in. Too bad, so sad. Quit whinging and get a job you can leave behind at the end of the day e.g. shelf stacker.

It's true that engineers who work for large technical companies don't typically pay very much attention to external tools. And there's a good reason for that.

Companies like this already have extensive internal ecosystems of tools. These tools were built to work together with other company systems, they adhere to various internal development standards, have teams dedicated to supporting and enhancing them, and are already known and trusted by other engineers and management.

For any problem you are likely to encounter as an engineer, there is typically an existing system that already does what you need, or close. This tool can quite probably be improved or reconfigured to do what you need with less effort than it would take to bring in an outside tool and make it fit internal expectations.

Because of this, the smart bet is usually to use or extend existing solutions rather than exploring and importing new ones. And really, just learning all about the internal systems is a job in itself, quite enough to sate the curiosity of nearly anyone.

The biggest thing that sticks out to me is that if you expected to spend more than 3 hours a day writing code as opposed to simply thinking about it / studying it / discussing it / debugging it, you may have been misguided on what a coding job would be. I've only worked on relatively small-headcount projects, and even when the only code in the repo was my own, most of my time is spent debugging things, reading datasheets and discussing design choices with others. Actual writing of new code is fairly minimal, especially after the point in the project where you're making feature changes & additions. It takes a lot of time to figure out what to change without breaking everything!

I have to imagine that a job that allows for 8-10 hours of pure coding (not debugging, not discussing design, etc) every day has a boatload of half-finished-but-not-operational projects sitting around, waiting to be tested & completed.

> Code reviews can be skipped, for the sake of agility

that word, "agility". I do not think that it means what you think it means.

He forgot the "fr" before that "agility".

Sounds about right to me. You leave university with an understanding of how things should be done. But reality is nothing like that. Adapt and move forward.

I would like to offer one other realization that you need to make early on. Your bosses are your bosses because they are better at playing politics than the people that came before them, not because they are more skilled or talented. The best part of working for a large selective company like MS is that you get to work with skilled/talented Type A personalities. Start building your rolodex. This way when you want to move into a director position or start a company you are miles ahead of everyone else.


This article is stupid. "I'm fresh out of school, but take my word that this is how ALL corporate jobs are". Then his bullet points are depressing. "Expect the bare minimum, because the bare minimum is A-okay."

I think it's weird that this person complains about people going home to live their lives. You know what's awesome about big companies? They know you have a life and they don't try to get in your way for that. There is life beyond the work and the office.

Also, Microsoft is a massive company, and this person thinks a single team reflects the entire company culture? It's a huge company with hundreds of teams. One team does not define the organization.

This post should be titled "I worked at Azure 8 months out of college and here's what I learned." That would be a more accurate title.

> If this would have been my own company there would be tons of wiki pages.

Ah how naive :)

> The world outside is not known here a lot. I bet you’re reading what sort of latest technologies and tools are out on blogs, Reddit or Hacker News every day.

Not reading any tech news sites at all? That is odd, so many developers do.

> Not everybody is fond of latest versions here.

Must be a Windows culture thing. I don't know many Linux users who aren't using the latest version with all programs often or even automatically updated. Except some university computer labs using ancient Linux distros like Mandrake.

It's important to remember that Microsoft is a HUGE company, and the experience varies greatly between divisions and organizations, and even between single products within those orgs.

As others are saying, Microsoft is a very large company with a great deal of variance in the quality and maturity of teams. I wouldn't consider this description representative.

Azure is still a comparably new team, so I'm not surprised if it is still sorting out its processes. I've hear similar descriptions of Bing teams, and other "startup" divisions in the company.

But there are definitely some brutally effective teams there that far outshine any other non-Microsoft team I've ever seen.

"Expect no documentation in corporations" TechNet has so many valuable articles! It helps me every day to figure out the issues I have without having to hire an expert;-)

And I love the Microsoft Test Lab Guides (http://social.technet.microsoft.com/wiki/contents/articles/1...) which is continuously updated.

I think it's just internal vs. external documentation. People are paid to write external docs as their job, so they should be pretty good.

Welcome to the corporate world, where the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

There is always being an intrapreneur. People are people and can be influenced. It isn't easy.

There is always being an intrapreneur.

No there is not, in most companies. In most firms, if you try to be an "intrapreneur" while the middle manager to whom you report has to deal with typical corporate dreck, you'll break this "Law of Power" (Never Outshine the Master): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMy8Tf-zCag Then you get fired for being "distracted" because the perception is that you care more about your career goals than your manager's. (Of course, this is usually true for most people and there's nothing wrong with that, but one can't be brazen about it.)

There are benefits to working in larger companies, but the idea that one can just decide one day to recast his job description to "intrapreneur" is laughable for most people. The people who have jobs that would allow that (in small or large companies) don't need to fall back on some templated concept.

> In college, I learned code quality is as important as the result, turned out wrong.

I'm surprised you learned this in college. My department couldn't care less about code quality, and in fact they teach a lot of stuff that goes against the majority of style guides. In an extreme case, I've seen code written by a senior student that repeated tons of code because he didn't use loops, and he passed the assignment just fine.

In my university, I'm pretty sure you can graduate with even decent to good grades without having written any single program that worked. So maybe this grind is exactly the right thing for these people.

Those are good things to learn. All of them correspond to my own experiences in large companies; none of them are specific to Microsoft. He is fortunate to discover this early, with what sounds like a fairly minimal degree of trauma, so that he can either learn to deal with it or learn to avoid such environments.

I'll never work for such a company again, that's for sure! Been through it three times and that's enough to be certain.


> It is not what you do, it is what you sell.

This bothers me. Multiple companies I've worked at have made me want to work on some sort of Code Quality team to go in and rip apart and rewrite entire sections of shitty code that won't make any immediate noticeable impact. The business impact it will make is next time another programmer has to touch that code it'll take them a tenth the time to understand, use, or extend it.

> Expect no documentation in corporations. [...] If this would have been my own company there would be tons of wiki pages.

Yes, it it were your company you would have all you employees write tons of document instead of working on new project and actually making money, I know all freelancer and small company have tons of document and run on CMM5.

Wonder why all old CEO never thought of this. They should hire this guy to be the new CEO.

He's probably right about some things; but he's wrong about people having life outside of work, but that's OK, he's young and his only passion is his code and growing his career. However, there's something about the tone of this posting and the sarcastic overtones that I'd probably fire him....if at least to free him from his corporate shackles so he can go find himself.

At least from my experience, corporations had very good documentation and where I worked we always had constant peer/code reviews. Also if you worked 2-3 hours likely you'd be overrun with work. It's hard to argue with some of the other points, like "It is all about getting shit done," though I'm inclined to say that that point is universal to most companies.

>At the end, you are working for your manager’s and their managers’ paychecks.

You are working to get the shareholders a better share price and dividend payout.

I'm working to climb Maslow's hierarchy and achieve self-actualization.

If managers and stockholders benefit from that, that's cool with me.

This article has me worried for the author. His cut-and-paste comments alone would drive most corporate legal and PR teams crazy. Normally, this sort of honest personal blog about corporate culture would be okay inside a corporate intranet portal, but forbidden when sent to the wider tech universe.

I hope for his sake that he has understanding managers up the chain and a good second job planned out.

Maybe, but what's wrong with pasting code from one Microsoft project to another? I think the company would be overreacting. This post could have been subtitled, "holy cow, this is not college anymore." Most of it sounds like universal coming-of-age stuff that could have been written about pretty much anywhere.

Good luck. I hope this was not a mistake to publish, but it is definitely true of ALL jobs, not just developers or tech in general. I have noticed that it usually has to do with people being greedy of their knowledge and wanting to be indispensable. However, many of us have a choice to contribute to this and other places where we can share info as you said in your post, so thanks.

It is fortunately not true of all software jobs; if it were, I would have changed careers a very long time ago. Perhaps I have been lucky, but my experiences in small companies have generally been much, much better than what the author describes.

You know, you are right about that. I think that you are right about there being some small companies that are very good and some developers that are excellent at documenting code, sharing knowledge, etc. All software dev companies should probably require Code Complete as regular reading and sharing info should be encouraged as well.

"Everybody loves finding Stack Overflow answers on search results, but nobody contributes those answers. I can understand that."

Hmm. I see lots of excellent answers on Stack Overflow from declared Microsoft engineers, and undoubtedly many more undeclared ones. I think the OP is extrapolating, but also that s/he may have caught something of the culture there..

This does read like someone just out of college, working on their first job.

> Every company has its own problems.

Over time you'll find most companies/organisations operate in very similar ways.

I'd say it's not even specific to the I.T. industry, but rather, just the way people tend to operate.

It’s the politics of human interaction and the bigger the organisation the more politics you will find.

coming from the same company, here are my few thoughts when I was joined on Day1..i hated that there is no documentation, but learnt about system by talking to people mostly. and infact no one has given me time to learn. right now for the stuff I have been doing, i dont have time to document them. in Agile, my managers are not expecting me to spend time on that. once some user story satisfy biz. req. they dont want to waste spending time on making absoutely beautiful code or at least they move to technical debt and never look at that again.

code reviews can be skipped sometimes, usually I too go by offline review and checkin. even the people I work with don't give a fk about open source, HN/reddit or about competitors. at our level we are there to develop what we are told to. If you are interested in something you have to spend time after 6PM at home which is reality in most agile teams. to end 'LIVE WITH IT'

I work at a big enterprise and yes, lots of things are familiar. Then again, I work on a project that's about 5-8 years late, and migration will finally be completed next week. People are figuring out documentation matters, and large parts are being properly documented and/or rewritten. There are corporations where people get it.

I had the same feeling entering my first job, and I think that its not something about Microsoft it seems to me that its the clash between what we tough that was work, what were taught that was work in college and what it is work in the real world.

Nevertheless these points are valid and we all know the problems of this stuff.

Each time is different. You really should take this down or wait to change teams after a year and a bit or leave. It sounds like there is serious disconnect between your expectations and the company culture and what you have written does not reflect too well on the Azure team.

All this sounds about right. Sadly. Probably is why companies come and go. Even big ones, eventually.

It speaks volumes that even the M$ engineers are afraid of new versions of M$ software...

Most of these rang true for me and I only work in a 25 personal company. The biggest one is everyone except me is only there for the 9-5 and the paycheck. Not one has heard of HN. This is why I start a new job in 2 weeks.

>I am surprised that no one I met in Windows Azure team heard about Heroku or Rackspace, which are direct competitors. That’s acceptable, not everybody has to know these.

Am I the only one that thinks this is completely unacceptable?

You are probably the only one that believes his statement.

>If this would have been my own company there would be tons of wiki pages.

Ah, to be young and naive again. This is one of those lofty goals that I'm sure everyone aspires to but absolutely no one really ends up doing.

If you would like to work in a place that embrace new technology and value great code, TokBox is hiring: http://tokbox.com/careers


I thought this post was mildly interesting until I hit this statement :

"I am surprised that no one I met in Windows Azure team heard about Heroku or Rackspace"

Aside from the obvious ambiguities, this simply cannot be true.

This is one of the things that has always bugged me.

I've had my share of work in a-large-company-i-shall-not-name. In my experience, given higher tiers that are receptive enough (read: people with technical backgrounds and some technical experience -- not necessarily glorious, even some QBASIC hacking is ok) and team members that are not mediocre, this stuff can be helped. Even in large companies. Not in all departments, not in all teams, but it can be different -- although the technical challenges involved in doing it "right" are insignificant compared to the non-technical ones.

Most of it seems to stem from the fact that, while large companies are very eager to enforce non-technical compliance (sometimes to unhealthy extremes, where they value conformance over performance), technical discipline is not as eagerly enforced. The same people who, in virtue of their hunger for promotion, would ship anything that compiles and seems to work, will tolerate any amount of crap. If enough team leaders, product managers, department heads and, in general, enough people who are not directly responsible for code they write, regularly contribute mediocre technical solutions, no one will ever get sanctioned for mediocrity, just for outright failure.

That being said, I would personally fire any manager responsible for the following:

> Expect no documentation in corporations. I have seen the knowledge inside the company is mostly transferred by talking and hands-on sessions.

If this happens, things are fucked up beyond recovery. If a company can afford to budget weeks and weeks of paperpushing for approving the first draft of the approval form for the architecture, they can afford extra time for proper documentation. When this happens, it's often a symptom of middle management wanking it until the upper management begins thrusting the hierarchical cock down their ass, and then immediately raining all responsibility down on the technical layers, which cannot rain it on anything else.

I can't claim that the teams I worked in had brilliant, completely up-to-date documentation, but it was good enough that newcomers had to begin pouring questions only when they actually struck tough code for the first time. In exchange for that, we treated blatantly missing or out-of-date documentation like any other bug -- we had timeframes for fixing it and people who were being paid to do it. I never had anyone from the upper layers ever complain about it. They were reluctant at first, but then, when the new employees who were handed over to our team were up to their necks in code after two weeks, whereas their equally recently-hired colleagues were still attending training sessions, no one had any chance of unhappiness anymore.

> 2-3 hours of coding a day is great.

2-3 hours of coding a day, for everyone in the team, every day of the week, is something the team leader should be strangled for. Slowly. In several stages. Just before moving to the micromanagement-obsessed higher layers.

Non-technical/upper-management hated me for it, but every Monday I screamed, yelled and kicked and any necessary, but unproductive bullshit they had for us was scheduled either on Monday, or on Friday. Technical meetings were always scheduled at least one day in advance (well, whenever possible, but it rarely wasn't).

At the end of the week, one day was definitely wasted, but I made it a goal that we get at least one day a week when we can do nothing but code. If the people who like meetings can get a day -- fuck, can get every day of the week -- when they can have meetings from the first hour of work to the last hour of overtime, coders deserve a day where they can do nothing but code. Yes, it results in people hating you. It also results in them not being able to do squat about it.

> The world outside is not known here a lot. [...] It’s not common here. I am surprised that no one I met in Windows Azure team heard about Heroku or Rackspace, which are direct competitors. That’s acceptable, not everybody has to know these.

This is very, very, very wrong, it's wrong beyond words. Not having heard about the competition -- especially in such a trendy thing -- is a symptom of your people not being familiar with the technology they develop. Not cool. Someone in Recruiting had to meet a recruitment quota. You can't make racing games with people who don't know there are other racing games beyond those they develop, and they most certainly cannot be creative if what everyone else calls "reinventing the wheel" is "new development" to them.

That isn't to say everyone has to have a perfect picture about the competition, their strong points and weak points and so on. That's what the Marketing and Sales folks are paid for. But a lot of things, from motivating people to exploring new features, is difficult -- hell, if you ask me, it's impossible -- if they don't have a full picture of the field they play on. It's like fielding a football team and asking them to play against an unknown team, blindfolded.

> It is all about getting shit done in corporations. [...] As long as that functionality is ready, it is okay and can always be fixed later.

Windows Azure is just three years old IIRC. Let them bask in their Getting Things Done attitude for another ten years. Either their developers will get their shit together, or three quarters of the team will be interns, new employees who have no idea what they got themselves into, people who just couldn't be made to fit anywhere else but the company is afraid to fire over crackpots' lawsuits and a horde of business majors to run the project.

Don't get me wrong -- both the approaches I outlined and the ones presented in the article can be equally lucrative under the right management, and the supply of teachers' pets eager to climb the corporate ladder will always be drawn towards the fiery chasm of companies like Microsoft. Hell, even smart and brave folks will do it, thinking they will be able to take it an fit in, will try it -- I've done it myself, twice even (in true experimental science way). But the one this guy talks about tends to drive away most of the smart, dedicated, creative people. You can run a corporation on corporate drones, but your market leader position will constantly be usurped by technical shortcomings, even among brilliant products, and constantly be saved only by savvy business tactics. Profitable (even in the long term), but sorrily futile in the greater picture of things.

I have a gut feeling that you work as an SDET. I have been through the same experience in my first 2 years. SDETs go through a very different experience as compared to a PM or SDE at Microsoft.

Thank you for posting. I think you will inspire a lot of younger devs to seek more meaningful employment than working for big corp. However I fear that you will lose your job over this post.

This post is spot on and applies to more companies than you can imagine. Reading Hacker News gives you a really skewed view of how things work and how people think in the software business.

I completely agree. Even late stage startup will begin to look more like what the blogger has described. The blogger should gain some exp and move on to a small/early stage startup or find a way to move in to R&D role within Microsoft -- these positions normally offer more freedom and greefields.

Great writing - we really feel along with you ("and that's okay"). It's terrible to care and work with people who don't. Find a new team (in MS or out of it).

So is this his "I quit" post? Because it doesn't seem like his superiors are going to be very pleased with this post..

perfectly describes some of the top mobile/chipset companies i have worked for. Some of the code is so horrible that you feel it might be worth the time rewriting it. But time is too precious...nobody has time to step back and analyze or point fingers. just get the code fix and ship to it the customer.

All those things that he wrapped up with "and that's ok." How exactly are they ok?

ultimately one needs paycheck.. Its not easy to switch to the ultimate company which is perfect according to his ideologies when you have wife/kids..

If I were Bill Gates, I'd fire you without blinking an eye.

i wonder if working at google is the same?


sad panda

Publishing something that HR/PR can consider slander under your real name while being junior developer is not a recipe for stable employment. These guys tend to freak out over minor stuff like that.

Lets hope it does not have negative consequences.

Otherwise familiar - these companies are like supertankers - move slowly and few people are empowered to make meaningful decisions and contributions. Worked for a few years in a telecom ... it was meetings, meetings, meetings, signing contracts with delivery dates before the day they we signed, absurd promises, turf war and NIMBY.

From now on - 20-50 person companies for me only, unless I am at the very top.

I spent two summers interning as a Program Manager at Microsoft (Xbox and Office), and his statements are nearly 100% accurate:

- Literally any piece of documentation was always 1+ years out of date. Setting up a dev environment could take days when it should have only taken hours.

- A lot of my coworkers were over 35. Starkly different from my experience later at Google. Working past 6 was considered absurd, and a lot of people were perfectly happy just riding the Microsoft wave. There were plenty of engineers who had been at the company 12-18 years with only a single promotion or two.

- I actually was able to do some open source work with Codeplex

- Not a single person I worked with read HN or Reddit, that I knew of.

It's a bit depressing reading the post, but at the end of the day Microsoft was and is still an amazing place to work. I was paid well, the engineers are well taken care of, and the consumer offerings are still fun and exciting.

Although things were done differently than they are done in Silicon Valley, the difference is not necessarily bad, perhaps more eye-opening. This is how MOST computer science majors spend their careers. Not mastering MongoDB, collaborating on Google Spreadsheets, or posting things to HN, but using Windows XP, Visual Studio, and Microsoft Word 2003 on a 2008 Lenovo laptop. And MS is perfectly happy taking their money.

Although things were done differently than they are done in Silicon Valley, the difference is not necessarily bad, perhaps more eye-opening. This is how MOST computer science majors spend their careers. Not mastering MongoDB, collaborating on Google Spreadsheets, or posting things to HN, but using Windows XP, Visual Studio, and Microsoft Word 2003 on a 2008 Lenovo laptop. And MS is perfectly happy taking their money.

I think this is a dangerous line of logic that leads to equating 'new' with 'important.' I think once you get to the point where you judge someone for the tools they use or the sites they browse you go down a pretty negative path. It's shockingly easy to forget how much of the world runs on J2EE and ASP.net.

There's a ton of wrong with that statements tone, not that I think the author meant it that way, but I'll point it out regardless:

#1 - The majority of HN seems to involve typical latests web crud app fads. It's probably also not that interesting to *nix system developers either, though many might read it for the apps being created as opposed to the how.

#2 - Having MongoDB on your CV generally means you're developing for your CV. Occasionally it means you had a valid usecase, but if you tried to sell me on that for a typical app, I'd never hire you.

#3 - The bleeding edge is called that for a reason. Sometimes you'll bleed and theres very good reasons to stick with tried and tested.

#4 - It's easier to make it simple to get up and running when you have that from the start or early on, and working with techs that make that easy. Not so much when you're inherited a lot of legacy, some of it you don't even understand.

For what it's worth, MS make some decent products, so it's hard to entirely slate them but I imagine the GPs opinion that they could be doing things a lot better is also true, just some of the points were kinda off base imo. If anything.

Microsoft is the complete opposite of Facebook's "Move fast and break things". And that's a good thing, in a lot of ways. When entire companies (industries?) are dependent on you: slow & steady to get it right is much, much better than moving quickly to integrate the newest technology.

Sure, it's "move slow and break things". As judged by my experiences with most Microsoft products over the last twenty years, and reinforced by my current experience with Windows Azure's bizarre engineering choices and instability issues (the team to which the OP was assigned).

I drive an MRI scanner or 2 that are built on windows 2000. It's so very painful that modern scanners use such old OSs. The OS is masked from the user, but as soon as you try to do something complex (real complex, like getting images onto a memory stick) you have to use a series of crude hacks to get an explorer window up, then work around the disabled functions to get data off the scanner without using the network port.

Heh, that reminds me of all the bad scanner software I've ever dealt with in my time, and wondering how dead inside that person truly must be to have had to write it in the first place.

How is Microsoft slow and steady when he just told you they have poor code quality, no docs, etc.

Granted I don't work at Microsoft so I don't see their internal code. I have worked a bit with their .NET and older Visual Studio suites, and found that their documentation there was probably some of the best I've ever seen (better than Analog Devices, which I've used as a hardware documentation standard for a while). MSDN is a fantastic resource, and is extremely well organized (or was 10 years ago, I imagine it hasn't changed a ton since then).

And I more meant that they have to stick with technologies that they know work for two reasons: legacy & reliability. If Microsoft changes something within their legacy code, that could cause absolutely massive problems around the globe. If reliable features in their code breaks, same problem.

[Edited to fix redundant sentence].

Internal documentation of functionality/features/whatever and documentation of externalized API's & protocols meant to be consumed by any johnny come lately are two separate beasts. If the QA/validation process that is applied to external documentation was also imposed as a requirement on internal documentation then nothing would get done.

Where did he mention poor code quality? Out of date documentation is all I see mentioned.

He mentioned copy/pasting code and skipping reviews were popular things to do. The first one is definitely a sign of poor code quality, and the second isn't as definite but is surely a practice that makes room for poor code quality.

I'd say that's implicit, if code that doesn't deliver business value (refactoring, documenting, etc.) is wasted, people won't do it.

I don't think code quality and documentation quality are strongly correlated, they are just complementary.

I'd say without documentation any code loses quality.

I'm not talking about giving a manual for every piece of code you write, but any code that will be used by others (specially in big companies) should be well documented.

If good code is not documented, it will probably cause the same amount of trouble for people using it, than a bad piece of code.

People often forget that their code normally ends up outliving them.

People also often forget that a lot of code doesn't survive the week, which is common in an agile setting. Documenting code is something you do when you know it can live for awhile.

Also, if the focus is on maintainability, the person documenting the code shouldn't be the same person who wrote it, who already has biases on what is obvious or not. Rather, it should be someone with access to the author(s) who can ask questions and document what they didn't get right away.

> no docs

I suggest the OP just fire up the MSDN.

Interestingly, many companies including mine are dependent on Facebook and their APIs. They do move fast and break things, and we feel the pain of it practically every day.

All these things are fine, except for the suggested Microsoft culture of not knowing what's out there, what the competition is doing. If you don't at least keep one eye on what's going on, then you're not going to see other people's mistakes and learn from them.

It's curiosity that's important, not new stuff. We read HN because we're curious, and we don't want to miss anything. We don't get stuck on old inferior tools (at least not at home) because we like to tinker and explore. You can judge people, to some extent, based on their reading, their tools, how informed they are about the competition. Programming is like surfing a tidal wave of information and change; you don't improve by sticking your head in the sand.

(Yeah, that last sentence is a tidal wave of mixed metaphore tossed like a salad.)

Programming is more like surfing an infinite amount of tidal waves of information change. Every wave is different, but ultimately they're all just waves regardless of how much people argue which is superior to the other.

Point being, when you're 35 and an expert in your field, you probably need to spend less time learning what the cool kids are up to as opposed to when you're 23 and learning your field and everything you learn is new.

That doesn't mean that you can let yourself not be current, but if your future plans are to work 12 hours per day then go home and read HN at night, I pity your wife and family prospects. :p

Yes. And it's not just learning new stuff. It's important to just keep learning stuff.

It's shocking how many of my team mates haven't even heard about Scheme, let alone tried to learn it. And yet learning that language (I'm still working on it) is revolutionising the quality of my code. There's a lot of important stuff that was developed years ago that's just as important as stuff that's coming out today.

'Inferior' is often a matter of perspective.

This is a very accurate statement. Only developers with several years of battle-tested, crunch-time experience know the dangers and headaches of trying to fix something that was implemented because it was 'new' and 'cool'. Sometimes new stuff is awesome. Most of the time, it's just new.

I agree.

I like to avoid being an early adopter for anything business or work related because it is so much easier to use things when there is an already established user community who has found and fixed/worked around most the major bugs.

Time is money.

I didn't know ASP.NET was considered something in the same level of winxp or word 2003 at the point - maybe the original ASP. Unless that's not what you were implying.

Referring to comments as dangerous is dangerous.

Working past 6 should be considered absurd unless you start at 10 or 11..

There's a world out there for you to enjoy, and many people fought hard for workers rights so we don't have kill ourselves over work.

This. Joy to the European work ethic. I haven't worked past 5 for the last 10 years. I refuse to do unpaid work and overtime. Would your employer bill you out for free? Nope.

Actually yes, it's called a bonus.

What's a bonus? I'm a top employee for my employer but I've never had this phantom thing.

I get a hefty one of them as well. What's your point?

I don't expect one. My basic salary is what I expect.

Employers hand out bonuses to incentivise enployees to stay. Employees do unpaid overtime to incentivise employers to keep them. My point is that they are fundamentally similar concepts. It's great that you're in a position where your employer wants to incentivise you to stay around by giving you bonuses yet you don't need to do overtime to keep your job. I'm also in a similar position. Some people aren't, and this has nothing to do with European work culture or work ethics. It's supply and demand.

Not being disposable or fungible is their incentive for keeping me.

The things that make me stay at a company isn't the carrot dangled in front of me like some circus animal who needs to do their performance.

People are too grateful for jobs. Employers use this to enforce servitude on people under terrible terms and people just lap it up every time.

I'd rather sleep on the street than sell my soul.

Not worth it.

I agree if you're working in some drone farm. Without a personal stake, why do people feel enthusiastic about following orders that keep them locked up at work all day? I understand that there may be coercion, like the threat of being fired, but if you're just writing software for your company, where does the enthusiasm for long hours come in? I'm freelance, and I love working on my projects. I often work long hours. I hardly stop. But I have a 100% stake in what I do and generally choose projects I believe in, like endangered language preservation or stuff that I find intellectually stimulating. Why would someone want to work at Microsoft or Google past 6pm? Why do people give their souls to hives?

Even if you're not working at some drone farm you should probably take time to yourself to relax and spend time with your friends/family. I understand if you're freelance and you have deadlines and whatnot you'll need to work long/odd hours, but honestly you shouldn't have to kill yourself with work. I enjoy what I do and have a large equity stake in it, but I'm not going to burn myself out because "I love what I'm doing." It's not good for me, it's not good for my family, and it's not good for my work. If there is a tight, important deadline sure I'll work longer hours, but in most cases it's almost certainly unnecessary and definitely negative.

There is more to life than your profession.

Or, more generally, there is more to life than one single thing. Some people let a single thing (or a very, very small number of things) define themselves, and it's a bad idea.

Think critically - how are you defined? If you asked the 5 people closest to you, how would they describe you? If they can't get much further than "good software guy", be careful.

Life is way too short to be one-dimensional.

Life is way too short to be one-dimensional

Hi, if you don't mind, I am going to use this citation a lot.

Sometimes I work noon-10pm at Google. Because I feel like it. What's the problem? :-)

You can work 24x7 as far as I'm concerned. Just don't expect others to do the same.

Without some drive and enthusiasm about what you are doing those 9-5s could end up being a lot worse than the alternative of putting in some extra effort because you are really enthusiastic about what you are doing.

I totally agree. I only work past 6 if I came in late. Otherwise there are plenty of hobbies to catch up with. Mine is making a nice dinner for myself at the end of the day. In that way you also get more time to work on your personal/side projects or even contribute to open source.

Not if you love what you're doing.

I totally love what im doing, but forgive me, i love my family more.

I love my family, my health, and life more. Work, while important to me, isn't even near the top of my priority list. I work so that I can do the things and be around the people I truly care about.

My only real life regret is that I didn't realize it a bit sooner.

Wow, incredibly profound. THANK YOU. Upvoted.

It is an extremely difficult thing to accept that one should not think of one's identity and aim in life by their employment, isn't it?

> It is an extremely difficult thing to accept that one should not think of one's identity and aim in life by their employment, isn't it?

It really isn't. Why would you even begin to think in that in the first place?

Plenty of reasons. Firstly, look at how society interacts. "What do you do?" is a frequent conversation starter with new people, and already pigeon holes us by our employment. That starts to build a sense of identity with our work.

Then there's the vicious reward cycle. Do something right with work and you're rewarded with praise, with positive feedback, with kudos. Do something wrong and... well you see where it's going. It's more subtle than how I train my dog, but not much.

And then the tech world is in awe to entrepreneurs and startups, where long hours and being defined by passion for what you do and it being the sole calling in life are the norm. You or I, older now I suspect (I certainly am) may look at it and shake our heads and think of the failed relationships we've seen (the same in any high-powered area of work), but for people without that view it's not easy. I had the same way of thinking as the OP, and even now I still get jealous of those who achieve much by having their work as their identity and aim in life.

And finally society again. There seems to be a growing expectation this is the norm and the right way, like the acceptance that single parent families are normal and a good way for children to be brought up (don't argue with the subject, think about how long that's been an accepted view). For ambitious, maybe insecure graduates starting out in work, that's a huge sense of competing to 'get to the top'. Why they're not sure, but it sure gives one an identity... or does it?

I also love debugging the code I wrote yesterday (or last month) without wondering what could possibly have made me do something so damn stupid.


I work to live. I don't live to work.

Sorry if I've offended, I didn't phrase that very well. I didn't mean you have to work late if you like your job. I meant it's a trade-off, and sometimes working late and giving up other things is worth it.

> A lot of my coworkers were over 35. ... Working past 6 was considered absurd

It is absurd. Experience teaches you that.

I agree. I do think, however, that a 10am-8pm work day (or later) is not at all uncommon in Silicon Valley

On the other hand, I had different experiences both times when interning at Microsoft.

Anyone that works or has worked at Microsoft should all end any "my experience" post with one sentence: your mileage may vary.

Microsoft is a gigantic company where team culture varies widely. Some may consider this a good thing, others a bad thing. I don't really care. I just call it a fact and as such "my experience at MS" posts are usually pretty meh unless the author him/herself realizes that their team's culture is probably extremely different (for better or for worse) from other teams' culture.

I think it's a pretty important footnote to include, that's all.

This is how MOST computer science majors spend their careers.

And I'm thankful they do. Most of the very large projects that act on an extremely large scale require that sort of day-to-day grind. The spark is important too, but great things are 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.

Just look at the code studies. Open-source projects of great accomplishment like the Linux kernel have just as many hours (those hours are just distributed a bit more)


I'm shocked they hadn't been "renewed" by "Carrousel". Or were they runners?

Well, honestly, working past 6 all the time should be considered absurd (assuming you are arriving at work between 7 and 8).

I understand the benefit of hard work but I see too much youth wasted on free labor given to corporations.

Arriving at work between 7 and 8? Are you crazy? I don't even get out of bed that early.

...on the other hand, I think 10 AM - 6 PM is a pretty reasonable work day.

Different strokes for different folks, right?

Pretty much :-)

What planet do you live on? In the USA 8-5 or 6 is the norm.

I know what the corporate norm is, but I do not care, because I live on planet hacker. My brain does nothing of any value before around eleven AM and its peak productivity kicks in around 2-3 pm. An 8-5 schedule would be a great way to waste my time and my employer's money.

Yea true. I'm just saying there are tons of things to be done even if it's not coding. I agree with you on the coding productivity but if you walked into a company the first day and said "Oh I'm just working 11 to 2 every day", they probably wouldn't like that too much.

> I actually was able to do some open source work with Codeplex

Nice, I guess people in your area had done this before and nobody was scared of sharing code. My experience wasn't so good.

I wrote some BizTalk VS-LoadTest extensions while contracting at Microsoft UK and battled for the best part of 3 months to get permission to share them on CodePlex.

While everyone agreed it was good for the company and the products and an all-round good idea to open source the code, nobody would put their neck on the line and give me written permission to do so. So it didn't happen.

Hey there, author of the post here. Thanks for supporting me, that feels good and I agree your points 100%.

I organized a "hackathon event" in The Garage for 2011 summer interns, maybe you have heard of it. I still push these sort of events and seminars that we all can more learn the outside world beyond the individual efforts.

Thanks for comment!

How, after 2 summers as an intern, do you know how many times people were promoted? Microsoft doesn't let people sit around for 12-18 years.

>Publishing something that HR/PR can consider slander under your real name while being junior developer is not a recipe for stable employment. These guys tend to freak out over minor stuff like that.

That's to me the equivalent of saying: "sitting on the front of the bus, as a black person, is a recipe for trouble".

Not in the sense that it's racist, of course.

But that it trivialises a problematic situation, and asks for caution from the (potential) victim.

It's not what he did that's problematic, it's the very notion that a company would consider firing someone over sharing something as innocent and truthful as this.

And that we should somehow "accept it" and just "be cautious" not to have this happen to us.

I think your parent is just suggesting something like publishing under a pseudonym, which doesn't sound like trivializing the problem.

Okay - I will elaborate a bit. Fortune 500 companies tend to be trigger happy lately and not backing their employees. You saw what happened with the #dealwithit guy. And that was for sentiment the whole company backs because it just happened to be true.

If Snowden did not leave the US so fast we would all agree that this would have been stupid. Not the leak but not taking the basic precautions.

Also he is not having personal issues or being harassed from what I read - so the situation is not a civil or worker's right problem that would require that kind of whistleblowing.

It is a rant with proper place on thedailywtf with good privacy protection.

> Fortune 500 companies tend to be trigger happy lately and not backing their employees.

All the more reason to speak his mind rather than try and feign some sort of loyalty to the man, which will never be returned.

Better to speak one's mind anonymously to avoid becoming unemployable in the process.

Even if someone is going to be brave and try to change things, it's good if they know what they're getting into, rather than just blunder into it. Although, blundering might have it's positive points in this scenario.

| Publishing something that HR/PR can consider slander under your real name while being junior developer is not a recipe for stable employment. These guys tend to freak out over minor stuff like that.

Agreed. This is not something you write publicly WHILE working for the company. I know his intentions weren't to slander the company that is paying him, but it will most likely have bad consequences within his team.

> Publishing something that HR/PR can consider slander

The truth can not under any reasonable definition be considered slander.

And HR and PR departments in any company have always been the pinnacle of reasonableness


"truth serves as an affirmative defense to an action for libel or slander"

I do think there's a different between opinion of a manager who's been working for ten years and a new-grad who's just had his first job for eight months.

He might be sure that his HR/PR will never look into his blog or read HN or Reddit.

Getting fired from a job that sounds as miserable as his description depicts seems like a good thing to me. It's not like he'll have trouble finding a new one.

A prospective future employer will likely be concerned he'll openly write about that employer too. Thus, passed over.

I wouldn't not hire him for it.


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