Thursday, May 04, 2006

FAQ on reviews, promotions, job changes, and surviving re-orgs - Comment Repost

The following is not by me but rather is a comment repost that I exclaimed "Ooo!" when it came in. Even Dare linked directly to the comment. I'd like to take a break from the financial angst and repost this comment - thanks to the anonymous individual who put together their point of view of basic survival skills in the Microsoft landscape.


How it works: FAQ on reviews, promotions, job changes, and surviving re-orgs

What do I write in my review?

You must accept the Matrix-like realization that your score was decided long before you even started your review. You have already gotten what your manager decided to give you. Your manager is not going to base anything in their feedback on what you wrote unless they want to argue with something you wrote. What they write is only to justify the score they gave you. Advice: Write your review so it looks like you did what you want your next job to be so new hiring managers think you’re great and qualified for their job, but are currently just in the wrong group.

Who gets bad review scores?

Nobody ever wants to give out bad scores, but somebody’s got to be the bottom and it makes it a lot easier on a manager if you meet any of the following criteria:

  1. You really, really, suck at your job. You’re making more work for your manager. They just want you to do your job and leave them alone. Many people suck but are either good at hiding it or their manager is afraid of them.
  2. You leave your job late in the review cycle. You get included in your old group instead of your new one and it’s much easier to ding someone you’re not going to face everyday.
  3. You get a new job in a different group. You could not possibly be ready for the demands of doing exactly the same thing you did before.
  4. You get promoted during the year. You will not be able to perform above a 3.0 at your new level. No matter what.
  5. You complain to HR about them. I don’t think I need to go into detail here.

Okay, I filled out the manager feedback form and nothing appears to have changed. Why isn’t it taken more seriously?

Because it doesn’t actually count. That’s why it’s called a feedback form. If it counted, in the review process the score would be mathematically calculated in your manager’s overall rating. It’s not.

Manager feedback forms should only contain encouraging, nurturing, positive comments about how happy you are to have this wonderful human in your life. If you want it to look legitimate, say your manager should delegate more work to the rest of the team. The biggest risk is giving actual criticism or mentioning specific instances and they are able to recognize your writing style. Then you’re doomed. Advice: Never fill them out – remember there’s no penalty and only downside. Don’t take stupid chances like that again. You’ll never get promoted.

So how can I get promoted?

There are only so many promotions available; that’s why your manager won’t tell you specifically "If you do X and Y, you will get promoted." They will go to great pains to tell you that good performance only gets you a ticket in the pool of people that become "eligible" for a promotion. "Eligible" means one thing - your manager decided they want to promote you. Period. They have to fill out a form and then win the "who gets promoted" argument with the other managers at stack rank meetings, which is where they write everyone’s name up on a board, decide who is 4.0 or promotion material, pick out the bottom feeders they want to weed out, and then fill in the rest of the 3.0-3.5s. What anyone actually accomplished during the year is irrelevant. Advice: Focus all your energy on making your manager want to promote you. Do this by making them love you. You don’t have to do more or higher quality work. You can also do this at the expense of satisfying customers, decreasing costs, or generating profit for the company. It is up to you to find out what you need to do; all managers are different. Some want you to do more of their work; others simply look at how long you’ve been at your level, but remember that managers are employees too, so all will want one of those precious promotions first.

What happens if I do get promoted?

Words from my manager during my review this year (4.0, promotion): "Now I’m supposed to be sure to tell you that it’s going to be really, really hard for you to get a 3.5 next August." This means I’m getting a 3.0 no matter what I actually do. Advice: If you get a promotion, leave your group immediately. If you wait too long to move you’ll be included in your old group at review time which we’ve learned is not good. If you get a high score but no promotion, pour on more love and start mentioning an out-of-cycle promotion. And if your manager recently was promoted, it just might happen. If not, go find another job.

How do I go find a different job at Microsoft?

Very, very, carefully. Remember your job is to make your manager love you by making their life easier and you just added two types of action items to their list:

  1. Bad action item – they have to find a new person because you’re bailing on them.
  2. Not so bad action item – they can give you one of the crappy review scores.

Bottom line is to not tip your hand unless you are sure you’ve got the job. Sometimes the reaction of a manager is to take it personally and think you don’t like them or their team anymore, but it’s also a sigh of relief because you just signed up for the bottom of the curve. Either way if you don’t get that new job, things are going to be unpleasant in your old job. Why? If they really liked you they’d promote you to get you to stay. Technically permission to interview is good for like a month or something so once you ask for formal permission the clock is ticking (and that bomb is real). Advice: First, only look at jobs for which you are actually qualified. Make informational interviews become the real interviews. Tell the hiring manager that your group is not going to be happy once you tell them you’re looking. They will nod in agreement. Set up informational interviews with everyone else that would be on the formal loop. Tell the hiring manager that you won’t formally interview unless you know you’re the leading candidate going into it. And don’t ask for formal permission until HR tells you they can’t continue the process without it.

I just got re-orged. Should I worry?

Re-orgs generally seem to make sense ("Networking and wireless are now together. That will help our wireless networking initiative."), but in reality it’s just how VPs trade power with each other. Most of the time you will experience absolutely zero change – the obligatory all-hands meeting with your new VP (go because it will be the only time you see them in person), announcements of who is in charge of doing what now, a change in co-worker taglines, and most of the time, the same manager. The danger is a new manager. One that decides on changes in your role. These changes will always line up exactly with what the manager was doing before. If it doesn’t line up, they will simply turn your Customer Escalation team into the Customer Escalation Marketing and Branding team and tell you to write new commitments that they’re going to judge you with even if there’s only two weeks left in the review cycle. Dev, Test, Admins, and those in a true PM role are generally safe from role changes; that leaves the other gazillion of us that are not. Hired for a specific role that actually brings value? Re-org! Oops, now you’re not. Meet your new manager. Advice: Recognize a role change when you see it. Managers show value through improving processes, which means change, which means changing things that generally weren’t broken before they got there. If you can’t convince your new manager that they need you in that role, leave immediately. Your review should be prepped for that next role anyway.

Author: Anonymous


109 comments:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

This post should become mandatory reading for all folks attending NEO.

Anonymous said...

I read the original with interest. However, doesn't really seem any different from any other megacorp.

Anonymous said...

How sad. How sad to read this "FAQ". How sad to think that people who just joined the company might read this and actually take it to the letter. How sad that someone who apparently has been around for some time would so meticulously compile this lame piece. How sad that "mini" as it is called would quote it and post it so prominently on this blog. I thought the whole point of "mini" was to denounce aberrations and try to positively influence change in the company, with wit and humor. There is nothing positive in this post, there is nothing humoristic about it, it's just sad and tired. The author has obviously played by these despicable rules his whole career here. He is part of the problem, he does not deserve collecting his paycheck. That "mini" endorses this post is evidence of the two-face nature of the individual hiding behind this blog. Stop kidding yourself, Zorro, you are doing nothing positive here. You are the cancer, people like you are dragging this company down, I am ashamed of possibly being one of your co-workers. What else do you whine about in your real life? Or do you just complain when hidden, and do you politely smile and nod when in the open? How sad.

Nothing is perfect. Microsoft is not perfect, but next time you get that piece of your 6 figure paycheck, look at yourself in the mirror and wonder where you'd be without this company. Obviously neither the author of this "FAQ" nor "mini" have much marketable skills outside or your current little job, playing your political games so carefully described here.

We don't need you here, we've got real work to do. You want to make Microsoft better? Get the f out. Bring your cancer with you and leave. Go find something else to feel cranky about, some other soapbox to stand on. This company will fix itself with or without you around. It's not the first rough spot it's going through. You are unimportant and irrelevant in the long term. You disgust me. How sad that you are Microsoft employees.

Now go ahead and yank my comment, I doubt you leave such criticism to your minuscule life's work out in the open.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great post, but having read it I realized I didn't have it as bad as I thought in my group. After 4.0 and a promotion I was immensely disappointed to receive...3.5. I did about 50% more work than before the promotion and wanted another 4.0. How naive!

So then I got depressed and literally didn't do anything for the whole year. The result was a 3.0, but with pretty good financial rewards (really more than I deserved). At that point I became confused. For now, I just bitch and complain on any feedback form there is (including manager's), but that doesn't seem to make any difference. Maybe nobody takes my words seriously.

Anonymous said...

Go ahead, obey this post, brown-nose to your managers, lose whatever spine you had before you joined Microsoft and forget what you really loved about your job.

It's strategies like this that fill the ranks with cruft.

I'm surrounded by ass-kissers but have refused to compromise my integrity. I have absolutely no fear of anyone in Microsoft, my managers especially. A job only becomes fun when you're unafraid of losing it.

Come review time, my spineless compatriots will settle for their 4% improvements just like last year. Shoulda gotten less, but who cares- I'm not playing that game and my managers realize that.

If checking your integrity at the door is the price to play, you have to ask if it's worth it. As soon as I hit a manager who doesn't work this way, I'm ready to skip dodge. You should be too.

Have some pride, kick some ass, go tell your manager to fuck himself.

Anonymous said...

Very nice post and I totally agree with every FAQ item. I have submitted comments in Manager's feedback with no change. Also, I talked to HR about how my manager guarenteed 3.0 even before the year started. HR answer is - "Your manager can work with you and help you". So, I am screwed this year. And more over I am new to the group :-[[

When you join microsoft, it feels great and you are pumped up, but on the second day your Manager talks about review, etc.. and slowly after few 1:1 s, you lose the energy. There are highly talented people here in Microsoft and they are not being used properly.

Anonymous said...

i just got a promo in the start of the year. if i get screwed and get a lower rating as mentioned in this post, i am def going to leave this job. since you need to be already peerforming at a particular level to get the level bump, how can they say you are 'new' in this level?
also managers reading the post, why do you have to be so very diplomatic when we ask a simple question as to where do we stand in your stack? is a honest answer not justified or is it just mymanager here.

Anonymous said...

What about internships?

What is key for turning internships into full-time offers?

Also, what groups are the best for interns/ what are the worst?

Anonymous said...

-1, too much Obasanjo fanboyism

Anonymous said...

Paint me purple if I'm wrong but most of the problems you speak of are not specific to Microsoft at all.

Surely, this is simply a part of working for the big mutchien that is a corporation.

Anonymous said...

I have been here at Microsoft for the last 5 1/2 years. I cannot but admire the accuracy of this post - wow! I just wish that I had seen it earlier!!

Anonymous said...

There is nothing in this article about productivity. Surely, if we produce nuthin' then why are we employed?

The raison d'etre for workers is to work and produce, not to just survive and be a drain on the company's resources.

Mini, you talk about making MSFT lean and mean. Surely, it's better to have many productive staff than only a few productive staff.

That's not to say I disagree with you. Productivity is the key.

Martin Brice said...

HOLY SMOKES! I had shivers and laughed at the same time when I read this! I've worked for my fair share of companies and most of what was said here applies across the board, even with different types of performance reviews and big or small companies.

I am amazed at how management STILL thinks they can play this PR crap/game and get away with it. Of course nothing changes, that would mean more work for them! And I'm sure they're thinking if we were THAT smart, why, we would be in charge right? But we're not, so obviously our points are soon to be disregarded.

I also liked the part about getting ahead, even at the expense of customers and other things. I wanted to disagree with that, but hey, life isn't fair right? It's the truth! I've seen wasted time and development just for sake of justifying someone's position (lead/architect/etc).

Can you imagine how long a customer would stick around if they knew they were being sacraficed in the name of performance reviews? Now that should be on a CEOs PR!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I know it feels like Microsoft is messed up in this area, but honestly, all large corporations are pretty similar. The politicking is different, the backstabbing techniques a bit different, but the "smelly armpits" are everywhere in corporate america.

The only thing thats really uniquely Microsoft in this area is the HUGE disparity between the haves and the have nots.

As someone pointed out earlier, to be a partner, you had to be at the right level when the program was first announced. And your partnership status is more about what you did long long ago, than what your expected/actual contributions are moving forward.

I think this partner/peon divide contributes a bunch to the issues pointed out in this post. Partners are incented to manage up, portray themselves in a positive light etc, and they have an ample pool of peons to blame problems on. As they say, shi*&&%$#$t flows downhill...

I think many partners have an aggagerated self worth. I see this from time to time when they come to interview at my company. They proudly proclaim on their resumes, "I am a Microsoft Partner". I constantly have to explain to HR that what this means is, "I sit on my a%%##ss all day strategizing about the future. I have not written a line of code in 10 years, but I know what it looks like, and one time, long ago, debugged a really hard problem. I am paid like a king and I expect you to pay me even more. I will gladly strategize for you, but I don't want to write code." Most of these guys have a very difficult time in the interview process as both we, and they, realize that somewhere along the way, they forgot how to be an engineer. They are hopelessly out of date in their programming skills and their "strategey skills" certainly don't shine through given Microsoft's externally visible terrible track record. Sometimes, while interviewing an exaulted partner, I will ask a simple "strategey" related question, "What part of the Vista disaster are you directly responsible for?". Did you know that I have only had someone answer this question honestly once? Something along the lines of, "I agressively promoted an idea/feature that was way too complex to implement in one shot. I underestimated the difficulty and ended up having to pull the critical feature out of Vista causing much public angst. I would have been better off building a plan that got to the same endpoint in a series of smaller steps. The only thing I can say in my defense is that had I proposed this plan, it never would have been approved because at Microsoft, we do not take small incremental steps."

My advice to you as you navigate the corporate politics, is that IF you are an engineer, make sure that you remain an engineer. Make sure that no matter how many folks you mentor or manage, that you always personally write, debug, and test an appropriate piece of your product. Don't turn into a classic Microsoft Middle Manager. Someone that does not code, but is "really really good at triaging bugs, inventing stratagey, etc.".

IF you loose your engineering skills, it is very difficult to pass yourself off as one and re-engage in a new position on the outside. If you are content with middle management then get really really good at it, get that PUM/GM/VP title, and on the outside, MAYBE you can find an equivalent role in a smaller company as a VP of engineering or something. BUT, you have to realize that IF you leave MS and join a small startup, or IF you perhaps join Google, you WILL be expected to work and be productive. The hours are long, the pressures to succeed are very high, accountability is very real. Don't make the jump for the promise of $$$'s. Unlike at Microsoft, there is an expectation that if you are paid like a king, you will produce much wealth for the the shareholders.

TheKhalif said...

So in other words most people will be better off not working for MS. I guess things will get worse for the cogs.

Your description sounds like a little kid who says "It's my ball and I'm taking it home."

Who da'Punk said...

Wow, an interesting set of initial comments.

I don't agree with the spirit of the FAQ but I can begrudgingly accept that it works. Is it wrong to reveal the perspective? Is it wrong to perpetuate that? By showing that it is "a way" to succeed that just burns your biscuits does it motivate you, whether you work at Microsoft or some other company where this is true, to try to fix it?

The FAQ is, in my opinion, highly relevant to the team members / individual contributors of the world trying to figure out how to be recognized and rewarded. Maybe it's the path to the dark side. If so, what is the other path? Does it work as well or better?

The best thing you can do for your career is to work for a super-leader. Someone who actually invests in mentoring you and growing you. Maybe some think revealing the machinery is enough. That doesn't grow the person. Well, not in a good way. Find yourself that great manager (not just a mentor).

Mini.

Oh, PS: my bad for letting something off-topic through, already some off-topic follow-ups came in. Bad Mini. Please find the appropriate post or appropriate other place for your specific topic. At least I try to hold to that for the first day of a new post…

Oh, PPS: Okay, fine, I'll put my Dare love on the shelf with my JobSyntax love.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's the most cynical thing I've read in a long time.

However, it seems to me to represent the viewpoint of the sub-standard performer trying to keep a low profile and not be "discovered."

As someone who loves Microsoft, is still excited to get into work every morning, let me provide an alternate viewpoint based on personal experience:

I've worked at Microsoft for six years in an engineering/product team role. I'm on my ninth manager. Some of my managers have been awful too. I have both changed to a new job discipline and moved to a new group. I always fill out manager feedback, often blisteringly negative, and I have never made an attempt to "disguise my writing" - in fact I suspect it's generally easy to tell the feedback is coming from me because I'm pretty open and honest with my criticisms directly with my managers. I have always spoken my mind, argued with my manager when I disagree, and in a number of instances done the opposite of what my manager told me to do because it was the right thing to do for customers.

According to this post I have basically done most of the things necessary to screw myself.

What has my experience been?

- several promotions over the last 6 years.
- A couple gold star awards (from different managers in different groups)
- One 3.5 (my first review), two 4.5's (from different managers in different groups), and the rest 4.0's
- Lots of "extra" little rewards like $150 gift certificate to take my wife out to dinner and so on.

I've worked with a lot of different people over the past 6 years and what I have observed amongst other is:

1. good performers generally get hooked up
2. average performers generally get what they deserve

That's the way it should be. Now, I do think that good performers aren't getting hooked up nearly enough, and that we need to fire more of the average/poor performers, but that's another story. I have seen some exceptions too, typically due to cronyism, but the stack rank meeting does a decent job of preventing managers from hooking up their buddies because they have to justify performance with their dev/test/pm lead peers.

Further up the chain maybe things are way more political. I suspect that's true, and it certainly shouldn't be surprising.

The one thing in the FAQ that is 100% true though is that what you write on your review has zero bearing on your review score. Your review is written for future managers, not for your current manager. I'm pretty cynical about the formal review process. It's completely broken. We're just wrapping up mid-years and now we're going to start writing our August (excuse me, September) reviews in what, a few weeks? In any event, the fact that your written review has no bearing on your review score is not at all a secret. Managers are told up front to make sure their employees are aware of that.

For everyone who reads the posted FAQ and just feels depressed, please take it all with a grain of salt. It's not the reality. It's simply the perspective of those working at Microsoft who lack courage.

Aragon said...

Deja Vu !! No different from other big companies actually !

Yup, the FAQ is bang on target - but it mostly depends on the person who is the manager. I've had my share of supremely bad managers, and some good ones.

I figured out the game... and then it became boring. Boring cause I figured out how to keep getting ok grades by doing no work, which is quite contrary to my nature. So jumped ship... happier now with my work and manager.

Anonymous said...

Much of the advice is along the lines of what is in "Corporate Confidential". Still, this is cynical but accurate info. The part about cautiously asking for permission rings to true - when I did it I got nothing but hate and misery from my boss and his boss.

-K

Anonymous said...

I wish I hadn't bought into 'Microsoft is different...Microsoft is a great place to work at' crap when I joined the company. And I definitely wish I knew the FAQ when I was there...it would have made me leave MSFT sooner :). I am so glad I resigned before this financial blunder and got rid of all my MSFT holdings. Now I can watch how this once great comapny with one of the biggest pool of talent goes down from a much happier place.

Anonymous said...

"You get promoted during the year. You will not be able to perform above a 3.0 at your new level. No matter what."

Except that is not true. I got promoted 4 times since being at MS and I NEVER got a 3.0, not even on my 1st review. I might prepresent a minority but IMO that is a tale that you can scare kids with when they are bad.

Anonymous said...

This post strikes me as odd because I was under the impression the whole jist of this blog was "just do your job with passion." Seems like you're more focused on rewards and compensation than rocking out. Forget the stack, forget everything else; if you honestly enjoy what you do, your work will reflect it. As a member of the 5.0 club, this post clearly shows you've never received one.

Anonymous said...

The turning point in my career as a Microsoft mid-manager (I had front line managers reporting to me) was when I was told to nail down the numbers for everyone in my org -- before they turned in their reviews.

This so strongly undercuts the entire notion of even asking anyone to write a review. What's the purpose? It's a useless exercise for the employee, who wants to offer some evidence of a job well done and have that considered by a manager who -- quite honestly -- could have been far too busy to recognize everything that had been accomplished.

The whole system of commitments, written goals, self-evaluation: all pointless.

I'm still at MS, but haven't had the heart to be a manager since.

Anonymous said...

I'm a veteran (11+ years) with no intention of leaving.

While my idealism rebels against the cynicism of the FAQ; reality has confirmed it over and over.

Be that as it may, for your own sake you've got to have passion about doing worthwhile work.

Lord knows I've had my own ups and downs, and have never really nailed the "career" stuff, but I've participated in some very cool technologies, products and -yes- ship cycles. Regardless of how I was treated, I KNOW that I'm a part of those products which are out, and making money for the company. There is no rush like that.

There are a few excellent managers out there... I've worked for one. I see the quality of mgrs is improving; and am somewhat hopefull for the future; at least for college hires - I cannot say this is a good company to grow old in, though.

Anonymous said...

The Titanic of The Talented!

Anonymous said...

Mini, you asked whether this is the path to the dark side. The answer is: Only if you are already on the dark side.

I mean, if you think the job is all about how to protect yourself and learn to work the system for your own benefit, you're on the dark side. Free clue: Microsoft is not all about you. For that matter, life isn't all about you.

Now, for those who do not hold that "me, me, me" attitude, it's good to know how the game is played, not so that you can play it better and boost your rank and rake in the cash, but so that you can protect yourself, or even so that you can see how big a price you are likely to pay when you do something that you feel that you have to do, even though it might be a CLM.

Now I'm going to get a bunch of responses along the lines of, "I have to play the game in order to keep my job/advance/provide for my family/whatever". No, you don't. It's really easy to rationalize being evil because everybody else is being evil, so you feel like you have to just to defend yourself. But the truth is, no, you don't have to. You're just rationalizing your choice to become evil.

I mean, if worst comes to worst, your job becomes untenable, or you get fired. So? There's life outside of Microsoft. Really. (Plus, it will make Mini happy...)

MSS

ex-softie said...

I agree with a few things that have been said here.

1 - The FAQ. Pretty much everything listed is true. (Or was true when I left 3 years ago)

2 - Now that I have been "on the outside" for 3 years, I can attest to the fact that things are pretty much the same at all large companies

For #1 and #2, the grim reality is: At large, bureaucratic companies, the path to success is paved by focusing one's energies more on managing expectations and perceptions, as opposed to focusing on producing anything useful.

3 - I also agree with the poster above who talked about the ego, arrogance, and "inability to produce anything tangible" that most MS Partners demonstrate when going through external interviews. When I left MS 3 years ago I was known as one of the only true "coding PUMs" in the entire division. That served me well during the interview process for my next/current gig (Engineering Director at Google here in Mountain View). Since then, though, I have probably interviewed half a dozen similarly-leveled PUMs, Group Development Managers, and GMs (now apparently called "Development General Managers"???) from MS. Truly none of them could write the simplest code, explain how they would approach a complex problem, or even explain how they 'strategized' or 'analyzed' in a business or technical environment. Some of these folks had called out very prominently on their resumes the fact that they were MS Partners... Trumpeted the number of 4.0s they had... Trumpeted the number of Gold Star bonuses they had received... But during the interview loop completely fell to pieces. Out of the 6-7 I have interviewed since 2003, only 1 received an offer and was hired.

You current 'Softies have to understand the reality. Some of these L69+ folks get spsa payouts that trend upwards of $1-$1.5 (or more!) per year, regardless of what they produce or do in the present. They are simply not incented or motivated to produce or contribute anything. If you are a partner on the windows team: Whether Windows RTMs in October '06 or October '07 does not matter, because regardless of what happens you will have another $1m in your pocket next year at this time. The accountability is simply not there. It starts at the top (CEO not being held accountable for keeping the 'return to investors' flat/declining for 5 years), down to the VP, Director, PUM levels. Folks under those levels are hosed.

Anyway, I guess the summary here is that there are a lot of hard truths being said on this blog. It is amazing that some of these things, which were so "super-secret" and "confidential" when I was there, are now all over the intarweb!!!

Anonymous said...

How sad. How sad to read this "FAQ". How sad to think that people who just joined the company might read this and actually take it to the letter. How sad that someone who apparently has been around for some time would so meticulously compile this lame piece. How sad that "mini" as it is called would quote it and post it so prominently on this blog. I thought the whole point of "mini" was to denounce aberrations and try to positively influence change in the company, with wit and humor. There is nothing positive in this post, there is nothing humoristic about it, it's just sad and tired.

Having spent five years at Microsoft fighting this exact battle, both as an employee and as a GM, while I agree fully that it is sad and tired, it is also very very accurate. I would be interested in having the poster of the piece above get more specific about his/her position. What part of this FAQ is inaccurate? You may not like the fact that it is true, like any sane person, but the fact is, it is true. While it is probably true at all really large companies, the primary difference at Microsoft is that the employees are generally VERY VERY SMART PEOPLE and if you give them a game to play, as this is, they will play it VERY VERY WELL.

You can be as altruistic as you want, it doesn't change the facts that the FAQ at the top of the screen is reality at Microsoft. Learn the game, play the game well or get tossed.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking you would like to make Microsoft work better.
But this clearly reveal that your goal is get a salary raise - nothing else.

You don’t have to do more or higher quality work. You can also do this at the expense of satisfying customers, decreasing costs, or generating profit for the company.

Thanks for recomending this to current MSFT employees.
--
Microsoft competitors

Anonymous said...

What a crock. Like anything, the review process is not perfect. If you understand the process, you'll understand how to do well. Your score is not set until after the stack rank(s) have been completed and the resulting scores from the review model normalized. If you want to do well in the stack ranks, make sure that your manager's peers and your manager's manager all know who you are and how valuable you are. The more managers that are in your org that know and respect you, the better.

Some organizations treat the review process as something holy. It's not. Don't spend an enormous time on your review, but know that any future managers are likely to read your reviews. Write your review for them.

I still can't believe that you suggest leaving a team as soon as possible after a promotion. Your loyalty is truly amazing. I hope you join a team where they squash you with 2.5 reviews until you leave the company.

Anonymous said...

Who da'Punk, you're absolutely right. The earlier commenters are missing the point. The FAQ explains how things are and points out the problems with the org; it doesn't say this is how things should be. BTW, in my experience, the FAQ is absolutely accurate.

Anonymous said...

Paint me purple if I'm wrong but most of the problems you speak of are not specific to Microsoft at all.

Surely, this is simply a part of working for the big mutchien that is a corporation.


Barney, not every company uses the Faust ranking system. Microsoft does.

It is useful for those fresh out of college to learn how the game is played.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe it's the path to the dark side. If so, what is the other path? Does it work as well or better?"

Maybe? Look, I worked there 5 years (lifetime 4.0) and I would say:

1) Yes, it's unfortunately accurate - or it was. You can actually get a good review by simply deserving it (imagine!), but you can also get a decent review by being your boss's savant (guaranteed), and an average review or even exited for raising concerns regardless of performance (also guaranteed).
2) Yes, unfortunately many average employees have made a career at MS by excelling at this gaming of the system and spend ridiculous amounts of time staying on top of who's in, who's out, who's moving up, and how their personality visibility is doing, versus actually focusing on and excelling at their mandate.
3) Yes, there are elements of this at many large companies.
4) No, it IS much more prevalent at MS and probably dates back to options whereby a HUGE part of your compensation was governed by your personal popularity/visibility and not necessarily your contribution.
5) It is a path to the dark side because it does encourage game playing over results and has created a whole management hierarchy riddled with average to weak performers whose sole gift is the willingness to put their creativity and energy into playing politics vs generating results. Those same folks then have a tendency to keep down others with greater creativity and drive (who they see as a challenge to their personal position/power) and that further hurts the company.

That's not to say there weren't (aren't?) lots of great people making great contributions and getting ahead because of it. But it was too often the exception rather than the rule. It was interesting seeing new employees from even well known cults of personality like IBM saying "Wow, is Microsoft ever political". That's not good and needs to change - the downside associated with it is becoming increasingly obvious both inside and outside the company.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mini, you should take a look at the new CSPs over here in Office that will be applied to the rest of the company over time. Now that we all have titles that let you know within a level or two where someone's at, we see that Dev & PM are generally two levels higher than test. Hmm.. interesting. I worked my rear end off to get a promo to the heretofore unattainable level of 61 for an IC in test and I see that my peers (where peers == those who are doing the same types of work I am; not the same level as me) in dev and PM are at a higher level than I and getting better monetary compensation for equal contributions. Test has always been the whipping boy during the product cycle and it's a little depressing to see that bourne out in salries, as well. Not sure how it is in other groups, so if there are any groups out there that love their testers and need someone with 12 years of testing experience in Office, let me know.

I think the way to become a higher-level IC is to go down the management path and then switch back to IC, keeping your level (like a couple of people I know around here). That's sarcasm, in case it's not obvious. :)

*sigh*

Anonymous said...

A few people commented that this dog-eat-dog, backstabbing world is normal for large corporations.

The fact that the book Corporate Confidential reflects the Microsoft situation so well seems to reinforce the assertion that this is normal.

Microsoft is unique, but can we escape a slow death in the style of IBM and DEC? Are there any large corporations who have escaped the back-stabbing, bean-counting, politicing?

Anonymous said...

I am new to Microsoft, but have worked at large and small companies for the past 14 years (yes, I joined a but later in my career than most).

I agree w. another reader's comment that following the FAQ and playing into an old system is what gets this place its bad reputation. I didn't come here not knowing about these problems, but I believed that there's still enugh smarts and passion here to change things ... inside and out.

You don't have any passion left in you, if this is all you're gonna worry about. And, if you are too consumed by the promotions and reviews, then I bet you hare unhappy all the way around.

If you have no passion, you should move on. Most importantly, find what floats your boat ... go do that. Don't waste time learning this game because the game is going to be over soon. The system is self-healing. It will fix itself.

Anonymous said...

To all the commenters comparing MS to other large companies:

You should expect better. Period. Don't play it down by saying, "it's ok, others are just as bad". That comparison doesn't justify the behavior. It's a way to guarantee mediocrity.

I just left MS for the very reasons listed in the FAQ. I expect better and I'm looking for it elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Oh good grief to the people who think that bad news about a job should be covered up.

What part of "you can't fix the problem if you won't talk about the problem" don't you understand?

What this post sez is hysterically funny. If you can't see this type of behavior around you at your job, you are closing your eyes.

OF COURSE the reviews are made even before you typed one word of your review. You didn't know that?

Your review form counts for bupkus, bub. You can type all you want, but the managers behind closed doors ALREADY RANKED YOU.

You didn't figure out about the 4.0/3.5/3.0 ranking when you move from your competency (4.0) to a new position (non-competency) and the likely 3.0? It's self-evident.

Those of you who accepted promotions because of the prestigious title weren't thinking - why not stay where you are, pull in the 4.0s and the salary AND the continued employment, instead of getting into a position where you're not competent?

Every large company I've been in that stops building and innovating turns on itself. When the company is small and focused, this type of BS doesn't happen. When the company, even though it's financially successful, loses its core understanding of what it does - the night of long knives takes place every day.

When I was at MS, I was frankly amazed at two things:
1) The number of managers it took to manage a group of people - what exactly were the managers doing? I know they weren't making things easier for me, unless it was all secret.
2) The amount of non--core-task-related work that was done because "we had to be in meetings and talk about progress and click the buttons on the status sheets" and all the other stuff that just seemed pointless.

How many things do you do during the day that are just one-off from what your core tasks/responsibilities, and how much actual productive work do you get done? How many interruptive meetings do you have, and pointless 1:1s where you and your manager are talking as if real things are going to get done?

How many times are you going to avoid the elephant in the living room: you blew it on Vista, but no one's going to lose their jobs. If you don't lose your job over screwing up that project, but you're getting rid of 3.0s who are stack-and-ranked out of their jobs - is that the right way to run things?

No company is perfect. But a company as big and rich and bloated as MS can afford to be complacent for a long, long time.

When you're not hungry to succeed, you can spend a lot of time just setting things up for success.

How many people are rated at MS for actually producing usable products that make a profit?

If MS didn't have a cash hoard of billions, would you let the numerous screw-ups continue to happen and the numerous screwups continue to work there?

Anonymous said...

I would be dishonest if I dont share my personal positive experience with MS and not bring the positive picture on record.

I have been working at MS since last 5 years (all of my professional career in US).
During this time, MS awarded me got pretty close to what another top performer pointed out earlier. Here is my breakdown.

- A 3.0 in mid year review since I joined right before the cut off date.
- An unexpected 3.5 (should have been 4.0) in my first annual review.
- A promotion in just a couple of months to cover up the preceding 3.5
- A 4.0 and a couple of 4.5s at different groups.
- A gold star award
- Level raises almost every year except one.
- Lots of other tangible and intangible rewards and most of all the respect from coworkers and self satisfaction.

I am not saying that the stuff mentioned in this FAQ is white lie. I have seen some of this happening with/by average/low performeing manager/employees.

However I am encouraging committed star performers to not pay attention to the NOISE as Microsoft is still pretty good at taking care of top notch performers. Leave all this political BS to those who rightly deserves it. They may make good money with all these tactics but will never enjoy respect.

Anonymous said...

"I worked my rear end off to get a promo to the heretofore unattainable level of 61 for an IC in test and I see that my peers (where peers == those who are doing the same types of work I am"

Good to see that we finally have confirmation of this. This just confirms that there is *NO* good reason to be in test (sdet). Well maybe test is a good place if you want to spend time with your family or such.

Who da'Punk said...

Sorry, M. Tracking... I'll decline. I'd wish you good luck and all, but if you knew how boring the answer was, you wouldn't bother with the question(s).

Mini.

Anonymous said...

SDETs actually get promoted faster than SDEs (on average for < L63). Quite your doom and gloom. Test is a great job, perhaps not for you though.

silentandnowhappy said...

Stevie B. once said, "Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers!", not "Testers, Testers, Testers, Testers!" Need any more hints?

Think of it this way, other companies are more likely to lure devs away than testers, so MS needs to pay devs more to keep them, whereas testers are locked in to MS if they want a reasonable paying job.

Anonymous said...

This "FAQ" should be called "FAQ for no talent bottom feeders." It's pathetic. Thank god my my group is most excellent and our bottom feeding, do noting chip on their shoulder inefectual boat anchors have all been eliminated. Yeah the curve sucks. Deal with it. Wha wha wha. Mini, you should be ashamed, this is not how you make MSFT leaner and better. The loser who wrote this is the same kind of people you advoacte firing. Don't be a hypocrite and post their drivel.

Anonymous said...

This so strongly undercuts the entire notion of even asking anyone to write a review. What's the purpose? It's a useless exercise for the employee, who wants to offer some evidence of a job well done and have that considered by a manager who -- quite honestly -- could have been far too busy to recognize everything that had been accomplished

Sad but true. Next time you get the broad mail announcing the upcoming performance review more likely than not your score is already decided.

In fact the stack ranking fights for the next reviews are already on.

Anonymous said...

>>SDETs actually get promoted >>faster than SDEs (on average for << L63).

Really? Which group is that? Are you even working at MSFT?

In all the groups that I know, it is very very hard to be an IC in Test above level 61. There are a number of Devs above level 62 who are ICs, all across the company.

Bottom line: If you are a great software engineer, don't join Test unless your goal is to be a test lead or test manager.

Anonymous said...

People who consistently get 4.0s and some 4.5s, good for you.

But ask yourself this:- Are the managers effectively utilizing the rest of the team that does not get 4.0s? I have seen managers under utilize employees just to set them up for a 3.0 score. They have to fill that bucket, although they do not hire people who they expect to get a 3.0.

Microsoft still manages to hire very smart people with its strong brand image, mediocre pay and great benefits package. It succeeded in creating quite a few unhappy employees with its review system.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know which testers are doing the same kind of work as devs.

Devs have to write code to a spec. If the feature doesn't work exactly as spec'ed, it's obvious and the dev is going to be held accountable. Test gets to implement (almost) whatever test cases they want and there's very little accountability. I've seen plenty of test automation that doesn't test what it's supposed to, or at least doesn't test it thoroughly.

Devs have to write brand new, ship-quality code that's compatible with millions of other lines of code and other projects/products. Test cases tend to be small and can be created by copying and pasting and making some small modifications. I've watched testers do this in person.

During triage, a dev's code is carefully scrutinized and if it's lacking, he's held accountable. All the tester has to do is say, "sure, I tested this." If a bug is found later on, oh well. You can't find EVERY bug, right??

I know there are exceptions, but I'd say that in most cases, a dev's job requires more skill and more responsibility than a tester's, so it's not unfair for a dev to be paid more. For some reason I run into testers who think that just because they program in the same language or run the same tools as a dev, their jobs must be similar, and that's simply not the case. If you have the skills to be a dev, why not go for the glory of writing shipping code that customers will actually use? That said, I know a couple of brilliant people who are testers because they can get promoted faster for less work and less stress.

Anonymous said...

i dont understand why you would get a bad review (3.0) if you just recently got promoted?

c said...

Test in Office is typically 1-2 levels below PM/dev because entry level for test was two levels lower until three years ago, and one level lower until last year. So a level 60 tester represents someone who was promoted 1-3 times, instead of a dev who was promoted once.

Anonymous said...

Pretty much everything I thought has already been said, so I wont reiterate it. Except to say that yes it is sad, but unfortunately very truthful. If you have to devote cycles to gaming i order to advance or even just remain employed, those are cycles not spent creating great products.

The only point I havent seen mentioned is that because of that system, when I interviewed for my current position, I had a lot of very rude questions to ask about the review and advancement process. So I guess that is something else I gained during my tenure at MSFT. And while the interviews seemed open and honest, my retained MSFT cynicism has me in a "We'll see" mode.

Anonymous said...

"i dont understand why you would get a bad review (3.0) if you just recently got promoted?"

Because a "good review" (4.0) means that you are not just doing your job, you're doing way more than is expected and working at a higher level than what your job description actually says.

So if you just got promoted, there's a very slim chance that you'll suddenly be doing work above that level. It's possible, but usually only because 1) your original level was WAY below what it should have been or 2) you're a psychotic over-achieving rockstar stud. In which case, you'll soon realize that MS isn't for you, and quit to go work for someone else :)

Anonymous said...

Devs have to write code to a spec. If the feature doesn't work exactly as spec'ed, it's obvious and the dev is going to be held accountable. Test gets to implement (almost) whatever test cases they want and there's very little accountability.

I'm a PM, so I suspect my perspective will either be taken as un-biased or irrelevant depending on what you think of PMs.

But for what it's worth, this tired argument from devs about how testers can't write ship-quality code or from testers complaining that devs get all the glory/promoted faster and so on is really beside the point.

Someone (I think on the giant thread about our financial results) made the comment that you don't need all three disciplines to write great software.

And that's the point I disagree with. I've seen plenty of projects screwed up by PM, Dev, or Test. It really does take all three doing great work to build and ship quality software, unless one of the others wears multiple hats.

So sure, dev could do all the requirements gathering and drive reviews of the proposed feature set and scenarios with customers and get buy-off from everyone before starting on a design - but that's time that they could spend coding and generally speaking is work that devs tend to not be great at.

Similarly the PM could test and file bugs themselves (I've been on projects where this was necessary due to lack of test resources) but guess what? Most PMs don't have the test skills and debugging experience to be very effective at this. I did a decent job when I had to test a project, but I did probably 10% as good a job as the testers who have since come on board.

It's a humbling experience to actually walk in the shoes of one of the other disciplines. Try it and see. It's easy to point the finger at the other guy and claim their job is easy compared to what you have to do, but that's just wrong. All three jobs are HARD. All three jobs require very particular skills and expertise.

Finally, in my experience, of course devs can generally write higher quality code than testers. That's why they're devs. But most devs are absolutely awful at finding bugs, while good testers excel at finding bugs early and making it easy on the devs to reproduce and fix the problem. They're both essential skills, they're just different. And Microsoft needs both.

Anonymous said...

"I would be dishonest if I dont share my personal positive experience with MS and not bring the positive picture on record."

Do you work for MSN and as a dev?

Anonymous said...


But ask yourself this:- Are the managers effectively utilizing the rest of the team that does not get 4.0s? I have seen managers under utilize employees just to set them up for a 3.0 score. They have to fill that bucket, although they do not hire people who they expect to get a 3.0.


Well said.

This in effect is the issue with the current review system. In any organization you need hard charging people as well as execution oriented people. The former provide ideas and the latter execute them. MS has not figured out a good way to keep everybody motivated and doing what they do best. In the MS model, the former are the stars (start many things, complete nothing) and the latter (steady execution) are the 3.5s and 3.0s.

The other issue is the review score ties directly to compensation. While 3.0 means meeting expectations (ie doing your job per expectations) you can expect a near 0% raise and a neglible bonus (if that). The message this sends is all wrong, which is, you are doing your job but I don't value it all.

My recommendation for fixing is as follows

1. Don't discriminate take home pay and bonus based on review scores. IE, give the 3.0s at least a cost of living increase OR make sure there isn't much difference in the monetary comp b/w review scores

2. For the 4.0s, load their compensation with a heavy stock award component.

Yes this model also has flaws but it is better than what we have now. In full disclosure, I'm a L67 who has been at MS less than a decade (with 4.0s and one 3.5 track record). I absolutely detest this system and the fact that the review system has become a popularity contest (like the VP promotion process). It is stupid and it demotivates and underutilizes the talent we have.

Anonymous said...

I have been at MSFT > 5 years as a developer with 9 years experience. I came from another big company. This FAQ rings true for my current division. The same words of wisdoms were handed out to me by my peers who had been in the org longer than I. Understanding these rules has made my life here safer. Safer but not easier.

To the comments:

1. The word for our org is that we don't hand out 4.5. My congratulations for those of you who've received many 4.0s, 4.5s and gold stars. I've got the 4.0s and I've got the gold stars but you don't work in the same part of MSFT that I work in if you're getting 4.5s.

2. The "don't quit before the annual performance review" is not getting enough attention. Here, it's a basic. The air shivers everytime someone moves on during summer. Managers, do you really think you can just nail someone who deserved a 3.5 (if not a 4.0) with a 3.0 because they left? These are very jaded employees. They'll remember that blow for a long time. They'll also make sure all of Windows knows; your team will take a counter-punch; you won't be able to hire internally.

3. How do you live with this FAQ yet successfully look at yourself in the mirror every morning? I never struggled with this as much until I joined MSFT. I haven't figured it out yet. Having to follow these guidelines sucks your soul, goes against my personal values and leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. Worse it takes a lot of energy and attention to yourself and your behavior to not let it change who you are. I'd be more productive if it wasn't for these. I've seen peers I respected go from energetic passionate team members to closet ICs with a vision narrowed to their work and their review. You don't want to hang out with them now. Makes you wonder how many are fighting the inner battle. Who's sickened by it? Celexa anyone? Who failed like Anakin?

4. Manager form. Some orgs read it. Realistically though, the best hint to me was in Corporate Confidential: if the org didn't approve of my manager, she wouldn't be my manager. It doesn't matter how much I hate her (even though I'm successful), management backs hers. Once you accept this, you need a really bad situation for your feedback to be relevant and make a difference. Generally, I think folks don't like their managers and extrapolate their gripes from that. Wake up. Your boss has a job to do, constraints to live by and personal goals (like you) that she hopes to achieve. Do you know all these things? You don't have to agree with her but do you know her perspective? Your boss's boss probably knows most of these either intuitively or from their one-on-one. If you don't, your negative feedback is not going to be relevant to them. Upper management will dismiss it. You might as well move on. Remember, your boss is your boss because someone wants her there.

MSFT is no different than the other large company I worked at previously. We're simply hugely competitive which, in some orgs, stretches the normal politics to lengths unimaginable for a new hire.

Anonymous said...

"4. Manager form. Some orgs read it. Realistically though, the best hint to me was in Corporate Confidential: if the org didn't approve of my manager, she wouldn't be my manager."

This doesn't make sense.

1. how is a problem with a manager going to be identified if people aren't straight up on the manager feedback? The worst thing that one can do is follow the FAQ guidelines and write a bunch of fawning tripe about the person. They're going to be considered a superstar and the problem gets perpetuated.

2. don't forget about the very common re-org situation: new manager comes in (GM, PUM, Dev Manager, whatever) - how the heck are they supposed to get the straight story about their leads/directs if nobody is honest on the manager feedback form? The alternative is skip-level 1:1's but let's be honest: most people are more comfortable providing negative feedback anonymously.

People, we have a mechanism for providing honest feedback for our managers. If we don't use it we're crazy. Fear of retribution simply indicates that you're lacking in the courage and conviction area.

If by some chance you do get screwed, take it up with HR. Hey, before you laugh - I've know a couple people who went to HR because they felt they got screwed on their review - and they got their score changed. For all of HRs faults, they are capable of doing the right thing.

If you're not going to be honest on the manager feedback form, please don't fill it out at all. The FAQ notion of lying and putting positive feedback only is poison.

Anonymous said...

Throughout most of the nineties (prior to the DOJ trainwreck) our bosses would tell us: "I'm giving you a 3.0 review this time but there's a good possibility that you'll be bumped up next time. That doesn't leave this room." In other words, we took turns receiving the mediocre score. The bad part is that the strong sometimes carried the weak. The good part (and I feel the good outweighed the bad) is that we developed excellent team chemistry, little or no time was spent on politics, and, believe it or not, almost NO time was spent on reporting (justifying one's existence.) It doesn't surprise me that we consistently miss turns in the road (Search) or that Ray Ozzie pines for a Microsoft that can create sexy products like ipod. There is no room for creative growth in a company where your choice is to become a politician or a bean counter or both. Microsoft is an argument with a faulty premise. Those wanting a kick-ass new job in the software industry should cross Microsoft off their list.

Anonymous said...

This blog is mostly true for all orgs and probably very true for the author's org.

Don't let it get you down... Remember 24 is the new 27!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely detest this system and the fact that the review system has become a popularity contest (like the VP promotion process). It is stupid and it demotivates and underutilizes the talent we have.

If Microsoft more fully utilized the talent that they do have instead of slapping labels on them, they wouldn't be so desperate to find more.

The ranking at Microsoft is a relative one and not an absolute one in terms of skill.

If you want to rank people, let their work be their ranking.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how much energy/effort softies have to spend just figuring out how to rise up in their careers...no wonder there is no time or motivation for innovation (except for in speeches and ceo mails :)). If you have already figured how to rise up by ass-kissing...why bother with doing something interesting or worthwhile. What a waste. I just couldn't keep up with an environment that stresses more on 'visibility' than the actual work you do. As a formet softi and a current stockholder (:() I demand that you get your act together.

Ciao

Anonymous said...

Yes, there is a lot of truth in this article, however this article is strongly pushing the Pessimistic side of things.

My advice - find an interesting job at microsoft, where you like most of the people you work with and the technology you work on. Then get a mentor - they will help you sort through the politics.

Then find a life outside of work and enjoy the beautiful weather in the pacific northwest.

Anonymous said...

Well just to chime in my $.02, I’ve been in about 8 years. The faq is 100% correct and I have to say I’ve used these approaches to my advantage…silly managers are so easy to manipulate. In 8 years I’ve had 1 manager that was my intellectual equal, and I respected him greatly…sadly he has moved on. I would add though that I’ve used these techniques only to improve my reviews. I continue to do excellent work and I think I do deserve the scores I’ve gotten (with the exception of 2 reviews where I was still figuring out the system). So I would say that the goal of reading this shouldn’t be to replace doing good work but to make sure you get credit for the work you do. It is very easy to do good work and be ignored because you aren’t playing the game right. I finally nailed it in the last review when literally I cut and pasted my entire review from the hr web site. My manager even commented that it was the best written review he’d seen in a long time. For the rest of the day I kept spontaneously bursting into laughter…everyone thought I was nuts. Heh Heh it still makes me smile.

Anonymous said...

>I finally nailed it in the last review when literally I cut and pasted my entire review from the hr web site. My manager even commented that it was the best written review he’d seen in a long time.

Eureka! I'm going to find a marketing flack and start my own business writing reviews for MS employees for $250 a pop. Any takers?

Steve Ballmer said...


Eureka! I'm going to find a marketing flack and start my own business writing reviews for MS employees for $250 a pop. Any takers?

Please help! I am in hot water with my management (after the news last week). I need all the help to keep me from getting a 2.5 rating from the BOD. Contact me at SteveB@microsoft.com

Anonymous said...


Eureka! I'm going to find a marketing flack and start my own business writing reviews for MS employees for $250 a pop. Any takers?

Please help! I am in hot water with my management (after the news last week). I need all the help to keep me from getting a 2.5 rating from the BOD. Contact me at SteveB@microsoft.com


Steve, you should really check out http://www.wa.gov/esd/ui/icapp/_starticappen.htm Though with your extremely low review score from Bill or the BOD (if you think you're going to be as high as a 2.5, you're SERIOUSLY mistaken), you'll probably not qualify as you were fired 'with cause'. And if Bill and the BOD have any concerns about "shareholder value", they won't be giving you a "Golden Parachute" either. Sorry, but you've stepped in one to many piles of dog scat.

Anonymous said...

This certianly strikes a chord with me:

When I was at MS, I was frankly amazed at two things:

The amount of non--core-task-related work that was done because "we had to be in meetings and talk about progress and click the buttons on the status sheets" and all the other stuff that just seemed pointless.


Halle-fricking-lujah!

My time at MS is relative short compared to most posting here (I have worked for other large, well-known tech companies). There are many things about Microsoft that surprise me, but the one that utterly astonished me is how much time everyone spends on bullshit unrelated to their real job function.

Looking at myself and co-workers in my group and all that I see, it appears that the average MS employee spends no more than about 10% of their time actually doing their primary job function. The rest is all reporting, tracking, planning, meetings, email, setting things up, and other trivia. There are many days when that's all I do!

Is it just my group? Or is Vista going to ship after the current employees are all collecting social security?

Anonymous said...

One topic that is not discussed in the FAQ that I think should be is: “How to Participate in Interview Loops”.

For outsiders to MS who may not be in the know, Microsoft has a web-based tool with which each interviewer is expected to provide feedback on the candidate being interviewed immediately after the interview indicating a Hire/ No Hire decision. So, for example, if I am the first person to interview a candidate, then I am expected to provide feedback using the tool in the hour afterwards so that the third and later interviewers know how I feel about the candidate.

The most dangerous interview loops to be on are interviews for internal candidates with which you will be interviewing one of your potential peers. The reason that these interviews are dangerous is because your manager will have already decided that he/she wants to hire this candidate based on an informational interview. In these cases, it is generally not in your best interest to counter your manager’s decision, unless you can dismiss the candidate based on objective criteria such as a complete lack of technical knowledge needed for the job. You should also take into consideration the possibility that the candidate may be someone who your manager worked with previously or who is a personal friend of your manager (or your manager’s significant other). If you find yourself in this position, you will need to tread carefully in the feedback that you provide during the interview. If you have a good relationship with your manager, you should generally look at the candidate from the perspective of: do I think I can get along with this candidate? If so, recommend “hire”; if not, you may be able to get away with saying “no hire”, depending upon the strength of your relationship with your manager compared to the candidate’s. If you do not have a good relationship with your manager, you should probably be looking for another job at MS or elsewhere anyway; however, in the mean time, it is in your best interest to say “hire”, unless the interviewers before you said “no hire”.

Where you are on the interview loop may tell you something about how your manager feels about you. If your manager puts you in the first interview slot, then this generally means that your manager values your input and trusts you, particularly for evaluating external candidates. The first interviewer has the power to make or break an interview candidate because he/she will be the first one to make a hire/ no hire decision. All other interviewers will often take their cues from the first interviewer. Although the first, second, and third slots are the ones who typically determine the fate of external candidates, being in the fourth or fifth slot may also be a good sign in some cases because your manager may think that your time is more valuable doing work rather than weeding out candidates. If you are not asked to be included in interview loops at all but you think you should be based on your seniority, you should be concerned.

You should also take clues from the “competencies” that your manager asks you to evaluate the candidate on. If your manager asks you to evaluate the candidate on competencies that are challenging and relevant to the job, this is a good sign. If your manager asks you to evaluate the candidate on things like “team fit”, “open communications”, and other things that are not very substantive, you should be concerned.

Also, someone in HR would need to confirm this, but my understanding is that anything that you write in the interview feedback tool will become part of the permanent record of that person. Therefore, you should always make sure that your language is professional and will not come back to haunt you. Also, so that karma does not come back and smack you, if you meet a genuinely nice candidate, take the high road and evaluate the candidate fairly.

As a couple of final comments:

-- I worked at another company previously where the interviewing process seemed much fairer, both to the candidates and the interviewers. Each interviewer met separately with HR within a day after the interview and gave feedback on the candidate. The hiring manager did not have visibility to this feedback by name but all feedback was summarized anonymously. The hiring manager and HR then worked to determine if the candidate should be hired, taking into consideration the feedback.

--I pity the people who by bad luck end up in an interview loop from hell tainted with internal politics. I have seen several cases at MS where candidates get ripped by an interviewer just because the interviewer (typically on another team) doesn’t like the hiring manager.

Anonymous said...

I'm a former Microsoft employee and lead and I can say that the writer of the FAQ was spot on!

Employees receiving promotion are expected by management to receive a lower review score in the next review. The logic behind that is that they are at a higher level where more is expected. This is just lame and employees become demoralized and are essentially chasing their tail.

I worked at Microsoft for over 10 years and NEVER received a promotion even though I was put in a lead role. After a decade of such abuse I decided to become a contractor and I can say that I've done more rewarding work since.

The problem is not the employees it's the sociopathic process set up by upper management that reward so-called "merit".

I would also offer this strategy as well to new employees. Don't worry about promotions or good review scores. A 3.0 is fine as you will not get fired. What is important is that you get on important project and LEARN while you get a paycheck at Microsoft.

In my case I worked on the CLR team and now benefit from having that cache as well as my years at Microsoft on my CV. That's all that really matters. I have autonomy and am making more in hourly rate than I ever made working at Microsoft.

Considering that the stock has been flat for nearly 5 years and taking a big dip (losing 3 points this week) putting up with the abuse is definately not worth it.

Currently I'm doing work at a small firm staffed with a number of former Microsoft employees that left because they were denied opportunities to become devs at Microsoft.

In the 90's before the advent of open source you had to work at Microsoft to really learn software development but not anymore. There is so much access to great code and processes (much better software development discipline than I ever witnessed on the CLR) that Microsoft is not the end-all be-all that it once was. And the beneficiaries are these start ups that will benefit from disgruntled and disaffected Microsoft employees who realized their dreams as software developers after leaving Campus.

Anonymous said...

MSFT is no different than the other large company I worked at previously. We're simply hugely competitive which, in some orgs, stretches the normal politics to lengths unimaginable for a new hire.

--
You are an NDT dude(tte). Thanks for sharing the info.

Anonymous said...

>If you are not asked to be included in interview loops at all but you think you should be based on your seniority, you should be concerned.

Baloney. I made it clear I didn't want to and haven't been asked.

Microsophist said...

This post is a masterpiece.

Microsoft wasn't always like this.

Anonymous said...

I have been with MS for over 10 years and worked in many teams. I’d say this FAQ is for losers only, or mediocre non-technical people who have completely lost their engineering skills.

One example is a MS middle level manager Mr. C. Mr. C used to be a dev a long time ago. His IQ is not even close to our average As or Bs. The only way for Mr C to get ahead is to perfect his process skills, which indeed got him promoted to the partner level! In reality, the only thing he knows is probably this FAQ and many other dirty tricks. Wherever he goes, there will be controversies going with him. We joked he always carries a dirty trash can. He is famous for fixing problems he probably secretly created out of nothing. This guy eventually got into trouble with his GM in the VS so he moved to work on speech recognition – a hard technical problem. His lack of technical IQ was fully exposed so he had to find a new job again. He rushed back to the VS group under a different GM without even finishing one shipping cycle on speech. He followed this FAQ and did well. He is currently a group manager still enjoying his partner status.

This FAQ is 100% accurate for people like Mr C. This FAQ is useless for many hard-core technical people who care about achieving results instead of playing dirty tricks. It is sad to see so many people could get ahead just by mastering the dark-side strategy...

If MS can get back to its old days, we can still build a great company with great products. We need BillG back, not politicians and so many clueless sales people running our biz.

Anonymous said...

You are an NDT dude(tte). Thanks for sharing the info.

--

i saw noticed that too .. i bet its the person always ripping on the folks who got "axed" from ndt (folks = more than 1)

Anonymous said...

While on the topic of reviews and 3.0s, here is a question for people here, esp. to partner level employees.

Can Microsoft one day just decide to fire all people with career review average of say less than 3.2 AND who have been here longer than say 8 years? (or some other criteria like that)

Of course officially 3.0 means meeting one's job expectations. So if Msft made such a move to lower headcount, would it be legal?

Any answers are appreciated.

Anonymous said...

So if Msft made such a move to lower headcount, would it be legal?
Three words - At-will Employment

Zz said...

The FAQ is truth, and that is another indication of the slow, slow decline MSFT is/will be seeing.
It's true - low performers can and do get high rating; high performers get low ratings; it is arbitrary and personal to a large degree.
Is this the situation in other large companies? I worked in two.. it is, but to a lesser degree. What's more, MSFT keeps its talent pool, us, under false pretense. There's the carrot (old carrot: options. new carrot: partner), and there's the hope/belief that MSFT is a great place to work at. Well, for MSFT to keep the kind of talent it needs to meet the
kind of challenges it is facing (open source, anyone? Google, Yahoo, IBM, oracle, Sun, Sony, umm , did we just go and open an eastern front?), it needs to be one of the best and fairest places to work on the planet. And it isn't.

And one last comment -
when people discuss the 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0 -receivers, they often talk as if that number means much. My observation over six years in Microsoft is that, excluding the bottom 10% (no good) and the top 10% (they'll do well everywhere, or leave), the actual performance of 80% of the people is a function of the management and tasks they received.

Anonymous said...

And one last comment -
when people discuss the 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0 -receivers, they often talk as if that number means much. My observation over six years in Microsoft is that, excluding the bottom 10% (no good) and the top 10% (they'll do well everywhere, or leave), the actual performance of 80% of the people is a function of the management and tasks they received.


They play that game with kids in social studies class sometimes. One group gets labeled prisoners (3.0) and one group gets labeled guards (3.5+). They film it and show the students how their behavior changed in those roles and how they stepped across the line.

Anonymous said...

I think the people who are simply shocked, shocked, shocked that their review score is determined before they actually write their review don't understand something fairly fundamental about the written review: the written review is -not- how and when you tell your manager what you've been doing. Remember the "no surprises at review time" idea ? That cuts both ways -- your manager should be communicating how [s]he thinks you're doing throughout the year and you should be telling him/her how you think you're doing [and what you're doing]. In other words, the written review should really just be a formal record of discussions that should have been going on all the time. And if that's the case, it's perfectly reasonable to think that your manager is able to give you a review score without seeing what you've written.

You could of course quibble about the fact that review scores are assigned months before they're actually communicated to employees ... But even with that, people who view their review as the major way of communicating with their manager about their performance are barking up the wrong tree.

MSDecade said...

They play that game with kids in social studies class sometimes. One group gets labeled prisoners (3.0) and one group gets labeled guards (3.5+). They film it and show the students how their behavior changed in those roles and how they stepped across the line.

LOL, they play that game at MS, too. It's called "Power Lab". Ask around. :)

Anonymous said...

So if Msft made such a move to lower headcount, would it be legal?

Something very similar happened to the group I worked on, (although the motives wasn't to decrease headcount but increase technical proficency), however it's not done exactly by laying off. New level requirements are enforced for an org (dev, pm, or test) and those individuals that do not make those requirements are told that their positions no longer exist in the group but to feel free to look elsewhere within the company.

For many this turned out to be pretty much a laying off when they couldn't find a position in another group.

Anonymous said...

You know, I find it kinda funny that MS had these bug databases that they carry over from year to year - they track the problems with products and, in my opinion, generally and usually fix the important bugs because they are focused on finding the real problems and then fixing them.

So why is it that talking about the problems MS has with direction, vision, compensation, and focus are so threatening?

I have mixed feelings about working at MS - it was, as the theatre reviewer once said, good and rotten.

Good in that there were very many super-focused people at the low level.

Not so good was the endless political battles and turf wars.

You might want to look at the problems and then think about how to fix them.

I can't speak for MS partners/shareholders in general - but if your CEO and Head Software Architect weren't called Ballmer and Gates - would they still be working at MS?

Anonymous said...

Such a depressing post on Monday... Killed all my productivity for the week to come :(
Unfortunatly it true. You can blame it on whiners but the MS compensation system boils down to this: go and make profit for the company. No matter how much you make your compensation is fixed already. Go ahead and fight each other for it. Ok to be fair we'll throw in 1% of your current comensation for each figure in the ammount you make for the company.
What does it call for? Collaborative productive work or politicking?
Not performing well on a new level after a promo? How come when you already have to perform on that level to get one?
The system is irrational.

Anonymous said...

Oy vey!

After posting that comment - in comes an unsolicted job offer from Microsoft.

"We didn't want you 3 years ago, but we find that we want you now. Can you come in this week for interviews?"

So should I enable them and do what they want, or stand firm in my integrity and just say no? The kicker is, I'd be working for the people I hired 4 years ago!

Anonymous said...

"I'd like to know which testers are doing the same kind of work as devs."

Then please follow along while I tear apart your post.

"Devs have to write code to a spec. If the feature doesn't work exactly as spec'ed, it's obvious and the dev is going to be held accountable. Test gets to implement (almost) whatever test cases they want and there's very little accountability. I've seen plenty of test automation that doesn't test what it's supposed to, or at least doesn't test it thoroughly."

First off, if I can even get a dev to WRITE a spec with any amount of detail, I consider it a huge win. Most of the time, it's up to the tester responsible for the feature to drive this with the dev, so we have to do the dev manager's job too.

As for accountability, that's a fair point. But where is the dev accountability? Let's say there are 6 QFE's for your product within the first 3 months...who gets the blame? I haven't seen anyone get blamed here (unfortunately...because if someone were getting blamed, they'd have to take some action to fix it).

I agree that some test code is very poorly written. But since someone got rid of all of the STE's, there's nobody left to test this code. Whoops.

"Devs have to write brand new, ship-quality code that's compatible with millions of other lines of code and other projects/products. Test cases tend to be small and can be created by copying and pasting and making some small modifications. I've watched testers do this in person."

Yeah, and the infrastructure for that test framework you describe just magically created itself...

Devs don't write code that's compatible w/ millions of other lines of code. They crap something out that they think will work. Then it's up to the test team to prove that they were correct.

"During triage, a dev's code is carefully scrutinized and if it's lacking, he's held accountable. All the tester has to do is say, "sure, I tested this." If a bug is found later on, oh well. You can't find EVERY bug, right??"

I've been in the windows division for over 6 years. I've yet to see a dev held accountable in any way for code flaws. Nobody seems to track that metric. On the test side however, management tracks this very closely. Take a look in the bug database tool we use and look at all of the "test followup" fields that need to be filled out. These metrics are used at review time.

"I know there are exceptions, but I'd say that in most cases, a dev's job requires more skill and more responsibility than a tester's, so it's not unfair for a dev to be paid more."

Are you kidding me? Not only do I have to try to figure out what you meant when you wrote your spec (which is quite often different from what you actually wrote), but I have to read your poorly commented code and figure out the ways to abuse your code (generally with very little thought given to testability). And most devs treat testers like their personal assistants. Here's an idea: Learn to install the OS yourself so I don't have to keep setting up your damn test machines!!

"If you have the skills to be a dev, why not go for the glory of writing shipping code that customers will actually use? "

Because I get more pride out of saying "yeah, that feature would've sucked without the hard work I put in to make sure it was well tested" or "yeah, I told the putz who wrote the text in that dialog box that NOBODY would be able to understand it, but he didn't trust my input".

"That said, I know a couple of brilliant people who are testers because they can get promoted faster for less work and less stress."

Less stress and less work - my ASS! Promoted faster - even more MY ASS!!! :) Testers get almost no respect from management in any group. Look at how much time is spent on the test org in the quarterly people reviews or your semi-annual project reviews. They have no visibility with the higher ups, and rarely get to do any really cool work because they spend so much of their time cleaning up other people's messes.

----------------
I see a lot of comments about people receiving multiple gold stars. I've talked to a lot of people in my org. Most have never heard of the award. I have only found one person that has actually received one. And I KNOW I've talked to some stellar performers. Seems like some orgs are a little stingy with this award.

Anonymous said...

Then please follow along while I tear apart your post.


Less stress and less work - my ASS! Promoted faster - even more MY ASS!!! :)
Testers get almost no respect from management in any group. They have no visibility with the higher ups, and rarely get to do any really cool work because they spend so much of their time cleaning up other people's messes.



That is ALL true. Why are you in test without getting respect, fewer promotions, no visibility, not working on cool stuff, just cleaning up other's messes..?

If you have the skills to be a dev, you should be a dev and you can probably be a good one since you know what bad devs are like.

Anonymous said...

Aren't you folks supposed to think deeper than these comments show?

Nothing in this FAQ requires you to do a bad job to follow its advice. You could rock the world with how well you do your job, deserve a 4.0, then IN ADDITION, play the games and get a 4.5.

This is just plain reality. Learn your job. Do it well. Then add on the politics. Then you will succeed. End of story.

Anonymous said...

That is ALL true. Why are you in test without getting respect, fewer promotions, no visibility, not working on cool stuff, just cleaning up other's messes..?

'Cause I like ripping up bad software (and bad devs) more than I like coding.

Being a dev just means crapping out the minimum kLOC to get the task accomplished before getting dumped onto the next task. At least I get to think about why the product sucks and about what to do to fix it, and have enough knowledge of the product and the technology to make the changes stick.

PM starts projects, but test are the ones that finish it. Dev is merely the people who put the pieces together.

Anonymous said...

"Dev is merely the people who put the pieces together."

Ah, and I'm a test manager, 'merely' is not trivial.

Anonymous said...

Strong top-down corporate hierarchies are common, but they are particularly ill-suited to software companies, and grossly ill-suited to Microsoft. A strong top-down hierarchy means that, the further the employee’s career advances, the more time and resources the employee devotes to meeting the expectations of his or her superiors. In some sense, this sounds perfectly reasonable. After all, shouldn’t we all aspire to consistently meet or exceed such expectations? Of course we should. But in a strong top-down hierarchy, the employee eventually devotes the majority of his or her time to accomplishing this goal, at the expense of other important activities. When you think about it, this really explains most of Microsoft’s current problems. Higher up on the ladder, eyes and ears are necessarily pointed upward. As a result, individual contributors no longer feel as though they have an audience, customers complain of neglect, and shareholders slowly lose faith. It should be obvious how this asymmetric arrangement can negatively impact innovation and time-to-market. For a good idea to succeed, it must catch the attention of at least one overworked executive. This would-be sponsor in turn looks to his or her manager for approval, and so on, until the idea rises to the highest level. Because of this, ideas that originate at the Bill/Steve level can move rapidly; but those that grow more organically are at risk of foundering, or of simply becoming lost in translation. Given the brainpower inside the company, this disproportionate concentration of decision-making power should strike industry analysts as both absurdly presumptuous and woefully shortsighted. The company simply can’t be run as a single unit—it needs a softer, more flexible, and possibly fragmented hierarchy.

At the individual contributor level, the idea that no one is listening can really hurt morale. One quickly realizes that, in order to influence decisions, one must have direct reports--the more the better. It is the size of one’s head count, and not the quality of one’s ideas, that forces others to listen.

The success of this and other insider blogs is symptomatic of the company's general disregard for the incredible talent buried within its ranks. Bloggers subvert the hierarchy and speak directly to shareholders and customers--empowering themselves but exposing internal defects. I think it would be reckless to assume that these bloggers suffer from cowardice; more likely they have found poor reception for their criticisms internally.

Most of what Microsoft preaches goes against these unfortunate realities. It prides itself in positioning its ICs as critical to its success, its customers as first-class citizens, etc. But this is really part of a vast campaign of ardent misrepresentation—people deliver messages below in order to justify themselves to those above. There is no meat in these messages, no sincerity, and certainly no results. Just look at how badly we are executing on Vista. We lag Google on the Web, spend billions on R&D without adding shareholder value, and still somehow manage to claim victory.

If there is a cancer to be excised, it is not in the underpowered ranks of middle management and IC’s—many of these people would gladly implement new policies and improve accountability, if the organization would permit it. The cancer exists at the GM level and above. It is the responsibility of these folks—the caretakers of our legacy and the trustees of our future—to turn their attention downward and learn to effectively leverage the talent beneath them. The defenders of the MS culture-babble forget about the strength of the hierarchy—it rarely bends or breaks. Once such hierarchies become corrupt and inefficient, a certain amount of subversive behavior is to be expected. Collective online rants, accurate or not, are neither sad nor misguided. They are an essential feature of a longer and more painful process of change.

Anonymous said...

New York Times (May 10) calls MS a "prison" in this article: http://snipurl.com/q9qx

Generally, NYT articles are aailable for only a few days, so copy it if you want it forever.

Anonymous said...

What has my experience been?

- several promotions over the last 6 years.
- A couple gold star awards (from different managers in different groups)
- One 3.5 (my first review), two 4.5's (from different managers in different groups), and the rest 4.0's
- Lots of "extra" little rewards like $150 gift certificate to take my wife out to dinner and so on.

I've worked with a lot of different people over the past 6 years and what I have observed amongst other is:

1. good performers generally get hooked up
2. average performers generally get what they deserve


Yet another example of how those who feel that they benefit from a system view the system as fair, honest, and significant, while those who do not feel that they benefit from a system feel that it's a mess.

The truth is that these experiences form your perspective, and if you've raced up in the company, you probably view the system as totally fair, as you deserve your advancement, as you feel you worked harder than everyone else.

The problem Microsoft, and every other corporate culture that is similar has is that the people who decide the system are those who've benefitted the most from it, and tend to justify their own advancement by viewing those who haven't advanced as much as "less" than them (less hard workers, less passionate, less skilled, and so on). These people own the system, and see changing it as an abomination (as the system got them to their position, so it must be good, right?).

Think back to the times you've met someone who had been very successful. How many times did they attribute any of their success to others? Their manager? Their PUM, their GM, their VP? How about to just plain good luck and being in the right place at the right time? (Note, I'm not claiming that all success is luck. Don't read this incorrectly.) I'd guess very few. Most of these people I meet chalk up their sucesses to their belief that they're simply head-and-shoulders above everyone else in nearly every category.

Find me someone in upper management that demonstrates an inkling of true humility about their positions.

If you've never met someone (and I mean someone who's truly living in the gutter) and thought to yourself "There, but for the grace of god, go I.", you're in desperate need of introspection.

fCh said...

This is the second time on this blog that I express my doubts about the endorsed ways in which to scheme your way through the corporate bureaucracy with the (sole) purpose of career advancement. Even those who might start by being well-meaning about the general welfare of the place, by the time they get into the positions they desire, will be altered in the process to the point they'll only perpetuate if not worsen it.

And, as I do not believe in the effectiveness of bottom-up revolutions, I hope the guys at the top realize the best way out is to direct radical change from the top.

Meanwhile, all those at lower levels, who are genuine creative types, net contributors to the bottom line, and unhappy with the status qvo, should do just two things:
1) be vocal all the way through the corporate hierarchy to its very top and call the situation as they see it;
2) leverage the fact that there is a place that still lets one spend a day a week doing whatever one pleases.

In what sequence one wants to play the above points is anyone's choice, but please, don't complain here about unfulfilled (creative) potential ;-)

Yes Mini, I now have to admit that a minimsft may have to come before a bettermsft...

Chhers, fCh.

Anonymous said...

Many Microosft managers are fucked up. They have been there for a long time and they actually live in an isolated world (they live by typing on the keyboard sending emails, talking in numerous meetings with no outcome) and eventually they lost humanity, they become very cold blooded.

Anonymous said...

I was a tester at MS from 99-03 and was "promoted" one review cycle to a salaried level where the net result turned out to be a decrease in pay due to lost OT. I think most people realize the system is complete BS. As for me now, I've left MS, make more money and actually have competent managers and couldn't be more happy. I do admit I chuckle when I hear the WTT horror stories. There is life outside MS and it is alive and well.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who can't admit that the vast majority of this FAQ is at least 90% truth is a spinmeister. Sure, there are superstars who are going to be loved no matter where they go, and who can get 4.0s (and better) every review cycle because they simply smoke everyone else, but we can't all be superstars or there wouldn't be such thing.

Announcing to your manager that you want to leave is one of the most challenging things most people here will ever do. It's basically like firing yourself and then giving yourself 60 days to find a new job. The process is almost identical to a RIF. The only difference is that it's self-inflicted. It takes balls... more balls than most people have, which is why you get the same stale people sitting in the same groups year after year... they're afraid to do anything else.

Anonymous said...

To an outside observer, particularly one who has worked at Apple, the most obvious problem is that Microsoft is ridiculously overstaffed, particularly at the middle-managment (read, useless bureaucrat) level.

Sadly, I don't see this changing until and unless Microsoft has a major brush with death. It worked wonders for Chrysler.

YourFriendsOlderBrother said...

Ok, I'll fess up. I am the originator of the FAQ. I posted it and then left for a couple of weeks. I didn't think it would generate nearly 100 comments and get its own entry, so the first thing my ego did once I checked back here was sign up with a username so I can a) be more popular and b) get full credit for my work, which hasn’t happened at review time in quite a while.

The piece was written as a satire, intended to hold a mirror in front of MSFT and also to let me vent a little after 10+ years.

You come to MS, and get the generic birds and bees talk about the review system from HR. Mommy and Daddy (management) confirm the fact that all good deeds will be rewarded while remaining vague about where exactly babies (review scores and money) come from. Then you go over to your friend’s house and repeat what you learned. Your friend’s slacker brother snorts, rolls his/her eyes, and then proceeds to tell you exactly how that sperm happens to get to the egg. What he tells you is shocking information, a little too soon for your comfort level, definitely not from whom you expected to learn it, but you carry the teachings with you all your life (or career). Think of me as that brother.

I totally understand that the FAQ's accuracy created:
1. That big depressing sigh of recognition for employees with tenure.
2. Outrage amongst those, new and old, who feel it encourages bad behavior.
3. A disturbing "What have I gotten myself into?" moment for newbies.

So what’s my point? What surprised me after reading all 98 comments (even the bad ones) was that no one came up with any solutions. Isn't this what the blog is for? To make MS better? The responses fell into a few general categories:

1. This is accurate.
2. All big corporations are like this.
3. Gee, my own experience at MS has been good with lots of high review scores and promotions so this FAQ by definition is wrong. This is a very Microsoft answer, by the way – “I found a bug in your logic (me) so I reject your entire hypothesis.” It also means you are consistently either a superstar or consistently good at making your manager love you. I suspect the latter.
4. A lot of this stuff was in some book called Corporate Confidential (I haven’t read it but if the author agrees with me they are a genius).
5. And for the umpteenth time, Microsoft has some bad managers.

I dangled what I thought was the most obvious solution right in the FAQ; the manager feedback form. It should be required and mathematically calculated into a manager’s score. 25%, 30%, 50% whatever – just make it part of it so there’s some two-way grading. Right now all a manager has to do is make their manager love them and they will get support each and every time they want to ding a direct report for the numerous reasons I listed previously in the FAQ. I personally would like us all to have a few matches to spark the underside of our managers when it comes to defending their actions, and especially defending their reports in that precious stank rank review meeting.

Comments?

Little Green Potato said...

'Scuse me, I'm not an ex- or current MS employee, but I'd like to ask a question somewhat related to OlderBrother's request for a solution: Does meritocracy *actually* exist to any significant degree in Corporate America? Even in the technology industry, is it possible for people to get what they deserve to a large degree?

When I started my career, I thought that my love of all things technical and my dedication to hard work would thrive in an industry full of similar people. But my heart and will are broken now, because I have to spend most of my day figuring out how to survive in a cesspool of people who are forced to play corporate games, whether they want to or not. I thought I was just unlucky all these years. Now that I've read that a company like MS can't escape the curse of bigness either, my desolation is finally complete.

Find something I truly care about? Just thinking about the probabilities makes me dizzy - if the number of swamps greatly exceeds the number of meadows, how many times will I have to try before I find happiness? Despite the talk, hiring folks haven't modernized their thinking - the chances of a job hopper getting hired are low.

Just keep doing the best work possible? The denizens of the cesspool will just get threatened and hound out those who just want to make astounding software.

Give the finger to management? Honesty only seems to work when a critical mass are willing to put their necks on the line. Two-way evaluations may sound like a good idea, but if you're one rabbit running the wrong way down a ten lane highway, just see if you don't get the raw deal.

The solution: There is none. People who like doing good work are an evolutionary aberration who are just on their way out of the gene pool. We just don't have what it takes to survive.

Just shoot me now and put me out of my misery. My angel (programming) is a centerfold.

JustCallMeMr2pt5 said...

It's sad that so many of us who write comments here really do still want to make a real difference at MSFT, but eventually end up leaving after trying to "fight the good fight" for so long (10 years is certainly long enough -- don't you agree). In case anyone might be wondering -- we really do have another very nasty problem called "rogue managers" at MSFT, and until that problem is addressed nothing will really change. As long as these so-called managers continue to be sheltered and protected by HR and are permitted to do to their direct reports and their direct's subordinates whatever they so desire, and as long as their multi-year "reigns of unending terror" continue unchecked and unchallenged, then MSFT will continue to "bleed out" it's best and brightest talent as more and more truly dedicated people finally give up and accept offers to go to work for MSFT's direct competitors. Something has to be done to "stop the bleeding" now and I'm sorry, but a well-timed Town Hall is not going to be enough to stop it either -- it's going to take a lot more than the triumphant return of towels and "dinners-to go" to fix the near-teminal morale and performance mnanagement problems at MSFT.

mighty mouse said...

What a fascinating discussion and many thanks to YourFriendsOlderBrother for launching the initial grenade. I am in my second post-Microsoft week having finally liberated myself from the ghetto that grew up around me as a result of the culture of favoritism on my team. No exit interview as HR was glad to see me go with my unexplainable six 3.0s [the director, lead, and manager who delivered these have themselved been "managed out of managing" to other pastures in the company]. I was very sad to have to leave MS in order to be recognized for the good work that I do [according to my fellow team members, stakeholders, external partners, and professional colleagues]. I finally found the job I deserved as well as an objective view of my skills outside of the company.

Like any big company, MS is not except from corruption of its systems by those who are foolish, prejudiced, dishonest, in over their heads, or misguided. Those who do not see the truth in this post and the supporting comments are very lucky indeed and I hope that your luck holds out. Those who prevail in the face of what is discussed in this thread are my heroes and I doff my hat to you daily. It is your struggle and Minis blog that has lit the fuse on what I believe is very positive change in this area...glacial change but positive nonetheless. Moving forward [my favorite MS phrase] I believe that some of the issues presented here will abate and others will take their place. And that's a start in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

guys, do any of you know what it takes in the sql server org to get from level 60 to 61? typically for the average crowd (not the top few % or bottom few %) how many years does it take to climb the ladder?

why do i always hear from folks saying 'oh you are from sql server, its very tough to grow there right?!'.

Anonymous said...

Folks, As someone who goes to colleges for recruiting often, I now know for a fact that new hires are paid more than MS employees. SDETs at level 59 are offered north of 75000 to 78000. In some cases, I worry though that they may be either greater in pay than level 60's in the team or very close to it. Should we expect some pay adjustment like what happenned a few years back in Microsoft again?? Cause otherwise this is SO SO unfair!!!

Anonymous said...

What is the minimum level requirement to become and SDET lead typically? Do we have leads at level 61?

Anonymous said...

Hey Mini - have you worked your way through the Review cycle yet ? Mmmm I have and once you factor in the compensation plans then you end up in very familiar territory - forced distribution irrespective of actual performance - otherwise one of two thingsa happen - you fall outside the payment parameters for that review grade (deemed no no by Mr Turner) and/or the books don't balance.

QED - nothings changed.

Anonymous said...

Guide/Tips for Microsoft Interview Questions

Anonymous said...

It was very interesting to read this post and comments. I disagree with most of you. In Microsoft if you work hard and do the right things for the company you get rewarded irrespective of your manager's opinion. If you are not indispensable then you don't deserve it. Every company wants attrition and if you are not getting what you want then someone is performing better than you. I have worked here for six review cycles and always got 4.0 and exceeded, though not a promotion with all 4.0. And I have comments like this on my review...this guy doesn’t follow any guidelines and processes, I find it difficult to work with him but boy he is good hence 4.0
In my opinion most of you folks are who don’t want to work (or want to work just eight hours a day...which is just nonsense in tech world and also means that you don't love your job) and just want to bitch about why the other guy is getting promotion.

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