Friday, September 17, 2004

Random Mid-September Comments

Randomness for this post - touching base on some comments coming in during the past week.

The Company Meeting 2004 happened Tuesday. Did you get your ticket and then physically go? Seems as though as of last Friday tickets were still available, which was a bit of a surprise to me. All my Tuesday morning meetings were still scheduled, though, so it ending up being a non-event compared to years past. I did manage to stumble across a feast of Krispy Kream Donuts, though, between meetings (and I noticed that people were pretty much ignoring the donuts while Bill talked about Google).

I've yet to actually sit down and watch the Company Meeting on-demand.  I'm just too busy.  Comments I've heard so far boil down to: good questions, blah-blah-blah platitude-riffic answers.

The following comment leaning towards slow layoffs has an interesting link in it:

I guessed MS is doing it slowly. You can already see it at You can see MS in the list from time to time. I think this is a good approach, not to freak out everyone.

I would go through and add it up, but by that time we'd go and announce we're hiring 3000 researchers and blow any menial sum I had away. As for the pay raises (or lack there-of for a good percent of the company this year):

As for raises, you need to look at the industry. Our pay is based on industry averages and not profit, and Microsoft endeavors to be around the 2/3's mark (much better than the old 1/2 mark).

We suck less than we used to when the stock options were worth lots. Now we have the stock awards, but I mean, really, everyone I talked to pretty much ignored the line that had their stock award number this year. If we only had a process to excel at...

Process is killing Microsoft. Don't get me wrong - the old days were a bit to loose and wild out here in the field, but things have swung so far the other way it is ridiculous. There is no room for individual ingenuity ... "Never tell people how to do things. Tell the what to do and let them surprise you with their ingenuity." General George S. Patton, Jr. The new Microsoft is all about telling you how to do things in excrutiating step-by-step detail... Microsoft will look in the mirror someday very soon and see a circa 1980s IBM staring them in the face.

Ya, dang.

Keep wishing for the golden past, it is gone never to return. Once a startup or small business becomes successful every old hand wishes for the old days when they knew everyone by name and people were in it for the passion not just the money. I find it amusing that you think that if we just layoff enough people to get back to that 'golden size' everything will work out. PS: I'm also bemused by the fact that 3 Microsoft devs linked to my post and they all focused on the most inconsequential aspect of it; the office supplies cuts. -- Dare

Damned if I'm crossing swords with Dare (given that he's way smarter than me and I think that he embodies one of the ideal Microsoftie Archetypes). But, let me clarify here. I'm not looking to wind-back the clock. I realize that we have hard realities going forward now that truly change our day-to-day development decisions and we'll never savor the golden past's development process:

  • Security: you can't go and decide "Hey, why don't we take a DCR to make this utility class a dual interface and expose it in our OM? We could do some cool stuff then!" Unfortunately cool gets respelled kewl (or, what, k3wl ?) and the 2AM phone-calls unleash the patches. Features just plain don't get done now if we can't ensure they are secure.
  • Privacy: no web-bugs, no identifying information, nothing that might lead to embarrassing situations or trackings. Even GUIDs are considered evil. Again, features just plain don't get done if we can't ensure the user's privacy.
  • Dominance: we're not chasing the tail-lights of our competition anymore. We excelled at ruthless catch-up. Now that we've won and we're #1 we do... what? IE achieves dominance and what happens? That group runs screaming away from the source code to Avalon. And, oh, that's ended up so well. We have too many people and that leads to dithering.

Dare's post is optimistic and kind: rather than have layoffs and punish the day-to-day contributor for the wildly misspent foibles of upper management, we should instead endeavor to not blow money in foolish endeavors. Here's what I think, though: we have so many people that we go and empower bad decision making, masking it as some kind of Darwinian business experiment combined with a million monkeys typing, all trying to produce the next one-billion dollar killer app. Perspiration vs. innovation. We've reached some kind of breaking point where perspiration has taken precedence over deep thinking and innovative thought.

Accountability. I want to see accountability. What's the fall-out of the latest Longhorn screw-up to ship and now have to cut and throw-away code that people have been working on for well over a year? What's that figure? This is, hmm, the third big reset or delay related to Longhorn? And these folks are still in charge? We could truly stand to have some major personnel cuts starting here (and I would say, "Send them to Google!" but Google's too smart to have them... dang).

A bit of a good long comment:

...the high order bit at Microsoft is your level--hands down. Two particular employees in my org are both individual contributors doing effectively the same job...Based on corporate mandate, manager roles (usually "leads") are expected to begin no earlier than 63. As a result, a typical employee should expect to put in around 15 years before becoming a lead...The other useful piece of advice is to get a great manager. Unless you plan to leave the company soon, having a great manager will get you farther than having a great role or a great product.

I will say this, staying in line with my original goals: if you're young, unattached, and flexible: get the hell out of Microsoft. It's doubtful that any of your original options / awards are worth anything and if you aren't a high level, you are not getting much in the way of bonus or stock awards for sometime to come. The timeline to promotion has really slowed down.

Now, if you're a dev and hired around level 59 you should be promoted within the first year or, at worst, two. And then maybe a year or two to get to level 61. After that things really slow down and you do need to be achieving great results to get to 62 or 63. Then things really, really slow down and you start entering the super-achiever zone. I don't quite agree you have to be with the company 15 years to make a lead. I've seen people shoot-up and within a few years of being hired they are a lead. Most of them wanted that for power and then realized that dev lead (or just about any first-line manager position) is a hell of a lot of hard work for the same pay.

You can make a lot more money and achievement now by joining a small company and kicking butt there.

Another comment:

...You are stacked ranked way before you write your reviews. IT IS a popularity contest. One of the main reasons I left the company was due to a deceitful management chain managing me out of the company... they methodically and systematically tore a very productive, a very talented team apart because that team insisted on telling the truth, doing the right thing which included the best interest of the company in mind. Now after all that 4 people were driven out from the company (years as FTE ranged from 7 to 12 yrs), and 6 people were re-orged or traded into situations not beneficial to their own careers and development...

I benefit from being on a highly open and honest team that demonstrates unbelievable integrity. But I have heard stories from other parts of Microsoft that show some folks, decency-wise, would be right at home at Enron. This dove-tails well with an older comment about the cut-throat dot-commers brought in during the internet boom that will wage any sort of slimy duplicity to stay ahead. These are our corporate blackberry bushes and no matter of process or Company Values will weed them out. They simply have to be 2.5'd and moved on.

Lastly: I learned last week a developer I only knew from email was yet another recent Google acquisition.  And their first mistake that I know of.  The competitor in me says, "Good! They're in for trouble now!" Or it's a brilliant plant on Microsoft's part. But, in the end, it's one less brilliant developer working for Microsoft and carrying the weight of a bunch of dead wood.


Anonymous said...

I can't tell you how much I agree with you on the review thing. I initially worked harder and then smarter and finally harder and smarter. But I am yet to see any kind of pat on the back. I would have left the company long time ago but the only thing that is holding me back is the kind of work that challenges me every day.
You know what woudld be nice: Asking the managers to write the review before the stack ranking. In my team it happens after and I find really silly stupid reasons to put me in a bucket. I wish this entire review thing gets revamped.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, let's revamp it *again*. That's what, five times in three years?

Anonymous said...

Yes and yes!

Anonymous said...

Following up on a comment above... Do any of the review system revampings really change much?

The system has been "changing" constantly for years, but much of the change is in the typography of the forms.

The amount of bureacratic gristle over which each review has to slide has, however, gone up, and so the August review now starts at the beginning of June, and it seems like Hallowe'en is barely past when the February review starts (for those low-leveled enough to have two reviews per year rather than one, which means almost everyone).

When Comp2000 was announced during the summer of 1999, it seemed clear on paper that it was going to provide placebo promotions of "half as far each" that could be given out somewhat more often than old promotions.

While the distance of each promotional jump shrunk, the promotion frequency didn't really increase. Level 12, where people typically used to peak after enough years at the company, was expanded out to three levels (63, 64, and 65) rather than two levels, as each of 10 and 11 had, thereby providing even more room for largely fake non-progress in the former level 12 stagnocline.

Putting aside the numerical quaintness of taking a leveling system that used to run from 10 (or 9) through 15, and replacing it with one that ran from 57 through 73 (these really are close to the actual endpoint values of the new post-Comp2000 scheme!), the return of the salad days that the beneficiaries of Comp2000 may have hoped for never happened as the stock stagnated and the macro picture for the economy and the industry degraded.

The habits of old, coupled with the poor job market since 2000, created in management a lack of any motivation of imperative to promote or up-compensate any faster than they used to... So the bottom line of Comp2000 was a bunch of 15% to 30% raises handed out, across the company, on a one-time basis.

The "Partner Grants" program is worth some additional examination as well. If there are frustrated level 59s through 62s (the old 10s and 11s), who still do most of the code-writing and debugging spadework company-wide, who thought they weren't appreciated before, one can only imagine what they would have thought if more of them had known more about the nature of the Partner Grants (beyond the fragmentary stories from the WSJ, which were all that most of the rank and file saw).

Mayuresh Kadu said...

Nice template. Can i have a copy ?

- Mayuresh