Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Your Review, Your Numbers, Your Choices

How do you feel about your review this year? I dropped in Friday just so that I could get my review and The Numbers.

So you get the review you initially filled out with your assessment.  Now you have your boss' comments and the you-said / he-said rating. And the rest is hand-waving about the future and general confusion about just how you can be committed to something while all the future of your group is going to hell in a hand-basket as you reorganize and try to figure out what to ship and when you'll be able to ship it. 

My commitments from June are now ponderous reflections upon an optimistic era.

And then you get the sheet with The Numbers.  Your level, responsibility, department, rating, current pay, future pay, any bonus, and any stock awards.  "Wow, that's small." I let slip out, wondering if this damn blog had finally had a real-world impact on me and my compensation.

"No, that's pretty much inline with average," my boss said, and reviewed how we're inline with comparable tech companies and that 2% raises are about the max-average (?) this year, along with some % bonus I forget (10%?).  Later I got home and unloaded my gear and went through old review numbers.  Even in my worst year when I was totally ignorant about the review process I did way better than this year.

I guess we had a lean financial year.


Playing some XBox later, the compensation subject came up and that the days of new Microsoft millionaires are over. True, folks are a bit reactive right now. But now is an inflection point: The Numbers average below cost-of-living increases, our future is in flux and not inspiring, we're busy trying to save money by cutting towels and moving office supplies, and in the meantime we are expected to excel at individual Process Excellence.  Beneath all of this, the passion is in there somewhere, it just takes increasingly hard yolk-pulling work to let it out.

We're just too big to deftly manage our future and let the individual contributor flourish.

But at a personal level, what does that mean for you? Choices.

First of all: you're going to buckle down doing what you're doing, forfeit what-could-have-been elsewhere, put in 200% effort, and work through it all and endeavor to change the system and weather the storm. That path ahead is hard, no doubt about it, and full of plenty dark-nights of the soul. Don't kid yourself. We can't maintain the business as usual (I hope that the yawns to our pre-Longhorn-reset dog and pony show during the recent financial-analysts meetings were heard all the way to the top). Destructive changes, whether from-within or foisted upon us, will happen. Ya!

Okay, you could decide to change groups internally. Now's a great time for many reasons. Get that resume together and updated and do some informationals. Perhaps there is a group that's a perfect fit for you in which you can have a greater day-to-day impact making fantastic software (or selling it, or marketing it, or (bless your heart) supporting it). The thrill of that perfect match should keep most anyone going.

Lastly, it's also a fantastic time to look for other job opportunities in the area (or in an area of the world you've always wanted to live).  Why not? It never hurts to ask just to discover how desired you are. Perhaps you're savvy and you realize that the ax is being sharpened in the executive meeting rooms and groups are going to have to be cut left and right One Day Soon. Get that September 15th bonus deposited and start drafting that "Moving On" email. Just try writing your goodbye now for the thrill of imagining what it would be like to start a grand new adventure in a fast-moving environment.

The golden handcuffs were removed from your wrists long, long ago. You own your career. It's choice time.


Anonymous said...

I heard if you are at/above certain levels [64?], you are being rated with senior review curve thingy. You are probably quite senior and not rated with the company AVG review model [like the rest of us]. This could explain why you are getting less than average for AVG score.

Anonymous said...

I crawl away from MS in about 7 more days. My boss would not let me interview, between her drinking & missing meetings she felt I was a sub standard Microsoft Employee. Maybe it's because I turned down those Vodka shots at lunch? Interesting assesment of my skills. Reviews matter. But when the company went from $50 Billion to $60 Billion in a year it's hard to swallow the "lean year" pill.

Anonymous said...

"I knew Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles was a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Mephistopheles."

This post is a pretty weak and thinly veiled argument for people to consider 'moving on' and out of Microsoft. People change jobs on their own natural accord. You're wasting bits whispering here. Besides, the people *you* probably want to move on most of all are going to hang on to their jobs with a kung-fu death-grip until they have no other choice but find a new position elsewhere.

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). Our industry here in the USA ain't doin' all that great and we should be pleased with any raises that have occurred in the past. It's a lot better than salary cuts and layoffs (yes). So while inflation might be ahead of our raises, our pay is inline with what our peers in industry are earning.

Anonymous said...

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

Anonymous said...

"U.S. businesses are, on average, increasing their salary budgets 3.5% for 2004" accdging to the wall street journal

at a major high tech company (hint: photoshop), raises in the US were capped at 3%. And at a few other major silicon valley high tech company, there have been no raises for 3-4 years now.

supposedly the average raise at a certain major redmond based company was 2% (0% for many many many many many - like 1/3rd). Traffic will probably light at Crossraods this 15th compared to years past.

Anonymous said...

Quote from an earlier comment: "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)."

If you persistently hire the 5% most qualified people worldwide and insist on paying them 2/3rds of the industry average of what the 95% of the less qualified people are making, they'll figure out at some point that there's jobs out there that pay up to 1/3rd more at the same qualification. Those who stay will likely not be the smartest of the aforementioned 5%.

Anonymous said...

So amazingly correct. But wait, there's stock options...nevermind.

Anonymous said...

A manager once said that the company "pays for performance".

Does that mean all the employees of MS are expected to perform at 2/3's the performance level of rival company employees?

Anonymous said...

I'm posting anonymously because I know of other folks who have been reprimanded (and some put on probation) for talking about being unhappy at Microsoft in public.

Basdically, 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. They both performed at roughly the same output, but they were 3 levels apart. Ironically, they received the same review score (3.5) and the higher level guy received 3x bonus and 5x stock awards.

Honest managers will tell you that every person being reviewed gets put into one of three buckets: the "must keep", the "must drop", and the "don't care". "Must drop"s are given practically nothing so they'll leave. "Don't care"s are given as little as possible, based on what management thinks will keep them from jumping ship. "Must keep"s basically get the rest, which is often spread around based on very subjective measures.

As an undergraduate hire from several years ago, I often get asked whether people should want to go to Microsoft out of college. The answer is simple: yes--just think of it as an extension of your education. It happens to pay well (for undergrad) and gives you a chance to get useful experience from a big name company. However, the odds are significant that you will not rise quickly, regardless of performance.

Let's take a look at the numbers. For undergrads, most come in at level 58-59. The company promotion rate is 20%. This means that the typical employee gets promoted every 5 years. If you're a solid hire, your management will likely promote you at the end of your first year to motivate you past the vicious depressed most new hires go through. 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. Of course, as less and less people leave the company, it'll be easier for new hires to get promoted more frequently (the higher level guys have a higher hill to climb, in theory). Still, discussions I've had with middle-upper management have used a target age of 30 (although not specific to age in any way because that would be illegal) as a "leadership" age.

If I could give advice to new hires, it would be to negotiate your starting level. It takes years to move up a level, so the higher you can come in at, the better. There are brilliant, hard working people stuck at low levels who get no respect and "retired" people at higher levels. By "retired" I am referring to the folks who reach level 65+ and decide that they can use the company as a flexible spending account that justifies expensible first class international trips while not making any significant contributions to the team's overall goals. Although their reviews may come back as 3.5 (higher levels don't get 3.0 or below), they're still looking at a significant bonus ($X0,000) and thousands of stock awards.

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.

Anonymous said...

(this has to be a troll, but here i go anyway...)

"higher level guy received 3x bonus" -- well, if his salary was bigger, then his bonus would be bigger.

"around 15 years to become a lead" -- no. search headtrax and look at the service award date for people with the appropriate titles.

"it takes years to move up a level" -- while technically correct, this is misleading: it's possible to level every six months/year (early) or two years (later).

"higher levels don't get 3.0 or below". -- no, they're subject to a curve, too.

Anonymous said...

You all believe what your managers tell you? Not being at the company makes this all easier to say. 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.

As a matter of fact this same management chain came to power through a series of re-orgs and then 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 (remember msft is the place where management encourages you to grow and to be in situations where you will be successful)

I could go on and on and on with how I have been wronged. SO with that being said, I think the executive management knows exactly what they are doing. The y are cleaning house.. they are moving tons of high paying positions off shore and keeping the low paying spots here as FTE or CSG spots. They are putting junior employees in positions of leadership when they are CLEARLY not qualified nor ready to lead and then they reward them heavily.

Get a clue folks ... your working for a company that wants to hold money ... like a bank. It is also a company that has contributed HEAVILY to the RNP ... maybe that is why they acting like the current administration.

I get so frustrated at the ignorance some of you show! (was the red kool-aid good?)

Think about it

Anonymous said...

> working for a company that wants to hold money ...
> like a bank

They just agreed to give away US$75B over 5 years. What kind of bank gives away that much money?

Of course they are doing it to support the stock price, they have to do that because they pay so low (65% of what you're worth).

But why do it now? I think that MS is one of the most intelligent (and efficient) organizations we've ever seen in this world. So they are doing it for a reason - they aren't stupid. Wrong maybe, but not stupid. So, why?

I think the stock is a huge issue. I think that there is a reorg happening, MSFT wants to continue to expand and the IBM model (matrices, sigma six processes etc.) is A way to go. The change from Gates to Ballmer was deliberate and has been a big shake-up - I suspect far bigger than anyone expected.

MSFT is waaaay too smart to make a mistake for too long. None of these things that I read about concern me too much... but the mis-step I do think that has happened, is that MSFT continues to say the era of the web browser is over because "heavy client-side + web services = good enough". Under this logic, the IE team is no more.

But the browser has a long way to go! IE may not be being upgraded and that may choke off new features in DHTML/JS etc. but the trend to web-programming will never be reduced, just slowed a touch.

COM isn't dead, it just smells that way. :) I took a look in the Northwind MDB a week or two ago and was horrified to see how much code is written to "manage" the mdb and manage the environment and so on. COM programming often involves creating middleware and all of this rubbish. How much code has been written to manage things that we simply don't need to manage when programming for the web? I like the web because I write code to suck data from a database and I display it. If it is change, I update the DB. No muck, no muss, no fuss. No code "managing" things.

The whole thing of "rich" client just sucks. Some may argue that users may want to have more "fun" in their apps... but then again, HTML is pretty boring and look at how successful it is! Users don't give a stuff. Faced with boring HTML tables when compared and snazzy VB grids which have built in drop downs and dynamic color and and and and... just look at the users *stampede* to the (boring, simple) web!

That's it in a nutshell. If the .NET strategy is trying to tell people "client-side + web services = good enough" then it's wrong. If it's saying we don't need to target the browsers (the browser is dead), then that's the same big mistake Apple, IBM and others made. Linux may clean up on the server side, but HTML certainly *will* clean up on the client side.

WINFS looked to be a genuine advantage, but now that's been long horned through.

Longhorn? Don't those flashy, wavvy Longhorn windows with nifty graphics look good. Yes, very good. But graphics won't slow or stop the tidal wave of HTML apps. (X)HTML is here to stay and if Google adopts Mozilla and begins to fund the next round of XHTML improvements... look out! Beefing up COM so it plays catch up (via web services) is just foolish. Classic ASP (and ASP.NET targetting browsers) are the winners - by virtue of the enormous drive to the web.

But just to reiterate, this company is far far too clever to make a mistake for too long. Only the paranoid survive eh?


Anonymous said...

Microsoft is clearly making big bets. From the software side of things, time will tell if the managed code vision is the right one or if the smart client strategy really makes sense in the heterogeneous Internet connected world.

As far as employee satisfaction and career growth potential, Microsoft has made the wrong bet and may lose big in the end. Talented people are leaving Microsoft at a greater pace than one may think. Companies like Google are very attractive prospects to the smart, driven, and passionate folks who still work at MS, and there are not many left.

The notion that everyone who works at Microsoft is unusally intelligent and driven is just a myth. Sure, there are plenty of folks who are driven to make money without really earning it, but that's not the type of vision that Microsoft needs as it marches forward into the future.

Microsoft is clearly struggling to find a coherent vision. The leadership is flailing and the troops are losing motivation and faith. Year after year of poor rewards and pitiful wage increases for most employees does not bode well for Microsoft's future.

A company with too many selfish, corporate game players possessing average intelligence and little real vision and strong technical capability is destined for failure no matter how much money it spends on basic research.

Anonymous said...

"If I could give advice to new hires, it would be to negotiate your starting level. It takes years to move up a level, so the higher you can come in at, the better. "

This is some of the worst advice I have ever seen, particularly for college hires. Remember that you are reviewed against OTHER PEOPLE IN YOUR LEVEL. That means that if you come in as a 59, after a year, you are reviewed against other people who came in fresh out of school. If you come in as a 60, you will be reviewed against other people who are 1-2 years out of school. There are a ton of "getting used to the processes and culure" type of skills that you will have to get over when you start at Microsoft. Unless you are super sharp, bright, and willing to work long hours, you are likely to take some time to achieve those skills.
I have seen several college hires come in a 60 and most do not do as well long term as those who come in at 59. They may make 10% more money to start but there are two major downsides to coming at 60:
1) You get a huge ego and motivational boost when you get your first promotion. If you are coming in at 60, it's likely to be 18-24 months before that first promotion. If you're really a superstar, and you come in a 59, you will get that first promotion after 6 months (I know, I promoted someone like that).
2) There is a huge risk that you won't turn out to be as much of a superstar as you thought and you won't be able to perform at level 60 within a year. In that case, you are screwed. You will get a bad review (3.0) the first year, which will demotivate you and make it unlikely that you will achieve 60 by the next year enough to get a good review. While your 59 compatriots who started next to you are now 60, motivated by a promotion, and on their way to 61.

Now, all of the above is about college. What if you're experienced? Similar reasoning applies. If you have lots of industry experience, you may have great core skills but it's unlikely that you understand Microsoft's "way of doing things" and that will cause a ramp up time. You can ALWAYS get the promotion once you achieve the level. My group does promotion reviews 2-3 times per year.

Anonymous said...

I have 15 years of experience and that last 4.5 years have been with MS. I came to MS because I got laid off from my job in the IT world. So I have the ability to compare both worlds. Let me tell you all if you can get a job with MS DO IT!!!! The IT world sucks. They are shipping jobs to India to save money. That happend to me. MS is trying to save money by cutting back on free soda and towels. Why are people bitching! If you don't want to be here leave. Go work at a company that will pay you a good salary but fire you as soon as they can out source your job to India. If you want to be in the software business you need to be in a software company and there are not many more good ones left. I see people talking about google. Well what is going to happen when MS or Yahoo build a better search engine? Google stock price is just a fad and it will drop soon enough. The whole stock market is a fad. MS stock should be around $80/share but people are not buying now.

Anyway, I think the people who are bitching are the ones who have never worked outside of MS. Go try it and let me know what you think when it does not turn out like you planned.

Anonymous said...

Microsoft is a GREAT place to work. Why ca I say this? Because I work there. Sure, the future is wide open, competition is fierce, competitors, like us, are ruthless, but we're in the envious position of having the IQ and IP to shape the future and profit greatly from it. I don't want to go work for Google or anybody else for that matter.

Yeah, the Review game is just that; a game. Learn how to play it and win. It's fun. It's also profitable!

Anonymous said...

Knowing about the review process, and the staff ranking in particular is very important. Know that it's your manager's peers that will have a lot to do with your review numbers. If they don't know you, you won't do as well.

Microsoft has changed a lot since I first joined over 10 years ago. I burned out, left, worked at another company, and I was very glad to return here. Microsoft does treat their employees very well. Sure, there have been cutbacks, but they aren't unreasonable, IMHO. If you think it's a bad place, I do encourage you to leave and learn for yourself. Maybe you're right, and you'll find another job that suits you well. But if you don't like the company, it's probably best for all if you leave.

For good and bad, MS reminds me of IBM of the early 1980s.

Anonymous said...

> MS reminds me of IBM of the early 1980s.

Wow. Look at IBM now!!! They are the R&D licensing moduls of the whole world. Not bad.

(I bet Sun and Oracle and all the rest wish that such incredibly high praise would be mentioned of them too!)

ElvenScribe said...

I love the comments about how much people believe Microsoft is going through lean times. It's something the executives try to push onto the employees and public.

But, check out this quote used for justifying the bonuses the executives got this year:
"Overall, we had solid business and financial results in (fiscal year) '04 and our executive compensation reflects the health and momentum of the company," spokeswoman Rachel Wayne said. (at

Interesting. Although this health and momentum resulted in over 40% bonuses for the executives and raises of 8-11%, it only translated to about 6% bonuses and 2% raises for employees (with large numbers of employees getting nothing).

Anonymous said...

Executives will always get a bigger piece of the pie.

Think about the work-life balance of an employee ("Executives" are employees too) who's responsible for millions (in some cases, billions) of dollars of the bottom line... At Microsoft, there's little room for failure at this level which means there's little time for things like family for MS executives.

As the economy improves so too will the compensation of lower-level MS employees. It's really just a simple fact of life in the corporate world. Executives will always be significantly better compensated than non-executive level employees. This will never change.

Anonymous said...

That's crap. Executives fail all the time. Windows ME, Windows 1.0, Windows 2.0, Cairo, etc. Pick any stillborn codename and there's a failure in there.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to point out the key thing: most, if not all of the executives responsible for those failures are still at the company, and in fact have been promoted. Most of the middle management responsible for running the day to day of the failed projects have also been promoted, some into exectutive management. It is extremely rare for an executive to be removed from running a project, even if they prove incompetence.

They did cut bonuses for some execs according to the proxy filing. Big deal. They are all worth millions and shaving 5 or 6 figures off their bonus is symbolic at best.

Anonymous said...

Well, maybe the board is trying to separate the executives that are there for the money from the executives that really want to produce great software.

ElvenScribe said...

My main point wasn't that the execs deserved more compensation. It's with the comment about how well the company is doing and the bright prospects. That's the exact opposite of what they're telling employees. For other employees, they're saying the times are tough and getter tougher, so your only getting minimal increases or none at all.

So, which is it? Either the company is doing well or it's not.

Anonymous said...

"we're inline with comparable tech companies and that 2% raises are about the max-average"

I think this is key about Microsoft's true attitude towards its employees.

On the one hand management loudly exhorts "we pay for performance". One the other, "sorry, we're tracking the averages of a bunch of other companies, STFU and be happy. OH, thanks for killing yourself over the last year putting in huge hours."

So which is it?