My first month at Microsoft

So it’s been a month since I started at the Big M. What has it been like?

I started Microsoft not even know what my group would be. There was a reorg between the time I accepted the offer and the time I started, my would-be manager moved to a different team, and I met with another manager and determined their group didn’t really match my interests. Yeah, that’s right, they actually considered what I wanted to do to determine what team I should be a part of. Novel concept.

So I ended up on the Live Product Search team, and I’m a Senior Program Manager in charge of Quality, which is a huge challenge given where Microsoft is in the search space vs. Google, Yahoo, and even Amazon from a commerce perspective.

The first day and a half was consumed by broad “New Employee Orientation,” attended by 130+ new Microsoft employees that started that same day. They did have a number of things down pat, like getting your security badge and getting all your docs signed. Not a bad day and a half, but also didn’t really learn much new, at least for spending 12 hours in a meeting room.

As for the job, so far I like my team, I like my role, and I really like the overall organization I’m part of. Co-workers have such great initiative that they initiate work on things before they are even fully defined, something I will have to get used to. They also do a great job with software architecture, so their productivity is much better than I am used to.

There are a lot of program managers at Microsoft, which means lots of meetings with lots and lots of people in the room. A little daunting, quite frankly, given there are so many people that need to be kept in the loop.

Given that I’m on the product search side of the business, they have a healthy respect for Amazon, which has helped me build credibility quickly. I also like that I

On the down side, they are not as data driven as I would like, nor do they have attention to detail and follow through when it comes to online products. This is a big deal. When you ship Office or Windows, you can have bugs, inefficient experiences, etc, and you don’t lose customers. When you offer bugs or inefficient experiences in online search (or news or maps or content or whatever), the competition is a click away and they leave. Big difference, and it takes a big change in mindset. Microsoft pioneered the “V1.0” mentality – get something out the door, fix it later. That doesn’t work in the online space, and my job is to convince them of that and get them to execute differently. Quite the challenge, wouldn’t you say?

And I haven’t even talked about benefits yet. Imagine choosing a health coverage plan, 100% coverage for everything, no co-pay, etc, and they PAY you $30 a month to boot. That’s right, you can pick a health plan and make money. Suffice it to say it really is true that Microsoft has the best bennies in the world, including their 401k matching and their discounted stock purchase plan.

I’ve spent almost every day at the Pro Club, the amazing fitness club in Bellevue that Microsoft provides membership for. Even saw Steve Ballmer in there one morning. And a former colleague from Amazon and I are playing racquetball weekly. One of these days I might beat him.

Microsoft is definitely a late starter, late leaver mentality. I’m usually there by 7:30am, and only one car in the parking garage beats me. By 9am a few people show up, but if you call a 9am meeting you’ll be lucky if half the people are there by 9:30. Flip side is everyone works to 6-7pm, which is too late for me to be in the office usually. So will have to figure out how to be efficient as a program manager when my schedule is counter to so many.

I also have a team in Beijing, and man they are talented. Proactive too. Now to figure out how to work with a team 15 hours ahead.

That’s the other weird thing. At Amazon and Whirlpool, I was always fighting to figure out a way to get resources. At Microsoft, they keep falling in my lap. Maybe its perspective, but it seems like every other day I’m having a meeting with someone who is willing to help me out, take something off my plate and ownership of it, etc. Definitely a 180 from Amazon πŸ™‚

Related to that, they really work hard to make sure that their “highly paid professionals” have support staff to help with the mundane. There’s a real understanding that you pay knowledge a lot of money for their knowledge, not their ability to figure out how to create requests to get a white board added to their office. It’s in the culture here as I’ve heard negative references to “people who make six figures” doing something not cost-effective.

And finally, I really like the people at Microsoft. That I suspected, having known so many people that work there, but nice to see it play out. They’re professional, respectful, smart, and have a real drive to get things done.

In short, so far so good. I think I’m going to like it. And I think I made a good move. Then again, ask me in three years πŸ™‚

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