Microsoft: Month 6 Review

It's hard to believe I've been at Microsoft for 6 months now. Wow! Time has really flown. So how is it? What's life like on the inside on a daily basis?

Interesting, that's for sure. In many ways, Microsoft is just like any other company; they're are projects, meetings, decisions, etc. Upon closer inspection, there are some huge differences. Some are physical: the campus, of course, is huge. My buddy Tom (who I shared an office with for a bit in building 40) and I have our bikes handy: it's good exercise but also practical when you need to get across campus quickly. Most people have their own offices (Tom and I both have our own now that we're in building 28).

If you were on campus, you can walk by any number of groups of people and pick up pieces of their conversations. I'm in Windows land, so most of the conversations I pick up are Vista related. It's an amazing reality that brings home this reminder: these people are really smart. It's partly exciting to be part of it, but it's also partly intimidating.

I recently had a conversation with an old colleague and we discussed some of the HR processes at his company. And I can't believe that I now almost take for granted how connected everything is at Microsoft. With some exceptions, you can get a secure wireless connection just about anywhere on campus. Several times a week, I surprise myself by finding another cool intranet site I didn't know about. Payroll: Online. Benefits: Online. Training: Online. Voice Mail: Online. Office Supplies: Online. Expense reporting: Online. HR/W4/Time Off/etc: Online. Taking notes at a meeting? Use OneNote. Not sure where Longhorn is at? Go to http://longhorn. If you use your badge to pay for food, you can see it all at http://msdining.

And for those that are into training: this is where it's heaven. Many events are recorded and can be streamed whenever you like. While some classes are on-demand classes, many are classroom. I recently logged into the the training site and the number of training hours I've logged this year is simply awesome. It's all there for accounting and the cool part is: it's encouraged ... and that's good because I can't get enough of it -- as I write this, I'm on my way to PDC 2005, and over the past month I've taken a fantastic engineering class as well as an advanced ASP.NET 2.0 class. Fortunately, Microsoft has strength in numbers; instructors generally come here to campus, so it's convenient to pop in a class without it interfering with the daily responsibilities.

Internal movement is encouraged. Not everyone fits in every team, and of course team dynamics can change and personality conflicts emerge -- so in that way, it's like any other company. The opportunity to move and grow, though, is awesome.

I just finished my first annual review. In fact, I _barely_ made it in under the wire to qualify for a review and subsequent bonus/pay increase. (As a side story, I almost pushed up my start date by a couple of weeks so I could extend my previous employment for a somewhat greedy reason: to get the annual bonus. I'm glad I didn't do that -- not just because it's was a bit of a greedy thing, but doing so would've meant I would not be eligible for this year's review, and I'm glad I went through to process, both for the raise and the experience.)

So how is the review process? It's solid. Each employee is at a certain level -- typical entry level is about a 59 for an SDE. Leads around 63-ish. It's interesting because, like pay, this is considered private data. The levels generally dictate pay range and title. Based on job title and responsibilities, it's fairly easy to guess someone's level, if you were so inclined, so I've wondered in my newbian musings as to why it's considered so private.

The really tough part regarding the review process: ratings are on a curve from a 2.5 to 5.0 scale. That's right: you could be a solid performer and end up with a below average review. It's a difficult reality, but it is on a bit more of a global level than the immediate team -- so it's possible a single team could all get very good reviews, but it will balance out in the end. A rating of 3.0 is average -- a rating of 4.0 is extremely good, 4.5 even better but rare, and a 5.0 is a near impossible achievement, reserved for special occasions.

As for compensation -- I'm not disappointed. Even with my "incentives" being prorated (I was only reviewed for 3 months, not 12), the increases were well above anything I had received in the past couple of years outside of Microsoft (exponentially, actually, which says a lot for it being prorated) -- had I been here the whole year, it would be impressive. No, I'm not running out and buying a yacht (I can barely keep up with my mortgage), but it's nice to get compensated for hard work. There's an old saying, "Trick me once, shame on you. Trick me twice, shame on me." In my case, I was sure to follow up with my recruiter about what to expect at review time, as I had been burned before with unfulfilled expectations at another company. And I'm glad to say my recruiter was honest and spot-on -- so if you're interviewing at Microsoft, don't be afraid to grill the recruiter about what to expect come review time.

Now for the negatives: well, not exactly related to Microsoft but there are very real problems of traffic and cost of living. Let's face it: it can be tough to make a decent living in Seattle. There's tons of fantastic neighborhoods and schools. The problem is getting something you can realistically afford given distance and commute. It's a struggle.

How about internally? There's a lot of people who are bitter about the cutback in benefits. Let's be honest: once you give someone something, you can't take it away with hearing some gripes. Some they've given back -- for example, 3 weeks vacation for new hires. Still, as a reality check, zero payroll contribution for medical/dental for 100% coverage with no co-pays is pretty sweet. It's quite simply the most impressive plan I've ever had. I realize some of the other fringe benefits have been cut back, and while I don't make light of people's concerns, it's not anything I can miss since I didn't have it to begin with.

So, how about Seattle? I already mentioned the traffic and cost of living. The next biggest drawback is the rain. It does rain a lot -- but thankfully, it's rarely "stormy," it tends to just drizzle. The good news is: similar to northern Idaho, the summer is generally warm and blue-skies from late June through September.

There's tons of great things to do in the Puget Sound. Sporting events, shopping, and places to go like the zoo or aquarium. Most of these are really inexpensive because of the Microsoft Prime program that lets you get discounts in the area -- some discounts are minor (like 10% off SonyStyle.com -- you can likely get it much cheaper elsewhere), others are great -- like $3 admission to the zoo/aquarium, etc.

Now, if we could only get a discount at Fry's, I'd be set.
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