Indentured Servitude at Microsoft?

Does anyone notice how people love to predict the demise of Microsoft? It’s a series of Chicken Littles running around claiming the sky is falling. I’ve been at this company for almost five years and we continually operate under the specter of doom. Two years ago, I felt like there were a lot of attacks and I blogged about my excitement for the company, sharing my excitement in our new products. Seems about time for another entry.


In the last year, we’ve endured the Kai-Fu & Lukovsky departures, the BusinessWeek articles that implied a coup based on lost towels (for the record, I am a little annoyed by the towels), and everyone’s favorite anonymous blog—MiniMSFT (for the record, I agree with some of what he has to say, but I think there are two sides to most of his opinions). And, of course, the insults were hurled fast and furious when Vista decided to delay shipment of the consumer SKU.


What makes this funnier is that the local software unions (yes, they exist) keep pushing for more Microsoft people join because apparently we are being oppressed. <y dad was telling me about the article he read where the union was on the warpath at Microsoft and the time was right because Microsoft is on its heels. They paint a picture of Google being the fun spirited place Microsoft once was and that everyone is looking for the exits. But while the whole situation is comical in and of itself, there are two things that fascinate me most about the latest round of targets on Microsoft: the assumptions that Google’s fun atmosphere has capture what Microsoft has lost and that a mass exodus on talent is causing a brain drain in Redmond.

First off, the fun atmosphere. Everyone likes to talk about Google’s laughter in the hallways. Apparently, they yuk it up, everyone’s excited, etc. Heck, it sounds a little like a teenage slumber party. Sure, why not? Everyone’s rich with the overpriced stock. :-) Wasn’t that the definition of the dot-com bubble? But the humor is that in this euphoria is a symbol of what Microsoft lost, as if people are wistfully saying “remember when Microsoft was like that". What? Umm, I know I’ve only been here for five years, but I consider myself a student of the early history of this company and that is NOT how it was depicted to me. Whether tales of fact (Showstopper, the great book about the creation of Windows NT) or fiction (Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs), Microsoft has never been a place where people weren’t driven and under pressure. I do believe the common profile for a successful Microsoft employee is one that works hard and plays hard. I'm sure frolicing has taken place at Microsoft, but its probably the exception rather than the rule.

As for the departures, I think people had more to be worried about in the late 90s and early 2000s when legendary names like Silverberg, Chase, and Maritz took off. As for leaving for competitors, anyone hear of Rob Glaser or Tod Nielson. Yes, Kai-Fu Lee & Marc Lucovsky went to Google and I wish themwell. But the notion that is the beginning of the end is borderline insane. Frankly, one of the most talented guys I knew at Microsoft left for Google last year and, given his situation, I didn’t blame him. But I wouldn't make that move and neither would a lot of people I know. I'll take my chances with the people that are willing to stick around.

Look, I am not saying Microsoft is perfect nor am I saying Google is bound for failure. However, this incessant “the sky is falling” chatter is a little tiresome. So a message to the union that keeps sending me mail asking me to join: please save your postage. Or ask me about the projects that I am working that, on some days I'd do for free. Or my wife’s health coverage during a challenging birth last October. I agree with Scoble—if I am not happy, I’m not stuck. No one is a victim here, so please quit suggesting the crime. I’ve worked at multiple companies and none hold a candle to Microsoft. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but I’ll never regret the time I spent--even though I haven't done a jig in the hallways.