Anniversary

By | Saturday, August 02, 2008 1 comment
Today is the 10 year anniversary of my graduating from Microsoft. What a long strange trip its been!

People have been asking me if I can believe that it has been 10 years. The answer is "absolutely not." On the other hand, I can't believe that I am 46 years old. I haven't been able to get over my chronological age since I was 30. I can't believe that there's anything I've done (other than eating and breathing) that can be measured in decades. I can't believe there are friends that I have had for decades (though I am grateful for every one.) I am at once amazed at how much I have accomplished in the last 10 years and at how little I've done. It has flown and crept by; I have done everything and nothing. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like and where I'd be today had I spent that last 10 years in the bosom of MSFT, instead of out here where I create each day anew.

I am frequently asked if I miss working at Microsoft. The answer is always "yes" and "no." Microsoft was an amazing place to work. It was (and probably still is) a place where one can work on really interesting problems with an exciting group of people and product a product that will be seen and used by a vast audience of people. If I had helped to create a program like Access at some other company, the project would have been just as intriguing, but without Microsoft's name, reputation, and marketing muscle, it might have been ignored in the marketplace. Releasing Access at Microsoft meant that within a year it was in use by a million people, and today tens of millions use it directly or indirectly. At the risk of an immodest analogy, it is like being Claude Monet, recognized as a leader in the impressionist movement, versus being Van Gogh, a fantastic painter ignored during his lifetime and dying penniless.

The thing I miss most about Microsoft are the people - in particular the lunchtime conversations. Day after day I recall fascinating company in the cafeteria. People with such amazing brainpower and diverse knowledge and interests that each meal was an education. I recall lunches where people proposed word problems (such as "the island of the blue eyed people") and analyzed answers.

I recall a lunch early on in my career where I exclaimed on the recent increase in the stock price. Sitting across from me was Charles Simony, one of Microsoft's most brilliant "architects." He looked at me and said, "yes, but the third derivative is negative." [What he meant was that the stock price was going up, and the rate that it was going up was increasing (acceleration), but the rate of acceleration was decreasing.] I also recall another lunch with Charles in which we were discussing the price of something over time (gas? GNP? I forget.) I had studied it in college and made some comment about the price movement over recent decades. Charles glared at me, demanding "What is the shape of the graph?"I was stunned. My mind went blank. I couldn't form an answer. "Well? What is the shape of the graph? Is the graph rising or is it falling?!?!" I was frozen. Charles then told me that the graph was falling and proceeded to prove why my claim was wrong. You couldn't swim with these guys unless you had all your facts in a row. Sigh.

On the other hand, working at Microsoft was incredibly demanding. To do well there one had to give one's all; there was very little life outside of work. I got up in the morning, drank coffee, and drove to Redmond. I worked, ate, and played at Microsoft for the next 10 to 12 hours, then drove home and pretty much went to sleep. Those were my days. During "crunch" times that often included one of the two weekend days. Later in my career I refused to work weekends and insisted on taking an hour or two in the evenings to ride my bike or go to the gym. I needed the time to myself and often got a lot of good thinking done while away from the office.

Microsoft is not good for relationships. Most people, male or female, were single. Many were divorced. I recall a number of divorces that occurred while I was there. People were married to their work. Microsoft was a place full of "A-Type" people, that attracted A-types, and encouraged them to be as A-type as possible. It would bring in kids straight out of college, give them the coolest technology, interesting problems to work on, all the soda they could drink, and burn them up. I was lucky -I came in as an "adult," refusing some of the bullshit. I also came in early enough in the company's history that by the time I burned out I could afford to leave.

I expected to be there at least 10 years, but only lasted seven and a half. Now I've been gone for 10. Happy Anniversary!
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1 comment:

  1. Many happy returns of the day! It's been four months since I quit my last job, and although I miss certain people, honestly, I do not miss the workplace in general.

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