My First Month at Microsoft


I didn't have this verbatim conversation per se - but it aptly captures the work intensity here at Microsoft.

Somehow I made it through the gauntlet of interviews and Microsoft decided to hire me. Yea, I don’t believe it either. Even after a month, it still feels a little unreal each morning when I swipe my badge – I keep waiting for the light to turn red and for someone to come out and say this has all been a big mistake and that they’ll have to take my badge….But so far it hasn’t happened.

I barely slept the night before my first day of work, I even woke up 15 minutes before my alarm went off because I was so excited. If you can, I would recommend doing something physically exhausting the day before you start so that you’ll sleep soundly.

The first day was basically consumed with filling out paperwork – actually typing in information into a computer – and getting briefed by the HR rep about various policies, procedures and amenities. I was then introduced to roughly 10,000 people, more or less. After about the first 6 or so,  the names and faces begin to merge into a giant collage of smiles, handshakes and variations on ‘Welcome to Microsoft’.

I’ve worked at a lot of cool places before joining Microsoft (at NASA and on a nuclear submarine just to name two), but this is the first place I’ve worked that elicits a reaction from everyone I meet – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but there is always a quantifiable reaction when I tell them I’m working at Microsoft. I’m a  field employee working directly with customers and I don’t work in Redmond – which is just about the first question everyone asks me when they find out I’m working at Microsoft. Officially, I work in the Northeast District office outside of Boston, but mostly I spend my time meeting with clients in the field. My title is Account Technology Strategist – which in theory means I help companies shape their IT strategy using technology to create solutions that solve business problems and enable business growth. I’m still trying to find out if the reality will match the theory.

My second day at Microsoft started off with a phone call from my wife as I’m driving into work – “um yeah, we have no heat and 12 inches of water in our basement.” My only response was “uh, not much I can do right now, it’ll have to wait until I get home.” Although Microsoft has a great vacation policy and a very generous sick time allowance, there was no way I was going to call my new boss and tell him I wasn’t coming to work, not on my second day on the job. I just didn’t want to be that guy.

Taking nothing away from my previous workplaces but Microsoft feels like an evolutionary advance in workplaces.

If you aren’t aware, Microsoft is a big company. A really big company, especially if you expand the employee count from the 90,000 or so full-time employees to include partners, contract workers and temp workers. However despite, or maybe because of, its size I’ve never been anywhere where so many people have gone out of their way to offer help and make sure things are going well. 

Speaking of my co-workers – I’ve never been anywhere where everyone is so darn talented.  Really, everyone is smart, so smart that when I step into a room, I think the group’s average  IQ drop 10 points. That might be an exageration, but I am working with people who are scary smart – multiple MIT and Ivy League graduates and quite a few fellow Babson MBA alums.  But more importantly everyone has been genuinely nice and supportive making it easy to learn all the information that’s being funneled into my brain.

A few common threads have emerged from my conversations with people when meeting them for the first time:

  • “So where did you come from?” – I recommend having an elevator pitch ready for this question.
  • “How’s it going?” –  Is any answer other than great expected or desired?
  • “I remember when I started it took 3, 6, 12, 18 months before I really started to feel comfortable.” – Thanks you’ve officially just scared the living heck out of me. 12 or 18 months till you feel comfortable doing your job? Whoa.
  • “You’ll feel like you are having a nervous breakdown from information overload, don’t worry about it, it happens to everyone.” – Ugh, thanks I guess.
  • “Somewhere around your second month you’ll feel like a you’ve become brain dead  and that’s okay. That’s when stuff begins to fall into place”. – Again, thanks for the chipper advice, nice to know I’ll feel brain-dead. Looking forward to it.
  • “One of the secrets to staying sane at Microsoft is knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.” – Thanks, that’s great advice, but how do I know the difference?

As the saying goes: “Microsoft eats our own dog food”. Which is a way of saying that everything sold to customers has been used extensively internally first by Microsoft employees in a production environment. Office 2010 is now RTM (Release to Manufacturing), but it was the standard internally at Microsoft very early into its Beta. I’ve been using Office 2010 for the first time and I’ve got to say it’s great – it’s more intuitive than Office 2007 and it’s a huge improvement over Office 2003. I won’t go into details here, but suffice it to say that this version of Office has set the new standard and is a must have if you regularly do any of the following: write documents, create presentations, crunch spreadsheets, take notes, or use email.

Something to be aware of is that Microsoft’s large size means that accounts for new employees take a while to propagate through the various systems – especially external ones with partners, so enrollment for benefits like insurance and 401k  took a few days to catch up. I was really lucky and my future boss had a sweet new Lenovo X301 Laptop ready for me on the first day which meant I could immediately get plugged into the email and training loop. And by training, I mean watching some the numerous, yet informative, on-boarding training videos. The first videos were from executive leadership team and they continued right down through the organization.  Plus they are training videos on Intellectual Property, Business Conduct, Safety and Security, and many, more more videos that dealt more directly with my position and our products. I’ve never been anywhere which has the depth and breadth of training available  that Microsoft has just keystrokes away.

For the record Microsoft isn’t perfect. For one thing there is never enough soda water or V-8 in the employee drink section. Yea, I know, cry me a river. Boo-hoo. And we only have Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts brew on demand coffee to choose from, What no Peet’s? I know, how do I survive each day? Right? Seriously, Microsoft is an awesome place to work. Our customers have interesting and challenging business problems to solve and I really like working with them as a partner to help move their businesses forward.

DISCLAIMER: Just to be clear – This is only my personal experience and may not be indicative of your experience when you start. This entry (and this site) is my own and don’t necessarily represent Microsoft’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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  1. #1 by Ruth-Hanna Strong on 2010/05/29 - 12:37

    Glad you landed well and are adjusting to the new culture.

    Every time we get bought, there’s change period, with on-boarding optional.

    Enjoy the change. Growth is good.

    RH

  2. #2 by Bakh Inamov on 2010/05/29 - 14:25

    Thom, happy that you’re happy.

    I hope you have a shorthand for the disclaimer, cause from now on everything you say, write or think will need to have smallprint underneath 😉

    • #3 by Thom on 2010/05/29 - 15:11

      Too funny and you are absolutely right Bakh. Control-C and Control-V is my friend. Hope to see you the next time you are back in New England.

  3. #4 by Ryan on 2010/07/07 - 22:10

    Enjoyed reading your post, especially the point about when you enter a room and the average IQ drops 10 points. Tells me you are a humble person and balanced. I am a prospective Babson student, strongly considering a start in March 2011. I live in Michigan so am actually contemplating the flight into Boston every 6 weeks.

    You mentioned Microsoft had some Babson graduates. Do you think Babson is a true differentiator? When you were interviewing w/ Microsoft did they simply recognize the value of your degree or did you have to explain it?

    • #5 by Thom on 2010/07/08 - 09:23

      Ryan, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Glad you are considering Babson – it was the right choice for me. I do think Babson was a differentiator but then again I was applying for an opportunity with Microsoft’s sales organization where business skills are valued in addition to the expected technical skills. I can’t speak to how an MBA in general, and specifically a Babson MBA would be perceived in software development roles at Microsoft (although my guess would be coding matters above all else, but an MBA probably wouldn’t hurt you). I was lucky in that I interviewed with one person who was a Babson alum – of my five face-to-face interviews that was the only one where a discussion about Babson and the MBA came up. I do believe that the MBA helped me stand out relative to other candidates and it demonstrated a genuine interest in business, not just in technology. As far as I know, Microsoft doesn’t actively recruit at Babson – but since Babson students and graduates are entrepreneurial they seem to find a way into Microsoft anyway. I like to think it’s because Babson produces such great graduates, but maybe I’m biased.

      As I’ve menioned elsewhere on the blog, Babson’s name recognition is still growing and not many people in the Midwest know anything about Babson unless they are tuned into MBA rankings or interested in entrepreneurship. If name recognition matters and you plan to stay in the Midwest/Michigan area Babson might not be the best fit for you, especially when compared to U of Michigan or Michigan State. If getting a great foundation in Entrepreneurship as part of your MBA matters, then Babson has no peer – there really isn’t a better place to be if you are entrepreneurial. And even here in the Northeast I frequently have to explain entrepreneurship and why it’s relevant – especially once people know I’m not trying to start my own company right now. Hope that answered your questions. If you have any more please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thanks, Thom

  4. #6 by Al on 2013/09/02 - 08:25

    Thom,

    I ran into this post while searching for posts on Account Technology Strategist position. I have a phone screening interview with Microsoft for the same position in a couple of days and I was wondering if you can give me a highlight about what this job is all about now after 2 years of you doing it (I am assuming your still with Micro) and if you can give me some tips to help me with my interview. Thanks Alot!

    • #7 by Thom on 2013/09/04 - 10:43

      Al, thanks for reading my blog. Hope your interview went well. I was taking some much needed time off – off the grid – and I just saw your comment. There is a lot of information out there about how to interview and how Microsoft interviews. My advice is to let your passion and knowledge come through. Here are two posts I wrote that were cross-posted on the Microsoft Jobs blog. – http://microsoftjobsblog.com/your-story-thom-mitchell-part-1/ and http://microsoftjobsblog.com/your-story-thom-mitchell-part-ii/

      I’ve now been with Microsoft almost 3 1/2 years now and I still enjoy working here. It really is an amazing place – as with any job there are frustrations of course but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.

      • #8 by Al on 2013/09/05 - 07:36

        Thank you Thom for your helpful response! I had a phone screening interview today which I thought went very well. Let’s see, fingers crossed.

  5. #9 by D on 2014/02/15 - 12:11

    Thom,
    I have an interview for an ATS position on Tue, Feb 18, 2014 If I get the job it is partly because of your blogs. I read both part 1 and 2 and this one. Very informative. My interview is in the DC area.

  6. #10 by Thom on 2014/02/15 - 12:47

    D – Good luck next week. I’m almost 4 years in now and I’m still loving it. The amount of change is extraordinary. At times it’s a little surreal – like seeing the very public search for our new CEO, Satya Nadella, take place across the news media and be headline news. Best of luck and remember be yourself and let your passion and knowledge come through.

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