A departing Microsoft employee reflects back on his time in Redmond

Thu, Oct 21, 2010

Featured, News

I’ve never heard of Philip Su, but I’m a fan. A former Microsoft engineer who recently decided to leave Redmond for the greener pastures of Facebook recently posted an amalgamation of thoughts and lessons learned from his time at Microsoft and it’s well worth a read.

On getting promoted:

If you consistently deliver what the business needs most, and you do it well, it’s impossible not to get promoted.  People tell me this isn’t true, that it’s all about the people you know and about “visibility.”  I have no idea how to consistently deliver impactful business results without becoming visible as a side effect.  I hate it when developers ask me how to become “more visible.”  They hate it when I tell them to “do great work.”  They think I’m mocking them.

And this is just good advice for anybody looking to succeed.

Good ideas are a dime a dozen.  Great ideas are usually laughed at.  Neither sees the light of day without you taking action.  Do the work to prove your idea, or stop talking about it.  In an entrepreneurship class in college, I pitched the idea of an online grocery delivery service and got laughed off stage.  Hurt, but convinced of my great genius, I returned the following week to pitch the idea of online movie rentals using the postal service.  I called it NetVideo.  Everyone thought it was absurd.  I used to tell this story to bolster what I thought was my streak of unrecognized, prognosticating technical genius.  These days, I tell the story to remind myself that in the end, only action and execution matter.

Lastly, here’s Su’s enlightened and welcome take on those oh-so-feared corporate cost cutting measures and soda smuggling.

We used to get Dove Bars and beers all the time.  It felt like free food was on offer at least once a week, usually with a pretense of some small milestone to celebrate.  Why did we cut stuff like this?  (I know the boring fiscal reasons why.  I’m asking the deeper why, as in, “Was it worth the savings?  Is Microsoft better now that we’ve cut these costs?”)

One day, a sign appeared on a soda fridge in RedWest saying something to the effect of, “Did you know that drinks cost Microsoft [ed: millions of dollars] a year? Sodas are your perk at work.  Don’t bring them home.”  This depressed me on too many levels to enumerate, but I’ll toss out a few:

  1. Someone had enough time to get these signs professionally printed and affixed to our fridges.
  2. It was someone’s salaried, 40-hour-a-week job to do things like this.
  3. Someone thought soda smuggling was a big enough “problem” at Microsoft to draw attention to it.

How much soda can a person steal?  How much does that same person cost the company per hour in salary and benefits?  Our most interesting profits will come from capitalizing on huge opportunities, not from micromanaging costs.  I’m sure some finance person will lambast me for this, which would only further depress me.

The entire post is gold. Read it now. Here.



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