First month at Microsoft

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 20, 2009, 12:36 PM | comments: 0

I've been meaning for some time to give friends an update on how working for the largest software company in the world is going. I've been there now for a month, sort of. With Thanksgiving and the week in Orlando, I've really only been there in earnest for three weeks.

I'm working on a team primarily of four developers on the forum application that runs on MSDN, TechNet, Expression, IIS, Answers and some other properties that I'm sure I can't think of now. We also have a bunch of testers, two program managers (one for the forum, one for the profile functionality shared with other stuff). You can look up on Quantcast the kind of traffic that those sites support, and therefore get a pretty good idea of just how enormous it is. I often forget myself just how rarely a person gets to work on something seen by so many people.

And organizationally, in case you're wondering, the forums fall under the Server & Tools Online (STO) group, which runs pretty much all of the stuff that is developer and IT facing, including the official sites for ASP.NET, Silverlight, etc., that fill more of a support and community role, as opposed to marketing. STO is part of the "DevDiv," which is all the stuff made for developers, and that in turns is part of the Server & Tools business (STB). STB is one of Microsoft's top level groups, the others being Windows, business products (Office, ERP stuff, etc.), entertainment and devices (Xbox, Zune) and online services (MSN, Bing). Looking at the org chart, I'm six degrees from Steve Ballmer, which to me says that the management structure of a company that huge is actually pretty rational.

Anyway, ramping up sometimes takes awhile, but I've actually got checked in code now. I'm still not running at what I'd consider significant velocity, because I'm still feeling out everything that I can touch and what's already there. Our app was not written by us, and so we're spending a lot of time making it more maintainable, testable and easier to expand.

My team is agile, not so much in the religious, capital "A" sense, but we adhere to the principles as much as possible. We do some amount of pairing, iterate pretty quickly, and at least intend to work in a team room instead of offices. There's some kind of facility snafu, so at the moment we're sharing a bunch of adjacent offices, which I happen to like because of the lovely view to the outside. I've worked way too long in places without windows.

As far as the company goes, it's fascinating every day to be there. For being in such an enormous company and in its largest division, it still seems small in some ways. That's probably because there's a lot of internal communication about what's going on around the company, options to "dog food" new products before they come out, etc. The sheer diversity of things that happen in Redmond is staggering. I found out the other day that MSNBC has a full newsroom there, for example.

It's hard to not drink the Kool-Aid® when you're there. The campus feels a lot like college. The older part is so rustic and wooded, while the newer part has a nice set of shiny new buildings and a cafeteria area that overlooks the Cascades. It's really beautiful, with the parking stuffed underground (for 6,000+ cars). Then you go to the company store and buy the high-end mouse for $35 and enjoy a free beverage. Did I mention the free MSDN subscription? The food is generally pretty good there as well. It's hard not to get swept up into it.

The new machine I got at work was of course loaded with Windows 7, so that's what I was going to use. For all my bitching about Vista, I have to say, 7 is an enormous improvement. I've even migrated my projects at home into a 7 VM. It still has its quirks, but it's pretty fast overall and they seem to have removed some of the really annoying UI and ridiculous dialog boxes.

The next two weeks are going to be slow going with massive vacations, so I suspect that really feeling like a contributor will take a bit more time. But I'm starting to feel like I actually work there, and I'm enjoying it. It's been a really long time since I've felt that way about a job.

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