20 Years at Microsoft

Today is my 20th anniversary at Microsoft. I never thought I'd be at one company so long (although my dad was a lifer at 3M.) Even during most of senior year, I had not really thought about Seattle a potential place to live or about Microsoft as a potential employer. I had, however, designed the perfect job in my mind so when I learned about the Program Manager role at Microsoft, I knew I wanted it.

I thought I blew it at the job fair though. After I left my resume with the guy at the table, I took two Microsoft pens they were giving away. He noted, "That's odd. Everyone is taking pens. These pencils are great too." I replied immediately, "We're Stanford students. We don't make mistakes." and walked off. I thought for sure my arrogance would kill the deal, but later that week I received an invitation to fly up to Seattle and interview. (It turns out that kind of "confidence" is a desirable trait at Microsoft.) The rest, of course, is history.

I feel very fortunate to have found a job I love so much right out of college. One of the many great things about Microsoft is that you can do very diverse things without having to switch companies. Among other things, I shipped perhaps the first really video intensive game for Windows 3.0 (Golf for Windows 1.0 -- I hit the only hole-in-one during testing), worked on the first new English dictionary in the last 20-30 years (Encarta World English Dictionary), was grilled by the US Department of Justice and the European Union anti-trust dudes -- on the same day, ran a very profitable $200mm business (Works), helped secure and revive Internet Explorer, spoken in front of huge crowds around the world on topics from digital imaging to computer security to internet standards to search, and now have the opportunity to live and work in China and deal with issues like Internet censorship. It's been exciting and challenging every step of the way.

More important, I've learned a ton from my managers, peers, and reports. It really is a privilege to be surrounded by some of the smartest, most creative, most passionate people in the world. There's no way this experience would have been even one-tenth as much fun without these people. I'm a bit surprised every day that the company pays me to do something I love so much.

Things have changed a lot in twenty years. Microsoft had just passed 5,000 employees and had its first year with revenues over $1 billion. (Today we have around 100,000 employees and earn around $60 billion in revenue - nice to see the 60x growth in revenue on 20x growth in headcount.) The first computers on my desk were an IBM PS/2 Model 30 (10 mhz 80286) and a Mac IIci (25 mhz 68030). Microsoft had just shipped Windows 3.0. There was no Internet (not really), mobile phones were just coming out (and were huge), and CD-ROMs were just on the horizon.

Sometimes people tell me how lucky I was to work in the "old Microsoft" and opine how much cooler it must have been then when everything in the industry was new. It was fun, to be sure, but I think today is even better. A lot of the great ideas we had back then were limited by the constraints of the hardware, memory, network, computing power, screen resolution, cost, etc. and even more by the readiness of people and companies to be a part of a digital world. Today, of course, we have computers in our pockets, nearly ubiquitous wireless connectivity, insane storage and computation available to us, and a population comfortable and reliant on technology. Today, virtually the only thing limiting what we can do is our imagination and ability to execute. Now is the time we can finally do really cool stuff.

In commemoration of my service anniversary, Microsoft gave me a ridiculously huge crystal. It's the big brother of the five, ten, and fifteen year crystals (although I never got those since they introduced them after I reached those milestones.)

Here's the huge box on my conference table. That's a 19" monitor on the table for size reference.
Big brown cardboard box on a round conference table with a flat panel display. The box is almost as long as the diameter of the table.  

The crystal comes well packed. There's a base in the box too plus some cards and other stuff.
The box with the top removed. A huge crystal lies in the box with cut foam around it.

Here are my five year (the clock), fifteen year (the stock certificate), and twenty year (the huge crystal) awards side-by-side, in order. (The ten year one looks just like the fifteen year one, so I don't keep it in my office.) Today, all of the awards are progressively larger crystals.
A small gold clock, a silver Microsoft stock certificate, and a tall clear crystal with an orange band across the middle.

Included in the box is a card from Steve Ballmer thanking me for my service. It was kind of him to pen such a personal note after twenty years...
"Twenty years marks a milestone that few at Microsoft have reached. We would like to take this opportunity to honor your exceptional commitment and recognize your extraordinary efforts over the years. Your contributions and passion have been essential to Microsoft's success. Congratulations on reaching this important, and rare, milestone in your Microsoft career. Our sincerest thanks for all you do. All our best, <signed> Steven A. Balmer"

Anyway, it's been a hell of a ride so far. I'm sure the future will be as much fun (if not more).

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Optimista Reply

Congratulations - what an accomplishment!

And that is one HELL of a crystal...

Marcie Reply


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