Why all the good people left

The Fall from Greatness

I first joined MS in 1989 as FTE. I was one year into being a programmer, I was in QA for OS/2 3.0, Cruiser. Five months later I was a developer on Cruiser, a rapid advancement that portended great things that never came. My first annual meeting was shortly after hire and I was prouder to be there than from being sent to the International Science Fair as a high school senior.

My second annual meeting I walked out of in disgust.

The MS of 1989 was open and great. If you had a good idea they wanted to hear it. And you could be impudent and insubordinate delivering it. We loved working there, we loved , we loved our stock options. There were no org charts. They were great. Product quality counted more than trade show dates

Now they’re just big. It has been a long fall from greatness and the fall has not been interrupted.

The release of Windows 3.0 on May 22, 1990 started the avalanche. Suddenly we had office mates, smokers with intense BO who were never off the phone, we had org charts everywhere, and the intellectual heavyweights who had been there during the IPO decided to call it a day (nobody I knew there in the 90s was still there in 2000, either). MS went from hiring the brilliant to hiring the sycophantic and obedient. If you had a great idea you kept it to yourself because managers didn’t like being upstaged by their “reports.” They’d terminate you.

I was there for half of 1989–2009, six gigs both FTE ad CSG. I didn’t mind being called dash trash because I was a lot better than them by then. They had MS pennants on their office walls and they had the out-of-the-box desktop image on all three of their monitors but they didn’t know shit because operating the internal tools was their job now, tools that never worked and were all placed in our path before they were ready. Quality gates were obstacles. Vista was so late and such a flop because it took a 70 hour week to do four hours of work. A checkin took four and half hours and failed more than half the time because someone had forgotten to renew a certificate. We hated the crap product we were creating and when Brian Valentine told us to use Vista as our development environment we almost burned the place down, and we refused with one voice.

I’d walk past closed doorways through which I could hear wracking sobs, and entire hallways resigned. Vista management made the charge of the Light Brigade look like brilliant strategy. I had to quit because I was showing signs of schizophrenia from the stress, but I was back after a fortnight (of round-the-clock sleep) in Windows Mobile under a great manager and no wmcheckin, just sd submit. My last good time at Microsoft.

Maybe you were in the management Air Force, soaring over our heads, and they were “sales forward” whatever that means (I have a math degree not an MBA) and blah blah blah but I was a developer grunt in the trenches below you having nervous breakdowns from the stress of overwork and lies, lies, lies.

My last gig was in 2009, CSG in the hardware-software group under a hierarchy of incompetents who never met a fad too goofy to embrace. , unit tests for products too small to have units, pair programming, as anti-Flow as could be. Nobody I worked with was more than “a little smart,” but they all spoke Company Buzz with amazing fluency. I came back from my father’s funeral to be dragged into some drone’s “visibility” meeting, a code review that wasn’t even a pretense, and three hours of pair programming that had me on anxiety medication for five years (I’d never even taken a tranquilizer before).

Yes, I am angry. Angry about the little Beijing grunt who fumed about my not following their illegible “coding standard,” angry about the code review where, fresh from burying my father, they openly sought to push me into a meltdown so the coming layoffs would have lower numbers, angry at being a captive audience in division meetings while upper managers with titanic salaries giggled about beer like 14-year-olds who had lockpicked the liquor cabinet. Angriest about the pair programming that had me awaking in the middle of the night screaming in rage years afterward. Angry at the betrayal of my hard work and the betrayal of all of us who really believed and put in the unpaid hours. Angry at Ballmer’s unspeakably crudity and vulgar ugliness. Angry at the fall from grace and the careers and hopes it took with it. And I would never, ever, ever work there again. Nor give them one thin dime.

American Software Developer living in Vietnam. Classical musician (guitar, woodwinds), weightlifter, multilingual, misanthrope • XY

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