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The reality of software development in a huge company like Microsoft – it employs more than 48,000 people – in that a substantial portion of your work involves days of boredom punctuated by hours of tedium. You basically spend your time in an isolated office, writing code and sitting in meetings during which you participated in looking for and evaluating hundreds of bugs and potential bugs. Yet Microsoft has no problem in finding and retaining software programmers. Their programmers work horrendously long hours and obsess on the goal of shipping product. From the day new employees begin work at Microsoft; they know they’re special and that their employer is special. New hires all have one thing in common- they’re smart. The company prides itself on putting all recruits through a grueling “interview loop,” during which they confront a barrage of brain-teasers by future colleagues to see how well they think. Only the best and the brightest survive to become employees.

The company does this because Microsofties truly believe that their company is special. For instance, it has a high tolerance for nonconformity. Would you believe that one software tester comes to work every day dressed in extravagant Victorian outfits? But the underlying theme that unites Microsofties is the belief that the firm has a manifest destiny to change the world. The least consequential decision by a programmer can have an outsized importance when it can affect a new release that might be used by 50 million people. Microsoft employees are famous for putting in long hours. One program manager said, “In my first five years, I was the Microsoft stereotype. I lived on caffeine and vending machine hamburger and 20 hour workdays. …. I had no life. I considered everything outside the building as a necessary evil.”

More recently, things have changed. There are still a number of people, who put in 80 hours weeks, but 60 and 70 hours weeks are more typical and some even are doing their jobs in only 40 hours. No discussion of employee life at Microsoft would be complete without mentioning the company’s lucrative stock option program. Microsoft created more millionaire employees, faster, than any company in American history- more than 10,000 by the late 1990s. While the company is certainly more than a place to get rich, executives still realize that money matters. One former manager claims that the human resources’ department actually kept a running chart of employee satisfaction versus the company’s stocks prices.

“When the stock was up, human resources could turn off the ventilation and everybody would say they were happy. When the stock was down, we could give people massages and they would tell us that the massages were too hard.” In the go-go 1990s, when Microsoft stock was doubling every few months and yearly stock splits were predictable, employees not only got to participate in Microsoft’s manifest destiny, they could get rich in the process. By the spring of 2002, with the world in a recession, stock prices down and the growth for Microsoft products slowing, it wasn’t so clear what was driving its employees to continue the company’s dominance of software industry.

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