In response to your inquiry about work at Microsoft

A friend of a friend emailed me to ask about how I liked working at Microsoft.  This was my response.  I include it here because I think his questions are quite common for someone considering working here.

Disclaimer: I will attempt to answer your questions to the best of my
ability.  The facts I give you will be based on my own experience and
memory.  No guarantee from Microsoft is expressed or implied by the
content of this email.


I’m in my last year at BYU (Information Systems major), and now is the time for me to start looking at jobs. I have another friend, who has a friend working at MS who personally knows the recruiter for the West. He’s going to have her contact me.

That’s a good idea.  Get to know your recruiter.  The one I worked with was fun and very friendly. 


I was hoping you could tell me a bit of how it’s been for you at MS? Do they overwork recent grads? I have heard they overwork them and burn them out in a few years, then drop them and replace ‘em with another recent grad. True? Could just be all the conspiracy theories. J

That wreaks of conspiracy theory. 🙂 Yes they hire grads, yes  some will leave, and yes more will be hired in a few years as they do every year.  Do they overwork them?  Not unfairly, to be sure.  On the contrary, I get the sense that they very much value the grads (and everyone) they hire. 

I just attended a techfair hosted specifically for interns and new college hires where Steve Ballmer spoke.  He said that their approach to new hires matches their approach with new technology: Work with it, even for years, until it rocks!

Now as far as overworking in general, … but I’ll save this for your next question.


How’s work life? Do you bring lots of work home with you? Late days? 50 hours weeks (or more)?

First of all, it very much depends on the team you work for, from what I’m told.  Second of all, ask your recruiter what Microsoft means about the “work-life balance”.  It’s very impressive.  Microsoft’s goal is to get their employees working 40 hour weeks.  And in some teams they have achieved it.  In other teams, like those affiliated with Vista, they are working much harder, from what I hear.  I wanted to work on Vista (or thought I did) when I applied, but one of my interviewing managers corrected me (and I’m grateful).  Vista will be awesome, but right now those development teams are working overtime.

My team is awesome.  I work approximately 40 hour weeks.  Sometimes slightly more or less.  If I need to come in late or leave early on a given day, I can just do that without even talking to my manager first.  They trust you here to use your judgment, and they just want you to get your work done.  Pretty much you can set your own hours as long as they cover the meetings you need to attend.

Traffic is bad.  I choose to take the bus so I can pursue my own interests while in traffic rather than just drive a car.  It takes a little longer (sometimes — other times it seems faster), but at least I can use my time productively.  Including travel (from where I live) I’m probably away from home nearly 50 hours per week.

As far as taking work home with me.  heh heh.  I love my job.  I asked my manager for a laptop, explaining that I’d like to be able to do work from home if I can’t sleep or whatever.  He said no.  But get the reason: because “when you’re home, you should be home.  You shouldn’t have to work at home.” 


Has anything disappointed you – meaning, were you expecting/promised something you didn’t get?

The biggest disappointment wasn’t that big.  It was simply that in the application form for my interviews, MS asked me what the minimum salary I would require to work there is.  They merely matched (ever-so-slightly overshot) that minimum.  But see the answer to your later question for more on this.

Microsoft has no “fountain of knowledge”.  You have to work out solutions to problems here just like any other programming job.  I guess I should have known that.


Has anything exceeded your expectations?

The weather is very enjoyable (we like the rain, though in the summer it hardly rains).  We’re the only state that’s regularly under 100 degrees last I checked. 

I was struck during my on-campus interviews with how friendly everyone was here.  That feeling has only increased.  The mutual respect among employees is unlike anything I’ve experienced.  People here “take ownership” of your questions; they find solutions for you if you ask rather than just say “I dunno” and/or point you in another direction.  Of course that doesn’t happen 100% of the time, but it makes me feel like I’m at a grocery store where employees are always waiting to help you find something.  Except they’re your coworkers.


Are people being ethical where you work? I hope so. J

Absolutely.  Entirely.  Microsoft has a strong ethical and legal guidelines handbook and they push it hard down all employees (I think annually).  There are private reporting mechanisms for when anyone (including your superiors) do something you think is unethical, including protection against the “whistle blower”.  I’ve never had any reason to wonder about anyone’s behavior here though.

In fact, although the outside feeling about Microsoft seems to be negative in many circles, being on the inside during some of these “scandals” like the multi-hundred-million-dollar fine from the European Commission against Microsoft for protocol documentation has allowed me to hear their side of the story and realize that Microsoft really is trying hard to comply with all laws and overall good citizens.  It seems to me that bad/inflammatory news sells, and Microsoft has made a very popular target of late.  But I feel good being inside Microsoft knowing that I work for a company that is full of employees who are real people who are just trying to do their job the best they can.


I’d appreciate comments. I’m wanting a good job after I graduate, like everyone is.

I would suggest you apply multiple places.  If you get an offer from Microsoft, other offers will give you a reference of comparison so you can see how great Microsoft’s offer is.  :)

The employee benefits offered by Microsoft truly are “second to none”, as their HR goal states.  I can’t begin to enumerate them.  If you can fathom it, Microsoft probably offers it.  I’ll just list a few: having a baby is free, finding a baby is significantly paid for (adoption), not having a baby is free (various modes of temporary or permanent birth control), non-profit org donation (in $$ or time) matching, free day care for kids on days you work but your kids don’t go to school, 401K matching, employee stock purchase plan, target performance bonuses of 10% and can be up to 20% of annual salary, annual pay raises (that barely keep up with inflation), life insurance, $0 deductibles and copays for doctors visits and medications, 2 weeks paid vacation that you can carry over up to one year (and this increases with time; I have a coworker with what… 5 weeks?!), 8 more paid holidays, 2 floating holidays (you pick the days), 10 paid sick days (that you can use if anyone in your immediate family is sick), 4 weeks of paternity/maternity leave when you have each baby., free health club membership and significant discounts for your spouse, tons of discounts and great treatment from local businesses, paid for tuition for continuing your education (at least a significant portion, if not fully)…  are you beginning to get the idea?  Oh! And the health insurance applies to your whole family and does not come out of your paycheck. 

I know exact pay isn’t appropriate to share, but did you get what you hoped for? Do they pay competitively for where you are?

Notwithstanding my earlier comment about salary, I feel that Microsoft has treated me fairly.  Inputting my skills and geographic area into produced a pay range within which my salary from Microsoft fits.  And the process for promotions and pay raises  is clearly laid out for all employees to read. 

When comparing offers, be sure to go to web sites that give you standard costs of living for the areas you’d work for each offer you get.  A condo in the Puget Sound area of Washington (where main campus is and the surrounding areas) costs twice as much as a medium-sized house in Provo.  That should factor in to tell you that you can’t compare salaries like apples-to-apples.  Also, the state of WA doesn’t charge income tax.  You still have federal income tax of course.


Thanks a ton for your help and insights.

You’re welcome.  I hope you found them useful.

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