As I outlined in my post about my last 5 years at Microsoft I returned to Microsoft on Feb 29th 2016 - a leap day. In non-leap-years, like this year, I mark my anniversary on March 1st.
Sooo … today marks my 10+5th anniversary at Microsoft.
At every 5 year anniversary at the company, employees are offered a Service Award commemorating the anniversary. When I passed my 5 year anniversary, I was awarded a very cool clock which is in my office (I’ll add a photo of it when we return). A few years ago, Microsoft started issuing crystals which increase in size with each 5 years of service.
A couple of days ago, my 10+5 year crystal arrived:
Why “10+5” years and not “15”?
Well, I use this to indicate the fact that my time at the company has been spent in two very different periods and eras in the company’s culture and history: My first 10 years and the second 5 year period summarized in “The story so far”
The first 10 years
I first joined Microsoft UK in July 2000 after founding and running a software consultancy and bespoke development company for the previous 5 years. At the start of 2003 I moved with my young family to the beautiful Pacific North West (PNW) and joined Microsoft in Redmond.
The early 2000s were a tumultuous time for Microsoft: The company was coming to terms with the aftermath of the the 1998-2001 DOJ Anti-Trust case, and was negotiating the terms of its settlement with the DOJ. These terms included an agreement for the company to operate under DOJ oversight for the next 4 years in order to prove that it was in compliance with the settlement agreement. Microsoft went a step further however, and volunteered to continue operating under the terms of the consent decree until 2012.
From my perspective, this had a tremendous effect on the company: Microsoft started growing up. Alas, it also affected Microsoft in unexpected ways.
During the mid-late 2000’s, under DOJ oversight, Microsoft transformed its business, working practices, policies, and ethics. The company had quite deeply internalized the fact that it was no longer the scrappy young upstart fighting to survive among far larger competitors, as it once had been, but it was now one of the biggest players in the market.
With great power & influence comes great responsibility.
The company started taking its position and its responsibilities seriously. Microsoft started collaborating with other companies around a set of web service protocols and standards (WS-*) that would allow systems and services to interoperate much more easily. And, as per the terms of the DOJ consent decree, Microsoft started documenting many of its file formats and networking protocols to permit others to interoperate more easily with its software and systems.
This was also an explosive time of enormous change: The internet and world wide web had gone from something people often thought of as a toy and was increasingly become an essential tool in many businesses and many people’s lives. Google had arrived on the scene and all but wiped-out every other internet search and advertising business, and was making rapid inroads into offering “free” email and other services. Apple had been saved from collapse by Steve Jobs' return to the company, first delivering portable digital music players (iPods), then up-ending the entire music distribution business via digital downloads and streaming, and then blew up the mobile phone market with the introduction of the iPhone. Facebook arrived on the scene and crushed its social networking competition to became the primary source of news and information (and, yes, misinformation) for many.
By 2010, once huge companies had been destroyed, had exited products/markets they were once famous for, or were struggling to survive. And startups were appearing (and disappearing) with regular abandon.
At Microsoft, while the business had continue to become more respectable, and to grow and flourish, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, led the company through several ill fated business and strategy mis-steps. Microsoft’s delay in responding to the iPhone was perhaps one of its most visible mistakes. It was also playing catch-up in the search & advertising marketplace with Bing.
But something else had started happening at Microsoft.
Ballmer had started to look to other huge companies to learn how they kept their businesses growing though now dominant in their fields. He started instituting some of the management policies of other huge companies including aggressively firing “the bottom 5%” of employees in each group (regardless of groups' comparative performance), making multiple rounds of redundancies, reducing employee benefits, putting business people with no engineering experience in charge of engineering teams, and many other policy shifts that resulted in a rapid decline in employee morale and trust in the company’s leadership and direction.
By mid-2010, I too had fallen out of love with the company. I was still in awe of the company’s technology, employees, engineering capabilities, etc. but I was feeling demoralized and didn’t like the direction I saw the company going in. I’d also recently survived the breakup of a team & product I’d spent several years working on and was re-assigned to a team that did amazing work, but the area wasn’t something I was passionate about.
Even my Dad noticed the change in me and was one of the first to vocalize what I knew deep inside: I wasn’t happy and needed a change.
It took a huge leap of faith, and the unwavering support from my amazing wife (to whom I’m eternally grateful) for me to exit Microsoft, but leap I did!
I formed a new company and began a fascinating and fun six-year adventure that included some great consulting engagements, founded a couple of startups, took an opportunity to help HBO establish a new development office & team in Seattle, and more. Those experiences helped me understand and improve who I am and helped me grow in many important ways. And they led me to the surprising opportunity to re-join a very different and much improved Microsoft … which I described in my post on “The story so far”, and in “A new role” my new role which I have had
So what is the takeaway from this story? Ultimately it’s this: Never assume that the world will stay the same. Things change. In fact, the one thing that will remain true is that change happens. Sometimes change happens faster than you think, and in ways you’d never expect. Sometimes the change is external - outside your control, and sometimes the change comes from within. But change, the world will.
The secret to surviving change is one’s ability and willingness to be adaptable.
Do not FEAR change. Change will, of course, result in some amount of stress and worry, but being flexible, adaptable, active, and willing to embrace change will generally result in you coming out on top, or at least in a better position to where you’d be if you fight, resist, fear, or try and prevent change.
And it’s often the case that embracing and adapting to change results in you being exposed to many new people, situations, and opportunities that you’d likely never have come across had you tried to avoid or prevent change.
So when change comes, roll with it. Embrace it. Use it as a springboard to new opportunities. WHO KNOWS where it’ll take you, but its likely it’ll be exciting, fun and interesting!