Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What A Feeling!

So I've done a relatively good job of being calm and collected in my first two days at Microsoft. Your first day starts in a long line filling in I-9 forms. Then you enter address and other contact info info the Microsoft system via an internal web form. Finally, you sit for another 7 hours in a room while they teach you about benefits and the MS culture. At the start of that first day, you're officially a Microsoft employee, but you don't get your card key or anything.

Day two starts in the Big Room again, with a discussion about corporate ethics, legal issues, and a discussion with a couple of recent Microsoft hires. Finally you get your card key and are sent to find your manager. Oh and by the way - the room has anywhere from 100 to 150 people in it. Yup - Microsoft starts that many people, each and every week (well, maybe not the week of Christmas or New Year).

So at about noon I launched off on my own. Unlike most new hires, having worked here for 11 years, I know where the buildings are, where parking is, etc. So I zipped straight to my temporary building whenever I'm here in Redmond. I swiped my badge and got access to the building. A little smile crept up on my face.

About an hour later, after picking up my laptop and getting it set up, I went for lunch with another new-hire for our Utah group. As I swiped my card and stepped into the cafeteria, I had a completely involuntary reaction: I jumped, throw both hands high in the air, and shouting "Yes!! I'm back at Microsoft!" Later during lunch, Tim told me how cool it was to spend time with someone who is so excited about working at the company. I have a bounce in my step which has been missing for many, many years.

I can't describe it. I was in software testing/quality assurance at Microsoft for 11 years. There were great days and there were really challenging days. I left two years ago to lead QA "for the world's largest retail IT project" at Circuit City. What an experience that project was. Quality assurance to team leads (mostly IBM project managers) meant proving happy path and avoiding negative testing. It was a cultural shock, to say the least. Testing software at the LDS Church was somewhat better. The people, for the most part, were great (surprisingly, there were exceptions - people who behaved less Christ-like than even at Microsoft!). The QA team suffered from a total lack of respect from development, however. And I found in that IT organization that everyone has a special little niche. There are enterprise architects, application architects, security 'specialists' (people who know about security policy, but don't know much about penetration testing), developers, and quality assurance engineers. If you dared to stray outside of your niche, well, that meant you were stepping on someone else's toes.

Back here at Microsoft means I have an equal seat at the table as an engineer. It means I'll have to work with other engineers to tackle really, really challenging problems. First challenge: building an automation harness using existing technologies at Microsoft, then building our own framework (abstraction layer) within which our tests run. Additionally, we need to take the mandate to "build virtualization management technologies" and turn that into a release software application: ideation, product planning, product specification, development, and release testing.

We also have the challenge of hiring incredible C++ developers and testers (engineers) in the Salt Lake Valley. Finding developers is pretty easy, but finding developers who respect QA and understand engineering excellence? A challenge. Finding a software testing professional who has the guts to take an equal seat at the table? A challenge!

But that's what I love about being back. I feel like, after two long years, I can finally do my best work and reach my full potential. I can bring all of my 14 years of engineering experience to bear on a software challenge. If I have an idea, I can run with it. I can provide input to the user scenarios, to application architecture, and to how we push quality upstream. I can prevent software defects, rather than find them!

I know everything won't be perfect. I left Microsoft for reasons, and those reasons haven't all changed (although judging by much of what I heard in New Employee Orientation, the last two years have been a time of growth and improvement for the company). There will still be bad days, there'll still be the struggle for a good work/life balance (now called 'blend'). But I have incredible health benefits for my family, stocks and bonuses again, and I have the chance to be challenged every day again. And I'll be working with super-smart people every single day. THAT is a cool thing!


  1. Congrats on your return! Maybe someday I'll be back...

    When I returned from freshly spun out Expedia to mother-ship Microsoft, they made me go through NEO again--despite having an active card key, access to the company store, a working REDMOND domain account, etc. That seemed completely silly to me. It got worse when on Wednesday of that week my domain account got locked and my badge got confiscated by security. Apparently, Expedia's end of employment process happened _after_ Microsoft's new employee process. That took running back and forth a few times between buildings 8 and 100 to sort out.

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