Sunday, December 1, 2013

1 Year After Microsoft

I still remember the funny feeling I had in my stomach as I drove home from work on November 30, 2012. It was my last day at Microsoft after working there for nearly 5 years.

Today is my 1-year anniversary of life after Microsoft. I left the company with the intent of becoming an entrepreneur, but had the fortune of landing at Madrona two weeks later. Both of these transitions weren't without concern at the time, though I remain exceptionally pleased with both decisions.

It's been an incredible year. Some experiences have been pretty much as-expected and others have come as a surprise. These are some of my observations and experiences one year after Microsoft.

(UPDATE: Be sure to check out links to other people's experiences at the end)

Life Outside the "Mothership"
  • While at Microsoft, I tried to actively engage in the broader Seattle community and thought that I was doing a good job building a diverse network. This made it all the more shocking when I realized shortly after leaving how heavily weighted my network was with Microsoft contacts. I love my friends and colleagues from Microsoft, but having a network that's concentrated on a single company and one that creates generic solutions rather than vertical-specific ones is a huge weakness when it comes to entrepreneurship. I suspect that it's also a weakness in business and career growth in general, but don't have as much evidence of this.
  • Concern about no longer having access to resources was unfounded. Microsoft provides vast resources to employees for both work and personal purposes, but living without those has been inconsequential.
  • I do miss the compensation. I took a massive pay cut when I left, but I believe more than ever that "compensation is the price a company pays for making you put up with bull$". I continue to live very comfortably. More importantly, I've found that I'm much happier than before, providing some validation to the non-linear relationship between financial compensation and happiness.
  • I tend to thrive in uncertainty, but I have to admit that there are occasions when the certainty of the Microsoft environment sounds nice.
  • External perceptions of Microsoftees are different from internal ones. Inside Microsoft, there's a sense of being among the smartest people in the world (which isn't unfounded - many brilliant people work there) and that the skills developed working there are a thing of pride. Outside Microsoft, perception increasingly looks like the kind of respect you have for dinosaurs. Many skills and accomplishments are irrelevant or limited in scope when looking outside Microsoft's bubble. In terms of false perceptions, I continue to hear disparaging remarks about how people at Microsoft work 9-5. I can't think of a single Microsoftee I've met, past or present, who works 9-5. 10-12 hour days, 6 days per week is more typical from my experience.
  • All companies have their issues. Sit around the cafeterias at Microsoft and you're bound to hear a good percentage of conversations complaining about something or other related to the company. However, over the past year I've had lunch with people from at least 50 different tech companies and every company, big or small, has its issues. What's really important for individuals is to take a holistic view and identify what's tolerable and what's a deal-breaker.

Personal Development
  • When I was at Microsoft, I didn't get much time to learn non-proprietary technologies. During nights and weekends any work I did was for a company project or learning internal technologies to support work I was doing. Since leaving, I've been able to invest in learning open source technologies, applicable across the dev stack (my prior focus had always been backend). I've also been learning about UX design and expanding my knowledge on the business side. All this comes with the day-to-day work I do as well as from flexibility that allows me to explore outside of work as well.
  • While at Microsoft, I also got caught up in some of the group-think that garnered overconfidence in my skills. I've since gained a clearer picture of both my strengths and weaknesses, including areas both technical and non-technical. There are fewer unknown unknowns and I'm hopeful that I'll have the opportunity to work with some of the amazing people I've met in the past year who have complimentary skill sets.
  • My network has exploded in the past year. This has been partly due to my work and partly due to intentional effort made after realizing how limited my network was. This has led to many benefits, not the least of which is new friends.
  • Over the last year, I've been in a good situation to evaluate what's important to me in a more objective manner than I have in the past. This has resulted in increasing confidence in what I want to do with my life.

I still think Microsoft is a great company, though it has its share of challenges. I can't say with confidence that I'd want to work there again, though I don't regret the time I spent there and I'm also not sure I'd want to work at any large company. Joining Seattle's startup ecosystem was absolutely the right decision for me and every morning I wake up excited about work.

I intentionally cut out some topics I'd like to share, such as what working at Madrona has been like, because I quickly found that I was writing about them at length and that they merit their own posts, so more on that later.

To my many fellow ex-Microsoftees who left around the same time last year (many of whom I've had the pleasure of meeting), happy anniversary!

UPDATE: Stories from others

Here's a great 1-year post from an ex-Amazonian. I had similar plans when leaving Microsoft and have had similar experiences since leaving! Evan Jacobs of ReadWriteHack: My Most Productive Year

Here's a post from a friend who left Microsoft this year to become an entrepreneur. It includes some good reflection on the inner thoughts one has right before making a move like this. Avilay Parikh: Why I left Microsoft

Here's a post from an entrepreneur I recently met who, like my friend above, left Microsoft this year. Othmane Rahmouni: Goodbye Microsoft, Hello Startup World.