TLDR – My employment at Microsoft was Terminated a year ago this week. After 4 months off work, I started work again at Oracle. Loving the Oracle job. Looking back, comparing, It was all for the good as I think Microsoft was becoming Toxic for me.
It’d been twelve months since I left Microsoft(longer by the time I manage to post this). In my head, for many years, I figured Microsoft was the last company I’d work for. The plan was to make it to 55 and retire. At 55 years and 15 years of service, your stock awards continue to vest over the next 5 years which would have provided enough income to live off of until 60 without touching savings. All that changed over a year ago when I moved a cable from one spot in a building to another and did not understand gravity.
The longer I am departed from Microsoft the stronger I feel that my job at Microsoft was becoming toxic, and It became toxic slowly enough I never noticed it until leaving and experiencing another company. A company I never imagined I’d ever work for let alone enjoy working for, Oracle. A job where I gave up working with Windows, and Exchange as the core technologies that had paid my bills since I was 19.
The last year Microsoft to Oracle
Not going to lie the first four months of no work after Microsoft was a bit stressful. We were not sure if we would have to move back to the states. We were not sure how to pay for things with no income coming in. We shopped for groceries for a few months with the change we’d saved over the last year. Thanks to the friend network I managed a job offer less than a month after the firing, Unthanks to immigration’s paper work it took another three months before the first day at Oracle. In the middle of the paperwork, the immigration attorney told us we should leave Ireland and not come back until the paper was done; no stress.
Not stressful at all to hear, leave it’s your best chance. On the plus side we had a fabulous five week holiday touring around Spain, and Italy. After the paper work was processed I started working and felt a bit like a kid learning to ride a bike. I’d seen some of this stuff done before and understood how it worked but working on the cloud stuff and linux and not Exchange was a big shift. Seven months later The imposture syndrome is starting to fade and I feel like I’m capable of working about 80% of the cases that come into the ticket queue.
I’ve even managed to find a few tasks at the new gig where I’ve been able to use some of my core skills from Microsoft. A few weeks back I wrote some simple powershell for the first time in months It’s been so long I had to look up how to format things. The last week I’ve been building out Exchange servers to write a white paper on Exchange behind the Oracle Load balancer. Amazing how quickly things like PowerShell and Exchange have gone after lack of use.
I never even considered Oracle as a company I’d look to work at. Being at Oracle for most of a year now, I’m happy to be an Oracle employee. It’s a great job, with good people, with entertaining challenging problems to solve. Another thought I’d never planned on, looking back I think my job at Microsoft was starting to have a negative toxic effect on me. Time away does some interesting things with perspective.
Stack Rank / Connects
Microsoft used to stack rack employees. To achieve more, be promoted, receive the bigger bonuses, keep your job, you had to make sure you were on top of the stack. To top the stack you had to make sure everyone else was below you in the rank. This encouraged people to work on their own, and hide their projects. It encouraged people to always be working on new projects and to sabotage peer employees.
Of course, everyone did not play the game to the maximum level and cause harm to others, but some did. Another performance key at Microsoft is review timing. My first run at Microsoft I worked with a small team to develop a tool that would impact multiple teams at Microsoft. We intentionally held off releasing the project for a few months because it’s better to drop a project right before the end of the year review so it’s top of managers minds when the stack rank and bonus allocations happen. You can see this in online projects, like Office 365, around June / July when code check-ins increase vs any other month and customers feel a bit more pain from the churn.
Stack ranks were a horrible thing; Microsoft officially killed them a few years ago under Satyas rule. Microsoft replaced twice a year stack ranks and reviews with “connects” that happen 2-4 times a year and did not include a stack rank on paper. Management still ranked employees across the team and used a curve. You still had to supply your manager with a baseball or battle card of what you had done for the company lately they could use to fight for you across all of the other managers – but the grading changed, and the word stack rank was gone.
We went from 2 times a year to 4 times a year in my group. Making the connects a nearly endless cycle of proving your value with something amazing. The one plus of the connect system is the grade was no longer how much better you were the others. Satya added in a team effort metric to the grading system. You were now graded on the positive impact you had across the entire time, what you did, and your ability to make others work better – This was a huge improvement to me and many others in the company
The result of always having to do more, do bigger is where the toxicity comes from; it is not great in my mind. It’s a massive source of stress. Tools used to last for years and were improved at Microsoft. Now tools are rewritten or replaced annually. Not because they need to be replaced or because the new tools are better. Most of the times the new tool is worse than the old tool at the start. But the new tools are new, and they look great on a “connect” to prove the value you have added to the company. Your value is no longer what you did 2 weeks ago, it’s what have you done for me today – It’s mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting.
Job Creep – Another Sad part of the role
My role at Microsoft started off as “Fix tickets customer open, plus Fix tickets opened by automation and monitoring” I loved that role. Getting to play fix it, superhero, all the time was a dream come true for me. By the time I left Microsoft that was still the core of the job, but doing only that was hardly enough to avoid being graded as needing improvement during connects. I was in a group of 20-30 engineers and consistently in top 3 for case solve numbers the entire time I was in the role. – in the end, closing more cases meant I was not doing my job and should be worried for my career longevity. I’d already proved I could close cases I should be doing more.
The job became so much more, build tools, fix bugs, check into source, teach the team, do more, do bigger, and never stop doing more. If you are not doing more this quarter then you did last quarter you’ll end up on a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP). The stress to come up with more and do more was never-ending. The cycle of it all was never ending, as soon we finished one review “connect” another one would start. It was a mad scramble to show progress on a project, or a new project, or some great customer win you could promote in the connect to show off how amazing you were to prove you should still have a job.
Another key to your connect was peer reviews. Not only did you have to do your job and do amazing projects. You also had to play popularity politics and be able to ask 5-10 peers to say amazing things about you. You might want to have more than that because using the same names ever 3 months is not nice to the names, nor does it look good to the boss team. My role went from Fix things and make customers happy to, Fix things, check in code, do big projects, train more, become popular, save every win and document it – then do it all over again 3 months later but make sure you did it bigger than the last 3 months.
Managers ruin jobs. I’m sure there are groups are Microsoft not engaged in this horrible cycle. For my management chain that was not the case. from the top down we were pushed to “what have you done for me lately” It took years to make it where it was and I gradually grew to accept it; death by a thousand cuts. Being at a new company where my role is again “fix things and make customers happy” it’s pure refreshing.
Work at Oracle is so much less stressful. I don’t have to work 24 hours a day to be visible to the entire worldwide team so I can have names for peer reviews and be on all managers minds come review time. All I have to do is do my job and do it well. Then go home, and come back and do the same thing the next day. Some of this is Oracle, some of it’s my new management chain. Whatever it is – it’s made me mentally, emotionally, and physically healthier then I’ve been in years.