The Microsoft  Archipelago

Working at Microsoft is one of those things that exposes you to opinions from everyone you meet. I can’t think of anyone that I have come across who is not opinionated about Microsoft, and usually strongly so. And I have to add that for being such an open company with its customers, few folks know much about the inside of the company. Actually, that holds true for a lot of the people working there as well. When you have a company growing quickly, a lot of the verbal traditions and culture that define how a place works gets diluted. In the case of Microsoft, this has become even more amplified, and you can see an almost Darwinian-Galapagos effect between teams and buildings, where so many new people do things differently across teams, but all thinking that this is the “Microsoft Way,” and that this is how it has always been. Of course, since no two teams at Microsoft do things the same way, who is right?

This points out another thing about Microsoft that too few people on the outside understand. As large and as monolithic and as omnipresent as Microsoft appears on the outside, things are much more random on a day to day basis. This is largely because  teams are fairly isolated from each other, both in what their goals are, and in a true physical sense.

This is very apparent if you look at a map of the Microsoft campus from the air. It isn’t a big connected complex like you might see at Boeing in Everett, but a series of fairly small buildings, not connected, but proximate to each other. Some groups are closer, some further apart. A freeway runs down what is now the center of the groups, further isolating some teams. And in these isolated islands, different cultures and traditions grow. One only notices this when you move from team to team and island to island.

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  1. All I know is:Main campus smells like cheetos and feet and I will now be on the lookout for the horn-billed software developer on my side of the freeway.(Darwinian Galapagos effect – I love it!)

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  2. The difference between 1988 (six buildings) and 1990 (more buildings, and they hired IBM\’s suit-wearing HR dept) was amazing.   The culture wasn\’t going to survive once you had to get through a suit-wearing HR dept to get hired.

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