Unexpected results with the Digg post. I don’t want to dwell on the post too much but there were some comments I wanted to address in a single post. To do that I’ll briefly dissect a few lines of my post:

What was able to drain the marrow of life from my body and leave only hollowed-out shell of the man who once occupied this space?

Six years ago I began working for Microsoft.

I’m not drawing a 100% causal relationship here. Meaning – all of the issues don’t stem from my job (certainly not – kids, home, life, etc – all played a significant role) and I’m not implying that had I worked somewhere else the same thing wouldn’t have happened. It is probably a personality fault in me that allowed this – but when searching for the trigger event this was the landmark event.  Perhaps I shot my foot there. Not sure. I hope not.

I hope people also weigh the positive things I said too.  If I didn’t want to be at MS I would quit.

But there is another side to Microsoft. The side that has held my hand, shielded my eyes and who I allowed to slowly lead me down this path.

Note here that I said “I allowed” – as in everything that has changed in my life changed because I allowed it to. I let myself get into projects and schedules and deadlines and politics when I could of, or should of, had the foresight or backbone to avoid them.

The side where you aren’t given time to be creative or perform research that does not address an immediate work item on your schedule.

Note “given time”. I’m not saying that Microsoft does not value creativity or research – I’m saying that I never had the privilege of working on a team where it was actively fostered in the rank-and-file. Yes – this it the nature of business. No – I don’t think I would have gotten more chances at many other employers. Again – I’m stating my experience.

Where you are discouraged from thinking about things other than what is right in front of you at that moment. Where you have 6 weeks to do 16 weeks of work.

These two are really related. In any software development project there are unrealistic goals and deadlines and political pressures. But in a large company with multi-thousand person development teams working on 2-4 year timelines the needs of the individual can get lost. As is so often the case in our industry deadlines are a product of marketing and sales needs – not honest estimates of the feature’s cost. Being asked for an estimate is often only a courtesy because the dates have already been decided upon by others. This is an industry problem.

Where months of hard work can be thrown away because the lawyers won’t let you ship it even though the customers are screaming for it (talk about getting punched in the gut).

This is true at any company but perhaps magnified at one such as Microsoft. This really isn’t about lawyers and more about feeling like “Why couldn’t you have just told us that upfront so we could have worked on something else?” It’s about knowing that you have wasted months of your time and that your customers still aren’t getting what they need.  You don’t get that time back.  Time is the most valuable resource any of us have.

I love my current job. My role is great. I work on a team of smart people who have a passion for what we are doing. As individuals, and as a team, we have our customer’s needs on our minds constantly. Almost every decision comes down to them. I would recommend this team to anyone who is considering a career at Microsoft.

But this isn’t my first role in MS (and I pray it won’t be my last!) – some previous ones were not nearly so enjoyable. Not every job is rainbows and butterflies. Not at any employer. Not every team is right for every person. Not every manager is the right fit for every employee. I was on a team that was not the right fit for me. I used the proper process to find a new role. But to deny that I was left felling burnt out and a bit like damaged goods would be disingenuous.

Several years of working on a team that is not a match for you becomes a grind. It wears you down.

Oh – and general comments:

  1. I’ve apparently made a mistake in my usage of GRUB. I’ll look into that.

  2. I have several typos that change the meanings of the phrases entirely. I will leave them as-is. But for the record my wife does not have a glandular problem. There are certainly typos in this post too.

  3. While I did have comment moderation enabled I did not reject or fail to publish any.

  4. I do not speak for my employer. This blog is about my personal thoughts and feelings.

  5. I hope that those of you who suggest I could or should be fired are wrong.

  6. I have disabled the Snap preview pages. I did not know they were on. It is a WordPress setting that was enabled (I think I did it while signing up).

  7. I am still running XP at home. I intend to continue doing that for quite some time. It is important to my family to have a familiar experience.

  8. I did not bash XP, Vista, etc – the move to Linux was, as I said, mostly symbolic. My OS does not define me. It will not change my life. I haven’t become suddenly more creative since installing Linux. This was about letting my curiosity explore something new (new to me, anyway), researching something and expressing myself creatively (this blog – whether you like it or not – that’s the intent).

  9. This post was about me – not my employer. The fact that I let my career become such an overwhelming force in my life is my fault – not my employers.

I appreciate the comments. I may respond further in the comment section on some posts but future posts will be about what’s going on and not rehashing this further.  My intent is to talk about my experience in moving to Linux – not about the politics of work.

And seriously – if you work at MS and are thinking “this guy should be fired!” – sleep on it.  Microsoft needs more people like me – not fewer (sorry Mini – I just encouraged hiring).  Microsoft needs more people who have woken up and realized that we can and must do better.  That work/life balance is important – not just paying it lip-service – but actually realizing it in a healthy way.  That giving people time to think about things other than their day-to-day tasks will improve every employee in the long run (which improves the company as a whole).  And that Linux, and OSS in general, are something we all need to be looking at because you can bet that the Linux community is looking hard at each and every one of us.

It’s been a long day.  Good night.

“When did I stop being creative?”

The words stumbled out of my mouth leaving behind an aftertaste of shame and contempt. It wasn’t that long ago that I still wrote and drew and played music for fun. It wasn’t that long ago that I always had a pet project going on. Helping on an open source project or helping a non-profit get setup on repurposed systems. But sometime in the recent past, and I really couldn’t put my finger on when, that stopped.

Lately that has been bothering me. Quite a bit, actually. Keeping me up at night wondering at what point these things that had been so meaningful to me just a few short years earlier were suddenly out of my life entirely.

The last time I played the piano was to prove the movers did not break it. The last time before that was almost 2 years earlier. I can’t even tell you the last time I drew anything that was not on a whiteboard, or wrote something that did not contain the word “specification.”

When did my life become so devoid of passion that my only pet projects involved lawn care and programming the DVR?

My wife paused. Lifting her head she stared at me from across the table and in a sympathetic tone, without a trace of condensation or sarcasm, she said “About six years ago.”

My gut reaction was to ask what happened six years ago? What emotional trauma had been inflicted upon my psyche that I abandoned those things that made life special and settled into this tomb of stagnation?

But to even ask would be an obvious defensive mechanism. Denial.

It must have been a slow bleed because I did not notice until about 6 months ago. I was unpacking a box and found a collection of old stories and drawings. Hundreds of pages of stories and poorly drawn pictures. Scores of decidedly amateurish music. Stacks of demo tapes recorded before I realized that my lack of raw talent really would prevent me from going big time. Code snippets from a diku patch I had done for a friend’s mud. Folded print outs of man pages and DNS configuration information for a local church whose token ting network I helped deploy just because they needed the help. Stacks of books I had once treasured. K&R. Stevens. Aho. Stroustrup.

How had I gone from being a hyper-prolific creator of mediocre compositions and altruistic deeds to this? This life where the thought of writing code after hours sounds like punishment and where personal time not spent producing product for my employer seemed wasted.

What was able to drain the marrow of life from my body and leave only hollowed-out shell of the man who once occupied this space?

Six years ago I began working for Microsoft.

The ways I thought about my time changed. How I thought about my career changed. How I thought about my place in the world changed.

Not all for the worse. Microsoft truly is a great place to work if you find the right people and projects. Contrary to popular belief – my day is not filled with meetings where we brainstorm the various new ways to thwart open source development or scare customers. It’s filled with thousands of people who truly believe that they are doing the right thing for the customer and who want nothing more than to deliver the absolute best they can (within the limits of time, resources and politics). Good pay. Great benefits. Smart people.

But there is another side to Microsoft. The side that has held my hand, shielded my eyes and who I allowed to slowly lead me down this path.

The side where you aren’t given time to be creative or perform research that does not address an immediate work item on your schedule. Where you are discouraged from thinking about things other than what is right in front of you at that moment. Where you have 6 weeks to do 16 weeks of work. Where months of hard work can be thrown away because the lawyers won’t let you ship it even though the customers are screaming for it (talk about getting punched in the gut).

The good must outweigh the bad. I don’t want to quit. I want to fix my little corner of the world and teach others to do the same. But I need to start with myself.

Today I am reclaiming a small part of who I once was.

Today I’m starting a pet project. The first of what I hope is many to come.

Moving my family computer from Windows XP to some form of Linux. A symbolic gesture more than anything – but one that will force me to do those things I so sorely miss.

Perform research.

 

 

Take action.

 

 

Enjoy the results.

 

 

[I have added a few additional thoughts on this post]