What I gained, lost & learned while working for Microsoft.
Many people ask — how does a person get into Microsoft? How is the interview? What is it like? For me it was everything for 3,5 years. Now, 18 months later, I feel ready to share my story and say a real goodbye.
I was interning at a marketing agency at the time after prior experience in a startup and was browsing job offers. Still in college at 23 and full of ideas and hopes for the future, I applied, just like that, for a MACH program — Microsoft Academy for College Hires. Recruitment process was long, had several stages and ended with an assessment center. Fun fact: I was asked a ‘tricky’ question about why are the sewer covers round. And another, not that fun, but more important fact I got a position in the Developer Experience and Evangelism Department (now CSE? or something else, it evolves all the time…) as an Audience Marketing Manager located in Warsaw, Poland. My role was to get people, especially in small IT companies, to try out Microsoft Azure (responsible for the breadth market). It was 5 years ago, cloud services were a novelty and the press wasn’t that great. I got serious e-mails from entrepreneurs where Microsoft was spelled ‘M$’.
One of the first things I noticed is that almost everyone working for Microsoft had this perfect life — a spouse, kids, nice houses, good cars. I wanted that too. Imagining that if I were to stay at this company, my life would become like theirs. (It was one of the illusions I had fallen for immediately, but I’ll get to the shattering reality later…) At that time, I was in a decent relationship myself and decided to take the most out of this chance focusing on my personal growth as well as the professional opportunities Microsoft provided.
And it has provided a ton. I got my first responsibilities and targets on the day 1, but I also received a lot of support and training. As a newly hired employee I was participating in MGX (now it’s Inspire?) in Atlanta, had trainings in Amsterdam, Madrid. There were so many interesting people there who I met and self-assured and mean ones as well. It’s a whole spectrum. I was on calls with people from all around the world on a daily basis and I got paid well. A dream job. My team at the time was consisting of i.a. 4 guys, more less my age, with whom I got along very well, so I started spending crazy hours at the office. As a person working for DX, I was encouraged to go to conferences, workshops, hackathons, meetups whenever I wanted to and so I did. There was a time where I was barely at home. I was excited. I was meeting new, inspiring people and learning so much every day! Meanwhile the First Class travels, taxis, nice hotels and fancy restaurants were spoiling me. This and everyone’s admiration, that I made it.
On the other hand, it wasn’t all so glamorous. Many of the employees didn’t respect me, to them I was a “starlet”, this “stupid, young girl with a diastema” (yep, someone at the office called me that), some were mad that they hired a 23 year old girl instead of a “professional man”. But I was ok with that, I knew I had to prove myself first. What I wasn’t ok with, were the comments about my looks. A few guys working both for Microsoft and Partners were treating me like a cute puppy or telling me they wanted to have sex with me while drunk, but all of it seemed minor and acceptable — I was gettng so much in return.
Back home, my partner didn’t share my enthusiasm. He was under the belief we were to start building a home together, but I was barely there. Twenty something and living my life to maximum, or what I believed was a maximum at that time — working non stop and drinking way too much. I remember writing e-mails at 2 a.m. in a club! Even now it doesn’t seem that crazy to me. My lack of self care wasn’t only the alcohol — I gained 10kg (22lb) during the first year. It’s a common thing to gain weight once you’re hired. We laughed about it, it was a standard. Everyone went through it.
Time was passing. People were either changing teams or getting fired. It was painful, I actually cried this one time while saying goodbye to one of my team members who was fired without any real explanation. He wasn’t a Full Time Employee, so he got no compensation (for those who don’t know — you can be hired in MS either as an FTE, employed by Microsoft — with all the benefits, trips, trainings etc. or as a vendor — through a hiring agency and no privileges that FTEs have), but no one else seemed to care. I invested so much in this work by this point. I fought fights no one else wanted to pick up. I tried changing things, but I was constantly paying the price — with my health and with my relationships.
I went to Burning Man and moved out of the apartment I shared with my boyfriend. Got into an affair at the office, which turned out to be a usual thing. People have gotten into affairs all the time. I heard of a rule: if it’s 100 km/80 miles from home, it doesn’t count. Guys were saying that as a joke, but then were actually caught on cheating. The whole illusion of these ‘perfect’ lives disappeared. Many were like me, working non stop not finding time for their close ones, although they were able to find partners who seemed ok with that. I think this was a moment when I stopped believing in how awesome working at Microsoft was, even though everyone around still seemed so excited.
The atmosphere wasn’t there anymore, things were changing, they were no longer that fun, but I got more interesting responsibilities - meeting and working with the technical community leaders. I graduated the 2 year MACH program and was rewarded as the Best Employee of the department. I received a nice bonus and an offer to go to Redmond for a couple of months, for an employee exchange. I also had a 1:1 meeting with the Department Director, who told me that I can’t be a rebel anymore and kind of threatened me that I should be more careful, because Microsoft has provided me a “golden cage” and if I ever get out, I will have to face a tough reality. Yep, that was the message: you were young and feisty, and that’s cool, but now chill and never think about leaving, because the world outside will eat you alive, ok?
Meanwhile my relationship ended, I was miserable, but somehow my career seemed to flourish. I got this great opportunity to work in Redmond and have a chance to find myself a position there, so I can be one of the ‘corp’ employees! How amazing! That’s something most of the people in the field dream of, right?
I chose a corporate housing apartment in downtown Seattle, got a beautiful place (which was probably the best apartment I will ever live in in my life). Last floor of a fancy building and a balcony with an ocean view. Gorgeous. And then I started work. Huge campus, nice cafeterias, woods, a pond, overwhelming space. Everything seemed great, but… yes, unfortunately there was a but… but the people. The people I had on my team, were extremely closed minded. Most of them with many years of experience working in a corporation, so even more closed minded, only caring about their manager’s approval. I was devastated. They were the most fake people I have met still to this day. I cannot even explain how terrible it was for me to have to help them, show interest and pretend that I support what they’re doing. You might be thinking — why weren’t you honest with them instead? I tried. On 1:1 peer conversations, with my manager, with my skip manager, but no one cared and my role was minimised, so at the end I was only doing a 1 Excel file. I am 100% certain that if I played by their rules and acted the way that they did, focusing on politics, I would do great there, but I refused to do that. I actually cared about my role, I cared about the people we were doing the Connect event for more than for my career and no one seemed to understand that. I believe I slowly started to become depressed during this time. I stopped showing up at the office and was basically counting down the days to come back home. I have spent 3 months there.
When I got back, I was really happy for a first couple of days, but then that feeling started to fade fast. I didn’t want to come to the office in Warsaw either. I was staying home more and more everyday, often not even getting up from bed, just browsing e-mails and checking in on Skype to pretend that I’m working. I wish I could say it was a day or two, but it was weeks. I thought about quitting all the time since I came back from Redmond, but I still enjoyed working with the community leaders and it was a part of my job that kept me going.
There were structural changes on a global level at Microsoft. I told my manager I don’t want any bonus that year, since I was in Redmond, didn’t have that much impact locally and he should reward other people. I didn’t deserve a bonus either, I couldn’t stand my job anymore, but still didn’t have the guts to quit. It was ‘a dream job’, it has given me so much, it took so much from me, but I needed a break. In a midst of the changes I asked for a 3 month unpaid leave. Others warned me that it was a bad idea and that it’s not the time, but I just couldn’t take it anymore.
I ended up receiving 5 weeks off and went to Portugal for a Workaway. It changed me as well as changed the way I perceived life. It gave me the fresh perspective of a minimalistic lifestyle and not needing all the Microsoft benefits and paychecks to be happy. During my vacation I got some signals that I might get fired. My job title at that time was a Technical Evangelist and it was a hoax. I wasn’t great technically, but the official blueprint stated that the team needed more TEs and I had learned to code, so it was given to me. One of the many ‘little white lies’… Corporate was trying to minimize these local level hoaxes and I respect that, but it meant that I came back to Warsaw to receive the dismissal papers. There was more going on with a new role proposal etc., but I had the best role (for me) there was in Poland and going back to Redmond seemed like the worst nightmare. I signed the papers and cried for more than an hour. From being the best employee one year, to being fired the next.
The saddest part is, it wasn’t my manager who told me this. My manager, who I worked with 3,5 years by then, didn’t even talk to me during this whole process at all. Most of the friends I believed I had, all these people I have spent so much time with, immediately became strangers. I didn’t have a goodbye meeting, wasn’t invited to parties anymore. I had been dedicating myself to a job while sacrificing my relationships, myself and only 2 people from Microsoft cared (1 of them because we were dating at that time). The kind words I have heard were from the people outside — the community leaders, who were appreciative and supportive for which I am forever grateful.
It wasn’t a ‘golden cage’ I was in, it was a bubble of illusions that popped once I signed my dismissal papers. Illusions of importance, mission, friendships and luxury. I found a job fairly easily with a similar salary, where they didn’t expect me to work 24/7. The only thing that really changed for ‘the worse’ is that I’m not Ubering that much and don’t spend money on fancy hotels.
Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity Microsoft has given me. For all the trainings, all the experience, all the travels. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for this organization, but I am even more grateful for being fired. I didn’t have it in me to quit myself and now I am much better + got the compensation money. I’m 28, have learned to put myself first and spent plenty of time on self care, enough to be able to share this publicly and hopefully not to make the same mistakes in the future.
So... Goodbye Microsoft! It was a lot.
P.S. I know there are teams at Microsoft that are different (shout out to VS Code engineering team!), but I just wasn’t lucky enough to work at one ;)
UPDATE! I have just learned that within a year of my being in Redmond, every person from my team was fired from Microsoft. It feels a little as a relief, that it wasn’t only me who didn’t agree with their work attitude and ethics.
P.S. 2 Thanks so much for reading my story, I appreciate it.