May 8, 2006
@ 06:48 PM

One way I can tell that I am approaching thirty is that I now spend more time watching VH1 than MTV. Not only do I feel too old to watch MTV whenever I happen to surf to that channel, I've felt that way for years. There are other ways things have slowly began to change as I settle into a long term relationship with someone who I believe is the one (to coin an overused cliché). The change that has been most unsettling for me is that I worry about money a lot more than I used to. Over four years ago, when I was fresh out of college I remember looking at my five figure salary and wondering what I'd do with all that money. Being single in a new city with no commitments [not even student loans] meant that I didn't really worry much about money. My friend Michael Brundage captured the feeling quite well in his much linked essay on Working at Microsoft where he wrote

It's hard for people who don't work at Microsoft's main campus to understand just how unreal the experience of working there can become. Some employees forget that most of the world doesn't have broadband wireless networking, high-end consumer electronics, luxury vehicles, and enough money that they don't need to live on a budget. Some employees spend so much time using Microsoft products, that they forget about the competition and/or lose touch with typical customers' needs.

As you grow older commitments begin to show up whether you want them to or not. I live with my girlfriend and she has kids. My mom retires this year and after having her come visit a few months ago, it is clear that I need to find a bigger place to stay. This means I've started worrying about house prices. I recently found out that median house prices in the Seattle area now hover at $419,000 which is a $100,000 more than what it was when I first moved here. A friend of mine just dropped half a million bucks for a house a few streets down from where I live. At first I thought that was crazy until I found out that the median house price in Queen Anne is $505,000. 

After Microsoft's recent stock plunge which resulted in an 11% loss in market value, it took me a while to realize that this affected my net worth by a couple of grand. I now realize that I should actually pay attention to my stock portfolio beyond whatever default actions seemed like a good idea when I was fresh out of college. Stock portfolio? Growing older does suck.

I now worry about the fact that people at work with titles like containing 'Vice President' and 'Chief X Officer' either read my blog or get complaints about it because it is too critical of Microsoft. I don't want my personal weblog to now place some glass ceiling on my career growth at Microsoft. It's bad enough that I'm black. ;)

Speaking of career growth, I saw some interesting comments to the post on the Mini-Microsoft blog entitled FAQ on reviews, promotions, job changes, and surviving re-orgs - Comment Repost. There were a lot of people who agreed with the somewhat cynical advice on how to deal with the review system and climbing up the corporate ladder at a place like Microsoft. There were other comments who described the advice as only being necessary for poorly performing bottom feeders that deserve to be fired. Given that I'm someone who would have benefited from this advice during my first couple of annual reviews at Microsoft, I guess that makes me a poorly performing bottom feeder that deserve to be fired. I remember the review where my naivete was shattered like it was yesterday. I had gotten a lower score than expected and was chatting with a coworker on how our reviews went. I didn't feel I got a clear idea on what I needed to improve on since my manager had made it seemed like I'd been doing a good job. To my surprise, my coworker responded that I had been called out as a role model during his review to which to aspire. The surprise was that this coworker got a better score than me. After a little bit of digging I realized that the corporate review process is primarily a popularity contest. The Microsoft practice of having a bunch of mid-level managers on a team argue about who deserves what score on the team means that anyone who (i) isn't visible to all the mid-level managers on the team and (ii) doesn't have a manager who's good at arguing on their behalf is going to get the short end of the stick. In many cases you can't do much about the latter but the former is completely under your control. For the most part, simply being good at your job doesn't guarantee you'll get a good review score. On a cynical note, it's hard to even define what being good at your job even means at a lowly individual contributor level sometimes. How easy is it to prove or disprove that the lowly developers and testers who work on white elephant projects like Longhorn Windows Vista are actually good at their jobs? Performance reviews at that level of granularity on such monster projects seem mostly subjective anyway. The repercussions of people's actions often can't be seen for years. Like the poster says, Mediocrity - It Takes a Lot Less Time and Most People Won't Notice the Difference Until it's Too Late. Being good at your job is important, however you also shouldn't expect that's all it takes to get a good review score. As I grow older, my lack of faith in human nature seems to grow by leaps and bounds. 

The good thing about going on vacation is that it gives you time to be introspective even if the introspection occurs amid the blare of slot machines and constant booze ups that is Las Vegas. :)


Tuesday, May 9, 2006 1:56:35 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Well if its any consolation, I was hanging out with some friends who both work at MTV (which owns VH1) and they said the demographic for VH1 has been getting younger and younger. So much so that the parent network had to scold them a bit for encroaching on their demographic.
Tuesday, May 9, 2006 4:16:57 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
My reviews at Microsoft have all (both :-)) seemed fair and reasonable to me. It still comes as a shock when that happens. At my age, my son is not much younger than you I think, I am used to reviews being unfair, idiots getting promoted, and politics often being more important than the quality of ones work. Perhaps I am lucky with my management for a change.
Although I have learned one important thing about reviews in my time. That is that one has to sell themselves. Sure you would like to think that management is paying attention and that they see the good work that you do. The fact is that they don't. If you don't tell your manager (and their manager and ideally up another level) how good you are and what wonderful things you are doing you risk your review. That took me much too long to learn BTW.
One last thing, as much as being black can be an issue try being over 50. :-(
I am thinking a lot more about retirement and the future these days though. Moving to the Redmond area seems like a poor investment in many ways and I hope to remain in New Hampshire where $500,000 would easily buy me two houses. Plus if I lose my job (happened to me once when the second largest computer company in the world at the time tanked) I feel better about finding something else here where my network is.
Tuesday, May 9, 2006 5:36:22 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Duh ! I'm a bit astonished that you're just coming to the realization that high level execs monitor some of your rants on your weblog. Yes, you are a bit critical of Microsoft. I think its bold, but some of the rhetoric on your blogs need brakes, and need to be toned down. You dont want to be a torn in the flesh of some execs like Scoble is.

Also, I cant resist the urge to ask why you're so worried about a five or six figure salary, when your Dad is the President of an entire country. I mean...dude ! hmmmm, can you not even bother filling out the review forms ?

My reviews werent so bad. I got screwed on last year's transfer to the Microsoft office in Reading, U.K. Got a level downgrade, and got screwed on my score, even though I over-achieved before I left Redmond. I agree, its all about a popularity contest really.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006 3:46:16 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Personally, if I worked where you are working, I'd be more worried about the "people at work with titles like containing 'Vice President' and 'Chief X Officer' " etc, being fools.

A fool with fifty cents is a fool with fifty cents; a fool with 49 billion dollars is a threat to life and liberty.

Love what you do, not the "people at work with titles like containing 'Vice President' and 'Chief X Officer' " - it's safer that way.

Mjinga Wawa
Mjinga Wawa
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