Microserfs
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Finally, at about 2:30A.M., Todd and I got concerned about Michael’s not eating, so we drove to the 24-hour Safeway in Redmond. We went shopping for “flat” foods to slip underneath Michael’s door. The Safeway was completely empty save for us and a few other Microsoft people just like us—hair-trigger geeks in pursuit of just the right snack. Because of all the rich nerds living around here, Redmond and Bellevue are very “on-demand” neighborhoods. Nerds get what they want when they want it, and they go psycho if it’s not immediately available. Nerds overfocus. I guess that’s the problem. But ...more
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I am a tester—a bug checker in Building Seven. I worked my way up the ladder from Product Support Services (PSS) where I spent six months in phone purgatory in 1991 helping little old ladies format their Christmas mailing lists on Microsoft Works. Like most Microsoft employees, I consider myself too well adjusted to be working here, even though I am 26 and my universe consists of home, Microsoft, and Costco. I am originally from Bellingham, up just near the border, but my parents live in Palo Alto now. I live in a group house with five other Microsoft employees: Todd, Susan, Bug Barbecue, ...more
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People end up living in group houses either by e-mail or by word of mouth. Living in a group house is a little bit like admitting you’re deficient in the having-a-life department, but at work you spend your entire life crunching code and testing for bugs, and what else are you supposed to do? Work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep. I know a few Microsoft employees who try to fake having a life—many a Redmond garage contains a never-used kayak collecting dust. You ask these people what they do in their spare time and they say, “Uhhh—kayaking. That’s right. I kayak in my spare time.” You can tell ...more
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I got bored a few times today and checked the WinQuote on my screen—that’s the extension that gives continuous updates on Microsoft’s NASDAQ price. It was Saturday, and there was never any change, but I kept forgetting. Habit. Maybe the Tokyo or Hong Kong exchanges might cause a fluctuation? Most staffers peek at WinQuote a few times a day. I mean, if you have 10,000 shares (and tons of staff members have way more) and the stock goes up a buck, you’ve just made ten grand! But then, if it goes down two dollars, you’ve just lost twenty grand. It’s a real psychic yo-yo. Last April Fool’s Day, ...more
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The stock closed up $1.75 on Friday. Bill has 78,000,000 shares, so that means he’s now $136.5 million richer. I have almost no stock, and this means I am a loser.
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Susan’s a real coding machine. But her abilities are totally wasted reworking old code for something like the Norwegian Macintosh version of Word 5.8. Susan’s work ethic best sums up the ethic of most of the people I’ve met who work at Microsoft. If I recall her philosophy from the conversation she had with her younger sister two weekends ago, it goes something like this: “It’s never been, ‘We’re doing this for the good of society.’ It’s always been us taking an intellectual pride in putting out a good product—and making money. If putting a computer on every desktop and in every home didn’t ...more
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If you ship a product you get a Ship-It award: a 12-x-15-x-1-inch Lucite slab—but you have to pretend it’s no big deal. Michael has a Ship-It award and we’ve tried various times to destroy it—blowtorching, throwing it off the verandah, dowsing it with acetone to dissolve it—nothing works. It’s so permanent, it’s frightening.
Daniel Moore
https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2000/04/03/incentive-pay-considered-harmful/
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Michael is probably the closest I’ll ever come to knowing someone who lives in a mystical state. He lives to assemble elegant streams of code instructions. He’s like Mozart to everyone else’s Salieri—he enters people’s offices where lines of code are written on the dry-erase whiteboards and quietly optimizes the code as he speaks to them, as though someone had written wrong instructions on how to get to the beach and he was merely setting them right so they wouldn’t get lost. He often uses low-tech solutions to high-tech problems: Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and little strips of paper that ...more
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Microserfs are locked by nature into doing 31.2-ish things: the first house, the first marriage, the “where-am-I-going” crisis, the out-goes-the-Miata/in-comes-the-minivan thing, and, of course, major death denial. A Microsoft VP died of cancer a few months ago, and it was like, you weren’t allowed to mention it. Period. The three things you’re not allowed to discuss at work: death, salaries, and your stock options.
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September always makes me think of Jed. It’s as if there’s this virtual Jed who might have been. Sometimes I see him when I’m driving by water; I see him standing on a log boom smiling and waving; I see him buckarooing a killer whale in the harbor off downtown while I’m stuck in traffic on the Alaskan Way viaduct. Or I see him walking just ahead of me around the Space Needle restaurant, always just around the curve.
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I realized that Todd and his early-20s cohorts are the first Microsoft generation—the first group of people who have never known a world without an MS-DOS environment. Time ticks on. They’re also the first generation of Microsoft employees faced with reduced stock options and, for that matter, plateauing stock prices. I guess that makes them mere employees, just like at any other company. Bug Barbecue and I were wondering last week what’s going to happen when this new crop of workers reaches its inevitable Seven-Year Programmer’s Burnout. At the end of it they won’t have two million dollars to ...more
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She said that we, as humans, bear the burden of having to be every animal in the world rolled into one. She said that we really have no identity of our own. She said, “What is human behavior, except trying to prove that we’re not animals?” She said, “I think we have strayed so far away from our animal origins that we are bent on creating a new, supra-animal identity.” She said, “What are computers but the Every AnimalMachine?”
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I’m an e-mail addict. Everybody at Microsoft is an addict. The future of e-mail usage is being pioneered right here. The cool thing with e-mail is that when you send it, there’s no possibility of connecting with the person on the other end. It’s better than phone answering machines, because with them, the person on the other line might actually pick up the phone and you might have to talk.
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Abe said something interesting. He said that because everyone’s so poor these days, the ‘90s will be a decade with no architectural legacy or style—everyone’s too poor to put up new buildings. He said that code is the architecture of the ‘90s.
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Abe bought a trampoline. He went to Costco to stock up on Jif, and he ended up buying a trampoline—14-x-14-foot, 196 square feet of bouncy aerobic fun. Since when do grocery stores sell trampolines? What a screwy decade.
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Michael, like a young beauty swept out of a small Nebraska town by some Hollywood Daddy-O, was soon to leave our midst for headier airs, never to return.
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Shaw is a set-for-lifer. If you had to kill off all of the program managers, one by one, he would be the last to go—he has fourteen direct reports (serfs) underneath him.
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Shaw is fortysomething, one of maybe twelve fortysomethings on the Campus. One grudgingly has to respect someone who’s fortysomething and still in computers—there’s a core techiness there that must be respected. Shaw still remembers the Flintstones era of computers, with punch cards and little birds inside the machines that squawked, “It’s a living.” My only problem with Shaw is that he became a manager and stopped coding. Being a manager is all hand-holding and paperwork—not creative at all. Respect is based on how much of a techie you are and how much coding you do. Managers either code or ...more
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I mean, if it weren’t for the cult of Bill, this place would be deadsville—like a great big office supply company. Which is sort of what it is. I mean, if you really think about it.
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“There’s so many consultants on the market right now,” Mom said. “People always say that if you get downsized you can become a consultant, but your father is 53, Dan. He’s not young and he’s never been competitive by nature. I mean, he was at IBM. We really just don’t know what is going to happen.”
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I looked at all the cars parked in the lot and got exhausted just thinking about all the energy that must have gone into these people choosing just the right car. And I also noticed something Twilight-Zoney about all the cars on Campus: None of them have bumper stickers, as though everyone is censoring themselves. I guess this indicates a fear of something. All these little fears: fear of not producing enough; fear of not finding a little white-with-red-printing stock option envelope in the pigeonhole; fear of losing the sensation of actually making something anymore; fear about the slow ...more
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He was ranting a bit: “Funny how all those things you thought would never end turned out to be the first to vanish—IBM, the Reagans, Eastern bloc communism. As you get older, the bottom line becomes to survive as best you can.”
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Abe has been reassigned to a subgroup in charge of designing a toolbar interface. Whooo-ee! I think Abe’s being punished for going sailing that day with his friends during the week we were all in crunch mode.
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I went to the library and looked up books on freeway construction—the asphalt and cement kind—Dewey Decimal number 625.79—and there haven’t been any published on the subject for two decades! It’s bizarre—like a murder mystery. It’s as if the notion of freeway construction simply vanished in 1975.
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Life is stressful in Palo Alto. I send Dad $500 every month. It’s all I can spare on the 26K I make here ([$26,000 / 12] - taxes = $1,500).
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What we do at Microsoft is just as repetitive and dreary as any other job, and the pay’s the same as any other job if you’re not in the stock loop, so what’s the deal … why do we get so into it? What’s the engine that pulls us through the repetition? Don’t you ever feel like a cog, Dan?
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Watched an old documentary about NASA. Then afterward I saw this documentary about how codfish have been gill-netted into extinction in Newfoundland in Canada, so I went out to Burger King to get a Whaler fishwich-type breaded deep-fried filet sandwich while there was still time.
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“They injected all sorts of isotopes into me and I found myself part of a literal body/machine system—being bodily radioactive—and inserted like a fuel rod into a body-scanning machine. I remember saying, to myself, ‘So this is the feeling of being a machine.’ I felt more curious about death than I felt afraid; I felt glad to be no longer human for a few brief minutes.” “Was there a blood clot?” I asked. “No. Simple sunstroke. And the feeling of my being a machine evaporated quickly, too. But the whole incident made me decide to discover my body, pronto. Here,” she said, scratching my tender ...more
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“I remember being young, in school, being told that our bodies would yield enough carbon for 2,000 pencils and enough calcium for 30 sticks of chalk, as well as enough iron for one nail. What a weird thing to tell kids. We should be told our bodies can transmutate into diamonds and wine goblets and teacups and balloons.”
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Here’s something interesting … did you know you can figure out how important your state or province was circa 1961 by adding up the code’s three digits? Zero equals 10.” “No.” “It’s because zeros used to take forever to go around the little rotary dial—while ones zipped along quickest. The lowest possible code, 212, went to the busiest place, New York City. Los Angeles got 213. Alaska got 907. See my point?” Karla always comes up with the best digressions. “Yes.” “Imagine Angie Dickinson in Los Angeles (213) telephoning Suzanne Pleshette in Las Vegas (702) sometime before the Kennedy ...more
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Lego is ontologically not unlike computers. This is to say that a computer by itself is, well … nothing. Computers only become something when given a specific application. Ditto Lego. To use an Excel spreadsheet or to build a racing car—this is why we have computers and Lego. A PC or a Lego brick by itself is inert and pointless: a doorstop; litter. Made of acrylonitrile butadiene stryrene (ABS) plastic, Lego’s discrete modular bricks are indestructible and fully intended to be nothing except themselves.
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Abe, however, is saying no. “What—you guys want to leave a sure thing?” he keeps asking us. “You think Microsoft’s going to shrink, or are you nuts?” “That’s not the point, Abe.” “What is the point, then?” “One-Point-Oh,” I said. “What?” replied Abe. “Being One-Point-Oh. The first to do something cool or new.” “And so in order to be ‘One-Point-Oh’ you’d forfeit all of this—” (Abe fumbles for le mot juste, and expands arms widely to showcase a filthy living room covered with Domino’s boxes, junk mail solicitations, Apple hard hats, three Federal Express baseball caps, and Nerf Gatling guns) ...more
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I got to thinking of my cramped, love-starved, sensationless existence at Microsoft—and I got so pissed off. And now I just want to forget the whole business and get on with living—with being alive. I want to forget the way my body was ignored, year in, year out, in the pursuit of code, in the pursuit of somebody else’s abstraction.
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You know, Ethan’s been a millionaire and filed for Chapter Eleven three times already—and he’s only 33. And there are hundreds of these guys down here. They’re immune to money. They just sort of assume it’ll appear like rain.
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Ethan and I drove around Silicon Valley today looking at various company parking lots to see whose workers are working on a Sunday. He says that’s the surest way to tell which company to invest in. “If the techies aren’t grinding, the stock ain’t climbing.”
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Oh—earlier today, driving up Arastradero from Starbucks, the sunset was literally almost killer. It was all we could do not to crash the car looking at the pinks and oranges. And the view from Mom and Dad’s house on La Cresta Drive was staggering: from the San Mateo bridge to the north, practically down to Gilroy in the south. The Alameda Mountains were seemingly lit from the inside, like beef-colored patio lanterns, and we even saw a glint from the observatory atop Mount Hamilton. And the dirigible hangar at Moffet Naval Air Station looked as if the Stay-Puft marshmallow giant was lying down ...more
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We took the wrong off-ramp (a deadly mistake in San Francisco—they STILL haven’t rebuilt after the 1989 quake; the 101/280 connector links are so unbelievably big and empty and unfinished) and we got lost. We ended up driving through Noe Valley by accident—so pretty. Such a VISION, this city is. I suppose the City is putting all its highway-building energy into building the mention-it-one-more-time-and-I’ll-scream information superhighway.
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Today Ethan called Silicon Valley “the ‘moniest’ place on earth,” and he’s probably right. Everything in this Valley revolves around … EVERYTHING. Money was something you never had to think about at Microsoft. I mean, not that Microsofters don’t check out WinQuote daily, but here, as I have said, there’s this endless, boring, mad scramble for loot.
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Needless to say, Far Side cartoons are taped everywhere. I think techies are an intricate part of the life cycle of The Far Side cartoon, the way viruses can only propagate in the presence of host organisms. Susan says, “We are only devices for the replication of Far Side cartoons.” Now that’s one way of looking at humanity.
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We inhabit our workstations daily for a minimum of 12 hours. We use brown and white plastic folding patio chairs, so our backs are completely shot. So much for ergonomics.
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Remember at the very end of Soylent Green where Charlton Heston screams, “Soylent Green is people!!!!”? Well, I had that same sort of feeling today when Anatole began telling us about working life down at Apple … “Apple is Microsoft!!!” He told us that the moods on the two “campuses” are almost exactly the same, and that the two corporate cultures, although they purport to be the opposite of each other, are actually about as different as Tide and Oxydol.
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Silicon Ualley Where/what is it? Its a backward J-shaped strand of cities, starting at the south of San Francisco and looping down the bay, east of San Jose: San Mateo, Foster City, Belmont, San Carlos, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Saratoga, Campbell, Los Gatos, Santa Clara, San Jose, Milpitas and Fremont. I used a map for this. They dont actually MANUFACTURE much by way of silicon here anymore … the silicon chip factories are mostly a thing of the past … it’s no longer a cost effective thing to do. Chips are printed and etched here but ...more
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This sick thing just happened: I had this moment when I looked up and everyone had been picking at the baby zits on their foreheads and everybody’s forehead was bleeding! It was like stigmata. So gross.
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Thought: sometimes you accidentally input an extra digit into the year: i.e., 19993 and you add 18,000 years on to now, and you realize that the year 19993 will one day exist and that time is a scary thing, indeed.
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One must grudgingly admit Ethan does seem to know a good deal about Valley business. Like many people in computers and gaming, he never went to college. He designed a game that sold millions in the Pong era, became a millionaire, went bust with Atari, became a millionaire again in Reagan’s ‘80s with a SEGA-based something-or-other, went bust again, and now I guess he’s going to become a multimillionaire in the Multimedia ‘90s.
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“The Ferrari is like a rite of passage here for new money. You buy one at 26, get it out of your system, flip it for a gray Lexus or Infiniti, and then you drive gray sedans the rest of your life. I keep mine because I can’t afford anything else at the moment, and I can’t afford the capital gains taxes if I sold it. I should get one of those ‘ don’t laugh: at least it’s paid for’ bumper stickers. Nobody would appreciate the irony that I’m holding on by my teeth.”
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“We passed all of the techie checks, but the VC firms aren’t quite sure about Oop!’s marketability. With round-one seed capital, all the risk is ahead of you. Plus, software is a consumer, not a corporate business now—it’s 10,000 units off to CompUSA instead of one jumbo unit to Delta Airlines or National Cash Register. “This isn’t good for us, because Silicon Valley firms have little or no experience with Procter & Gamble-style focus grouping, but they won’t admit it. So they pose as multimedia visionaries instead. They might as well be slitting open a sheep and reading the entrails. It’s a ...more
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“You never heard about people ‘not having lives’ until about five years ago, just when all of the ‘80s technologies really penetrated our lives.” He listed them off: “VCRs tape rentals PCs modems answering machines touch tone dialing cellular phones cordless phones call screening phone cards ATMs fax machines Federal Express bar coding cable TV satellite TV CDs calculators of almost other-worldly power that are so cheap that they practically come free with a tank of gas.” “In the information Dark Ages, before 1976, before all of this, relationships and television were the only forms of ...more
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The Valley is so career-o-centric. So much career energy! There must be a 65-ton crystal of osmium hexachloride buried 220 feet below the surface of Menlo Park, sucking in all of the career energy in the Bay Area and shooting it back down the Peninsula at twice light speed. It’s science fiction here.
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Daydream: today the traffic was locked on the 101. I saw visions of the Valley and snapped out of my daydream jealous of the future. I saw germanium in the groundwater and dead careers. I saw venture capitalists with their eyes burned out in their sockets by visions of money, crashing their Nissans on the 101—past the big blue cube of NASA’s Onizuka Air Force Base, their windows spurting fluorescent orange blood.
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