October 26, 2002 spout

A Giant Sucking Sound

Sat, October 26, 2002

While I’m in favor of NAFTA, and free trade over all, it’s certainly not helping US workers. Instead, it favors US corporations as they made use of cheaper labor. Of course, it’s the corporations that also seem to make out on these deals, doesn’t it? Similarly, the other giant sucking sound” I’ve heard lately are my friends moving to Redmond to work for Microsoft. MS is using the recession to cherry pick the best and the brightest in the industry. I can think of almost ten people I know personally that have gone to Microsoft in the last six months. And these aren’t folks that were laid off and had to go, either (even though everyone but Microsoft is laying off). These are good folks that had good jobs, either as employees or as independents. One even owned half of what was my favorite company in the whole world! So why are they doing it? Why are they giving up their old lives to work at MS, often moving to Redmond in the process?

I think they’re going for a variety of reasons. One is definitely the safe harbor aspect. As an independent in the current economy, I have to work my butt off to attract funding using self-promotion techniques that I didn’t have to use during the Internet boom. I’m successful and I love the work and the life, but it’s still a lot of work that I know others are not willing to do. Another reason related to the really hard work” problem is that Microsoft, for the caliber of my friends, is allowed to offer what used to be a laughable salary, but is now looking pretty good against what’s generally available. If you can get 75% of what you used to make as an independent, great benefits and stock options that may do something someday, that’s pretty compelling. And the stock price is pretty attractive right now. It’s my belief that, as a government-sponsored monopoly, Microsoft is fundamentally sound, and the stock price is artificially low. If you were going to go to Microsoft any time in the last five years, now is the time. The stock is only going to go up.

But the big reason that makes people go, and this is the one that might tip me some day, is the raw, visceral experience. For better or worse, Microsoft is the mother ship from which everything we know now has sprung. And they’re still setting the tone. I know I dream of moving to Redmond to work on the next technology that’s going to kick ass in 2-3 years, like Don and Martin and Yasser did. I’d also love to live where I am now, commuting to Redmond a week/month to work with developer education, focusing on research and writing, like Tim did. Sometimes I want to just chuck the extra effort it takes to stay outside,” throw up my hands and let the assimilation process begin.

So, why haven’t I thrown in the towel? I’m waiting. I’m waiting for the perfect balance of quality of life where I get to spend every day doing exactly what I want, working with a team on a long-term project that I really believe in, but without the politics or the management responsibilities that I deplore and without giving up my family or dropping significantly in income. Right now I’ve got that all nailed except for the team and the long-term project, so I’ve got it damn good, but I’m still looking. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get caught in the mass geek migration to Redmond some day, but not yet…