Time To Sell Your Soul to the Devil?

Time To Sell Your Soul to the Devil?

Mary Jo Foley

To join or not to join the ranks of the Evil Empire? That’s a question that many in the tech industry have contemplated, at one time or another.

With Microsoft’s decision this week to grant employees shares of stock, rather than mere stock options, the question gets more interesting.

Former journalists, analysts, Microsoft competitors, Microsoft customers – probably many of the readers of this column — have toyed with the idea of what it would be like to work for Microsoft. I can count several former colleagues of mine who took the plunge (and are a lot richer for their decisions).

Microsoft consistently ranks way up there in the myriad annual “Best Places to Work” surveys. Nearly everyone has an office, not just a cube. The cafeteria food is decent. You can still afford a house in the Seattle area. There is no state income tax. And despite the rain (I lived there for seven years – the stories of nine months of nearly non-stop drizzle are not hyperbole), the Pacific Northwest is a great place to live with lots to do.

And it’s Microsoft we’re talking about here. If you want to be involved with software that truly does reach the masses and a company that influences — as much, if not more than any other — the direction of the tech industry, this arguably is the place to do it.

But life at Microsoft’s not all free sodas and roses.

Until recently, except for those in the highest echelons, salaries have been nothing to write home about. Some would call them frugal; others dismal. One Microsftie estimates that Microsoft pays its employees (at least in the U.S.) about 60 percent of what they could make elsewhere for comparable jobs.

Stories of intimidation and belittlement of employees from Chairman Gates on down are the stuff of which industry lore is made. Even the initial interview process is intense, as tales of interview questions and procedures attest. This is not a place for those who want to coast. Microsoft demands an awful lot of its employees, in terms of time, energy and loyalty.

And then there’s the issue of whether one wants to work for a convicted monopolist. … Let’s just say, employment at Microsoft is not for everyone.

So, why have individuals continued to flock to Microsoft, even before CEO Ballmer announced his plan to rescue employees’ stock options from underwater?

Well, for one, Microsoft’s actually been hiring, even during the tech doldrums of late. In recent months, Microsoft has had as many as 5,000 job openings on its books. If you are in product support, it’s probably not the best company for you (given Redmond’s decision to move more and more of its support jobs to India, while axing its own product support folks here and severing its relationships with a number of support partners).

Up until a couple of years ago, Microsoft stock options were another draw. Microsoft was churning out millionaires by the hundreds. Folks were retiring in their 30s and 40s. The paths of the bucolic Redmond campus seemingly were paved with gold.

I’ve never been interested in a job at Microsoft (And good thing, too, given my most likely position would be at the wrong end of a permanent dunking booth.) But what about you? Is Microsoft somewhere you would want to work? If not, what would it take to entice you?

Write me at mswatch@ziffdavis.com and let me know what you think.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Microsoft Watch.