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September 08, 2006

The One Where I Got a Bad Review

Since it is review season and this has led to the annual complaint-fest over at Mini-Microsoft, I was reminded of the one time at Microsoft I received a bad review (NOTE: This happened during my first tenure at Microsoft; since I wrote a whole book about that I figure it's fair game to discuss now, even though I work there again. I wouldn't discuss anything like this about my current stint).

The time was August 1999 and in the six months leading up to the summer review, I had done the following:

  • Filled in for my boss while he was on leave for 2 months.
  • Represented our team at an IETF meeting in Minneapolis.
  • Followed a plan to boost my work output by working until midnight every Tuesday, leaving my 2 kids and (pregnant) wife alone for the evening.
  • Done my usual decent job of writing code (as far as I could tell).

I know, I'm wonderful aren't I...but nonetheless I was quite surprised to receive a 3.0. And quite annoyed also. Now, I think Microsoft has changed for the better since then, and what happened to me would not happen now:

  • Microsoft very strongly pushes employees to have regular one-on-ones with their managers and include discussions about their career plans. I was operating in the old mode where I did what I felt was right for the product, without worrying too much about personal growth and reviews.
  • Microsoft very strongly emphasizes that managers need to keep employees aware of their performance. So if I had been trending to a 3.0, I would have been aware of it and been given concrete steps to avoid it, and if I had still not improved I would not have been surprised.
  • Microsoft has made their review process more structured, where you are evaluated based on your progress against commitments, rather than a vaguely-defined overall score. Thus, even if I had done some particular thing badly the things I did well couldn't have been brushed aside.
  • And of course, Microsoft no longer has a curve for review scores, which I have to assume was the reason I got the 3.0. I was doing the same kind of work as in all other review periods, when I got a steady stream of 3.5 and 4.0 scores; this must just have been the time that my number came up, and it was bad luck that it also happened to be the time that I felt I had actually done a better job than normal.

Back then, I dealt with it and went back to doing my job.

And by the time the next summer's review period rolled around, I had left Microsoft.

Posted by AdamBa at September 8, 2006 09:44 PM

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Just curious - how much did your bogus review score contribute to your leaving Microsoft during your first stint?


Posted by: Phil at September 10, 2006 02:21 PM

Well, it did make me want to leave the Windows NT group (once Windows 2000 shipped). I looked around the company in early 2000...but at the same time I really was planning on quitting eventually anyway because I wanted to public "Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters" (the book). So actually leaving the whole company was probably pre-ordained.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at September 10, 2006 10:37 PM

That story makes me sad on multiple levels.
1. Because I miss the old ms, where one focused on what is right for the group w/o worrying about managing your manager so to speak...
2. Because I know the feeling, but I encountered it in in the last few years at MS. Even though I had weekly one-on-ones, my manager gave no indication of what was coming. The midpoint review made it abundantly clear what he was thinking when he completely disregarded and undercut *everything* positive that I did.

One top of it, he did this after getting me mid-cycle and didn't bother consulting my old manager who was in the same group. I'm not sure if this was a factor but later, I decided to leave ms.

Maybe I have him to thank for helping me leave the company and find a place I like better ;)

Posted by: recent ex-msft at September 28, 2006 10:08 PM