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April 25, 2009

Goodbye Company Picnic

Microsoft just announced that there would be no company picnic this year. In fact they took the trouble to announce that there would be no company picnic for the foreseeable future.

I first attended a Microsoft picnic back in 1989, before I even worked there; I came out to Seattle to visit a friend and interview for a job here (my second attempt). It happened to be the first year that the picnic was held at Mountain Meadows Farms (the previous year it had been held at Vasa Park in Bellevue). Back then the company had 3000 people, probably 2500 of which were in Puget Sound; today the company is approaching 100,000 overall. Over the years the picnic was expanded from one day to three (you picked one of those three to attend) and they added more food stands, bouncy rides, and whatnot--but still, the place is much more crowded now. I guess driving got harder too, although in recent years we rode the bus, which worked well (when I first started going you would patiently wait through the traffic jam at exit 31 on Interstate 90, only to realize that the assurances that people would NOT be allowed to sneak in the back way were in fact false, and those who had ignored the rules were being rewarded for doing so; this would frustrate me to no end, mitigated only by the fact that usually reached maximum boil in the vicinity of the Mar-T Diner, featured in "Twin Peaks", which I found diverting enough to calm me down). It also got harder to sneak friends in; back in the day you could claim you had a wife and 8 kids and they would issue you a pass for 10 people, but in recent years they really did check your ID and, I guess, make a determination if your companions' family tree was rooted in you.

Over the years I usually attended the picnic, and looking back I could mark the stages of my westward journey by how my picnic day changed: from playing volleyball and eating, to supervising children in the toddler area, to relaxing under a tree while the kids ran around under their own recognizance.

I agree that canceling the picnic seems like a prudent fiscal move, and it also fixes an imbalance between Puget Sound and other Microsoft sites. Some of the cut benefits can be mitigated just by spending some money, such as free admission with the Prime card (or, I suppose, free soda, although there is a convenience factor there that would be missed), but the picnic is a hard-to-duplicate experience, like the long-ago-lamented holiday party (the REAL holiday party, I mean, that included all of Microsoft and ended in the early 1990s). When one of my colleagues left Microsoft the first things his kids asked was, "You mean we can't go to the picnic anymore?". I admit that when I left in 2000 I also felt a slight pang of guilt about that, although not enough to keep me around. Seen in that light, canceling the picnic removes one more difference between working at Microsoft and not working at Microsoft, which is unfortunate.

Posted by AdamBa at April 25, 2009 10:11 PM


i remember the summer 88 picnic being at radar lake...

Posted by: john at April 26, 2009 10:10 AM

Somebody (LarryO, I think) told me it was at Vasa Park, but I wasn't there personally to confirm.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at April 26, 2009 06:14 PM

well i am getting old and my memory sucks. i was definitely at some large event my first year at radar lake, but it could have been a systems event and not a whole company picnic.

Posted by: john at April 26, 2009 08:20 PM

It could well have been the picnic. Or maybe it was the System Retreat, which I think only lasted a couple of years after I joined in 1990 (possibly that was as long as a formal "Systems" group lasted). Remember the year we did a team-building exercise putting together a giant drawing of Steve Ballmer's face?

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at April 27, 2009 12:35 PM

yes i do. was that the same year we got the steveb t-shirts in the garish colors? that is not one i wore often after the event.

Posted by: john at April 28, 2009 09:12 AM

I remember at the Radar Lake picinc (one of at least two I went to in the late 80s) getting a ride in Charles's helicopter. Think this was in '87

Posted by: bobt at April 28, 2009 06:53 PM