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July 18, 2007

Microsoft Awards

There's something new at Microsoft in the last couple of years: the proliferation of awards that everyday employees can win (which is followed closely by the proliferation of posters announcing the awards programs, that everyday employees can observe in the halls).

For a few years we have had the Engineering Excellence awards, which are for tools or processes that improve the way we engineer our products (things like Watson and Prefix win those). Then there are the Trustworthy Computing awards, which are similar but relate specifically to the Trustworthy Computing pillars.

More recently (or maybe I only noticed recently), we had the Circle of Excellence awards, which are somehow related to sales and marketing (which I know are two different things, but I don't pay attention enough to know which the COE are for). This year we also started the TCN (Technical Computing Network) Awards, which don't come across as vastly different from the EE Awards, except they're supposed to be more prestigious. Meanwhile at the upcoming Company Meeting they are going to announce the first Bill Gates award winner, which is for I'm not sure what, but I think is supposed to out-prestigify the TCN Awards (hey, it's Bill, right)? And I was wandering around Building 121 when I saw a poster for another award...I forget the name but it was in the same general category of awesome-things-done-by-employees that the other ones fall into.

All these awards are hard to win, because of the competition; the one I know the most about are the EE Awards, and when we say to the winners that this is a rare honor and they should be proud, it's true. The submissions that don't win are all great stuff, and the winners are even better.

A cynic would say that these awards are like a lottery: your actual chance of winning is low, but the possibility keeps people going at a cheaper price than other incentives. This would imply it was the last flowering of decadence before the empire crumbles and all that. I'm not actually that cynical. In the case of the EE Awards, certainly, all the ones I've seen started out as people doing something cool to help them do their job better, and eventually turning into something that helped lots of people do their jobs better (scope and impact are some of the key criteria for an EE Award). So it's not that I disagree with the number of awards handed out; it's the number of kinds of awards that exist that strikes me as dubious. Surely we could (as an example) combine the TCN awards with the Bill Gates award, and give out a few more of one or the other. Then they could really become prestigious, rather than just be labeled as such out of the box. Or combine the EE and TwC awards, since they are both handed out at the EE/TwC Forum and I doubt most people in a Microsoft hallway have a sense of how they are different. Because otherwise they risk being like local Emmys, where it's more unusual for someone not to have one than to have one. Which would defeat the whole purpose of the awards.

Posted by AdamBa at July 18, 2007 09:43 PM

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i guess when the stock isn't going up the company needs to create other currencies to reward people with. bread and circuses.

Posted by: at July 18, 2007 10:19 PM


I was just about to submit something really viciuos about the EE awards. Man, I'm happy I thought about it for a minute, and didn't make a joke about an EE winner just now going Beijing, hopefully to excellently enginner som decent swag.

Posted by: at July 18, 2007 11:22 PM

As a microsoft outsider, I'd be interested to learn more about the awards. When one wins an award, would one receive something of value (like cash or stock), or is more like a nice plaque, or more like a cheesy laser printer award? Is there a hall of fame on the intranet, where you can review all of the past award winners?

Posted by: Chris at July 19, 2007 08:45 AM

Commenter #1: Well, I don't know about the other awards, but the EE Awards are good stuff. You must be one of them cynics.

Chris, for the ones I've seen you definitely get a nice plaque or award and a decent amount of cash. The EE Awards (and honorable mentions) are lsted on the Intranet, and the winners of the EE "Chairman's Award" have a plaque with their pictures on the wall of Building 34.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at July 19, 2007 10:33 AM

Commenter #1 here, checking in again.

One of 'em cynics? I wasn't when I joined the company 1998, and I don't think I am now*, despite how the company and the outside world has changed in those years.

I know only of a couple of people who were given EE awards, but in both those cases I know for certain that it wasn't well deserved. Their "achievements" were all on paper, nothing tangible, nothing real. Their awards are insults to the true engineering achievements, and I know of others who have deliberately refrained from putting themselves up for nomination, simply to avoid being grouped together with what's (in my building at least) perceived as yet another group of poeple full of talk, empty of results. The cases close to me have not been "people doing something cool to help them do their job better, and eventually turning into something that helped lots of people do their jobs better". Unfortunately.

Hopefully it's different for other winners. If so, well deserved! Y'all rock! $31.51 - woot!

* although, to be fair, my last pair of rose-tinted glasses shattered on Tuesday morning, when I saw SteveB naked, violently drying himself in the corridor in the Pro Club.

Posted by: at July 19, 2007 10:24 PM