My last fifteen (or so) years

Sometime around 9:00 in the morning, exactly fifteen years ago today, I parked my car in the building 4 parking lot on the Microsoft campus. An hour or so later, I was installing a recent build of Windows 95 and trying to learn the details of my new job as quickly as possible.

New Years eve, 1994 was my last day at my previous company, Midisoft. I worked as a bike messenger after graduate school (I was burned out and needed a break). Pedaling a bike all around Seattle every day seemed like a good way to burn off the drain of  graduate school, but after about 3 months of high-risk minimum wage exercise, I bought a paper and decided to read the want ads. I read every single want ad, circled half a dozen or so and  sent off some resumes. The only place that called me back was Midisoft. They wanted someone for technical support. I had learned a lot about making music apps work on Windows 3.1 while in graduate school, but that was about the extent of my computer knowledge. After a day of interviews, followed by a “mock tech support call” with the CEO and his wife, I accepted the 8-dollars-an-hour job and became employee number 17. I was on the job for a few minutes before I found out I was also going to be one of the company’s primary software testers. A few hours later, I also found out I was the new network administrator.

I learned a lot in the following 15 months. I replaced our OS2 server with Windows NT 3.1. I learned enough to get backups working properly, and to ensure that email and network printing worked (at least most of the time). We bought an accounting program that was only supported running from a NetWare server, so I learned enough NetWare to keep things running smoothly (my NetWare knowledge would eventually be both the reason I left Midisoft, and the reason I was hired at Microsoft). I remember getting a call on a Saturday because our NT server had a hard drive crash (it had one hard drive, and it died). I replaced the hard drive, then reinstalled NT (from floppies). Then I restored from the tape backup – but discovered that I only had incremental backups for the last few months. The good news was that I had backups, but the bad news is that it took me 4 hours to restore each of the individual  incremental backups.

I also learned a bit about programming, and quickly learned that I loved programming. I had written hundreds of batch files and doskey macros over the few years I had been using a computer, but being able to create usable software was a rush for me. One of our best programmers, Chris Fox, gave me a book on C (which I still have), and told me the “three most important things about programming in C” (answer: “pointers, pointers, and pointers”). I also began using a beta of a program called MS Test (MS Test later became MS Visual Test) that came with our MSDN subscription. I began automating a lot of tests, and learned how to write UI tests that would run on our localized software as well. I got good enough at the language that I began to write our setup applications for our products (the languages for the SDK setup app and MS Test were both based on Basic). I also ended up writing our bug database front end in Visual Basic.Somewhere along the line, I got a raise (to 27k 1994 dollars), and also got to move into my own office.  I was having a blast.

But then it got sort of weird. For the second quarter in a row, our CFO asked me to “adjust” the date on our NetWare server so that we could fit a few more days of sales into the previous quarter (did I mention that this was a public company). I could see other signs that things weren’t going well, so I went back to the want ads and send out a few more resumes. This time, the reaction was different – I didn’t realize what a year of software testing experience was good for, as I received five phone calls before I left for work the next day (I also learned about “contract” work and dealing with agencies). Over the next few weeks, I had a few interviews, none of which went particularly well. One day I went to “a dentist appointment” and spent the next 4 hours interviewing for a job on the windows 95 team. They wanted someone with testing experience (check), experience with NetWare (check), and experience testing on Asian languages (check again). They gave me an offer the next day for a contract position testing networking components on the Asian versions of Windows 95, with a start date of  January 3, 1995. I gave my notice the next day and let them know my last day would be December 31st.

My new job was much more lucrative ($20 an hour  –  but I did have to pay for my own insurance). In hindsight, my first team didn’t know that much about testing, but at the time, it was exciting. If you’ve  read hwtsam, this is the team where my manager told me “we don’t have time to automate, you just need to run these tests everyday”. Despite the “scripted-ness” sound of this, we were encouraged to explore as we tested, and I did. (note that I also went ahead and automated all of the tests my manager gave me in my first week). I really fell in love with testing at this time, and it was an exciting time to work at Microsoft.

I was a contract employee at this time, and knew nothing at all about how Microsoft dealt with contractors. All I knew was that I was on a 5 month contract, and that the contract expired on June 3. I didn’t realize that MS almost always renewed these contracts, and my manager (who was probably the worst part of the job) didn’t tell me anything. So, I did what I thought was the right thing to do and began looking for another job. Luckily, I found one –I interviewed at a place called Software Testing (ST) Labs in pioneer square in Seattle. One huge draw of the job was that it was a 10 minute bus ride from the condo where I was living. I talked to a few people at ST Labs (including James Bach), and got an offer (for another contract job) right away. The next day, I “reminded” my manager that my contract was up and that I found a new job. He looked a little distraught, but didn’t say much as I headed back to my office to work. Within 10 minutes, his manager was in my office telling me how much he liked my work and asked if I would entertain a full-time offer from Microsoft. I put on my best poker face and said I would listen, but I had already made a verbal commitment to another company. The company must have been more nimble in those days, as a courier showed up at my condo within a few days with an official offer from Microsoft ($40k, a $4k “signing bonus”, and some ridiculously low amount of stock).  I accepted the offer and made the awkward call to ST labs. They made a counter offer, but MS was where I wanted to be (I just didn’t know they wanted me).  On June 6, 1995, I became an official “blue-badge” full time employee of MS. I knew I made the right choice when ST labs moved out of their downtown location just a few months later.

Because of the way I was hired, nothing changed other than my badge color. I was supposed to go to New Employee Orientation, but they put the wrong date on my offer letter. The suggested that I come back the next week, but I just skipped it. I stayed in the same office and did the same work – nothing really changed.

At least not for another 4 months or so.

More later…

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