Ride the Gravy Train …

I give presentations to teams at Microsoft often. Some teams want a talk on a specific topic, and other teams just ask me what I want to talk about. It’s a good opportunity for me to try out different ideas and see if they have merit. I imagine only 10-20% of these talks would have any interest outside of MS (I think the same percentage of my external talks are interesting to MS folks too).

Anyway, for a presentation coming up in a few weeks, I’m sharing random bits of career advice. The title of the talk is Ride the Gravy Train …and other random career advice. I’ve collected a random assortment of interesting/bizarre/weird career advice over the years, and thought it would be fun to throw it all together into a presentation. I’ll likely use the backdrop of my own career as a storyline for the bits of career wisdom, so I think I can get it to flow fairly well.

Some samples include:

“Always put yourself on the steepest learning curve” – this was advice I received indirectly from Jim Allchin (via a Distinguished Engineer I was talking to). The idea is that if you’re not challenged, you’re not going to grow. I can think of at least 10 examples from my career where I was in so far over my head, I had no idea how I’d ever be successful – but I figured it out, and the experience of crawling my way out of the hole was huge.

Almost contradictory advice from another DE was this: “If you have a great manager who takes good care of you, Ride the Gravy Train”. Good managers watch out for your career and unblock paths you never even knew were blocked for you.

Another one I heard recently was “Sometimes, it’s a beauty contest” – meaning that doing the work isn’t always enough. Sometimes you need to put some lipstick and makeup on your work and show it around to people who matter.

I have several more, but I’d love to hear yours if you have them.


  1. Don’t ‘fix’ it until you understand the environment. Maybe it is crazy that the nightly builds run on somebody’s regular computer, not a server. But moving it took 2 weeks and the new system was down more because no one noticed right away when it broke.

  2. the 3rd one is what I often hear about too. and it may not work out to every one who believe do the work and results follow. It may also be the cultural background that they aren’t comfortable with makeup and marketing their own work, although they may be good at marketing their team or teams around. I believe it is a fine line and an art.

    I agree with putting oneself into discomfort zone and crawl up to get back to comfort zone crossing the obstacles, and then find another discomfort zone to learn again.

    I perhaps need to understand the phrase “ride the gravy train” in this context. 🙂

    I have also heard your 2nd sample you have mentioned – i don’t know how that works 🙂


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