Goodbye Microsoft, Hello Facebook!

Today was my last day at Microsoft, after 12 years straight out of college.  I will start at Facebook next week as a developer in its Seattle office.

Below is the email I sent to Microsoft colleagues on my last day.  I loved Microsoft, every one of the past twelve awesome years.  Here’s to new adventures!

### Original email below ###

12 Years of Randomness, Ended

Philip Su, Sept. 3, 2010

Microsoft has been an awesome place to work over the past twelve years.  Today is my last day.

I’ve always been somewhat random, so I’d like to end this whole adventure true to form:  quirky, controversial, optimistic, seat-of-the-pants, with rarely a satisfying explanation.

Don’t look for coherence below – you won’t find it.  And if parts of this offend you, it’s probably because you don’t know me well enough – I offend people inadvertently all the time, almost as a rule.

Thanks for everything.

# # #

In college, I never thought I’d work for Microsoft.  Then I interned in 1997 and fell in love:  free sodas, individual offices (with doors!), Pentium 66’s – what more could a coder ask?  Years later, my manager from the internship quit suddenly when his hard drive crashed, erasing weeks of code that hadn’t been checked in.  He said it was a sign from God.  I have no idea what he’s doing these days.

People often complain after getting a “bad” review that their manager has a distorted and inaccurate view of them.  Don’t you think that, of all the people in the world, the person reviewed would have the most biased view of their own performance?  I sometimes gently suggest this.  People don’t believe me.

Choose carbs.  Eat dessert first.

Use Occam’s Razor in interpersonal relations:  look for the simplest, most straightforward explanation that assumes the best of everybody.  Stay away from people who always have a conspiracy theory involving twisted office politics, unfulfilled Machiavellian ambitions, and unspoken agendas.

Anonymous college course evaluations often ask for the student’s grade in the class. Turns out that there’s a strong correlation between a student’s grade and their assessment of the professor’s abilities.  I don’t listen too carefully when a poor performer tells me how awful their previous manager was.  My ears perk up when a star performer constructively criticizes their management.

Bias towards action.  “Litebulb” will drain your soul.  [Ed: “Litebulb” is a reference to an email distribution list used within Microsoft to discuss various topics]

Words matter.  Connotations matter.

If you consistently deliver what the business needs most, and you do it well, it’s impossible not to get promoted.  People tell me this isn’t true, that it’s all about the people you know and about “visibility.”  I have no idea how to consistently deliver impactful business results without becoming visible as a side effect.  I hate it when developers ask me how to become “more visible.”  They hate it when I tell them to “do great work.”  They think I’m mocking them.

Be genuine.  Never give advice for your own advantage.  I’ve never once counseled a person to join my team or to stay on my team because I needed them.

Listen to understand.  Speak to be understood.

Good ideas are a dime a dozen.  Great ideas are usually laughed at.  Neither sees the light of day without you taking action.  Do the work to prove your idea, or stop talking about it.  In an entrepreneurship class in college, I pitched the idea of an online grocery delivery service and got laughed off stage.  Hurt, but convinced of my great genius, I returned the following week to pitch the idea of online movie rentals using the postal service.  I called it NetVideo.  Everyone thought it was absurd.  I used to tell this story to bolster what I thought was my streak of unrecognized, prognosticating technical genius.  These days, I tell the story to remind myself that in the end, only action and execution matter.

What’s your final level at Microsoft?  Please don’t say CEO or Technical Fellow – I can almost guarantee you it’s not.  A realistic appraisal helps you aim for the right things, and is also essential to happiness.  A VP once told me that he had already attained the highest position he’d ever reach at Microsoft.  It wasn’t false humility.  It wasn’t sour grapes.  He was confident in his abilities and ambitious about doing great work.  He was just more grounded and self-aware than many, and thus more content.  Don’t give up or sell out.  Just know yourself.

If you only ever implement feedback that you agree with, you probably don’t need the feedback in the first place.  For feedback to be useful, you must at least occasionally consider implementing feedback that you don’t initially agree with.  How else will you discover your blind spots?

Good people with good process will outperform good people with no process every time.
– Grady Booch

Don’t fear process.  Fear bad people dictating process.  Fear process trying to make up for bad people.

I’ve managed almost 150 people across dev/test/PM.  I estimate about 60% of employees think that they belong in the top 20% when ranked against their peers.  I have never once had a person say that they belong in the bottom 10%.

What would Mini do?  (Incidentally, one of my managers once asked me, in all seriousness, whether I was Mini-Microsoft.  I guess you’ll find out after I leave.)

In a company as large as Microsoft, I guarantee you’ll find someone higher level than you who you think is worse than you.  Don’t get stuck in this mental trap – it won’t motivate you to be your best.  Look instead towards the person you admire most at your level.  What can you learn from them?  What unique strengths might you have which they don’t have?

A person is either passionate or they’re not.  People who expect their manager to make their jobs fun and interesting won’t get far.

Once, at a Pizza Hut counter, I noticed that all the pens meant for signing credit card receipts had little flowers attached to their tops.  Stuck together in a cup, the bunch of pens looked like a bouquet.  I asked the cashier whether this was a new Pizza Hut policy.  She said no – she had done it on her own.  What would you pay to have her in your company?

Cynics don’t get anything done.  Stop talking to people whose first response is always skeptical.  They will crush you.

I had a coworker in Money who, by the time I joined in 1998, had already been at Microsoft for 15 years and could probably buy the county I grew up in.  He drove a beat-up Datsun and coded every day in his office as an individual contributor.  There is no doubt in my mind that he knows what he loves.

Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness.  It may change your life.

Offer me one great Microsoft engineer for five “solid” ones:  I gladly take the exchange.

Practice articulating positions you disagree with faithfully and persuasively.  Unless you can do this, you’re implicitly assuming that people who disagree with you are idiots.  Smart people understand why smart people disagree.

People keep asking for executive accountability when something goes wrong.  When’s the last time you saw a line engineer take accountability – real, public accountability, the type that says, “I screwed up. This needs to go on my review.  I will make this right, or I will find another position”?

The team you want to join is the one that’s hard to get into.

If it seems easy getting a bunch of great reviews, you’re probably working on the wrong team.

Do you practice specific skills with repetition and intent?  Athletes do drills.  Musicians hone difficult passages.  What do you do?

Mentees sometimes ask for the secret to my moderate career success.  They’re disappointed when I tell them that it’s partially due to hard work.  It sounds trite and preachy, like a public service announcement, like I’m commending myself for breaking a light sweat.  As if they’d be more satisfied with an answer like, “I clawed my way up to middle management through shameless brownnosing.”  My first year at Microsoft, I had a sleeping bag in my office and worked all the time.  On weekends, I still write code to learn new technologies.  I regularly read books about leadership, communication, management, and technology.  Equally smart people fare differently in their careers partly based on the amount they’re willing to put in.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

Follow great people.  Work for great people.

Above all else:  Integrity.  You must be able to trust who you work with and for.  Theodore Roosevelt once fired a rancher who stole some neighboring cattle and added them to Roosevelt’s herd.  When asked about this by incredulous friends, Roosevelt simply replied, “A man who steals for me will also steal from me.”

A PM once remarked of a former Microsoft VP known for being ultra-aggressive in meetings: “I’d rather have him pissing from my tent than into my tent.”  Everyone within earshot chuckled at this witty political insight.  I’d actually rather not have anybody pissing on any tents, mine or otherwise.

Organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.
– Conway’s Law (Melvin Conway)

Don’t ship the org chart.
– Steven Sinofsky

You can control outcomes with three types of approaches:  a) People Control, where you decide who to hire, who to fire, and who to put in what positions;  b) Action Control, where you tell people what to do;  and c) Results Control, where you define the metrics of success.  Know when to use which.

Isn’t it a neat feeling when you’re introduced to a coworker’s kids or spouse?  For a moment, the bubble of work is burst.  You imagine baseball games, music recitals, anniversary dinners.  I remind myself of this when I get frustrated at people.

I love watching exceptional people do what they’re good at.  It amazes and inspires me.  I once saw an alleyway chef in Shanghai turn a basketball-sized clump of dough into hand-pulled noodles for a table of eight, amid a blur of arm movements in under a minute.  Ever watch speed stacking?  We each have astonishing potential.

Amidst some LCA controversy around “Dr. Who(m),” a site I worked very hard on creating after hours, I arrived at my office to find a handmade two-foot-high Dalek.  Someone had taken the time to print, cut, and tape together a mascot to support me.  What inspires people to this sort of kindness?  I still don’t know who did this for me – but if you’re reading this, thank you.

Spend time with people whether they’ll be “useful” to you someday or not.  Respond to emails whether from a VP or from a campus hire.  This advice will likely make you less “efficient.”  But it’s good advice nevertheless.

We used to get Dove Bars and beers all the time.  It felt like free food was on offer at least once a week, usually with a pretense of some small milestone to celebrate.  Why did we cut stuff like this?  (I know the boring fiscal reasons why.  I’m asking the deeper why, as in, “Was it worth the savings?  Is Microsoft better now that we’ve cut these costs?”)

One day, a sign appeared on a soda fridge in RedWest saying something to the effect of, “Did you know that drinks cost Microsoft [ed: millions of dollars] a year? Sodas are your perk at work.  Don’t bring them home.”  This depressed me on too many levels to enumerate, but I’ll toss out a few:

  1. Someone had enough time to get these signs professionally printed and affixed to our fridges.
  2. It was someone’s salaried, 40-hour-a-week job to do things like this.
  3. Someone thought soda smuggling was a big enough “problem” at Microsoft to draw attention to it.

How much soda can a person steal?  How much does that same person cost the company per hour in salary and benefits?  Our most interesting profits will come from capitalizing on huge opportunities, not from micromanaging costs.  I’m sure some finance person will lambast me for this, which would only further depress me.  Believe in our upside.  Focus on our upside.

Leadership is the art of getting people to want to do what you know must be done. This was told to me third hand;  I’ve unfortunately lost the attribution. [ed: I’m told this was said by Eisenhower]

What have you enjoyed most in your time at Microsoft?  What made that experience great?  How can you do more of that?

What would you do if you hit the lottery?  How can you do some of that right now?

Individuals are the sole cause of anything that’s ever happened.

156 Responses to “Goodbye Microsoft, Hello Facebook!”

  1. […] turns out the “soda incident” was the most commented-on part of Philip Su’s goodbye letter to Microsoft. […]

  2. Bazz says:

    Great! You must have had Good parents!

  3. eiei says:

    This article is really interesting. I was reading every line with curiosity while relating back to my manager’s advices and reflect my experience.
    Similar to you, I’ve just started my career at Microsoft for less than a year after I have graduated.

    Many of your advices make sense to me. In Microsoft, I have met many great people who inspire me (especially my manager and my teammates) and I’ve encountered few people who like conspiracy as you mentioned. So far, I really enjoy what I’m doing and I am excited by the learning experience I have here. I still have a lot to learn and long way to go… :)

    Btw, I love the following quote. ^.^
    “If you consistently deliver what the business needs most, and you do it well, it’s impossible not to get promoted. People tell me this isn’t true, that it’s all about the people you know and about “visibility.” I have no idea how to consistently deliver impactful business results without becoming visible as a side effect”

    Thank you for sharing your advices and these are really useful for me.

  4. Daniel says:

    Great story, I spent almost 15 years at Microsoft before retiring, never thought I would stay anywhere that long!

    yes the Soda signs sucked, I bet the person who thought of them did not realize that hte person(s) taking them were also working 12-15 hour days and working from home and needed a little MS Soda to help him work more from home, I am pretty sure developer hours dropped then.

    it is a shame we live in a world of lawyers and bean counters.

    Great letter.

  5. Adam says:

    Philip,

    I have built my career on the foundation of Microsoft technologies, in paticular Visual Studio in all incarnations since 6.0. I graduated in 1996 from Southampton University (UK) and have worked my way from London to 3 cities in America. Currently living and working in Dallas, TX for a large British company as a senior manager but still coding every day.

    Suffice to say your thoughts are well written and mostly stand within close range of my own experience. I have successfully implemented many of the same or similar strategies. Micro management cost savings are pure idiocy. Sometimes I wonder whether we are heading more towards Idiocricy, so your post was inspiring.

    At the end of the day you need high level intellectual and social skills to succeed in today’s business world. Foster and develop both because few have the drive or ability you clearly possess.

    Cheers!
    Adam

  6. Huey Ly says:

    Great blog post and sound advice! I was guilty of some of the mental traps you mentioned but *hopefully* I’ve outgrown them. Good luck on your new endeavors!

  7. […] Microsoft executive Philip Su recently wrote the following, as a part of his overall observations on working at Microsoft: I’ve managed almost 150 people across dev/test/PM. I estimate about 60% […]

  8. Pablo Lopez says:

    Philip,
    I enjoyed your article. It applies to those who never worked in Microsoft too..
    I look forward to share it with my team and keep some of your lessons handy!

  9. Ken Ferguson says:

    Thanks. Nice to read something that makes you think and appreciate a portion of the content of the web.

  10. […] mail de départ d’un salarié de Microsoft après 12 ans de bons et loyaux services. Quelle […]

  11. Hrish says:

    Philip – just saw your response (late, I know!).
    The links I’m referring to are the ones to external sites, E.g.
    The link to Delivering Happiness (broken) –

    http://worldofsu.com/philipsu/redir.aspx?C=38ba25a25f044fd192786229b55428d6&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.amazon.com%2fDelivering-Happiness-Profits-Passion-Purpose%2fdp%2f0446563048%2fref%3dsr_1_1%3fie%3dUTF8%26s%3dbooks%26qid%3d1283498568%26sr%3d8-1

    which is a page on your blog and is supposed to redirect to an Amazon link. I’m sure that’s not Microsoft only 😀

  12. philipsu says:

    @Hrish: Thanks for the clarification and for letting me know. I’ve corrected all links in the article, and have removed links to Microsoft-internal sites so that no one gets confused. You’re right that the external links got morphed — not sure how that happened. But it’s all fixed now.

  13. […] really loved this blog post from Philip Su, a developer who worked at Microsoft for 12 years and is now working at Facebook. […]

  14. gem says:

    Loved it. It inspires me. I feel great to be part of Microsoft. Thanks for taking out time and expressing intriguing thoughts with all.

  15. Sai says:

    A friend passed a link to this post to me. Was in no mood to read anything lengthy yet I did. I liked what you wrote. Will probably read it again. Whoever you are (will probably never meet you), you sound like a good guy. And an inspiring one. All the best for everything. And thanks for this post.

  16. Praveen DS says:

    Nice article!

  17. […] good friends were kind enough to translate my farewell letter to Microsoft into Chinese.  Bing Han made a translation based on the work of Freedo Chen and a colleague of his […]

  18. […] Phillip Su – 12 Years of Randomness “Individuals are the sole cause of anything that’s ever happened.” […]

  19. Tim says:

    Hi Philip,

    Thanks so much for shareing your years of wisdom with the world. I really appreciate your insight.

    It is what i needed right now…

    I hope you enjoy your new role.

  20. This, I believe, was the best blog post of 2010. I’ve thought back and referred back to it many times. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  21. […] here was featured on hackernews and slashdot, and has been translated in other languages as well: http://worldofsu.com/philipsu/?p…. Not the best by a long shot, but hopefully somewhat useful.6:31pmView All 0 CommentsCannot add […]

  22. Anonymous says:

    Well, I just joined MSFT 2 weeks back and I am wondering what have I done. They changed my hiring manager 3 days before joining to a person I had biggest problems with during the interview. Since then I have been wondering that I made an error of judgement in my life. This thing stresses me out now.

    My new boss is an abusive bully and he is setting me up for failure. Atleast 4 times he mentioned to me that I was offered higher level and salary than what he was comfortable with. And now he has told me to figure stuff and my job out. He also had problems with me tinkering the budget of the department when I ordered a $90 office phone. Now I am thinking if I should really order business cards or would I get yelled at again. Not sure if I should go talk to his boss. I think the best thing is to find another job and move on.

  23. philipsu says:

    Anonymous: Microsoft is larger than many small “cities” in the US, and so unfortunately your experience of it may vary quite a bit depending on your manager and on the team you join. It’s hard to give advice in this sort of situation without more context, but I’d recommend at least having a casual chat with your HR representative. They sometimes can identify a bad situation and help place you in the right place.

  24. Love your story!

    Just like Edison said: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work…”

    One of the best “personal” pieces of writing I’ve ever read. Thank you for your sincerity!

  25. Roger M says:

    Well written. I come here every few weeks to revise this :-)

    Waiting for more posts from you. Would be nice to hear how your Facebook journey is going on. Haven’t seen an update from you since this one.

  26. […] I could go on… read the rest here: http://worldofsu.com/philipsu/?page_id=193 This entry was posted in Health, Technology. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a […]

  27. Kaustubh says:

    Its really motivating. You have explained your thoughts in simplistic views. I really liked it very much…

    Keep posting !!

  28. Mark says:

    Love this story and the Dr. Who(m) sites. Good luck at Facebook!

  29. BrightMinds says:

    Well done! Hope you’re happy at Facebook.

  30. […] I thought, nah, my content isn’t that good. I’ve read a lot of better stuff out there, namely Philip Su’s post which is incredibly good. But then I started thinking that maybe something in here could help […]

  31. odenuk says:

    will comeback here every now and then….since this writing is one of cornerstones of this world!

  32. Rod Ross says:

    This is a work of pure genious! You have a GREAT book inside you that is dying to get out. THANK YOU for taking the time to share your thoughts, experiences and observations! I will be passing this on for others to enjoy.

  33. elisabeth vanderveldt says:

    Philip I can only hope you lecture to as many graduating university students as possible! You would do them all a humongous service in so doing.

    I am a Microsoft partner and my daughter just interned with the ever amazing Curtis Wong at Microsoft Research. I wish you had still been there to meet her face to face. I’m sending this link to her. Its priceless. its not the first time I hear much of this but you put it altogether better than anyone else to date!

    I saw this today thanks to an FB posting. Ill be back for more.

  34. […] I suggest reading Philip Su’s goodbye note for leaving Microsoft and joining Facebook: Goodbye Microsoft, Hello Facebook! ? The World As Best As I Remember It. (you might remember Mr. Su from the high-profile post-Vista blog-post Broken Windows Theory). That […]

  35. Phillip! A friend of mine directed me to your blob — we were discussing our concerns about going back to MSFT.

    I still can’t thank you enough for your involvement in my “going away” party back in 2001.

    Great blogs, Phillip. You nailed it.

    Cheers all around!
    All the best,

    –Scott

    PS. I came out of “retirement” 8 months later and went to work at various mobile device development companies (still working in fact).

  36. philipsu says:

    Great to hear from you, Scott, and great to hear that all is well. I still sometimes tell people about the jointed snowboard that you were inventing — so cool!

  37. David Allen says:

    Hello! Good stuff, please keep us posted when you post again something like that!

  38. Wang says:

    Dear Philip Su:

    I am your reader of “Table PC Applications”.

    I can stroke using both left and right mouse button.
    How can I turn off the right mouse stroke?

    Thanks.

  39. Charles T. says:

    Inspirational read. Thank you for posting.

  40. […] whole piece gets a little mellowdramatic at times, but definitely worth the read. (H/T: CodingHorror, I […]

  41. This is a great read. Almost every part of it is noteworthy.
    Thank you so much for posting.

  42. […] A nice goodbye letter sent by a former Microsoft employee before leaving. It has a lot of nice learning things and advices. One of the things I liked most is this: “A person is either passionate or they’re not. People who expect their manager to make their jobs fun and interesting won’t get far”. If you just read this article, there is enough common sense, well described knowledge to implement: worldofsu.com/philipsu/goodbye-microsoft-hello-facebook […]

  43. […] am citit acest articol ?i mi s-a p?rut extraordinar ce doz? de în?elepciune are-n el. L-am postat pe Facebook, niciun […]

  44. […] Philip Su departed Microsoft for Facebook he wrote the best goodbye mail I had ever read.  It inspired and it taught. It made me laugh and it made me reflect.  It reminded me of why I […]

  45. Anon says:

    Thanks for writing this, there is a huge amount of great advice here

  46. kewin says:

    hi man you said what we the employee want to say and I do agree that

  47. […] worldofsu.com This entry was posted in […]

  48. […] And I could go on… read the rest here. […]

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