Drinking from the Fire Hose At Microsoft

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For those starting out at Microsoft, an analogy that you’re likely to hear a lot is “Drinking from the firehose”. The first time I’ve ever heard this phrase was when Dare used it in a post about the flood of information due to subscribing to multiple RSS feeds.

Bronx Summer. Photographer,

It’s entirely apropos (just love that word ever since The Matrix) as a description of starting as a new employee at Microsoft. My buddy Walter said his brother had the same feeling when starting at CalTech. That resonates with me, because unlike my college, with its emphasis on the liberal arts, Microsoft very much feels like an engineering college.

For example, everyone around me is technically adept and incredibly smart. It’s funny to hear myself say that. Over the past few years, I’ve read many blog posts from people I highly respect, real brainiacs in the industry, talk about their transition to Microsoft and they would often say something similar. Something along the lines of…

“I’m surrounded by really really smart people.”

“Everyone here is super smart” Note, they like to use “super” as a prefacing adjective a lot around here. Especially the phrases “Super Smart” or “Super Excited” 

“I feel humbled by the smart people around me.”

I used to read these statements and think to myself, Bullshit! You’re freakin’Don Box! OrChris Sells! OrScott Hanselman! OrJohn Lam! (I could go on…) I know you’re just saying that to be nice. I mean, how could you really say otherwise since you have to work with them?

Sure I bet these people are smart, and many of them might even be scary smart, but you know you’re a big dog over there. Admit it. Go ahead, admit it.

Ahhhh yes, the ignorant arrogance of an outsider. Now here I find myself saying the same things these guys have said, though admittedly, the bar is lower in my case than the aforementioned highly respected gentlemen.

I’m sure there must be some stupid people around here somewhere. They’re just not in my group as far as I can tell.

Investing for the long run

I had a great meeting with my manager on my third day of work. Rather than focusing on technology, tasks, and features, we spent a couple hours talking about passion, personal mission, goals, long term outlook, etc… And not the typical bullcrap I can regurgitate in an interview (whoops!). I was forced to really think deeply about these issues, about what I really want out of a career, which is quite frankly something I haven’t done in a long time. I’ve been too busy doing and not spending any time pondering. It is really important to have a balance of both.

In part, I think this is a reflection of a company that can afford to invest in the long run and be strategic, rather than always investing in the short term and feeling like a chicken with its head cut off. It is a refreshing change of pace.

But don’t confuse that with a slow pace, it was crazy busy over here last week. Right off the bat I was put to work on preparing materials for a private Software Design Review (SDR) we had with select customers and partners, which kept me busy over the weekend. The great part of course is that I’m pretty much in control over my own schedule for the most part, as long as I’m producing results.

You Sound Like You Totally Drank The Kool-Aid?

It may seem like I have completely drunk the kool-aid, but I like to think that I held it in my cheek waiting for a moment when nobody was looking to spit it out. Besides, the kool-aid would be extremely diluted from the fire hose.

The phrase drinking the kool-aid”** implies a cult or herd mentality, which is something I hope to avoid. In fact, it makes me a more valuable employee if I can keep some of my naive outsider thinking intact, though perhaps over time, I will be super assimilated (doh!).

I think my enthusiasm for my work has a lot to do with the particular group I am in and the particular project I am on. I know there are some people very dissatisfied at Microsoft, so it’s not all roses and ice cream.

I have also heard second-hand comments that show that some people here still have misconceptions about Open Source. Not a willful antagonism, just a misunderstanding, which is easily remedied via education.

This post has gone on long enough. If people are interested, I’d be happy to write more about my experiences and impressions of Microsoft as things progress.

The main thing I want to say is that I still plan to work on Subtext, though my involvement will be scant in the near term. I also still plan to continue blogging and not drop off the face of the blogodome as some have feared.

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17 responses

  1. Avatar for Joe Wirtley
    Joe Wirtley October 25th, 2007

    Glad to hear you didn't drink the kool-aid. Don't.
    And as a Caltech alum, I will agree with your buddy that "drinking from the firehose" is not only an apt description of the Caltech experience, but was commonly used at the time I was there (quite a few years ago now).

  2. Avatar for Steven Harman
    Steven Harman October 25th, 2007

    Glad to hear that it's going well for you so far buddy.
    And don't worry about Subtext, I'll try to pick up my contributions and involvement in lieu of you're current fire-fighting efforts.I'll just tell Carli, It's Phil's fault honey, he off drinking Kool-Aid and playing with fire hoses so I need to cover for him.

  3. Avatar for kevin
    kevin October 25th, 2007

    nice post. I was hoping to hear more about your experiences so far.
    so yea, please don't stop blogging ;P

  4. Avatar for Jason
    Jason October 25th, 2007

    I am definitely interested in hearing more about your experiences at Microsoft. You and ScottHa are doing a great job of painting the picture for us "outsiders."

  5. Avatar for Damien Guard
    Damien Guard October 25th, 2007

    Having spent the last couple of days at Microsoft I know exactly what you mean.....

  6. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked October 25th, 2007

    @Damien, did you enjoy the SDR? I'm bummed I couldn't be there in person.

  7. Avatar for Dan Fernandez's Blog
    Dan Fernandez's Blog October 25th, 2007

    Phil Haack blogged about how, as a new Microsoft employee, he's drinking through the firehose [FYI to

  8. Avatar for Noticias externas
    Noticias externas October 25th, 2007

    Phil Haack blogged about how, as a new Microsoft employee, he's drinking through the firehose [FYI

  9. Avatar for Shawn Burke
    Shawn Burke October 26th, 2007

    Good post, Phil, looking forward to having you around full time.
    After being here for 10 (!) years, I especially like reading/hearing the experiences of two groups of people: (1) people just coming into MS and talking about how their expectations line up with their experiences, and (2) people who've just left MS out into the "real world", for the same reason.
    See, yeah, there's a ton of stupid-smart people here. But regardless of that, there's a special thing that happens when you're around people that are smart in a different way and/or have a different worldview. That tends to drive a lot of growth as things you've "settled" on get challenged and uprooted, so enjoy it.
    I've also found that it's very easy to conflate smarts with context. Meaning, if you spend all day around smart people talking about smart things, you'll get used to talking about those concepts on their own. What people might not realize is that here at MS we spend *forever* struggling over aspects of problems that 99.9% of people never even think of. After a while you absorb all of that context, etc.
    Honestly the same thing happens the other way around. When I talk to guys like you or Rob or other guys out in the industry I see a bit of the same thing..."man, how do those guys know so much about X, Y, and Z...geez...I hope they don't ask me about that stuff!"

  10. Avatar for Andrew
    Andrew October 27th, 2007

    Even though it's an old, old phrase. I think I recall hearing it first in this industry as the title of a blog post on the old Borland site - it was quite a popular blog.

  11. Avatar for Lucas
    Lucas October 28th, 2007

    I'd love to hear more about working at Microsoft. I suspect that there are a few misconceptions from the Open Source world about MS, as well as the other way around :o) So please, keep educating us non-Microsofties.

  12. Avatar for jdelator
    jdelator October 28th, 2007

    Hey good luck at microsoft. I interned over the summer and I will be working full time come february.
    Get used to the free starbucks in the drink room, you will be spending a lot of time in there :)

  13. Avatar for Glenn Block
    Glenn Block October 28th, 2007

    Hi Phil
    I totally know where you are coming from. When I first joined Microsoft about two years ago I remember being told countless times about the firehouse. Initially the thought was "Yeah right". Then the hose opened and I just couldn't get it to shut. I never realized just how many acronyms one can use in one sentence, that is until my first week. I remember sitting in meetings where I had absolutely no clue what they were saying because the acronyms were rolling one after the other.
    It does get better so hang in there. The first 3 months for me were insane, the next three were crazy (but not insance), then magically after 6 months things finally start settling.
    One good piece of advice is find a mentor (Either formally or informally). A good mentor is worth their weight in gold.

  14. Avatar for John Parkinson
    John Parkinson October 28th, 2007

    Amazing how so many supposedly smart people manage to produce such crappy bug ridden software, like IE and that resource pig Vista.

  15. Avatar for CodeClimber
    CodeClimber November 16th, 2007

    Impressed and overloaded

  16. Avatar for Community Blogs
    Community Blogs January 14th, 2008

    After joining Microsoft and drinking from the firehose a bit, I’m happy to report that I am still alive

  17. Avatar for Mark Schaefer
    Mark Schaefer April 2nd, 2009

    Phil. I am on my 4th day at MSFT and know when you mean. It is like drinking from the firehose, but yet, it is exciting! I have a couple of mentors and that is helping allot!