One of the downsides of working at a company like Microsoft is when the rumor mill starts churning with claims like “Microsoft is planning on slashing 15,000 jobs on January 15th”, it’s not so easy to ignore.  Running across headlines like these on every mainstream media and Microsoft spectator blog can really cramp your style… especially when you’re the sole breadwinner in your family.

My husband is a stay-at-home dad for our 2 year old son.  We made that choice when I got the job with Microsoft because while we’re by no means comfortably well off, we can afford to live on one income for the sake of having our son’s earliest years be filled with one-on-one attention and not pock-marked by constant battles with every illness that makes its way through most daycares; we already traveled that path when he was an infant (I swear the poor kid didn’t know what it felt like to not be sick for the first year of his life).

Thinking about what being laid off would mean for us has been a thought that I’ve been pushing out of my mind ever since I first heard the rumors.  Our group has been reassured that cutbacks will be through not filling roles left vacant by attrition and perhaps ending some 3rd party contracts early… but I don’t feel comforted.  Granted, I’m in the search space and Steve Ballmer has repeatedly expressed how important moving forward in search is to Microsoft’s overall strategy, and the new deals with Dell (Live Search as the default engine) and Verizon (serving mobile ads) that were just announced as CES should make me feel a bit safer…  but I don’t. 

If anyone in my group were on the chopping block, I would be seriously surprised if we’d be told that up front.  Doing so would no doubt set off a domino effect of panic and back-up planning with job searches and even interviews to cover the just-in-case scenario… not a situation that would be good for the big M as they could wind up losing some of the top talent that wouldn’t have been laid off to begin with.  No, better to bypass all that panic and speculation and just spring it on us.  Better to let us think we’re getting that pay bonus next month; the one we’re planning on using to pull ourselves out of debt with, and then yank the rug out from under us with layoffs.

These are the thoughts that keep me up at night.  We don’t have a back up plan.  We don’t have savings.  We moved out here to WA state, clear across the country from family and friends so I could take this job.  If this job goes away, we are screwed six way from Sunday with no money to pay the mortgage, no money to move back to New England and… no money.

While I am happy to report that the infamous Jan. 15th date came and went with no layoff announcements, the Wall Street Journal did report that layoffs could happen as early as next week.

Fingers crossed.

I think I’ve made enough references to the fact that I work in the search engine marketing space at Microsoft, but I thought I’d put a little clarity around what that means.

In a nutshell, I help agencies set up, manage and maintain their pay-per-click campaigns on adCenter, the platform Microsoft built a couple of years ago in answer to Google’s Adwords and Yahoo’s Overture.  Not familiar with either of those?  I’ll try to summarize.

When you go to a search engine like Live.com and enter in some keywords, your search results page will display two types of listings: organic and pay-per-click (PPC) listings.  The organic ones are the larger ones to the left — these are the results that the search engine’s algorithm brought back based on the relevance of the page to the keywords searched on.  The PPC listings are the smaller ones off to the right, appearing below the “Sponsored Listings” title (circled below):

PPC listings also appear based on relevance to the keywords searched on, but these are paid for by advertisers who bid on keywords relevant to the products/services they’re trying to promote.  Much like Ebay, the top bidder gets the higher positioning.

On the back end of getting those paid ads to appear is a web-based platform where advertisers create their campaigns, ad groups, ads and keywords.  AdCenter is that platform for Microsoft.  You can learn more about adCenter by visiting the adCenter Community site.

I’m going to refrain from delving much deeper than this on any SEM topics as whatever I could say has already been covered a thousand times on sites like Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land and SEMPO.  In addition, anything that I write that’s going to be worth posting will be going up on the adCenter Community site.  I just wanted to add a little clarity around what it is I do for anyone who might be reading this and is unfamiliar with search engine marketing.

Back in my days as a carefree college student who spent the majority of her time either on the road with her favorite band, or else figuring out how to hit as many shows as possible the next time they went on tour, I heard my fair share of feedback. While the regularity of hearing that eyeball-vibrating sound is pretty much a thing of the past for me, at Microsoft I hear the word “feedback” on a near-daily basis.  Although the context is different, the meaning is essentially the same: something needs attention.

I suppose it’s a company culture thing because it pervades just about every organization and every function you could possibly encounter as an employee.  If you attend a training session, symposium, or any other company-sponsored event, there’ll be a survey to fill out afterwards.  Every year there’s a company-wide survey related to overall job satisfaction, and in my particular department, there’s another one that’s really similar to the company-wide one, but it’s specific to just our group.  Then there’s the surveys we send out to our clients about their level of satisfaction with the service we provide (I’m in the search advertising space).

Does it get a bit annoying and tedious?  Yes, it does.  Do I see the value in it?  Yes… I do.  There have been several instances where I’ve seen the feedback loop in action, and I’ve only been with the company for a little over a year.  Sure, it may take a while for you to see the results of the feedback… but it does happen, which is truly refreshing.  I’ve held jobs where any feedback you gave would just get dumped into a black hole, but I can honestly say that I don’t think that’s the case at Microsoft. Or rather, I should say it’s not the case with my particular group.  I should probably acknowledge that I work in the search engine marketing space, which is the equivalent of a start-up within Microsoft.  I suppose it’s possible that my management team is more open to suggestion than some of the more well-established groups’ managers are, but I’d like to think it’s a company-wide value that I’ll be able to count on throughout my career.

Do I have a point aside from thinking out loud?  I suppose I do.  This post was inspired by reading an article where the author was pondering the possibility of a Microsoft-Facebook deal, in which he pointed out that there are several anti-Microsoft groups on Facebook that are threatening to leave the service should such a deal materialize.  At one point, he quoted a user who indicated if Microsoft made cars, they would just break down for no reason.  I thought that was a particularly inane comment… if something breaks down, there’s a reason for it. 

Yes, Microsoft has a reputation of delivering flawed products, I’m not coming to their defense on that front… software isn’t my area and I don’t have any visibility into that side of the business at all: no comment.  However, I have to wonder if this same person who made the cars comment had clicked “Yes” on the dialog box asking them if they would allow Microsoft to collect data on their user experience, or if they ever clicked through to send feedback about any errors they enountered? 

As an aside, I couldn’t help but smirk when I read the following quote from that article:

Rebecca Jennings, an analyst with Forrester, said that Microsoft and Facebook had “fundamentally different cultures”. Facebook was set up primarily as a services business, whereas Microsoft’s origins had been as a software and technology company, she said.

I see her point about the cultures being different, but I found it odd that there was no mention of Microsoft’s current strategy of software + services, which has been repeated ad nauseum for quite some time now.

Have you checked Surface out yet?  It’s definitely one of the coolest, most innovative things I’ve seen since I started working at Microsoft. I first heard about Surface when they announced it last year.  Shortly thereafter, the marketing department sent out an email inviting employees to attend an informational session on it — I signed up immediately.  Luckly I arrived early enough to get a seat… the place was packed!  It got down to standing room only and even then people were clamoring for a prime vantage point along the back wall.

Unlike the iPhone’s scrolling-trackpad-on-steroids touch system, Surface’s interface is way cooler and does a lot more.  There are 5 cameras built into the base that read the objects and gestures it “sees” on the tabletop.  For more specific details on how it works, you can visit the Platform page on the Surface site.  You’ll find some of the demos presented during that informational session there as well, but to give you a brief rundown, I’ve outlined some of the more impressive ones below.

Surface isn’t available for consumers yet, but it has made its debut in the retail space with AT&T in New York City, Atlanta, San Antonio and San Francisco.  Right now they’re using it to show the coverage area for their plans…

… and as a really cool sales tool to help shoppers compare features on different phones:

The non-retail applications are pretty spiffy too.  You can sort through digital representations of your photo collections and videos as though they were actual prints laid out on a tabletop:

You can organize and access your music collection with the CD artwork intact:

… and you can use it to figure out how to get from point A to point B:

I don’t want to get myself into trouble by talking about applications that haven’t been officially announced yet, so I’m going to leave it here for now.  For information on how (and where) Surface is currently being used, you can visit the Opportunities page for details and you can keep up with the latest by reading the blog.  They’ve got some great content over there that should give you a pretty good idea of what this thing is capable of.

The first car I ever drove was a seventy-something Chevy Nova.  The thing was a death trap, whoever owned it before my mom never took care of it.  I’ll spare you the details of the ripped upholstery, the brakes that caught about a quarter of an inch before hitting the floor and the radio that probably hadn’t worked since 1981.  What’s important here, is that my mom was fond of saying, “If you can drive that thing, you can drive anything”.  How right she was, in more ways than one.

I learned to drive on that car, but more importantly, I learned to drive on the main streets and backroads of Boston and its suburbs.  If ever there was a trial-by-fire situation, it’s being a novice driver in Boston.  Thankfully I’d had 17 years worth of observation behind me, so while operating the machinery was new, the rules of the road were not.  For example, I knew that each lane of the highway has a very specific function and you were to use those lanes for their intended purpose: the middle lane is for traveling, the far left is for passing and the far right is for slower moving cars, as there’s a certain degree of caution involved due to cars exiting and entering the highway.  

Now, at the time I wasn’t aware that the rest of the country doesn’t follow these rules, so to move out here to western Washington and be faced with a population of people completely oblivious to these best practices of highway driving was a shock to the system.  They use all three lanes for travel, regardless of the speed, which is typically much slower than your average Boston driver, who maintains 5-10 miles over the speed limit at all times (unless their radar detector advises otherwise).  It’s not uncommon to get boxed in by three cars who are all traveling at similar speeds across all three lanes — I shit you not.  I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life.  What’s wrong with these people?

I know, you Boston drivers are saying to yourselves “Just get over to the left lane, climb up his ass and flash your lights at him… he’ll move”, but no… he won’t.  I too thought that was the universal signal for “Get your slow ass over to the travel lane”, but apparently that only works in Boston and the surrounding area because they don’t get it out here at all.  That’s not to say you don’t see tailgaters, you do… but it’s usually people who’re sporting Red Sox or Patriots stickers and/or license plate frames (like yours truly).  But we’re not the only aggressive drivers here… not the case at all, there are aggressive drivers, they just choose different situations to be aggressive in.  Stupid situations. 

There is a stretch of road on my daily commute called Novelty Hill Road.  My husband and I have renamed it “Douchebag Hill Road”, partially because he can never remember the actual name, and partially because of the annoying, self-important dinks who make it their mission in life to piss off every other commuter on that road.  The article linked to above seems to have a different take on it, but the brilliant engineers who designed this traffic mess don’t seem to pay too much attention to human nature.  Allow me to explain:

Novelty Hill road was once a two lane road with nothing but trees on either side.  In recent years, developers have moved in and erected these cookie-cutter housing and retail developments, necessitating the evolution of Novelty Hill Road into… a two lane road, with a small stretch that offers a temporary lane on either side for cars entering and exiting, and arguably, allowing for a greater volume of cars to pass through the single set of lights that dissects this controversial section of tarmac.

Those of us who travel this road know full well that if you jump out of line to get into one of these short-lived right lanes that lasts for about 15 seconds, you are either A.) turning off of Novelty Hill road, or B.) you’re one of those dinks who jumps out of line to cut 2-3 cars ahead in the 15 seconds you have to find a spot before the temporary lane ends and you have to merge back into the same lane you just moved out of.  Regardless of whether or not the use of both lanes going through the lights keeps traffic flowing at a faster rate, it nonetheless results in a lot of animosity, anger and road rage that has been responsible for numerous accidents as people who jumped out of line to that right lane speed up and try to cut back in ahead of people who remained in the left lanes.

A few weekends ago we were traveling this stretch to run some errands.  In front of us was a black beamer and in front of him was a red pickup truck.  As soon as those fleeting right lanes appeared, Mr. Beamer decided that Mr. Redtruck was going too slow.  He jumped out of line and sped up, only to find that Mr. Redtruck was going slow because all the cars in front of him were going slow too.  No sooner did Mr. Beamer make this realization when the slanting white arrows appeared in his lane, instructing him to merge as the right lane he was in would end soon.  He made the unwise choice of cutting Mr. Redtruck off, which we saw from our position just one car back. 

Much to our surprise and delight, Mr. Redtruck was having none of Mr. Beamer’s shenanigans.  Apparently the rage from having to slam on his breaks was enough to send him over the edge and into the right lane.  Without hesitation he immediately sped past Mr. Beamer and cut the wheel hard while he laid on his horn to let Mr. Beamer know he was coming, and Mr. Beamer had better move out of his way.  As Mr. Beamer was sporting a temporary license plate, Mr. Redtruck had been correct in his assumptions that his brand new sporty black baby would indeed yield to avoid a rather large dent and scratch of red paint.

A few blocks later, Mr. Redtruck pulled off into a left turn only lane.  As soon as my husband saw that he’d pulled over to turn, he rolled down his window, threw out a thumbs up and yelled “THANK YOU!!!” as we passed by.

It just dawned on me that the title of this blog assumes that you, dear reader, are aware of what it means to be “type B”… and “type A” for that matter.  I apologize, I try not to make assumptions, but this one just slipped by undetected.  Just to cover the bases, here’s a rather plain, to-the-point definition of a type B personality that I got after taking a simple personality test online:

You are a strong type B. In general you are more laid back, more invested in friends and networking and not as hard driving and competitive a Type A. You like a calmer, less extroverted life and you are inclined to self-analysis.

I also found this definition from BusinessDictionary.com:

Temperament characterized by moderate ambitiousness and drive, accommodating attitude, cooperativeness, focus on quality over quantity and, in general, an easy going approach to life.

Now that that you have this definition, you probably have a pretty good idea of what my opposite (type A) is all about.  Microsoft is chock full of type A personalities… competitive, aggressive, ambitious people who live to work, put in insane hours and always have their eye on the proverbial prize.

That’s not me.

Let me qualify that: I absolutely love it at Microsoft — never before have I found myself in a more stimulating, challenging and intense environment.  While that may seem like the antithesis of what it means to be type B, it’s also the reason that I feel like I’ve found the right place for me to build a career.  There is no complacency at Microsoft, you’re constantly being pushed out of your comfort zone; constantly stretching the limits of what you thought you were capable of.  

While we type Bs may be at a disadvantage when pitted against our more aggressive type A colleagues in terms of career advancement, overall, I think being type B in a place like Microsoft is an asset.  Unlike some of my workaholic team members, I have a fairly healthy work-life balance — as a wife and mother, maintaining that balance is crucial.  I have no problem putting in extra hours to get the job done and I’m happy to go the extra mile whenever I see an opportunity to knock something out of the park, but I try to stick to “normal” hours as much as I can so that it’s not a big deal when I do have to burn the midnight oil.

So, there you have it… now you know what it means to be a “Type B Microsoftie”.

Looking for information on preparing for a job interview with Microsoft? You’ve come to the right place! I was in your shoes not long ago and it took several hours of research to uncover anything that was genuinely helpful in preparing for my interview. I can’t go into great detail about my own experience — I know you wish I would — but I can point you in the right direction to the resources that I found when I was “studying”. Feel free to jump ahead to the list at the bottom of this page, but for those of you interested to learn a bit about how I found myself at Microsoft, here’s a brief introduction:

A few weeks before the 2006 holidays began, I came home to my 1832 farmhouse in rural northern Vermont to find a voicemail from a recruiter who wanted to chat with me about my resume (I had recently posted it on both Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com). She didn’t say which company she was calling from, but made a cryptic allusion to representing a rather large company that was hiring in the search engine marketing space, to which she added “think Yahoo! and Google’s competitor”. Having worked in search engine marketing for close to two years at that point, I knew the only company she could possibily be referring to was Microsoft.

My initial reaction was suspicion; positions of Microsoft caliber don’t just fall out of the sky and land in your lap, that much I knew. I’ve read enough articles on the big M to know that they have a steady stream of applicants beating down their door on a regular basis, and that their college recruiters snap up the best and the brightest fresh out of schools like Stanford, Harvard and Yale. I graduated from UMass Boston… not exactly ivy league (although not too shabby either). Why on Earth would Microsoft be calling me?  Not that I was averse to the prospect of pursuing a position with them, quite the opposite.  It just seemed so surreal that they would be contacting me.

Imagine being a kid in the 1940s, growing up listening to NBC programs the radio, then watching them on TV.  Consider witnessing that progression and seeing how revolutionary those developments were in terms of the overall impact on society.  Imagine yourself as the adult that that child of the ’40s had become; NBC had been a part of your life for as long as you could remember.  First it entertained you with radio programs like Little Orphan Annie and Tom Mix, then it inspired you through documenting historical events like the moon landing, then it informed your political decisions and brought you late breaking news from all around the world.  Now imagine being contacted by NBC; imagine their asking you join them as they begin to forge new frontiers in the mass communication industry.  That’s what being contacted by Microsoft felt like for me — they’ve been the pioneers out there on the forefront of groundbreaking technologies for as long as I can remember.  To have a viable shot at being a part of whatever was in store for Microsoft’s future seemed too good to be true, but at the same time, too fascinating a prospect to ignore.

One year, 3,084 miles, one corporate housing apartment, one regular apartment and one home purchase later, here I am… clear across the country from everyone and everything that’s ever been familiar to me and working for one of the largest companies in the world. It’s been an amazing, intellectually challenging and humbling ride thus far.  I can’t even begin to tell you how exciting it is to work for a company that you know has, beyond the shadow of a doubt, changed the world and continues to strive toward improving the way we live, work and play. 

So what can I tell you about interviewing at Microsoft? Go through the links below and heed their advice. Was it a difficult transition to move from New England to the Pacific Northwest? At times. Do I feel like a fish out of water? Not as much as I did around this time last year. Do people know how to drive out here? Hell no… it’s flat out infuriating to know you’re in the minority in understanding that each of the highway lanes actually has a specific function. But I digress…

I suppose now would be the time for me to call out that all views expressed on this blog are my own and in no way are endorsed by Microsoft… or whatever the proper legal mumbo jumbo would be to let you know that this is not a Microsoft-sponsored blog. I love to write and I love technology, both have been my hobbies for a number of years, but I’ve gotten away from the former ever since my son was born almost two years ago. They say there’s no time like the present, so here I am. It’s been one hell of a year and I’ve got plenty to write about, so if you’re reading this shortly after 4/14/08, you’re in on the ground floor… be patient, I’ll write more as time and opportunity permits.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for your attention… now, on to the goods. The resources below are links I found while searching for content relating to preparing for a job interview with Microsoft. Some are more beneficial than others, but how it applies to you depends on the position you’re going for. Take notes wherever you find value and incorporate the advice you glean into your preparations — that’s what I did and it served me well. Good luck!

HR Staff Blog:
http://blogs.msdn.com/heatherleigh/archive/2004/04/19/116110.aspx

Microsoft employee blog offering interview tips:
http://dirtydogstink.com/blog/2006/06/15/TipsForInterviewingAtMicrosoft.aspx

Podcast interview w/ Head of Staffing:
http://www.totalpicture.com//_qt/spitasky.mp3

Microsoft employee blog w/ interview story & tips:
http://tejas.wordpress.com/2005/11/30/microsoft-interview/

Video – Recruiting staffers at MS headquarters (part 1):
http://channel9.msdn.com/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=18472

Video – Recruiting staffers at MS headquarters (part 2):
http://channel9.msdn.com/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=18718

Random bits and pieces on MS interviews/questions/advice:
http://www.sellsbrothers.com/fun/msiview/

Hoovers Company Fact Sheet:
http://hoovers.com/microsoft/–ID__14120–/free-co-factsheet.xhtml

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