Saturday, November 15, 2008

Achieving Senior Level 63 at Microsoft

I want to share some of my thoughts about succeeding at Microsoft and reaching Level 63, the Senior contributor level at Microsoft. Given that quite a few Microsofties are going to find themselves locked into their current group for a while, the ability to succeed by swinging on the vines to a new group is going to be rare. Within the comments, I hope to elicit advice that follows up on what I start here, and maybe even contradicts it. I'm interested in hearing your stories of success, mentorship, and turning a career that was off-path back on-track. For the folks on the path to L63, I want you to first understand your boss's opinion of you, your opinion of yourself, what it takes to succeed in your team, and then ways you can step up and be on the right path.

Let's Hear it for the Boy! Let's Hear it for the Girl! If you reach L63 during your time at Microsoft, especially if you started at L60 or below, you should celebrate. Here's to you! What an achievement! You have the right stuff to succeed and Microsoft is very happy with you.

L63 is very much an important milestone, and in tough-hiring times like these the following question has never been more important: "Will <<fill in the blank>> reach Level 63 during their career?"

If you're not there yet and your boss was asked that question by your skip-level-boss, what is your boss's answer?

Unless you know for sure that your boss's answer is an immediate "Absolutely!" you need to hit the pause button for one big time-out regarding where you are, where you're going, and what needs to change. And I'm going to tell you right now, I'm 99.9% sure what needs to change is you. Because, except on the rare occasion, Microsoft and your team isn't going to change.

Up until L63, you can pretty continue to be promoted based on raw talent to get things done smartly and efficiently. Things get thrown your way and you knock each and everyone of the challenges out of the park. Then perhaps you're stuck at L62. What got you here ain't gonna get you there. What now?

Think Locally: remember three years back when we talked about the book Corporate Confidential? It's a good time to flip back through that. One of the key lessons is to know who is the gate keeper for your career. Pop quiz: who is it? Think about it. Ready? Let's compare answers... answer is: your boss. Your lead. The person who puts you up for promotion and has promotion conversations with your skip level. It's a question your boss gets asked so it's not a surprise to them. Your boss should already have about a year-long plan about who on the team is getting promoted when - it's essential for team promotion budget planning. And when the time comes, putting you up for a promotion to L63 is the first time your boss will be challenged by your skip-level and by your Aunt and Uncles (your boss's peers) about one of your promotions. It's hard for L63. Harder for L64. And a knife-fight for L65 (some other day). They will have thought this out.

If you're saying "Ah, dude, my boss is in the way of my promotion" then all I have to say is "Duuuude, your boss is the way to your promotion." Perhaps someone can explain to me how you get successfully promoted without your boss's support.

So honestly, what is your boss's answer about if you'll reach L63? If it is "Absolutely!" then the follow-up is: after what accomplishments and around when?

Your Recently Promoted L63 Peers: let's say you have at least one peer that in the past year or so has been promoted to L63. Why? Do you know why? Specifically, what did they accomplish, and what contributions do you see them doing to justify their promotion? Write it down in a team-culture career section you keep in OneNote (start that section now if you don't have it).

Now read over your answer. If you're going into that comfort zone of complaining about politics and butt-kissing and favorites, do me this favor: hold your right palm up, nice and flat like you're about to be sworn in to testify in a trial, and now extend your right arm out nice and wide, and then quickly swing your right arm around the front of you in a nice arc that ends with the flat of your right hand quickly connecting to the left side of your face for a hard, resounding slap. Repeat. Alternate to your left hand appropriately when tired. Continue to do so until you've slapped yourself silly to the point that you're not complaining about how other folks must just be connected or political or adept at the finer art of buttock tongue massage. Excuses and griping and bemoaning aren't the stuff that L63 contributors are made of. So either keep slapping yourself or choose to wake up. Until you can be honest with yourself (and it's not fun, trust me) you will be stuck doing what you're doing and your complaining will be the glue keeping you there.

Turn (it) Around, Bright Eyes: every now and then I get a little bit thrilled when someone joins the team straight out of school (or with a little industry experience) and after a few months it's obvious that Microsoft is the best company for them. They just plain resonate. They are 100% star material. Will they reach L63? Absolutely. And on one total-eclipse-rare occasion, I've been able to be answer the follow-up question: will they reach L65 and say with confidence: Absolutely. Well, what about everyone else? Sometimes the answer is, "well, we'll see..." and other times the answer is, "if they'd only stop doing X and start doing Y on a sustained basis, I could see it..."

If you're not an Absolutely! then do you know what more you need to do? And in your answer, there's a kicker follow-up: not only what you need to do to justify being promoted to L63, but to succeed in comparison to your L63 + L64 peers. For some teams - especially those like Office with few departures release-to-release resulting in level compression - that's a rough bunch.

I have seen people turn it around. If you're off-path, you can turn it around. You first have to be truthful with what direction you're going in and where you actually are trying to head. Get yourself a formal or informal mentor who is already doing what you want to be doing. Successful people looooove to expound upon the secret to their success. Some can even challenge you and give you the tough love and direction you need. Buy a Principal a coffee. There is no better investment at Microsoft for tuning your career. When someone gives you the hard advice to succeed, it's quite the gift. Don't waste it. It's a lot better than folks being ambivalent about your success or failure, right?

Your Team: you have to be able to understand why the L63s and L64s are where they are. You might have the Microsoft Senior Career Stage Profile in front of you all marked up and broken into more sections in OneNote, but which ones matter most to your team? And to your boss. And to your skip level. If your boss is saying "Yes, ready for promo now" and your skip is saying "No, not now" well, why?

Aspects of an L63 Contributor: some random aspects that come to my mind beyond our CSPs:

  • They can own a room: they aren't warming a seat but rather can take charge of a conversation and represent such a deep level of knowledge that they gain respect for what they say and earn a good reputation. Their focus stays on accountable results and this person can bring resolution and closure together.
  • Expert: They are sought after to be in meetings, for instance, so that good decisions can be made.
  • Results-focused: they are focused on getting great results and don't entwine their ego to particular solutions. They don't get defensive if their ideas are revealed to have flaws but rather delight in being able to move to a better solution.
  • Leadership: pro-active leadership that convinces team members of the future direction and even helps to implement it. This is a big difference between those who can complain about the way things should be and those you can actually bring it about.
  • Solutions, not problems: following up on the above, they aren't complaining about problems on the team but rather implementing and driving solutions.
  • Makes other great: the team benefits and grows from the person's contributions. Answers questions from the team, from support, from customers. Knows what the team delivers backwards and forwards. They are a good mentor.
  • Influence when they can, scare when they must: they have fundamental skills in influencing people, but if they need to flip into junk-yard dog mode, they can. They don't give up and walk away but rather fight when they need to fight, escalating only when needed and with lots of justification.
  • Makes the boss great: if the team and your boss are succeeding because of you, of course you'll be succeeding too.
  • Not doing it for the promotion: if you're out for a promotion, don't do work specifically chose to get the promotion. This is like meeting the Buddha on the road. If you come up with a pretty plan to justify your promotion, you've already lost it. Such plotting is obvious and actually detrimental to your career. If, however, you've determined what it takes to have a successful career in your group at Microsoft and have started what you need to start and stopped what you need to stop, then you're on the right path.

When I write all of this, I think back to an older piece by Joel Spolsky talking about Rosh Gadol contributors. Be the Rosh Gadol Microsoftie.

Also, go mine some of Dr. Brechner's Hard Code columns.

No, never: now, going back to that <<fill in the blank>> question above: if your boss is answering "No, never" then this is a red-alert moment for you. Flip on the klaxons! Why? Because when it comes time to roll people out of the team (as teams do from time to time) this "No, never" a marker that is used to help figure out who - at I and II CSP levels - is either on-track or out. If the answer for you is "No" and you don't like that, well, what are you going to do? I suggest understanding why it is "No" first, truthfully accepting the point-of-view as pissed off as it may make you, and then having a self-directed action-plan to get on track.

Discussion: First off, I'm going to be hard-core about comments here. I want them productive and about career success at Microsoft, especially your thoughts about achieving L63. What advice do you have to pass on? What advice do you need? What worked well and what really horked things up for you? If you're a manager, what's your L63 promotion philosophy? I'm not looking for any off-topic comments let alone woe-be-me comments - remember that slap thing?

If you have an itching to talk about something else, please go here: But Mini, I Want To Talk About...


147 comments:

Ed said...

Woow. Really inspiring. I joined The Company 2 weeks ago, far from 63, but all you said it's very valuable for defining a career path.

MCSinTheField said...

Levels are a bit easier to achieve in MCS. Its above level 64 that things get tough, but getting to 64 isn't difficult.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Here are some thoughts from a L62-er who truly wants to accept whats keeping me from getting to 63 and work on it. And your list of bullet points on qualities of a 63-er is pretty much the short list I have boiled it down to. I am working towards it would say am there 75% of the way. Here is my question, I don't trust that my manager will fight for me to get me to 63 for the following reasons:
- The area I own is not big enough for a 63 but at the same time there is not other areas he can give to me given where we are as a team without taking away from my peers, something he would not want to do unless there is a big problem with a peer not delivering which is not the case.

- Innovation - this leaves me with trying to come up with other areas that the team can focus on in addition to current goals to leap frog us and which I can own; so far even though some of my ideas are really good (according to the mgr) the timing is off (ie the team has not reached that level yet where my ideas would be practical to implement given the big ROI)

In short I can't trust that this mgr will get me to 63 in a time frame that I would like to see it happen (provided that I nail the qualities you highlight for a 63) which leaves me with the following choices:

-Sticking around and continue working on displaying 63 qualities until the above points change, and who knows how long that will take

- leave for another team internally (which means a bit of time to establish myself again etc) but at the same it would give me more clear timeline of when I can say I am 100% delivering as a 63.

-get external offers (eg from Google), bring it up with the mgr and thereby force a change (more responsibility) since leaving would hurt the team in at least the short term. This way I can be in a better position to show that I am a "absolutely!" for 63 promo within a more clear timeline. and hey if it backfires (eg the mgr flips), I can always take the offer at hand and leave MS.

thoughts?

Anonymous said...

How long can someone stay at the same level before they get blacklisted? I've been at the same level for 3.5 years (since I joined MSFT), and while I spent three of those in a group where almost noone at all got promoted (a group which has since essentially dissolved), I'm concerned that my level stagnation reflects poorly on me, even though I've been the major contributor on products that have earned 10x my total compensation package for MSFT.

Anonymous said...

Mini, all those aspects you list are also present at L62, L65, etc. It's just that the scope is different. L62 is supposed is own the room of L60s, L65 own the room of L63s, and so on. The way to get to a higher level is to increase the scope of your contributions.

In our group (somewhere in STB), L63 seems to begin with having at least 2 reports.

Anonymous said...

Here's some advice from a recent L64'er (L63 last year). All of my peers are SDE II's, so L61-L62.

The advice is simple:

First, NAIL the fundamentals. I'm an SDE, so a large part of my time in the product cycle is spent fixing bugs. I made sure I was the fastest, most efficient, and best bug fixer. I made sure I was the guy you wanted to call when the server crashed in the lab with a crazy callstack and no repro.

Second, OWN the features. I got involved in features up front, by spending time getting to know the PM team. I influenced the features, I lended my expertise on them, and I learned about the customer - all this way before the spec'ing phase. Every spec coming to this team had my feedback in it. The PM team loved having my technical expertise freely available, and I actually really like designing features too.

Anyway, two simple things, but I think what Mini said about not doing this IN ORDER to get promoted is key. You have to enjoy it, or else it'll come across as insincere, and you'll do a half assed job. I moved around 3 teams before I found one where I really enjoyed the technology and the people, and here I've flourished.

So forget all the whining about politics and crap. Step outside of your comfort zone, own PM, own QA, become great at what you do, and do what you love - and the promo will come.

Prash said...

Levels are all about perception.

I know devs who are underlevelled and devs who are over-levelled. I know devs who got in at the wrong level and paying the price because they didnt negotiate their level correctly when they joined. I know devs who got there without doing anything substantial but their manager was nice and there was no competition.

In short, Level 63 to me is not important and I really dont respect 63s unless they I've interacted with them.

Level 65+ is another story and are devs who have the stuff almost always....

- Someone at Level 62

Anonymous said...

As a L64 I find getting to 65 quite a wall. All you have to do is look at the level distribution, there is a large dropoff in positions at 65. It turns out that typically your immediate manager has little control, it's all decided at higher levels.

Anonymous said...

Promotion to 63 happened to me 2 years ago when I helped ship Office 2007. Worked my ass off and finally get recognized as Snr contributor.

Anonymous said...

Oh, please. I've seen L65's who can't own a cardboard box, let alone a room. Who cut and paste buggy shit all over the codebase and don't know some of the things that a good L62 should know. The reason why they were 65's are:

1. They came from "hot" product teams. You can be a genius of blinding brilliance, but if you come from a boring product team, you "don't have much potential". Same applies if you started your career in Test. You're cursed for life.
2. They literally lived in GM's office for half a year to get the promo from L64 to L65.
3. They took credit for work done by others (#2 helps).

Seriously, they only way to separate the wheat from the chaff in this company is to allow to interview without notifying the manager.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Mini for the great information. Some considerations, based on my own career:

- The best way to get to level 63 is moving around, and getting promotions as you move. I know some managers will tell you that HR doesn’t want promotions during internal transfers. Yet, when you have 2 or 3 offers at the end of very hard interview loops, which one are you going to choose: the team that listens to HR or the team that listens to the “market”? Will a team that needs exactly the skills and interests that you have pass on you because of some HR guideline? Would they give you the level if you were not already a Microsoft employee? Bottom line: Don’t be shy of asking for promotions during internal transfers. Nobody will be shy of firing you if you make a big mess. Go for the team that offers the best package right during the transfer. Do not accept promises, or you will be already disappointed with your new team as soon as some promises don’t materialize (and believe me: you will lose your patience long before some promises materialize). Obviously, this is advice that you may not apply during the current hiring freeze, but keep it on your mind for the future.

- At times the focus on the level may not be the most important strategy in the long term. I have some colleagues now stuck with a career that they don’t really want because they move up too much. For example, some are principal individual contributors that just stayed for too long in a group and became essential, but now want to move on and cannot do that, either because their skills are obsolete or because they simply cannot go to a new startup team at such high level without any management responsibility, and they are untested managers. If you think you will follow the management career path then get in such role as early as possible. In my own experience, even after being a great developer for 2+ years, with straight 4.0 scores at that time, and despite having Dev Manager roles before Microsoft, I would be turned down on informationals for Dev Lead positions with the simple question: Have you been a Dev Lead at Microsoft? At that time, I understood those questions as being just an excuse that the manager used because he or she didn’t like something in my skills or personality. Nowadays, having been there and moved up, I would highly prefer someone that already succeeded as a Lead at Microsoft than a star individual contributor. The skills are different, and part of the failure of this company is exactly due to losing star individual contributors that become mediocre leads, in all disciplines. The team that gave me the Dev Lead title made a bet on me, and they were not disappointed, since I worked hard to prove myself at that title (despite having to wait a little longer for a level promotion). And do you anticipate what happened when I made the next move to Dev Manager position? And what is happening now trying to move up after becoming a Dev Manager? Titles are important, and don’t let anyone make you believe otherwise. And, ironically, some titles make your manager automatically have to “adjust your level after a certain time”, in order to comply with certainly HR guidelines.

- Buy your principal a coffee, hear everything, and don’t follow everything. Remember: what worked for some other person, at some other time, may not work today. Someone that 20 years ago made something as “complex” as Notepad may today be a VP, whereas if you make Notepad today you may not even get a pat on the back. Be very careful, because some people may tell you about this or that great thing they did, and only mention that they are (or were) married to this General Manager, or that they have been in the team since it was only 2 people, and the other person today is a VP. Advice from anyone at Microsoft for 10+ years is great to hear, but hard to follow. Even with all good intentions, they can even be ineffective mentors (although I still highly recommend the mentoring program, as long as you change your mentor every year).

Anonymous said...

Mini -- you left out the most important option, which I took. Pull the ripcord. Two years ago I realized that the MS treadmill (trying to become what my dysfunctional manager wanted) was making me nuts. I'm now off the meds, not seeing the psychiatrist, and living happily.

Working at MS was both the best time in my life and the worst time. But the clarity I have through the rear view mirror is staggering -- I was defining myself by what a bunch of poorly skilled managers thought, in a company that hadn't moved it's stock price in seven years.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to hear some more experiences from MCS. I came in at L61 2+ years ago. My first year I thought for sure I would sit at L61 for another year, but to my surprise I was promoted to L62 without even a full FY under my belt. This past year I had what I thought was an outstanding year, was given a 20%, but not promoted to L63. How long do people usually sit at L62 in MCS? Is this a normal situation and should I not be worried?

Anonymous said...

Great and timely post - thank you Mini! So here's my 2 cents:

Read this now and have a game plan for your 1:1s to tee up a deeper discussion at MYCD. From my perspective (L67) here's what you need to nail:

1. Jobs are leveled, not people - make sure the job you have includes the scope needed for the level you want. If it doesn't, what could you add to make that work? If it does, are you demonstrating success at that next level already and do people know about it? If you job simply doesn't scale to that next level - and many don't / can't - then you need to build rapport with your manager to have a focused career discussion about what roles are around to get you there and how you could land in one.

2. Never "threaten" to leave or waive external offers in my face unless you're fully prepared to be escorted out of the building that minute. Seriously - if you wave a competitor's offer in my face what have you told me? You've told me you're not willing to have the hard career conversation with me and/or that you're not willing to do what I told you needed to be done when we had that conversation. So all you're telling me is I can't count on you so why should I? My likely response would be "congratulations! my recommendation is you take the offer if you've gone this far. I'd like to see a transition plan from you in 2 days". Even if you don't leave, make no mistake, I'll be building a backfill slate for your role just in case. You broke the trust cycle so don't expect anything else.

3. Sometimes leaving MS is good. I have actively helped people leave MS who were topped out at level at MS but who wanted to do something else. While I lost a few people who drove great results in that level, overall it was good for their career and also MS over time. They didn't want to plateau, but that is just where they were given MS talent pool. If you find yourself in this spot - get a good external mentor to help you manage through it if you don't feel you can have this conversation with your manager.

4. Own your brand. That means, know what people think about you and what they don't. Are you ok with what you hear? Did you triangulate the feedback? Have you honed in on what aspects of this brand are most important in the calibration discussions and know how you'll show you're a rockstar in these areas? No manager can bail you out of "bad brand jail" past L62

5. Yes, "soft skills" count. At L63 in particular you break out of the pack with expertise in the "how" you accomplish things. Up to that point the "what" you accomplish can get you pretty far and you get some wiggly room on the how. Not so at L63. At L63 you should be directing v-teams, serving as a lead or possibly even having direct reports. The "how" now has broader impact. Show me you can do this and want to learn more and you'll be on my radar as a possibility.

6. Understand that promos aren't an exact formula. Yes, we have tons of info on the HR websites and yes, there are steps you should take. But above L62 the talent is intense and that is good. Popping out of the pack in peer reviews may take some time so you have to be diligent, consistent and never give up. Remember the "how".

All the things Mini mentions do translate further up in levels. The scope imcreases, the risk increases and the visbility increases. So no time like the present to practice where you can.

Who da'Punk said...

(1) Oh, please. I've seen L65's who can't own a cardboard box, let alone a room.

Well you know, don't go for them for advice! I think folks like that are the one-offs who slipped by and most likely (given the scrutiny I see more and more) certainly wouldn't slip by today. They are the exception that you shouldn't wind yourself up about.

And I don't want to focus on them anymore in this comment stream because it's not helpful. It's probably true that there's more to the story and that they actually have important skills that matter. But anyway, EOF for that angle.

(2): Wow, thanks for the early + great feedback. That's awesome.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I myself am a L62 on the cusp of a midyear promo after 18 months. I've lucked out a bit by working on a key project for our group and division, although a lot of that was due to my own contributions. I've also worked for great managers, and worked with great people on my team. I think it's safe to say that I "own" the group of people under L63 in my group, but I usually take that as an opportunity for mentorship as opposed to an opportunity to poach someone else's cool project. Of course I ensure my manager and skip-level are aware of my contribution as a mentor, but I figure that as long as I'm in front of the wave, the best way for me to advance is to move the wave forward.

Anonymous said...

As someone who left MS @ L63 - and supposedly tracking strongly to L64 - and who has seen a lot of questionable promos occur, I think it's fair to say that the rise to "Senior" follows a slighly skewed distribution curve in that in the largest bucket case, you can probably see that L63 was warranted.

However, on either end of the distribution, by which I mean people who easily obtained it and people who seriously struggled to obtain it, there are some disturbing anomalies that are difficult to explain away.

You might say, "I can live with the corner cases" and I would agree that optimizing for those isn't worthwhile.

BUT! What I think may be worthwhile is understanding the circumstances of those anomalies and figuring out why they occur and how to "incent" management to ensure that they don't occur. MS is a carrot and stick culture with some heavy emphasis on stick. Let's apply that stick to cronyism and punishment based management practicies.

Anonymous said...

"Your Recently Promoted L63 Peers"??
I work in MSN and we still have no way to know the levels of our peers. Any idea on when is this going to change? Why cannot we have our address title reflect our level as everybody else in the company?

Anonymous said...

I would love to be above 60...much less 63. Right now I am 56. For me, it will take some serious job switching to get there. I am currently going to school which should help the moves to a better position.

Anonymous said...

Levels are different outside the US. At a intl sub level a 63 is two ic to the GM. Most Directors are 63 and the occasional 64. There are 12 Directors in my sub and over 1000 people all scoping to one day be a Lvl 63...reality, most people will leave before they get that far. I agree with some comments that level make no difference. I have staff that are lvl 60 and get paid as much as folks that are lvl 62. At the end of the day its about $$ and in reality levels mean nothing if your getting paid crap.

dB. said...

Lots of very true points. You forgot "never ask for a promotion".

The one other thing that helped me go from L59 through >L64 was an absolute dedication to the strongest leaders, one level at a time. You have to be extremely faithful to your management while at the same time carefuly growing your broad influence to your manager's piers.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with a few that have posted already. I breezed to L63 and shortly after to L64 within a year. It was then that things ground to a halt. I sat there at L64 for 5+ years. That's the wall you need to talk about, but the discussion would be very different than the L63 bump.

And after 5+ years at L64, I finally just left. Now a VP at a small cap (and growing, yes in this economy) company. If I ever do decide to come back to MSFT, I will do so as a level 68+ and nothing less. But coming back is a HUGE IF, since I can't see ever going back the that cesspool of stupid.

Anonymous said...

I started in 2001 @ L62. Moved to a role where I could see headroom and also where I could set specific commits and accountabilities with the GM, which I then exceeded and moved to L63 in '04. Contributed and exceeded in two roles - getting G-Star, then moved to another team with clear headroom and again, exceeded all commits and moved to L64. What I've learned is be very, very specific on your commits and accountabilites. Next, make sure your manager values your contributions and surpass their expectations, making yourself invaluable and not immediately replaceable. If you don't have a manager like that or the manager cannot/will not set clear commits/accountabilities - when the freeze lifts, time for you to look at new areas where you can bring something to the table. It's what you can offer, not what you want out of it that most teams are looking for. IMHO.

Anonymous said...

I work in MSN and we still have no way to know the levels of our peers. Any idea on when is this going to change? Why cannot we have our address title reflect our level as everybody else in the company?

Maybe because you are so overleveled (maybe not you personally, but MSN as whole), your bosses doesn't want rest of the company to make ruckus about that injustice (I have seen people moving from SDE II in Windows to MSN and getting promotion-on-transfer to SENIOR SDE, and they were not even hard-core devs).

Anonymous said...

I'm a level 64 lead in Windows and this post is spot on. I only wish the internal MyMicrosoft blog had posts that were this valuable and insightful. Had I only known this info when I started at Microsoft.

Anonymous said...

I work in MSN and we still have no way to know the levels of our peers. Any idea on when is this going to change? Why cannot we have our address title reflect our level as everybody else in the company?

Not giving quite as snide a response as the previous poster...

Ask your management. Seriously, your GM or VP owns the decision to do transparent titling. Also, never ascribe to malfeasance what may simply be due to incompetence. It may be that the policy is to do transparent leveling but it's no one's job to go through and make sure they're up to date. Ask your VP, give the benefits on transparency from your perspective, and ask their opinion. I suspect they'll make it someone's job to fix it, because it is widely held as a good idea in the company right now.

Anonymous said...

Hired at L58 in 2000 - Currently L62 and the last 2 promos were at 18mo intervals. Biggest key for me was knowing when to leave a bad management situation and team. I have had 3 positions in the past 8 years and best advise i can give is NETWORKING. Both job switches came from conversations I had with former co-workers or former directors.

Anonymous said...

First let's set the expectations right for this quarter and possibly the next: The budgets for promos are shrunk almost everywhere. In my org the cut is 70% on promos. The Goldstars have already been canceled for this quarter.

Next, I believe this post will most likely be useful for those who entered MS as intern/college hires. I haven't seen one single person getting hired below L63 in my group during last year. So most new hires at MS are L63 by default and they obviously don't have to work at it :).

Yes, L64->L65 transition is REALLY big deal but directly joining MS at L65 as new FTE is not a big deal and there are usually ample of open positions. Difference between getting promoted to L65 and joining as new FTE at L65 is HUGE. Former is work of many years and long nights and proven track record while later is basically your ability to bullshit through 6 interviews. When you see a bozo who is L65 it is highly likely that he had joined MS recently at L64-L65 directly.

Here's biggest difference in expectations between levels: The L62 guys are supposed to be able to lead their feature and perhaps influence couple of related features by spreading their best practices. L63 guys are supposed to influence their entire skip level org. The L64 guys should be able to influence their skip level orgs plus one or two groups outside of the skip org. The L65 guys are expected to influence outcomes, strategy and best practices on their entire VP level groups. That is why to get to L65 a VP level person must know your work and be able to recall your name without help. That’s why L64->L65 transition is so hard. If you read CSPs this is the underlying message more or less. It's not enough that you do a good job for your own assignments beyond L62 but what matters is how many others you enable to do as good job as you can do and achieve similar outcomes by influencing them. Your level is essentially recognition of your circle of influence or radius of your contribution. If only your manager knows you then it is unlikely (at least on paper) that you will move beyond L62.

At this point many people will ask how can I influence others if I’m not their manager? Wouldn’t my manager get annoyed if I try to go over him to get myself know to VP? I’ll answer first question later in this comment. In short there are lot many ways to influence others and infect the best ones are not being a manager :). Answer to second question is never ever explicitly try to make yourself known to hierarchy above your manager. However good your manager is, she or he is still a human with insecurities and ego. They are trying to get attention from upper levels more harder then you. Don’t compete with them. Obviously a key word in my advice was “explicitly”. If you send a brownbag invitation to your VP level group then you know your VP is getting it. That’s what I call “implicit” :). Of course, it goes without saying that if you don’t have any substance you will likely hurt yourself badly and get ignored with vengeance next time. So don’t try to be joker just to get attention.

Now of course, this is all just the theory. There are tons of Principles and L64s anyone can immediately recall who are not doing anything above or beyond their immediate teams. Heck, we would be lucky if many can do even that well. These guys are typically outcome of recent hiring sprees. They had to be given outlandish levels so as to match their previous compensation. Few others are long time softies who have been doing average to good job for very long time (3-7 years) without getting any promos. These turtles gets promoted eventually just based on time spent at MS and because they weren’t doing anything “wrong” even though they don’t really meet CSP criteria. If you have potential and luck then you can achieve promotion velocity of one level every 18 months.

Finally, here’s my advice for who aspire for L62->L63 jump: Look around. Most of our ways of doing things have so many imperfections that you would not have any trouble to find obvious thing to improve in obvious ways. Once you identify those things scream about it by sending email with problem and solution and offer leadership to eliminate that imperfection. Typically if you can accomplish only 5 such improvements, it would be hard for your manager not to consider you for next step. Don't like branching strategy? Propose a new one and spend a day in implementing it. You are now 20% closer to promotion just by a day of work :). Next, advertise your new branching strategy in your peer groups. Do a brownbag for your VP level group, record it and send out the link to everyone. Establish SD/VSTF branching steering committee and send out monthly report. Finally make sure you note how things were improved in your and other groups by your new strategy in commitments review. Bottom line is this: It's very easy to find imperfections. Thrive on it!

Anonymous said...

That is a great post Mini. I think there's only one thing I would add, from the perspective of having been promoted from L59 to L64 in a 6-year period in one org (I left MS in 2006).

Sometimes things within an org will turn to complete crap, and either there's not an option to leave or you may not want to.

You may be one of those who diligently turn over every single rock to look at problems within the org. Despite the fact you may be totally right, you can inadvertently be viewed as a negative person.

Although your bosses are probably aware of the problems, they might be overwhelmed by the scope of the situation, and start getting annoyed at you for being the person always reminding them about the flaws. This will bump you off the fast-track 96% of the time.

No matter how bad things are, always be positive, and provide a recommendation for how to address each problem. Avoid long-winded multi-point e-mails, boil down your points as succinctly and efficiently as possible. Attack problems within your own areas of influence proactively and generate that same good vibe among peers.

I say this because I have seen really smart people shunned because of 'house-on-fire' attitudes even when they were dead right. They don't survive long while others who do little move up.

Anonymous said...

5. Yes, "soft skills" count.

I'm pleased that someone said it.

There are a collection of skills that are difficult to quantify that are absolute necessities to succeeding at higher levels.

Leadership, for instance. You should be able to show the path to a goal, especially to collections of people who do not report to you.

Salesmanship is extremely important. I've seen some extremely senior developers propose solutions to problems, but be totally unconvincing. Technical excellence alone will not generate success.

Authority. There's a need to ooze authority in a way that is comforting to the person above you responsible for your career. If you get caught in a review and someone hits a fastball by you and you stumble, the people above you suddenly have fears that you might stumble when they and you are in front of the person who controls their careers. Be prepared for every possible question, scenario, disaster, etc. And you know something? The people around you can help with that. Seek out local critique before you approach people above you. If you know higher leveled people in another org, ask them to poke holes in your proposals. If they can, pay attention: They don't even know the area as well as your superiors, and you need to spend more time covering your bases. (Summarized: Don't ever let your boss be frightened that you'll make him/her look bad.)

Those are only 3 of many 'soft skills' that will hold most people, even brilliant people, back.

Has every level X mastered these skills? Of course not. Some are exceptional at one, and passable at others. Some are good at all.

YES, there are people who are awful at all three and still succeed. Look closely, and you'll probably find that this person is working symbiotically with someone else who masters those skills while lacking others.

YES, there are people who've been promoted because they've simply "been there" for a long time. YES, there are people who've been promoted due to politics.

YES, life is unfair.

At the end, mastering 'soft skills' will help anyone: even someone at 59. You may not need them to get from 59->60, but if you're good at them, it'll make your rise much quicker.

Anonymous said...

I think talking about level just confuses people as beyond US there is a different level system!

L63 in the US is Senior (Level 60 in most of the other countries), well, moving to Senior is not such a big thing if you have experience, with more than 10 years in the industry I was hired at this level, now Senior II is just a matter of continuing contributing but the different comes to Principal (or lead), here is where you need to shine in order to succeed.

Recommendation: Work not only towards your commitments but your managers as well...

Anonymous said...

As a former L65 (left MSFT about two months ago) I can say you are right on when it comes to understanding where your boss stands. If your boss isn't banging his fist on the table for you, it won't happen. The higher you go, the longer it takes. I made it to L63 in a year (I was probably under leveled when I arrived). Then L64 took two years. L65 took four years. I left eight years after that when I realized that L66 wasn't going to happen for me.

The bottom line: If your boss isn't pushing for you, get them on your side or leave the group.

Tips for getting them on your side:

1) Ask for Exceeded. At the beginning of each FY, I always asked, "I want to get Exceeded this year. What does that look like in your mind?"

2) Peel the onion. Understand not just what needs to happen, but WHY. Why are we doing x and not y? What are other groups doing? What is our competition doing? A broad perspective matters.

3) This is all about stack rank. If you are not at the top of your stack rank for your level, you will not get the promo. Full stop. Don't let HR lie to you, this is a stack rank exercise. Know where you are in the stack and understand how you will rank higher next year.

BTW, forgot to mention I was a manager for the second half of my career.

Anonymous said...

Great post Mini. And I appreciate you screening out the non-productive whining posts. Those people are almost all Level 62's with few prospects. ;)

I have one thing to add that might help some. This slighlty contradicts some of the other posts. I think it's important to be very up-front and...to use a cliche...transparents with your manager regarding your next steps and prospects for promotion. He/she and you should know exactly what you need to do to get to the next level. That clarity may not always result in a promotion on the exact timeline you envision but if you're honest with yourself and have a good manager it really helps.

I'm a 13 year Microsoft employee who lived through the bad old days of crappy managers. I know there are still some out there but things have improved a lot in my view. I basically lost 5 years of growth due to a bad manager and my own unwillingness to own my career. I basically just hoped that hard work would get me ahead. When she finally left the company four years ago things improved greatly. I went from level 62 to level 65 in that time. During that time I had two good to great managers. I asked them direct questions about what I needed to do to get the next promotion. We discussed progress at least once a month. We had a strategic plan for getting me the visibility with the higher-ups that I needed.

My promotion to Level 65 during the last annual review period was clearly the hardest. The level of scrutiny by my management chain creased...up to the point where leader of our group...4 levels above me in the management chain had to approve the promotion. My manager and I had a plan to influenc that person and it worked.

Finally, I think my experience proves that people who may be on the...slow track to advancement can turn things around with the right commitment and management. I was probably at risk of topping out at level 62 or 63 at one point but worked hard to change my brand and good things happened as a result. Don't give up.

I'd appreciate it if you'd do a similar post on the 65 to 65 transition. In my group that's the really tough one.

Anonymous said...

>> You forgot "never ask for a promotion".

That's the absolute worst advice one can give to a Microsoft employee, IMO.

ALWAYS ask for a promotion. Don't do this point blank and for no apparent reason, but your manager has to be aware that at all times you're working towards your next promo, be aware of your results, be aware of the things you need to do to get there, and make YOU and HIS MANAGER aware of those things. Your manager has to know that either you get promoted sometime soon or you will go and get promoted somewhere else. This is a large part of his job - getting his reports to excel and getting them (and by extension, himself) some recognition.

All of the above assumes you don't suck, though.

Anonymous said...

+1 on the level balancing difference in subs.

As someone who has transferred employees to/from corp/sub both directions and has promoted a bunch of folk, the corp level for a role is 2 numbers higher than the equivalent sub one. The job is the same, just the levelling differs. So a sub role at L61 = corp L63 and vice versa.

So from a sub perspective:
L58 and below are relatively junior roles where you have zero influence outside of meeting your commitments
L59 -> L60 is a tougher jump. To go to L60 as an IC you need to show leadership in your group, proactivity in taking new challenges which affect the success of the group, and be a SME on your tech area (if in a tech role).
L61 = M1 of a medium sized team or an IC role which influences the results of a v-team significantly
L62 = M2 or M1 of a large team, or a lead role for a large cross-group initiative (e.g. BG for a big PG in a medium/large sub)
L63 = director, then onwards to GM etc

62->63 is a tough jump where you need to take ownership for a business segment

You can go up to L60 pretty easily by nailing commitments year on year and showing you can thrive on increased responsibility, after that it gets harder and you need to proactively lead and drive results that impact the wider business significantly.

If you're in sales, it's pretty much all about the total quota you influence...

In my experience, my advice is:
- network and help make other groups successful (ideally in a win/win context)
- be proactive, propose and grab new challenges and be successful with them
- deliver against the CSP's/commitments for the next level up, when you have mastered the current level
- make your boss look good, and make his/her boss look good. I'm not talking about "managing up" (though that helps a little if done properly) but it's all about understanding your manager and skip manager's priorities and proactively succeeding in those areas. If you have a good manager he/she will ensure the relevant peers know all about it.

Anonymous said...

What if you and your manager are at the same level L62. How do you get the right job/work that will make the impact. How do you ensure there is no conflict of interest. I am not saying the manager is trying to sabotage, but when push comes to shove will you get the impactful project. In this testing times what will motivate the mgr to put you ahead of him/hers?

Any suggestions on how to focus on this

Anonymous said...

Somebody help me out here. May 2008: Gold Star. FY08 review: "limited". I'm at 62, have been for lo, these many years. Is there any way to get to 63 w/o leaving and coming back?

Anonymous said...

> Lots of very true points. You forgot "never ask for a promotion".

Forgive my cluelessness, but: Why not?

MSS

Anonymous said...

"Next, I believe this post will most likely be useful for those who entered MS as intern/college hires. I haven't seen one single person getting hired below L63 in my group during last year. So most new hires at MS are L63 by default and they obviously don't have to work at it :).

I actually find the content of this post to be superficial, fairly naive and not reflective of my experience having moved through the ranks from 59 to >65.

I would not give most of this advice to our campus hires as any kind of roadmap.

Anonymous said...

Unless you know for sure that your boss's answer is an immediate "Absolutely!" you need to hit the pause button for one big time-out regarding where you are, where you're going, and what needs to change. And I'm going to tell you right now, I'm 99.9% sure what needs to change is you. Because, except on the rare occasion, Microsoft and your team isn't going to change.

But, Mini, isn't your 'raison d'etre' just the opposite? To change Microsoft so that it is small and efficient, and therefore more in line with your thinking?

Are you changing your stance because you're leaving the 'hoi polloi' behind? :)

mcsinthefield said...

To the guy you said:
I'd like to hear some more experiences from MCS. I came in at L61 2+ years ago. My first year I thought for sure I would sit at L61 for another year, but to my surprise I was promoted to L62 without even a full FY under my belt. This past year I had what I thought was an outstanding year, was given a 20%, but not promoted to L63. How long do people usually sit at L62 in MCS? Is this a normal situation and should I not be worried?

MCS has different pressures regarding levels. One, we bill customers higher for higher levels and we call everyone 'highly experienced' or even an 'architect'. Thus promotions are easy to L62 - if you don't make 62 quickly, there is something wrong. Less than a year is fast, but not unheard of. L63 takes a bit longer but is also fast. However L64 takes some time and L65 is very difficult. In MCS, soft skills are often more important than hard skills since you work with customers (often angry ones), sales (often under pressure and looking for someone to blame). Without soft skills, you can't make 64 and certainly no chance at 65.

I've seen many people transfer into MCS, level up, and then transfer out basically using it as a boost. Being a TS can work the same way.

Anonymous said...

As for asking for promotions, I disagree that you must always be asking.

I have only required two strategies. The first was the barter (a position exists that I qualify for - give it to me now and I will commit to staying with the team another year. Pass me by and I will be leaving in the next few months). The second was threat (I have a serious offer outside the company that I am taking).

In the case of the latter, make sure you have the goods, because your manager now must show his/her hand on whether s/he values you. Outside of those two situations, I have never asked for a promotion. In spite of it, I've been promoted 8 times in 12 years.

Level 66 said...

I'm a level 66 dev (architect). I think that a lot of what you wrote was spot on, although the situation varies somewhat across the company. Here are some things from my perspective.

1. It is possible to get promoted out of a desire to be promoted. You can work hard and grind it out. But, if you have the possibility of finding a position that you will really enjoy, where your goals and those of Microsoft are fairly close, then your long-term potential will be higher. This is certainly the course that I took. There were times when I was promoted more slowly than I probably could have been, but I am very happy with where I am now, and I am still growing. Ask yourself: what fraction of your job do you actually enjoy? Aren't those the things you are best at? Don't spend so much time worrying about the next notch on the ladder: your goal should be to learn new things, to get something cool done and to find things to do that are fun for you.

2. On the subject of switching teams: It's completely possible to move up by being really good exactly where you are, in most cases. But people who move often grow faster because of two things (in my opinion.) First, they are moving *to* something that they think fits them better -- and bringing an enthusiasm for the new position to go with the better fit. Second, the perspective of a different team helps you generalize about best practices and what works and doesn't work.

3. There is a comment about reporting to someone who is the same level as you are. This is a problem, at least up to level 65. It's a matter of human nature for most people not to want someone else to pass them up. Additionally, a Level 62 doesn't really have the tools to evaluate and sell a promotion to a 63. Your best bet is to help your boss get a promotion. (this is never a bad idea anyway) Then, if you are doing as good a job as he, he will want you as a peer in level, if not, then he can help you grow. Don't be afraid to talk to your skip level manager regularly in such a situation, not to get promoted but because he can better help you grow.

4. Good managers: In general, good managers realize that they need to sell their team's accomplishments. They don't care who gets the credit, and they fight for good reviews for their people. They want you to succeed, they want the team to succeed. They know that if the team does well, they will do fine.

5. You must ask for a promotion when you think you are ready. Do it nicely. Say that you will understand if your manager thinks you aren't ready. You should be on the same side. But if you think you should be promoted and your manager doesn't, you shouldn't sit and seethe -- you must understand what it will take. This is hard for your manager -- he probably doesn't have a clear idea of what it will take to make the case. But if you start when you think you are ready and work with your manager toward the goal, you'll get there. You must emphasize the goal of understanding how to improve, not just tagging a higher paycheck. After all, if you think you are already ready, and your manager doesn't, there is probably some way you can improve that you don't understand -- this is something you want to figure out.

6. If you are considering leaving your team (or Microsoft) but think you could be persuaded to stay, be careful about how you present this to your manager. During the start-up boom, I considered leaving. What worked for me was to go to my manager and say: "I would like to stay here, at Microsoft, working for you. But the opportunities I see doing X seem to be compelling from a financial and growth standpoint. Do you think I can find a way to do almost as well and stay here, in this job I enjoy?" You should NOT be looking to get more money to stay in a job you don't like. No one wants an employee who is staying for the money -- and you don't want to be that employee, either. But if your manager is undervaluing your work, and *that* is the factor that is making you unhappy, you can fix that. And your manager will not hate you for thinking about switching -- if you are a great employee to begin with, he will just want to keep you around. If he thought you were trouble already, though, telling him you are thinking about leaving is like asking for a ticket out of there.

7. Embrace whatever people are saying are your flaws. If they see flaws you have flaws. They can be wrong about exactly what these flaws are, but they aren't wrong that you are flawed. We are all flawed, and you are lucky if people are telling you something that you can do something about.

Anonymous said...

The soft skills definitely matter. One question a manager will think about before promoting you is how many times he had to clean up after you pissed off someone else - especially if it's someone on another team. This can play a bigger role even than how many times you broke the build, caused a bug, etc. So one big part is do good work, but another is don't do bad work.

I think it's a very good idea to ask for a promotion. Maybe you are ready, but you and your manager can plan what would be the assignment that would show that you're ready. Of course everyone wants to be promoted every review, so don't bother asking right after your last promotion.

What matters most is that you are doing what your manager thinks deserves to get you promoted. If that means doing something you don't want to do, you might need a different manager (or company). Maybe one boss likes to see a lot of code written, and another settles for less code, but fewer bugs. Are you sure you know what your boss wants? It doesn't matter what you want - you aren't the one deciding when you get promoted. If you find a boss who likes the kind of work you can do, follow him/her wherever they go. You can each help each other.

I've gone from 59 to 65 so far, but maybe what worked for me won't work for you.

Anonymous said...

>> You forgot "never ask for a promotion".

This is better written as "Ask what specific things you are lacking in, which are preventing you from being promoted to the next level".

Anonymous said...

L65 here, worked up from L59 (actually, 10 in the old system).

The key is always to keep your eye on the goal. Your own work is part of the goal. The details in front of you are just details. Know what is going to make your product succeed, know what is going to make your team succeed, know what part of that you can achieve. Then do it.

Yeah yeah, that's an oversimplification. But that's kind of the point -- simplify your approach. Don't obsess over what is in front of you. Take responsibility for defining the component in front of you -- is it really the right thing for the product/team? If it is, awesome -- go do it, drive it to completion. If it isn't, well don't waste everyone's time building the wrong thing.

When you think of it this way, you'll anticipate what your manager needs, you'll anticipate what your skip-level needs, and you'll be doing what they need even before they know they need it. When your manager finally ask you to do X, you'll be nodding your head and saying, "yeah, totally, and here's my progress on X." Then you're on the path to higher levels.

Anonymous said...

> What if you and your manager are at the same level L62. How do you get the right job/work that will make the impact. How do you ensure there is no conflict of interest. I am not saying the manager is trying to sabotage, but when push comes to shove will you get the impactful project. In this testing times what will motivate the mgr to put you ahead of him/hers?


The way to succeed here is to find out how you make you, and your manager, and his/her leads, succeed as a team. It sounds trite, but it's true. You don't deliver products on your own -- you're usually building one system, one set of components that together make one successful (or unsuccessful) product.

You can always, always find ways that make yourself, your manager, and your immediate team much more successful. If you think of it as "How can I do better than my manager?" then you're really off in the weeds.

Think of the guy in the other company, the guy who is building something that competes with you, with your team. That is the guy to beat. You want to be more efficient, smarter than him. You want to test more cases than he does, you want to build something that draws users to what you're doing more than to his.

You're never competing with your manager. And if you have a manager who thinks that way, then your manager is a doofus who will never help anyone succeed. Thankfully, those are relatively uncommon.

Anonymous said...

Great post and comments. Thanks for keeping this focused.

For those impatient folks who want to move up every 18 months, watch out. It takes a little time to get on your skip-level manager's radar. There are definitely projects you can work on with your manager to increase your visibility, but if things don't happen right away just keep at it.

Your manager should be able to give you fairly specific feedback on where you stand in your skip-level's eyes. Find out if you have a positive trajectory in the stack ranking. Don't be afraid to ask your manager some very direct questions.

Don't force the issue. There are so many reasons why things didn't happen in a given review cycle. Managers plan out promotion timeframes far in advance. Do a great job and you are likely to revise their expectations for the following cycle. If you push too hard or threaten to leave, you will be written off immediately. Skip-levels will not tolerate people who are not team players.

Finally if your manager is new or at your level, the strategy is the same. Make them successful at their job. They have commitments to grow their employees. You can forge a great partnership and accomplish a lot.

Anonymous said...

Mini: Great topic! Thanks for starting this. I also agree with the requests to have a discussion related to 65+.

Anyway, I have seen a very healthy discussion going on here, and most of the thoughts I wanted to share have been mentioned. I'm just going to try and emphasize a few points here:

* As mentioned by many folks, it is important to own your career and hence plan you promotion, discuss it with your manager, and most importantly follow up on it. Make sure you have chosen commitments that you can exceed, and that you deliver visible and significant value to your business and customers. Also, the way you achieve your commitments does affect the perception and recognition of your efforts. See next bullet.

* Sell yourself: I know it sounds odd and contradictory. If you do not market yourself well, even if you are a superstar here at MSFT, your achievements might just go unrecognized (or they might be selectively recognized). The point here is that I have more than once seen folks that were very talented and super stars get bumped for someone less talented but more vocal. Sad but true... Mini et al addressed this with the descriptions of the distinguishing traits you need to develop and demonstrate.

* It is true that working for the promotion should not be your only driver, but it is important for it to be "a" driver -- of course you should enjoy what you are doing while working to achieve that next level, but remember that you are not there to become a bench-warmer. Losing focus of your target next career level will leave you with nothing but regret... and wasted time, sometimes years. How? Your commitments should already provide you with milestones to set as your goals. Continuously revisit those and discuss with your manager. Revise if needed. Getting constant feedback throughout is valuable as you can re-align and re-adjust in an agile way so that you are not shocked at review time that you have completely missed that promotion. It's usually too late at that point.

* Stability at Microsoft is a two-edged sword. Many folks lurk longer in the 60-62 range because they are not challenged enough to move to the next level. I have known some that do what is barely enough for "achieve" just because it is safe. "We have a stable and relatively easy job, and as long as we achieve, we will not get fired." Wonderful. This is where I agree with Mini regarding taking MSFT back to the good ol' lean, mean, and efficient company we enjoyed.

* Leaving the company - oh, the all too easy escape: I have seen that mentioned in quite a few comments. It is true you can always do that, go to Google, go to ABC, or whatever. That's the easy way out. But that will only be one more indicator that you are not ready to "face" your obstacles. You will never get your promotion on a silver platter. You almost always have to earn it. The good thing in most teams here is that if you persist, you will get there. By persist, I do not mean being happy to be at the same <63 level for 3+ years for exmaple. Taking the easy escape out like that, you are more likely to get into the same situation at other companies.

* One final important thought that hasn't been mentioned here and that is very dear to my heart is one that is not only specific to 63 but also to 65+, 66+, and 67+, and it is about moving up when you are a female at MSFT. I know we have had some huge improvements in the last few years in that regard, but we are really still way far behind, and I as a male employee, I know that very well, and I have seen many instances of female super stars de-emphasized in favor of a less-achieving, less-talented male team member. Needless to say that not many will admit this fact. We need to grow out of this bad legacy syndrome that we still have. This will only lead us to a healthy and balanced distribution of levels across genders. The current distribution is simply pathetic.

<MSFT's one and only good ol' Wyle E. Cayote>

Who da'Punk said...

I actually find the content of this post to be superficial, fairly naive and not reflective of my experience having moved through the ranks from 59 to >65.

Well please don't just tease us and leave it there. I'm interested in reading your perspective and what advice you'd give to someone new to the company looking at a career path similar to your own. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"I actually find the content of this post to be superficial, fairly naive and not reflective of my experience having moved through the ranks from 59 to >65."

Well please don't just tease us and leave it there. I'm interested in reading your perspective and what advice you'd give to someone new to the company looking at a career path similar to your own. Thanks.


Sorry mini -- I meant the content of the comment I referenced, not the content of your original post (which I'm in violent agreement with).

As for my own history, successful strategies have followed 3 major buckets:

From 59 --> 62 (I started as a 10 in the old system) I simply kicked ass and took no prisoners. I was an asshole, but I was better than my peers at getting shit done -- I was a PM in DevDiv at the time. I was always righteously indignant when I encountered asshats and incompetence and I would rail against the losers to anyone who would listen, and then I would do whatever it took to drive my agenda through to completion.

I focused 100% on producing vast quantities of superior quality work -- which endeared me to my management chain and opened up a crap-ton of doors at those early levels. I drove my 59-62 agenda with an iron fist and it didn't matter so much that I didn't play well with others or work to help other teams who were struggling.

I became a manager during that time and had a year of major hiccups while trying to break through to 63 -- all of a sudden the fact that I was a unilateral force was working *against* me and not for me. The biggest lesson I learned here was how to work *with* other teams, even when I thought they weren't very good and even when our purposes didn't align.

When I finally figured out how to play well with others and was able to show some major cross-group gains in addition to my own leet prod dev skills, that's when I became a 63.

63 to 64 was a bit of a slog -- I'd say more like a full-frontal assault on lazy management, actually :). I was in a group that was reorging constantly and there were frequent management changes, so it took all of the political skill I'd developed over the years to focus my GM on giving me that fucking promotion. Lots of groundwork, considerable drama and leverage... but eventually it got done. :)

Then, over the next 2 years, I learned the magic of 65: it's not just about playing *well* with others, it's about making every team you work with great and helping them do their best work. Those teams I used to despise as a L60, and only tolerate as a 63? Now it's up to me to do whatever it takes to make *them* great, even if it doesn't benefit my product directly.

I spend a lot of my time these days working with partner teams to help them solve their own problems or create wins for their teams even if it only peripherally touches my area.

When I mastered the above -- and when I had partner teams widely viewed as difficult or bad partners coming to my GM and singing my praises as the go-to guy, *that* is when I became a Principal.

I don't yet have any insight into what it might take to become a Partner, so I won't comment on that. :)

Anonymous said...

the answer is simple - take on more. Very few jobs are leveled across more than 2 levels but most jobs could be more than on level (depending on the candidate something could be a 61 or 62).

To take on more you need to be doing two things:

1. Executing on what you have now at a high rate/quality level.

2. Starting to reach out and grab some of what you would be doing with a bigger scope/higher level.

An earlier poster said it. In general, people are not leveled, jobs are. You can switch jobs internally and get leveled up (typically 6-12 months after) - but make sure you have the conversation with the manager as to what is the expected level and what is the cap. Alternately, you can increase the scope of your own job and justify an increased level.

So the only real question is, what do you need to do differently at the higher level? At a basic level, in a company the size of Microsoft, the higher you go, the less you contribute individually and the more you contribute by your impact on an organization - hiring the right people, setting clear and correct goals, driving alignment and execution. Sometimes i laugh when i read the armchair CEO's on this thread - there is a lot of criticism of Steve, but 99% of our brains would absolutely pop if we had to confront the complexity of decisions he makes in one day. He is a very, very smart guy.

For many people, what made them successful as a level 62 IC will kill them as a level 62 manager. Specifically, that is a tendency to try and do everything themselves, taking too much individual accountability as opposed to building a v-team across orgs etc etc.

Most managers in Microsoft - in my personal experieince - are competent managers. We in general hire very smart people who can figure it out. There are the clear execptions and I think you can see this more on the engineering side than sales and marketing.

One other piece of advice - be mindful of the impression you make on your bosses peers and others in senior levels of the organizations. Most organizations will do promo/slate through a consensus/stack rank process. Often this is where a perceived negative attitude or lack of soft skills will hurt you the most.

Your immediate boss can often look beyond that to the benefit you bring to the organization - mostly because it also directly benefits him or her. For others, the picture will not be so clear and they may place more weight on perceptions or a set of isolated incidents. After all, they are thinking through if you will be a good peer and will be easy to work with (and make their lives better in some way). the higher you go, the bigger deal this is - at least to where i have gotten.

Finally, not everybody will be good in every role. Don't just take a L63+ role because of the level. Take it because it plays to your strengths.

Anonymous said...

I think one of the things that is frustrating is how opaque the promotion system really is. Calibrations are like a brick wall, even in regard to comments made about you. The only thing you learn is your bucket, and roughly where in the bucket you fit based on your numbers. But that doesn't really help you compete when you don't know what everyone else is doing, particularily if you think you're doing well.

Further, it's hard to get specific advice on how to get promoted, due to said black wall. While a manager can help coach you, and you can follow the advice in this post and comments (most of which are great, by the way), you have no way of knowing if there are 0 or 10 people also on the team doing the same things, ahead of you for the limited number of promotions available. This makes it very easy to feel underleveled, because the 6 people that started 3 weeks before you might take up the 2 promotion spots available per year for 3 years (numbers all made up).

You also, at least in my experience, aren't really given feedback on when you're performing at a level that *could* be promoted. There's this sort of nebulous "first you have to perform at level current+1 for a year, then you'll get promoted. If a spot is available. And we have the budget for it. Maybe." When does that year start? Will there be room on your team? Will there be budget? Will some new person to the team who shows high growth potential push you aside even though you've been doing really solid work for years?

Sometimes I wish it worked like an experience bar in a video game where you can clearly see when you will "ding". Or at least, more transparent feedback was communicated so you had a real idea of where your career was heading.

Anonymous said...

Joined MCS at level 60 and was immediately told that L61 would be years away. Got two promotions - still level 60. For many in our sub, MCS seems to be the place of incompetent managers and just a pitstop to somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

I would lay some level of accountability with management as well, though. Like another poster, I was a 64 who hit the "65 wall" after 10 years at MS. Ultimately, I decided to leave the company. When I gave notice, my PUM was in my office within an hour showing me stock levels at 65 and 66, willing to restructure my position pretty much to my liking. By then I had already already set up several clients as in independent consultant, so I declined to stay. While I was pleased with the attention, I was also rather upset. If I was 65/66 material, why did they wait until I gave notice to offer me the promotion? I take some of the blame for not managing my career more directly, but no one should be offered a promotion when they leave--if they are valuable, let them know before hand!

Anonymous said...

One of the interesting things about the level structure that I find interesting is that you are always expected to perform higher than your level.

For example, in order to be promoted to level 62, you, as a level 61, must already perform at a level 62 level for a long time. When (if) you are then promoted to 62, you are not expected to continue performing at a level 62 level, but rather a level 63 level.

The reason that you have to perform at a new level before reaching it is to avoid the Peter Principle, being people promoted up to their level of incompetence. The downside to this view within the Microsoft culture is that you are always expected to keep climbing the ladder even if you are content with your current job and a solid performer in it. Otherwise, you start getting limited reviews and your compensation goes down.

Obviously there was no advice in this post, but I thought it was an interesting observation, and perhaps the company can learn something from this viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

This is a really awesome post. I am happy to be an L63, trying to get to L64 so I can relate.

How I got here (I started as an industry hire 61 about 5 years ago):

1. Learn everything I can about the technology (I'm a PM and don't have a CS background so I work extra hard at this and ask lots of questions.)

2. Keep my word. Don't make promises to follow up on things and then let them drop. If I'm going to be late delivering something, give folks advance notice.

3. Don't be the roadblock. When someone else is waiting on you for something, don't be the reason they can't get their shit done.

4. Be nice, and clear in your communications. You may see lots of other people being jerks around you, but trust me, people remember when you are the nice, dependable, smart one.

5. Don't discount the power of a mgmt chain that believes in you. I've changed jobs but came back to the group that's been the most supportive.

Anonymous said...

This is a great topic! Its nice to see constructive advice and stories from everyone.

I'm in the 61 bucket and currently struggling with my team for many months. Feedback is not detailed or actionable. It varies greatly from manager to skip.
The hardest point for me to bear is that I am young, capable of doing so much more, and absolutely dying to do more. But power plays are at work and I get smacked when I try and take on extra work.

So my question to the more experienced is this - how does one get the attention of management when they are focused on their own problems, their favorite underlings (of which I am not one), and when there is not enough work to go around?

Anonymous said...

Joined MCS at level 60 and was immediately told that L61 would be years away. Got two promotions - still level 60

If you really got promoted twice then you would have advanced 2 levels.

Either you didn't actually get promoted, or someone told you lies. I suspect the former because there's no point in a manager telling you that you got promoted when you didn't. It would be the pinnacle of dumbness.

Anonymous said...

Great topic. Kudos to you for posting it.

I'm a Level 64 in Office and I agree that the Level Compression puts a crimp in promotion velocity in Office. It's a struggle even to get a solid Level 59 promoted to 60 because of budget and under-levelling of devs in 60-61 range. It's also a well-known fact that there is a disparity in levels between Office and now Sinofsky's Windows and the rest of the company, especially below 65 level.

About asking your manager and getting their feedback, we're assuming that managers are capable of giving candid feedback. Most of them are not. I guess they are fallible humans too. Some of them don't have a very good idea of what a Level 65 does since they have not had much experience with those promotions. If you are in office, you will have lots of experience promoting people up to 62 but after that it's a rare event. While managers shouldn't be absolved of the responsibility, we do need to understand that your manager might not be able to help you.

My biggest struggle has been getting good feedback on where I need to grow. A mentor helps tremendously. But they don't have the same visibility that your manager has in your specific org. So I cultivate relationships with my manager's peers; their support helps tremendously.

Given all that, the two things that are key to promotion are:
1) Your relationship with your skip level manager. If you are level 64 and above, your relationship with your GM or VP or above.
2) Your visibility to the GM or VP. In my opinion the visibility games are intentionally or inadvertently started by GMs and VPs. This is usually how teams start to rot from the inside. But good leadership at the top can make visibility a positive thing for the person getting it and for the org who sees the person getting it.

Anonymous said...

I heard that promotion budgets are significantly reduced at below 65 level. Promotion budgets of 65 and above has been kept intact.

Can somebody from HR confirm this?

If true then this post is quite untimely.

Anonymous said...

It's also a well-known fact that there is a disparity in levels between Office and now Sinofsky's Windows and the rest of the company, especially below 65 level.

Can anyone elaborate on that? How bad is this?

Anonymous said...

I heard that promotion budgets are significantly reduced at below 65 level. Promotion budgets of 65 and above has been kept intact.

Where did you hear this? It sounds fishy.

Bill said...

I heard that promotion budgets are significantly reduced at below 65 level. Promotion budgets of 65 and above has been kept intact.


Promotion and raise budgets are going to be quite tight everywhere, not just at MS. It going to be more about survival in the current business climate. This is an opportunity to really do great work and innovate - learn to do your best work in the face of adversity and limited budgets and you will most likely to do well.

Anonymous said...

> Where did you hear this? It sounds fishy

My manager was also saying me something along the same lines. He said this year he could only make strategic promotions, which sounded like promotions of people above 65. He himself is principal for quite sometime. So he is looking to become partner this year on the team's work. But the people in the team are below 65. In particular I am at 64 for quite some time. I had an expectation to become principal this year. But my manager is communicating to me that it is very hard and I am likely to show patience for another year or two.

I do not know how to confirm this without looking like whining. Many senior people, even VPs read this blog. Could somebody please confirm or deny this. Mini himself is quite high level and knowledgable. Mini could you please confirm or deny this.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the comment about the ability to own a room - This is a very good self-calibration technique. The important thing though is, can you hold things in a room full of other Senior team members. If the answer is regularly a 'yes', then this clearly is an indication that you are ready.

Anonymous said...

This is all well and good, but in 9years I've never worked in a group with a Senior IC (Windows, IE, .NET), though some architects. It's a knife fight to 63. And how do you represent yourself as a leader and influencer when you are in a room with 6 other people vying for the exact same thing? Only one can emerge, and not everyone can be a senior simultaneously. And as my experience shows, many teams do not even staff a senior. What's worse is the noise this creates. The larger the team I work on the more I am bombarded with meetings and brown bags so someone can attempt to become the expert on design patterns, code coverage, or feature X. My experience is a constant melee of *every* single person trying to influence cross-group.

To the person worried about being same level for 3.5 years don't sweat it. There is always a manager who understands the underleveling of Office and old-Windows (hello Sinofsky - promos for all who stuck around regardless of merit!) and is willing to take a chance on someone whose interview indicates they are ready for next level. And in my experience they are *eager* to get your skills and your lower level payroll expense! Oldest and (still) best advice I've gotten is move around a lot; no two teams' cultures or needs are the same, so you have something to offer wherever you look. Unless you're an asshat, in which case see mini's comment about slapping yourself around and listening to what other's think about you.

And in those huge orgs with all the noise it is really easy for folks to rest and *ahem* vest, so you are overlooked by default.

The key as mini and others have stated is finding the tech and team you love and everything flows from there (because you will be so excited you will go home and work another 4 hours every night examining customer feedback, competitive products, etc. right? right?). Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

Great Post! Can any reader in Corp Sales Excellence(SMS&P) privide guidance on how to grow from 63 to 64 in that group.

Anonymous said...

Anyone moved from Office to some other part of company? How do levels compare? Is it easier to level up in smaller groups (v1 product)?

Anonymous said...

This is all well and good, but in 9years I've never worked in a group with a Senior IC (Windows, IE, .NET), though some architects. It's a knife fight to 63. And how do you represent yourself as a leader and influencer when you are in a room with 6 other people vying for the exact same thing? Only one can emerge, and not everyone can be a senior simultaneously. And as my experience shows, many teams do not even staff a senior.

Uhh... I came from .NET (no longer there), and there were plenty of Senior IC PMs and Devs.

Are you in Test, Marketing or Documentation? If so, then you're going to have a hard time finding senior IC spots anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Wish I this post and comments laminated about 10 years ago after I wasn't going to get rich off stock.
My comment to add is to those who are put into situations of continual reorgs and want to achieve the 'Senior'. I know to a certain degree that's all of us - but, if you're dealing with 2-3 a year or every other year then you need to get out.
I know there is always new hope that comes with new leadership, but there is also a restart too. You can wait 24 months to gain all the credibilty & visibilty & trust again that needs to intersect precisely with your new leaderships ability to argue you on the stack proficiently. Much longer if new leadership comes from outside MS.
Don't perform flawlessly to the above 70+ pieces of feedback only to see the churn above you. Go and restart in another org and dig through their historical biz and people stability during your informationals.

Anonymous said...

Agree with all the comments that this is a great post, and was just as true 5 years ago as it is now.

My story, which might help the college kids: I began my career at MS out of college as a 10/59, rocketed to 62 - and then sat.

I left in 2002 and started building a career at other places, and can now look back at when I left, slap my hand on my head, and say of course I wasn't promoted - I did nothing to build a positive, defensible relationship with my skip-level mgr, and my real influence outside of my individual team was nonexistent. You can bet that if I went back today I would be a _very_ different person.

The only thing I would add is that at any level, you need to not only know that your manager believes you should be promoted and will fight for you, you need to believe that your manager _can make it happen_. One thing I learned early is that the manager who says "I fought for you, sorry" is really saying "I'm too weak to make the case." That's not going to change in six months (which I learned). Whether your manager is hardcore or touchy-feely, you need a bulldog to promote you or you ain't goin' nowhere.

I also agree with the promotion-on-transfer point. If you can make the argument about the job - and you're in a position of strength, obviously harder now than in years past, you can make the case. It's a $1,000-per-minute conversation - you should always have those.

Anonymous said...

"I'm in the 61 bucket and currently struggling with my team for many months. Feedback is not detailed or actionable. It varies greatly from manager to skip.
The hardest point for me to bear is that I am young, capable of doing so much more, and absolutely dying to do more. But power plays are at work and I get smacked when I try and take on extra work.

So my question to the more experienced is this - how does one get the attention of management when they are focused on their own problems, their favorite underlings (of which I am not one), and when there is not enough work to go around?
"

1. If you want to advance and you are not a "favorite underling", your first and most important job is this: figure out how to become a "favorite underling". If you want to succeed at Microsoft (or anywhere else where you have a boss), the most important thing you can do is figure out exactly what your management wants from you and then make sure you deliver it in spades.

Junior people often make the mistake of thinking this means "I will do my job to the best of my ability" and then they go off and work really REALLY hard at things their management doesn't find nearly as important as they do... and so come review time these folks are *shocked* to hear that all of their blood, sweat and tears did not make the impression they'd hoped.

"The hardest point for me to bear is that I am young, capable of doing so much more, and absolutely dying to do more. But power plays are at work and I get smacked when I try and take on extra work."

This is the lament of every person in every big company everywhere... it's usually a combination of truth (most of us are capable of more than the roles we're currently filling) and hubris (if I had a nickel for ever junior person who over-estimated what they were capable of I'd be retired).

It's a very rare thing that you'll find a manager who gives you the kind of actionable feedback you need to succeed without doing a whole lot of sleuthing and groundwork of your own to fill in the blanks. So once again, a big part of your job is learning how to become a ninja at firguring out what your management wants from you -- even when they haven't articulated it in any kind of measurable way -- and then doing it.

If you can't ever figure it out, and if you can't become a "favorite underling", then it's time to find a different group with people you can better relate-to.

Anonymous said...

I think your comments on level 63 were interesting. I joined Microsoft at L63 in Office and found it to be a freakshow of people NOT working together but understanding that no team work was better for getting a promotion FAR better than I did having come from the Valley. Microsoft is so unique (and not in a good way) that you need to have blogs like this and focus on managing your career inside the hobbesian nightmare, rather than making good and cool software.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous who has spent 3.5 years in role at MS. You're already blacklisted. You should leave. The microsoft people have already decided you're not a good 'fit'. You might be too smart or have ideas that come from somewhere outside of Redmond which makes you very dangerous and not Microsoft material.

Anonymous said...

At this point, the financial crisis and everything, wouldnt it be more interesting to try and predict what KT and Steve will do once they recieve the rest of year forecast mid december?
HC-freeze is already in motion, as is serioius savings in all FSC/COS - only thing still not explored is layoffs. And the place where MS has the most non-contributing overheads is Redmond. One could easily sack 4000 heads at HQ and R&D nor revenue would take a hit. You try that in subs (who actually generate the revenue, HQ typically dont) - but the question is - do they dare push such a thing in the US? Or - are they going to take the easy path and sack people in Europe and Asia? If so I wish them good luck - as oppose to the US, these regions have laborlaws which makes it very hard for a company with Microsofts margin to lay people off. Thoughts?
Level 61 - overseas

Anonymous said...

"There is no greater de-motivator than a reward system that is perceived to be unfair. It doesn’t matter if the system is fair or not. If there is a perception of unfairness, then those who think that they have been treated unfairly will rapidly lose
their motivation."

http://www.poppendieck.com/pdfs/Compensation.pdf

Worth a read, Lisa.

Anonymous said...

I'm not even thinking about level 63 at this point. If you are within striking distance of level 63 in the next few years, then consider yourself VERY fortunate. I've been struggling with the elusive 59 -> 60 move for quite some time. I've been at 59 for going on four years now, and was told by my manager over 2 years ago that I was totally ready and qualified for promotion to L60, but that "there wasn't enough budget" (yeah right), and this was in *Office* (a group which is clearly strapped for cash, I guess). That sounded like a complete crock to me. Last August (different group), I received a dreaded "Limited II", in spite of my manager telling me that he didn't actually think I was in the "bottom 10" at Microsoft, but that the devil made him do it (so to speak) and that it was a "no-brainer" for him. That manager was (in my and many others' opinions) an incompetent, non-technical "manager" who was incapable of recognizing people's talent and contributions. Why does the company reward and keep these numbskull managers that hold people back? Please help. Thank goodness for this blog, where MS employees are free to talk about their personal struggles, unlike "other" blogs that censor/prohibit such discussions, so that they can live in some fantasy land and avoid dealing with the real issues.

Anonymous said...

Mini, as good as your writeup is, there is too much emphasis on this level promo business in MS, and I have seen my fair share of people that have been burnt by it. Especially since the days of job title/level transparency.

People should not forget that many times, higher levels do not equal higher pay. Many 62s (and 63s) make substantially more than 64s. Don't try to counter with stock levels argument as that is more convoluted, and given the current economic debacle's effect on our stock price.....

I understand that folks want to be Senior this, and Principal that but the truth is that it is mostly a fetish for some big sounding titles. Just like a lot of folks have a fetish to be managers even when it is against their natures.

Having said this, consider which is better:

a) Rushing through the levels and to be stuck in 64 for ages (to be Kim'd is especially painful here) - think Sarah Palin
or
b) Going through the levels at a healthy pace, getting far deep into the salary ranges that will assure higher pay when the new levels come.

Me? I came in at 58 (9) and having been through a) I wish I had gone through b). And having a friend gain less than 3000/yr with a promo to Pricincipal cemented that.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Reading all this makes me so happy I don't work at MS anymore. Not only do I have a much more interesting job with much less BS, I make more money as well. Lots of terrible mid level managers at MS.

Anonymous said...

To the person from MCS who said it was easy to get to 64 in MCS - MCSinTheField

I agree with you there, you can get to a L64 in MCS but try to ever transfer to another org as a L64. Impossible. You dont have the same experience or abilities to perform in a core STB senior level role. So, for those of you who are in orgs where it's 'easy' to get to L63 or L64 - think about transferring out BEFORE you get too high a level and paint yourself into a corner. Unless you plan to stay in the same org the rest of the time at MS.

Anonymous said...

I started at 59 and just got promoted to 63 a couple months ago. I've been at Microsoft six years.

I've never spent one second honestly thinking about my career or how to get a promotion or anything like that. The last thing I would ever think about is what my boss thinks of me; I just don't care. In fact, every boss I've had has told me that I was the most frustrating employee they've ever had, mostly because I ignore half the things they ask me to do...

Anyhow, here's my advice: do a good job.

That's it. You are employed by Microsoft's shareholders. Find a way to make or save them money. It's really not that complicated.

Anonymous said...

great post mini. I'm a level 62 dev trying to get to 63. I spend a long time a 61 about 4.5 years mostly because I changed groups alot. I thought changing groups would help me get promoted faster however all it did was make me resart from ground zero with each group. I think that a compentent dev... not a superstar, who follows your advice should make it to 63. The key thing is finding the right team and manager, along with the comments you made. I think that everyone has a bad year or 2 and you should not get worried about spending a lot of years in one level... unless you have been on the same team for a long time.

So my advice is...
1. Find the right team and manager.
2. Then follow Mini's advice and you should be all set.

Kelly Calvert said...

Folks,

I’m really encouraged by this post and the focus on trying to help make others great. It inspired me to write the following dissertation on the subject in hopes that it will be helpful. All of my experience is in the product development groups at MS (dev/test/pm) so my observations may not apply elsewhere. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that it is impossible to provide a perfect definition of any level. It’s a bit like the famous phrase about the definition of obscenity. That is, it’s hard to define, but “I know it when I see it”. The CSP’s are a good attempt to define each level, but anyone who is looking at the CSP’s and saying “I do that, and that, …, but I’m not getting promoted” is almost certainly missing the point. Here are my thoughts on the Level 62 to Level 63 transition in the product groups:

1. Success breeds Success: I remember reading an article about an extensive study to determine the best predictor of a stock’s price tomorrow. The conclusion: it’s price today! Similarly, the best predictor of your success at the next level is your success at the current level! If you’re not doing a great job at your current level you’re not even going to be considered for the next level. The reason: there are a number of factors of success that are common at all levels (see #6 and #7 below). If you’re not displaying them at the current level why would your manager expect that you’ll suddenly start to display them at the next level?
2. Learning Curves and Disillusioned Learners: psychologists have known for years that skill acquisition tends to follow a typical “learning curve”. That is, an S-shaped curve that is relatively flat at the bottom (slow start), then becomes very steep (steep acceleration), then becomes relatively flat again (plateau). For example, see http://www.intropsych.com/ch07_cognition/learning_curve.html. Furthermore, after reaching a plateua in order to get to the next “level” of development there is usually a dip in the current performance as the learner starts temporarily “letting go” of some of the skills they have mastered in order to experiment and try new things. Once they successfully cross the chasm they’ll start over on the typical S-shaped learning curve at the new level again. People who get stuck at the plateau are often referred to as “disillusioned learners”. It is my observation that the most common place we see disillusioned learners in the product groups at MS is at level 62. It can be a really discouraging time in your career, but if you can get past it you’re headed for another amazing growth curve like the one that got you to level 62!
3. Paradigm Shift: In order to achieve the next level of competence to some extent you need to temporarily “let go” of some of your hard gained skills in order to make the “leap” and try some new things. One of my august colleges uses the analogy of a trapeze artist. You’re hanging onto the bar swing back and forth feeling pretty secure. You know you want to get to that other bar, but that chasm in between is fraught with risk. Risk and return are related. Eventually you have to make that leap or you aren’t ever going to get your hands on that other bar.
4. EQ/IQ and Collaboration. I believe that the most fundamental difference between level 62 and 63 is in the realm of EQ (“emotional quotient, see the book “Working With Emotional Intelligence" by Goleman). Going from Level 62 to Level 63 is more about EQ than IQ. Working with high EQ allows you to collaborate better. If you’re working individually there is an upper limit on how much you can accomplish since there are only 24 hours in a day some of which must be devoted to eating, sleeping, and other bodily functions. But if you can collaborate with others you can help accomplish much more than you’ll ever be able to accomplish individually. This is the “multiplier effect”, or “scope of influence” that is often mentioned. For example, when I joined MS in 1990 there were 6 devs working on the first version of Word for Windows. Now the setup team for most products has more than 6 devs. Software development at MS has become more complex and much more collaborative. Therefore, our need for people who can collaborate across their own team, across disciplines, across org boundaries is greater than ever before. If you can learn to do this you become incredibly valuable.
5. Help Your Manager (and your team) Be Successful: No one has more influence over whether you get promoted than your immediate mgr. No one is born an experienced mgr and even the most experienced mgrs are not perfect. But on balance mgrs at MS get things right a lot more often than they get them wrong or we wouldn’t be one of the most highly capitalized companies in the history of biz. That didn’t happen by chance alone. Stop thinking of your Mgr as your adversary and listen to what they are telling you. Years ago we had a dev on my team who was very high IQ and very driven, but was driving his lead nuts. Whenever his lead would ask him to do X he would refuse and insist on doing Y instead. Finally I got involved and had a one/one with the employee during which I asked him “why do you continually insist on doing Y when your mgr asks you to do X?” I nearly fell of my chair when he said “because I want to get promoted and I know that to get promoted I need to do Y”. i asked him if he knew the absolute most important thing for him to do to get promoted. With wide-eyed wonder he asked “WHAT?” I said “whatever the @#$% your manager most needs you to do!”
6. Incompetent People Really Have No Clue: If you’re one of the people complaing about how you’re not getting promoted because your mgr is incompetent and you’re just as good as all those others who got promoted you could be right. But more likely you’re displaying the hallmark of a weak performer described in the article of the same name (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2000/01/18/MN73840.DTL). Incompetent people tend to significantly overstate their performance, and significantly understate that of their co-workers. By doing this they are short circuiting the feedback loop and thereby preventing themselves from improving. By contrast high performers have a fairly accurate self assessment, but are slightly self critical of themselves as well as others. Their self criticism spurs them to improve. A great internal tool to help you sync your self perception with those around you is available internally at http://hrweb/US/CareerDev/folder/ms360process.htm. This 360 review is confidential and you don’t have to share it with your mgr unless you chose to do so. It can help you identify blind spots which may be holding you back.
7. The Making of an Expert: in the great Harvard Biz Review article of this title the author debunks the myth that experts are born, rather than made. He identified the common denominators in becoming an expert in practically any field. First, self criticism to identify weaknesses. Secondly, finding a suitable mentor to help them overcome that weakness. Third, working on that weakness DAILY (but not exclusively) until they overcome it. Fourth, repeat ad infinitum.

Finally, take heart and don’t become too discouraged if this is taking a little longer than it seems like it should. It’s a natural consequence of the learning curve. However, the results show that the vast majority of dev/test/pm will make level 63 and in a reasonable timeframe. However, I think this is the first point where we see a non-trivial number of folks plateau. If you’ve capped out at Level 62 then MS is probably not a great fit for you. Like any organization MS has it’s own unique culture and cannot possibly be all things for all people. I’ve seen many people who didn’t quite fit at MS go off and be very successful at other companies, starting their own biz, changing careers, by finding a better fit for themselves. If you’ve been at Level 62 longer than about 3 years MS may not be the best fit for you and you should probably be considering other options.

kc

Anonymous said...

What is up with the gold star awards? My manager told me a while ago that I was about to get one. Then, he told those have been canceled. Yet, I know that a friend just got one. Should I trust my manager or is this just one more of his demonstrations of poor management skills?

Anonymous said...

Framed on my former VP's wall:

"High-level guys are low-level guys that don't whine."

Anonymous said...

I spent 5 years on level 61. After that I got 3 levels in 3 years and now at level 64. I changed 3 groups at Microsoft. So I guess I know what it takes go get to level 63. Its, actually, quite a short list. There is only one item in this list: visibility. Everything else is irrelevent or works against your promotion. Owning big features, knowledge about code base, ability to help your peers - irrelevant. Ability to solve problems independently is bad because if you don;t ask for help it reduces your visibility. Being irreplaceble is bad because you spend more times on coding/fixing bugs and there is less time to work on your visibility. So if you want a promotion and don't get it: drop everything you are doing now and start working on your promotion, i.e. work on your visibility. And don't beleive your boss if they say otherwise.

Kelly Calvert said...

in my previous post i should have included a link to our internal mentor site for finding a mentor. keep in mind mentors are not one size fit's all. take the time to find a mentor that is a great fit for you and the issue you're working on. ask around for a good mentor or go to our internal mentor site to be matched with a mentor http://mentor/Mentor/user/mymentoring.asp.

kc

Anonymous said...

"You might be too smart or have ideas that come from somewhere outside of Redmond which makes you very dangerous and not Microsoft material."

Sad but true.

Anonymous said...

This is a good list. But it is also clear that there are places at Microsoft where these skills are not required until higher.

I have a 62 test somehow make it to dev with mediocre dev skills, social skills limited to indifference or hostility, who managed to delegate most of the hard work to a smart kid hired to work with him and he made it to 63. The hardest work item on his place was an expression parser that the team's architect wrote for him. It took him at least two months to integrate.

So yes, Mini's list should get you to 63 anywhere. But it's no guarantee that all your peers will match.

But in an organization this large, how do you avoid title inflation ? We all know how many architects there are but isn't Senior the same thing nowadays ?

Anonymous said...

I hope Mini returns from his vacation soon :(

The Windows division has a large number of people that were promoted to "Senior" PM/Test/Dev in the past year. Most are management types whose only skill is sucking up. I saw several far more technically skilled people in the group who deserved this that were passed over.

Anonymous said...

Can we talk about the recent hiring of a new OSG head, as well as ideas on how to fix online?

Anonymous said...

What do you do when your manager is an absolute b***h, a disgrace in meetings with other teams and an embarrassment on her good days? The skip level is totally nonchalant to her ways. Is there a way one can dream of getting promoted in this noxious environment which is the oabg?

Anonymous said...

This topic didn't elicit nearly as many comments as I would have expected. Maybe everybody's aware of being "in lockdown" and keeping their heads down? How about a thread on the current hiring/moving freeze, or on surviving the New Ice Age?

gtscblogger said...

I think getting promoted elsewhere is not as tough as getting promoted in CTS-GTSC. I have seen and known many of my own peers who don't get promoted because of potential but the number of people you know in the leadership team. That is one aspect where they are forced to build fake relationships with directors and GMs to get promoted and unfortunately those who maintain good relatiship with them get promoted. The true professional with loads of potential is left to Sulk.

Anonymous said...

did this post die

Who da'Punk said...

did this post die

No, the Mini-Electronic Brain did. New shiny brain up and working now. Sorry for going dark for so long.

iddaa said...

As a L64 I find getting to 65 quite a wall. All you have to do is look at the level distribution, there is a large dropoff in positions at 65. It turns out that typically your immediate manager has little control, it's all decided at higher levels.

Anonymous said...

So...I'll repeat it again. I'm now past my time that I can recruit away from MSFT after leaving some time ago. And I'm hiring, yes, in this economy. I'm hiring 6 good MSFT developer/consultants. Granted, you have to live in the greater NYC area, but it's a great place to be. Here's how to find it. Sign up on LinkedIn and join the Microsoft Employees or ex-MSFT employees groups and then you'll see them posted. Do a search for people in those groups in NYC area and check their status to see who is hiring. I'm there. Happy hunting.

Anonymous said...

I've been hearing some stealth layoffs around the SQL and BOSG groups, around 70+ people were given 6(?) weeks to find another position within the company, otherwise they are laid off.

Anyone know others?

Anonymous said...

I've been hearing some stealth layoffs around the SQL and BOSG groups, around 70+ people were given 6(?) weeks to find another position within the company, otherwise they are laid off.

Think that's known as a "RIF" not a "layoff" but...what do I know? I'm sure others here will clarify.

And apparently we will all know more in January. Isn't morale over the holidays going to be just wonderful? (Not)

Anonymous said...


I've been hearing some stealth layoffs around the SQL and BOSG groups, around 70+ people were given 6(?) weeks to find another position within the company, otherwise they are laid off.


Given 6 weeks to find a position now is a suicide (since most groups can't hire due to the freeze). Might as well fire those guys. Normally this is acceptable but right now i smell lawsuit.

Anonymous said...

great post. agree with positive suggestions here. as many others posters said: if you are worry too much about promotion chances are you will keep worrying.

I sympathize with folks who feel they have been shafted however to quote a cliched saying: the common factor between you and all your problems is you. I can vouch for the efficacy of this mantra.

MS definitely does a good enough job on career progression and offering diverse options. more often than not it is up to the employee to use the resources, show maturity and commonsense and move up

62 -> 63 is difficult and there is a reason behind it. 63's and 64's own a huge piece of getting the RIGHT work done CORRECTLY. below 63 one has low influence and above 64, it is more strategizing and less execution.

Overall, my experience has been that promotion is the effect of results and good work. also work is good only when it leads to results that typically means team's success.

Just ensure that you do the absolute best in whatever is thrown at you and promotion will take care of itself. an ex-manager used to tell me, if the org needs him to sweep the floor, he would ensure that he would be the best sweeper in the world (no offense to my janitor friends, just an expression).

check the ego out, ensure that people around you (the whole team is successful), create the best results possible and your promotion wont be far away.

for people, who might claim that they do all this and still cant progress.. dude, either you are in wrong group or you have not introspected / taken feedback well or you are missing the whole thing by a mile. because I have never seen the above formula fail with me in many years or people I know (a sample set of hundreds of person-years)

Anonymous said...

I would agree, right now, level is deflated, 64, and 65 are real barriers, and salary level expand as well. Microsoft Salary

Anonymous said...

The news is in. All the money making groups cut 10% of the work force. The money losing groups hires.

Anonymous said...

RIF in the SQL team? Is this confirmed? SQL is one of the groups that has consistently delivered quality and growth. If I was looking at reducing costs this isn't exactly where I'd set my sights first... but again this is Microsoft we're talking about. Weirder sh*t has happened before.

Anonymous said...

We definitely need a new thread, things are starting to happen indeed.

Our 120+ person org has just been broken up due to lack of budget. About 1/2 the team is staying, the other half is going to a number of different teams within the larger org. So far, we all appear to have jobs, but man, what a shocker, I thought ours was one of the more stable teams.

Not sure what happens to our Director, he seemed a bit shocked himself when he delivered the news today. I also don't know if this is the first step towards a lay-off, but for now, it seems we'll have jobs for a few more months.

Ugh, not good, not good at all.

Anonymous said...

I also don't know if this is the first step towards a lay-off, but for now, it seems we'll have jobs for a few more months.

Ugh, not good, not good at all

>
I am a partner. I am not worried. Expect my salary to go up after the cleanup.

Anonymous said...

I am a HR manager. You havent seen nothing yet. Shock and awe awaits.

Anonymous said...

I am soliciting ideas to reduce cost in this blog. We have to reduce billions of dollars of cost.

Anonymous said...

I am a troll. I will mis-direct and confuse you with hearsay. You will not know the difference.

Anonymous said...

I am a [sic] HR manager. You havent [sic] seen nothing [sic] yet. Shock and awe awaits [sic].

Four errors in grammar and punctuation in a post of just 14 words? I call B.S. on this one.

Real HR managers from Microsoft would have just three [sic]s in a post of that length.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, not good, not good at all.

>Finance is cutting 10% of work force.

Anonymous said...

I am a troll. I will mis-direct and confuse you with hearsay. You will not know the difference.

Steve Steve Steve... given the state of the company, are you sure you don't have anything else more urgent to do?

Anonymous said...

>Real HR managers from Microsoft would have just three [sic]s in a post of that length.

I hope HR gets cut.

Anonymous said...

Grammar nitpicking is fine when it's accurate.

"a HR manager" is acceptable if HR is meant to convey a spoken "a human resources manager" rather than a spoken "an aich arr manager".

haven't should have an apostrophe, yes.

"haven't seen nothing yet" is a fairly common construction. "Ain't seen nothing yet" is a more popular variant of the same due to a song with that title and refrain.

"Shock and awe awaits" is correct. My best guess is that you think it should be await. I give you the example from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/awaits "A busy day awaits" as evidence.

So one legitimate missing punctuation mark, one matter of verbal interpretation, one popular idiom, and one completely correct phrase. Only 1 of the 4 [sic]s were legitimate. You've made 3 mistakes. Therefore, you are an HR manager.

Anonymous said...

>> Grammar nitpicking is fine when it's accurate.

Wow, those sic[s] really are all [sic]s, and you went out of your way to refute them with invalid proofs and an assumed air of infallibility.

Obviously you are a manager of HR managers soon to be promoted to GM.

Anonymous said...

Same here. I used to work in the OneCare team. Our entire unit was let go but we were moved to different groups in the org. Got lucky on that one!!!!

Anonymous said...

That figures. I /like/ OneCare. It's an excellent product. How many has Live hired this year and OneCare gets cut? sheesh

Anonymous said...

"We definitely need a new thread, things are starting to happen indeed."

I wonder why...

Microsoft: Citi Cuts Ests, Target On PC Slowdown

Anonymous said...

Microsoft's '08 Mistakes: The Software Giant's Three Errors

http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/121908-microsofts-08-mistakes-the-software.html?hpg1=bn

Just three?

Anonymous said...

Think of the guy in the other company, the guy who is building something that competes with you, with your team. That is the guy to beat. You want to be more efficient, smarter than him. You want to test more cases than he does, you want to build something that draws users to what you're doing more than to his.

Having part of the bonus be for how the team succeeded relative to the other teams might focus competition towards the competition and not exclusively on co-workers.

Add up the review scores of each team member and rank teams.

Anonymous said...

Vendors are also having it bad. The funding for our project stopped and our vendor team of 28 people have been asked to leave immediately. All of us have been asked to move to India by our parent company. My rent contract was renewed in September and I have to find another person or risk loosing a 1000 bucks

jcr said...

Mini,

Asshole managers aren't unknown at Apple, but when they appear, it doesn't take long before the rest of the organization figures them out and isolates them. Eventually, their team will remove itself from his control through internal transfers to teams with better managers, and the asshole ends up getting canned in a re-org if he doesn't see the writing on the wall and use his Apple resume entry to jump to some other company.

The fact that you praise someone for "junk yard dog mode" shows me that Microsoft has a fundamentally broken corporate culture, and that you are part of the problem.

-jcr

jcr said...

Think of the guy in the other company

I don't like where this is going...

That is the guy to beat.

No, No, NO!

Think of the customer, not the competition! That's why Microsoft is pissing away the monopoly that you inherited from IBM. IBM got their position by focusing on the customer. IBM pulled themselves out of their decline by focusing on their customers. Ask any old mainframer what it was like to be an IBM customer back in the day. There's a reason why they had the kind of brand loyalty that Microsoft can only dream of.

Success in business comes from serving your customers, not about beating your competition. You don't get your money by snatching it out of Google or Apple's hands, you get it by convincing your customers to hand it to you.

Do you want to know why Vista is such an unmitigated disaster? It's because you were playing catch-up to Apple, and playing Machiavellian games with the media companies instead of working on the issues that your customers were complaining about.

Vista is still unreliable, unsecurable, and a massive pain in the ass to use on a daily basis. Its UI is fundamentally incoherent, showing probably the worst case of design-by-committee since the control room at Three Mile Island. Its performance is compromised by your pandering to the RIAA and MPAA. You're selling it in no less than eight different SKUs, (including the upgrades) and your marketing message is deliberately obfuscated to convince the customers to go for the most expensive one.

Apple's about to ship Snow Leopard with no new features. Think about why they're able to do that.

-jcr

Anonymous said...

i've been hearing this.. you know when you are about to cut a small feature and do balancing in your sprint/milestone... essentially this is happening at VP level.

given that the resource is static. you want to complete A and A requires 10 devs. VP has to find the 10 devs from some other less attractive project. Say B.

In a perfect case, B will have 10 devs to transfer to A but when that happen B will be left with 5 testers and 2 PMs. What to do?

The remaining is either
a) absorb into other org (say A)
b) if A doesn't need testers, then VP will instruct them to find another position in 6 weeks. This is so that they can convert those positions to other discipline.

i've seen this happening to at least 2 teams so far.

Who da'Punk said...

Asshole managers aren't unknown at Apple [...] The fact that you praise someone for "junk yard dog mode" shows me that Microsoft has a fundamentally broken corporate culture...

Thanks for a nice belly laugh to re-energize my morning. Maybe Steve Jobs' psychotic approach to managing by terror is not properly described in English as "junk yard dog mode" (standing up for what needs to be done vs. mind-numbing consensus wallowing). Apple should in no way be throwing stones at Microsoft in this regard.

Anonymous said...

mini,
time to start a new blog: maybe around current economy and msft

Anonymous said...

>Apple's about to ship Snow Leopard with no new features. Think about why they're able to do that.

These two lines really serve to summarize the incoherent blithering that was jcr's post.

Anonymous said...

Is there much motivation to really fix Vista's perception problems?

Machiavelli might note that intentionally leaving Vista's reputation in the toilet will make Windows 7 look all that much better when it comes out - allowing some of our VP's pride, ego's and bank balances to swell to truly epic proportions.

Anonymous said...

I've achieved level 65 in a field technical role and it wasn't that hard. Keep your mouth shut most of the time (i.e. don't make enemies), change jobs about once every 3-4 years, and do your job reasonably well...for a decade.

Anonymous said...

jcr said...
>Apple's about to ship Snow Leopard with no new features. Think about why they're able to do that.

Anonymous said...
These two lines really serve to summarize the incoherent blithering that was jcr's post.


Whoa, really? So, focusing on the customer instead of the competition is "incoherent blithering?" Because, IMO, that is the jist of jcr's post. You'd do well to read it again:

Success in business comes from serving your customers, not about beating your competition. You don't get your money by snatching it out of Google or Apple's hands, you get it by convincing your customers to hand it to you.

Do you want to know why Vista is such an unmitigated disaster? It's because you were playing catch-up to Apple, and playing Machiavellian games with the media companies instead of working on the issues that your customers were complaining about.


When will MS learn this lesson?

Anonymous said...

Your analysis is very true, specially the part about owning the room and be regarded as the domain expert. One of my reports and I had that conversation not that long ago, and I explained to him that at 62, he can take on any task I'm asking him to do. At 63, he has to be the one who tells me what the next thing for the product should be.

Anonymous said...

In response to Kelly Calvert:

Regarding..

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that it is impossible to provide a perfect definition of any level. It’s a bit like the famous phrase about the definition of obscenity. That is, it’s hard to define, but “I know it when I see it”. The CSP’s are a good attempt to define each level, but anyone who is looking at the CSP’s and saying “I do that, and that, …, but I’m not getting promoted” is almost certainly missing the point.
---

I used to work in Devdiv, and I respect Kelly a lot. but I have to disagree with this statement.

While it is true that it is difficult for managers to say what *exactly* an employee should do to get to the next level, it *should not* be impossible to list what experiences/qualities/results will qualify him to be a *strong* candidate for promotion to the next level.

And this should not be that difficult - it is just a matter of syncing up with the peer leads, and dev manager, and discussing what their perception of an L63 is vs l62. This is something that should happen on an ongoing basis.

Unfortunately, it doesnt happen, and that is what frustrates a lot of people.

Saying that you dont know what exactly an L63 is, but will know one when you see him is a big cop-out. If you dont know what exactly an L63 is, how are you able to make promotion discussions in the review meetings?

Managers become so defensive when asked what we should be doing to advance. I dont know why this is the case. I think that the whole culture of the stack rank + fighting for scraps for their directs + a lack of visibility and input on what will justify a promotion is what scares of managers from engaging with their employees regarding career growth.

Note, that I am not saying that I want a guarantee one way or the other. I just want to grow, and I am aware that it does not translate to a promotion always. But it should definitely keep me up in the top of the class, and getting a nice review score + kudos + a job well done with results is a reward in itself (that I crave for more than the actual promotion).

I have given this suggestion to Lisa, but I have not seen any action so far.

Anonymous said...

All these comments apply generally to any matured company and life in general. Your boss is the way to your promotion no matter where, what and when. If you have your mnanager in your pocket, you cna achieve greate heights in life. You have to strive to get the KEY to the boss's heart and brain. Ultimately humans make decisions either by heart or brain. Doesn't matter 60 or 65, if you find the key to your boss, next level is in your pocket. My experience, I joined MSFT at 63 and in 3.5 years I am at 65.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what the typical salary increase, measured in percentage, is for going from 62 to 63?

Anonymous said...

I'm currently level 66 and started at level 59 (equivalent in old levels) 12 years ago. The first levels came quickly with some sticking around 64 and 65 (half my career).

I have always taken on and fixed problem areas that no one else wants to take on. Some were also not very sexy/fun problem but they were all critical to ship. I have also always looked for those problems (opportunities). In the beginning, I volunteered for these tough areas that no one else wanted and over time, my brand became the fix it guy. The scope and situations have become more and more challenging over time.

When I was an IC, it was tough technical problems or simply critical problems that no one else wanted. After I became a lead & manager, I was given a team in turmoil after a re-org and straightened that out. After that, I was given a team that was in trouble quality wise 6 months before shipping. After that, I was given a team that was dysfunctional and the most problematic area of the product - now its the area that customers rave about and the team is running smoothly.

The bottom line is that takes (1) very hard work (2) you need to build your skills (3) personality to drive the solution in spite of the process and (4) demand excellence from others - including managing out those that will never deliver quality (some folks are net losses to the team).

I always hear the whining from folks that get stuck at level 62/63 but when those tough challenges are out there, they don't volunteer and they certainly don't go looking for the biggest challenges. Most gravitate to safe work that's in their comfort zone or work they enjoy.

Taking on the toughest hardest problems does line up well with something everyone has talked about on this post - that is - make your managers look good. When you take on the toughest problems that risk the product and make that problem go away, they are happy.

If you go looking for those problems though, you better be prepared to deliver. I wasn't sure I was going to get out of a couple of those situations but after everyone of them, I was stronger and smarter.

Take the challenge and go after tough problems. You will make your management look good and the levels will come.

petrenkov said...

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Anonymous said...

Hi,

Now that the Annual review is approaching, I wanted to seek tips on justification putforth to the manager to move from L60-L61. I am going through some finanical hardships and is getting the level changed is the only way for a salary increase? Any tips will be greatly helpful.

Anonymous said...

"Now that the Annual review is approaching"


You're probably too late already. If you were in the running your manager would have told you / asked for ammunition by now.

Anonymous said...

1. Will a L63 have direct reports and/or manage v-? Is that a req. for L63?

Anonymous said...

What is the average promotion velocity for non-technical fields? This is the first year I have spent more than 2 years at a level (L61) and still not gotten a promotion. My management tells me that this is normal and 2 years is "aggressive", but this is getting frustrating for me. For context, I have always been "exceeded" or "high achieved"

Anonymous said...

If you want to dig a bit more around job titles which gives you an idea of someone’s level or the dispersion of a team, remember that the title you see in Outlook is not the real title, it’s just the address book title. To know the real title you have to use headtrax and look for the “Standard Title” of the position. This way you have a more clear understanding of the seniority of that particular position and if you search for a group manager you will see the seniority distribution. HTH

Anonymous said...

Anyone know how to handle constant Re-orgs. I've been 3.5 years at 62 and re-orged every year in mobile.

Any ideas on how to carry greats results of one role into another through a re-org. So far, I haven't been successful. No managers seems to want to talk to the previous managers for promo stuff and each wants at least 12 mos of time to think to observer.

Anonymous said...

Being constantly re-orged is bad. Barring extraordindary circumstances each year you will get the "welcome to our group" evaluation.

Don't forget the aunts and uncles. My promotion to 63 came not when I helped my group out of one of their many nightmares but when I helped an uncle.

Anonymous said...

I was let go from Microsoft recently. I've been a 62 for too long by Microsoft standards. I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did in some ways. Up or out as they say.

I found a niche I was happy in. 6 years ago I developed what I have been supporting since. I knew it backwards and forwards, better than anyone else does now or ever will. I could make changes quickly and with quality. No one else was as good. My boss even made mistakes. My work affected hundreds of developers in our org. A mistake was a huge cost. I thought what I did was valuable but in the end, it wasn't.

The Microsoft up or out policy is the prime directive. I haven't talked to anyone internally that has anything good to say about it. The general consensus is why get rid of someone who is happy doing their job and can do it better than anyone else. A past co-worker of mine had the same thing done to him and now there are two devs doing what he did by himself.

I guess Microsoft has its reasons. There certainly doesn't seem to be any shortage of people wanting in. As long as that's the case, I doubt anything would change.

The method that this is done is troubling also. You go along with a good boss/employee relationship then all of a sudden, it's like you killed his first born. Nothing you do is good, all you get is criticism. He won't answer your questions on what is going on or you get vague answers.

All of this in most cases is probably directives from HR. I've been told HR looks for employees that have been at their level too long. Then they start pinging the manager on why and putting pressure on them to do something, move them up or out. Give the employee directives and start documenting when they fail so a case can be brought to get rid of them if it comes to that. I would get vague directives like you need to be the thought leader or you need to improve your system knowledge. My queries on any specific guidance would get no response or the response that you’re a 62 and you should be able to figure it out. Then I would get emails rating my abilities in these areas that I had no input into it and any replies rebutting it would go unanswered. In my co-workers case, they overloaded him with work and then documented anything that fell through the cracks until they had enough to get rid of him.

I'm sure HR throttles managers when this is going on. The problem is you can't tell if you've done something to piss him off or if he's doing it because he has to. It makes a difference in your relationship. I got to point where I resented my manager so much I could barely talk to him. I might be still employed by Microsoft if I knew he wasn’t doing it willingly.

One thing I would do different if I could do it again is to not advance levels any faster than I have to. No matter how good you are, you will peak at some point and Microsoft will get rid of you. If you want the longest Microsoft career possible, why advance any faster than you have to. This is obviously difficult to manage. How do you make sure you do a good job but not too good of a job.

Also higher levels will tend to require you to do things you may not like. There are not a lot of options at that point. It’s difficult to transfer to a new position because at a high level, what group is going to take you on to a new position you have no experience in. It’s usually comes down to do it and be unhappy or leave. Or you wait until you get escorted out.

I don’t know what the final outcome of my situation will be but I expect in the end, I will think it was for the better.

Good luck to all in your Microsoft careers, but pay attention to the levels, CSPs and how stack rankings work. You're in competition with everyone else in your org in your CSP. Sort of like grading on a curve in school. You need to consider how you can compete with the pizza eating 25 year olds that don't have a life and work 80 hours a week. It's not easy. I know many that purposely work for Microsoft as contractors just for this reason.

Senior said...

I think you should play some games while searching for you L63 promotions. Here is a nice place to start :-)
http://guestgame.com/