Scott Hanselman

Microsoft - Surviving First Three Weeks as a Remote Employee

September 29, '07 Comments [25] Posted in Microsoft | Remote Work
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HanselmanCardToday the business cards arrived, making me (in my own mind, and likely that of my extended family, as well as strangers on a plane) officially a real Microsoft Employee.

Now that I have a whole three weeks experience as a FTE (Full Time Employee) which gives me more time on the job than several hundred other folks that have come after me - n00bs! Ha! ;)

Here's what I've learned in my massive 3 weeks on the job.

  • TLAs - There are more acronyms and codenames than you could have though possible. "What? You don't know about Fizzbin? It's going to rock." There's a whole Microsoftlingo that one has to learn. Red bits, green bits, tell mode, ask mode, Zero Bug Bounce. It's all very disorienting, and the worst part is that the folks who've been there > 2 years don't even notice the lingo. You can also tell who has been there a long time because they'll do things like refer to the Registry as "the hive."
  • Email - So far, life and work is in Outlook more than in IM. I assumed we'd all be video conferencing and IM'ing out brains out and sharing information dynamically with Groove. Nope, it's Outlook and Sharepoint so far. Which is fine, it's just not the Jet Set Radio Future I hoped for. Exchange mailboxes are small, for now, and the world is all about Reply To All, +1. I'd expected more internal blogs. We'll see if this changes.
  • HR - I had a really rough "on-boarding" because of a few things. Some admin in HR quit during my hire and some paperwork was missed so my start date was delayed, then delayed again, then put back. IT recycled an old "v dash" account I had from MANY years ago, so I was setup for FTE (Full Time Employee) access but without Remote, which wasn't discovered until I got home, which made week one rough. Then my email display said "Scott Hanselman (CORILLIAN)" - the name of my old employer - for a while, and still does in places. Then there's all the direct deposit, 401k, etc stuff that takes 7-10 days to propagate.  However one all this stuff is worked out, which I hear is very typical and takes about 2 weeks, they are so organized. You don't get a paystub, you visit http://paystub. Want your 401k? Visit http://401k. Even my W4 (American Tax Form) was at http://w4. I think it's really amazing. But, with 80,000 people it'd have to be.
  • Your Machine - I like this aspect of things at Microsoft. You're pretty much on your own. They have Network Boot setup when you're inside corporate so you can get a machine up and running with Vista+Office in 20 min. You can pretty much do what you want with your machine, assuming you're not installing evil software (BitTorrent, P2P) or doing evil things. The expected level of personal responsibility is great. IT is there to get me online, not to get me a computer all setup. I like it.
  • Hardware - I got a desktop and a laptop, then two "reclaimed" laptops for a tele-presence thing that Chris Sells are working on, as well as a Mac. I'm running Vista 64 on the laptop, and Windows 2008 RC0 on the desktop. Not to mention QUADPOWER, my existing machine.
  • Security - They don't screw around. Your cardkey/smartkey is your immortal soul and works for everything from door locks to RAS (Remote Access) to buying food when you're on campus, which I'm not. They are so secure it took me a week and a half to get remote access setup. Of course, now that it works, I've got Smart Card readers all over the house and it's working great.
  • Insiders - Holy crap. I spent 10+ years wondering around the Microsoft Campus a few times a year as a supposed "insider" with a visitors badge. I knew I didn't know all the ins and outs, but I figured I had a decent idea about the new stuff, the code names, the plans, etc. I didn't know a thing. Seriously. The stuff going on here is SO MUCH more interesting and forward looking than I thought it would be. Of course, if I told you, I'd have to kill you.
  • Blogging - There's a lot of angst about Blogging. Everyone wants to talk and listen and be heard and spread the word about whatever their thing is, but they're also paranoid about stepping on Marketing, or PR, or leaking something, or making someone angry. There's nothing sinister going on, but sometimes someone working on a thing might "blog too much" and get a talking-to. The problem being, of course, that then they are paranoid and might blog less. Also, no one wants to sound like a marketer. I'm not running posts by anyone ahead of time, but we'll see if I get into trouble, too. Rule #1 of Blogging: Never delete a blog post during a scandal. Better to just never delete.
  • Admin - Know your admin, because they control all things. ScottGu's admin Christi is amazing and got me out of a half-dozen jams while I was there, helped me find robot parts, smart card readers, got me maps, set up a hotel reservation on a moment's notice, and bought me lunch. And, I'm pretty sure she doesn't need to do any of that because she works for Scott. Still, befriend an admin, and you'll be off to a good start. Good advice at any company, really. Kate at Corillian is the Queen Bee. She holds the printer ink and the batteries, so you'd better be her friend if you want to get anything done.
  • Working Remote - Working from home is very lonely. I've setup lunches at least 2-3 times a week to stay connected and sane, so if you want to have (or buy, nudge nudge) lunch with me, just let me know. I need the war stories. I'm also setting up regular visits with local development shops to chat and trade ideas. Having 3 monitors, and a half dozen computers, interestingly helps, because I have lots of chats and things going at once so I still feel somewhat social.
  • Remote Education - Microsoft films darn near everything and it's WONDERFUL for a Remote Employee. There was an internal security event called "BlueHat" this week that I couldn't be on campus for, but I had video running of even the lighting talks running full screen on one of my monitors. I've dug around and there's thousands of hours of talks, presentations and content for me to gorge on. Very cool.
  • Working from Home - The Wife has been very cool and we've started using language like "I'm going to work" and "Daddy's at work" in order to emphasis that work is a different place all together. That's helping, but it's hard to hear her and Z playing outside when I'm hunched over a machine. I suppose I could hunch over a laptop outside, but that's blurring the lines a bit and Z still works in Black and White. Daddy's either at work, or at home. I haven't gotten to the "hey, let's go to the park on a random Tues at 3pm" place that folks who work from home always talk about. Mostly it's been 8a-8p and that's not cool. But, we both figure that'll change as I get more focused and set hard stops.
  • Work/Life Balance - There's a crush of work to be done and you're basically emptying the ocean with a teaspoon. My wife has already commenting that I'm working way more than I did at my last job, which is telling. This pace isn't sustainable. Gotta get serious about boundaries.

Here's to the next three weeks.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007 5:36:39 AM UTC
I started to work from home since I moved here in Washington state from California. I was going to find a new job here around Seattle area, but my employer in California wanted me to work for them remotely when I decided to move our of California last year. It has been a little more than a year since I started to work from home and I totally agree that working from home can be very lonely. There are a few advantages of working from home, but I do miss the face-to-face interaction with my colleagues.

What I like about working from home is the loneliness. I know I'm contradicting myself, but I like the fact that I can have at least a few hours a day without any interruption or sometimes the whole day. When I'm writing some complex code, it's a great environment to be although I do have occasional interruption by my wife or my son or my dog.

Overall, I like working from home. I don't think I will do this forever, but I intend to stick with it as long as I can for my family. My ultimate career goal is to work for Microsoft as a developer.
Saturday, September 29, 2007 6:58:08 AM UTC
I gotta admit, I like the working from home alone thing, partly because with Twitter, IM, and blogs, and email, I rarely feel alone. Plus I take good advantage that I can pop in, hold my son for a bit, and then get right back to work. Of course, he's not old enough to try to make me stay longer yet. ;)
Saturday, September 29, 2007 7:23:59 AM UTC
While not a full-time telecommuter, I do work remotely once or twice a week and it definitely can by trying unless you setup boundaries with the kids. Even on the weeks where it's 1 day a week, the 20% time away from the office allows me to be much more flexible on how I spend my time. I've figured that 5-6 hours working at home can equal a 8-hour work day in the office due to the fewer amounts of hallway conversations that tend to take up half-hours at a time. Also, it's much quicker to walk the 10 seconds it takes me to get to the refrigerator than it does walking up to Queen Anne for lunch. The downsides of a home office is, well, having a home office. It's important to keep normal working hours and not fall into the trap, that I am tonight, of working after the kids went to bed into the wee hours of the morning.

Good luck with everything, and thanks for taking the time for the writeup.

-Joe
Saturday, September 29, 2007 7:30:19 AM UTC
Hi Scott,
The 3 things I found most interesting: Your topics "Working Remote", "Working from Home" and "Work/Life Balance".

Once, oh just about 10 years ago, I teleworked for a small software development company. We were a tad ahaead of the curve (broadband - Nope - the best we had was ISDN at $0.60/minute/channel - but anyway)

At the time, we only had one car, which my wife needed to get to her job, so I was stuck in the house from 7:30 till around 6:00pm when she got home. On top of that, my daughter was 8 months old, and the "Daddy is at work" thing was very hard to get across to the Nanny. The Nanny showed up at 8:00, and left at 5:30, but basiclly, she (and my daughter) had free run of the house, except for my small den. By the time a year was up, I was totally stir crazy (and phone bills were killing my boss). Also, being I was home, my boss expected that I could start my 8 hour day at a floating time that depended on HIS schedule. There needed to be an design meeting, and I had nothing to do till the meeting was done? He could not make the meeting till 10:30? My day started at 10:30...

Anyway, it was an interesting experience, but I've told my current employer - it's nice that you are looking into telecommuting - but I will NOT do it more than 3 days/week
Saturday, September 29, 2007 8:48:49 AM UTC
So how's the scott@microsoft.com project coming? ;)

Shout out if you're coming north again in October. Another nerd dinner might help prep you for the next few weeks working alone. I can imagine the seclusion is pretty rough for someone as out-going and community-oriented as you. But hang in there, it might just grow on you. I've been doing it since '92 and now can't imagine working any other way. The family flexibility that being at home affords me makes it all worthwhile.

Looking forward to hearing more stories from the inside!
Saturday, September 29, 2007 1:40:04 PM UTC
My wife needed to move to MN in 1999 to finish her residency. At the time, I was working from our VA office. The company that I worked for graciously allowed me to work virtual from MN; once I moved.

I worked from the basement--or "dungeon" as I would call it at the time. I did this for 4 years and essentially worked 10 or so hours a day. It was very difficult to separate work life from home life. It was very easy for work to call me any time and request that I do something... after all, it wasn't like I had to drive into work to complete it.

Anyway, what made it nice was that I actually had a routine. I would take my daughter to daycare every morning and then come back home to work. Almost like clockwork, my dog would come and nudge me at 12PM each day for her afternoon walk. I would then force myself to take about a 1.5 mile walk each day. This allowed me to get out of the dungeon, get some fress air and excercise, and basically just leave work behind. I would typically take my iPod just so I could try try and stay up-to-date on DotNetRocks, etc. Very fun. I would eat from home at least 4 our of the 5 days. At 5:15 PM, I would go back to daycare and pick up my daughter and watch/feed her until the wife came home. I would then usually go back to work for an hour or two.

Since June 2006, my wife has finished her residency and we moved back to VA. I must say, that even though I worked very hard to "proof my worth" from the dungeon; I'm working equally hard now and in many respects, more.

I have to drive to/from office.

I have to work long hours.

I'm interrupted a lot more.

There is a lot more wasted time with the idle chatter and canteen talk.

I am considered the team leader in most cases and have to touch base with my fellow employees and ensure they get their tasks done ASAP so I can assign something else to them.

Needless to say... since moving back to the office, my life has been different. I still have to take my daughter to daycare/school. , I virtually go out for lunch daily. I try and mostly go to Subways, but there isn't too many healthy fastfood places to eat. It is very hard to make my lunch ahead of time, but I do sometimes.

I seldom, if ever, take an hour lunch. I typically bring it back and eat while I work.

I never take walks. My poor dog is home locked in the garage for 9 hours until I get home. :-(

I'm sure my lifestyle now isn't as heathly or as care-free as it was in MN. But I'm trying to adjust and make changes in my daily habits. I'm working on taking my iPod to work with me to just go out and get away during lunch... We'll see.

David
Saturday, September 29, 2007 2:03:52 PM UTC
It's good to hear your thoughts on tele-commuting. I work at home full time for Telligent so I know how you feel. Trying to maintain that work/life balance is really tough.
Saturday, September 29, 2007 3:31:33 PM UTC
Cool, first ScottGu, now ScottHa, maybe PhillHa :) I can't wait to see the Gu-Ha-Ha trio together :)
Sergio Pereira
Saturday, September 29, 2007 4:04:06 PM UTC
Interesting blog, especially since we've got a "corporate decision" about that we're going to experiment with these types of employment scenarios...
Let us know how it is going later when you're "really warm" in there :)
Saturday, September 29, 2007 4:27:42 PM UTC
I have been working from home for some six years now. With a 2.5-year-old toddler and a 24-day-old baby I can relate to your thoughts on "Working from Home." One of the biggest advantages to working from home is the amazing opportunity to be with your kids as they grow up. having experienced this, I could never give it up. But of course there's also the need to focus, be productive and earn a living.

The solution for me was simple -- keep my home office door open most of the time and teach my kid that it's OK to come into the office and hang out when the door is open, but when the door is closed, it means I cannot be disturbed. I have found that most of the time when my daughter wanders into my office, she does not really need my full attention -- she just wants to be close and have the type of short, curiosity-driven conversations that toddlers have ("What does this button do?" "Is that a circle?" "Why is the screen completely blue?") . This is easy to do while coding or emailing or IM'ng and it helps her learn new things so I am all for it. I also set her up with an old iMac next to my desk and paid for a subscription to http://www.uptoten.com -- keeps her entertained with minimal attention while she acquires new skills.

It will take a little getting used to, but once you find your balance, it will get much easier to work from home. When I feel the need to be around people, I just go down to one of the Starbucks that seem to be on every street corner here in downtown DC and catch-up on blogs for a few hours.

Good luck finding your working from home groove.



Saturday, September 29, 2007 4:30:47 PM UTC
Very insightful post!

I like this part:

"you're basically emptying the ocean with a teaspoon"
Saturday, September 29, 2007 5:54:02 PM UTC
Scott,

Thanks a bunch for this post. I am currently looking into telecommuting a couple days a week to see if it would be possible to continue to work in Seattle and move further up North and only commute in every other day. About 3 years ago I was living in Wa and working in the SF Bay Area. I would work from home for a week and then work down in CA for a week. It was all right for a while but the travel got old and being away from my wife for 5 days at a time was really rough. Anyway, it sounds like telecommuting a couple days a week may allow me the best of both worlds. We'll see.

Andy
Andy Schneider
Saturday, September 29, 2007 6:02:36 PM UTC
Work/Life balance is always the hardest part. It is so easy to keep working because there is so much to do. I am still looking for a way to turn off the switch without feeling guilty. But then I also feel guilty when I don't turn off the switch. The worst part for me is the loss of human interaction during the day. The wife pretty much stays out of my office, so except for radio and my regular conference calls for management meetings, it can get pretty lonely. Unlike Phil, IM, Email and blogs do not provide the level of interaction I would like. Other than that, though, I do love the freedom to decide to bug out for an afternoon with the wife at the movies or to just have a long lunch in town. Not having a clock to punch at the office is well worth the other pains of remote work.
Saturday, September 29, 2007 6:52:42 PM UTC
Just promise that, when answering a question, you won't start every answer with "So...". I've seen countless 'Softie interviews, and they all do that. It's one of those things that drives you (me) crazy once you notice it.
Saturday, September 29, 2007 9:38:14 PM UTC
Interesting... I also noticed the "So.." thing with Microsoft people in podcasts but I never made the connection. Is this for real? How funny.
Abdu
Saturday, September 29, 2007 10:18:20 PM UTC
With the work/life balance thing, i'm glad I didn't end up working for Microsoft. Its hard to have boundaries where there is a culture that sees normal very different than yourself.

Though of course I love interacting and working with the MS crowd.

As for working from home. Having done it for over 8 years, when at times i'd only go into the office once or twice i year. I still love it. But I like the idea of going in once a week, it helps keep momentum , especially when you have others you are giving oversight too.

But just don't overwork yourself. And I'd advise 8am to 8pm is too much.. its ok when you do do PURPOSEFUL breaks.. My goal , especially when living in the pacific northwest, it to have 2 or 3 hours in the daytime together with my family in winter, DEFINATELY if it is blue sky.

Make it a habit, block it out on your calendar, even if you don't use it every day, or half of hte days, at least its time you could then use on projects that require concentration.



Saturday, September 29, 2007 11:34:26 PM UTC
You are living my dream Scott, maybe one day I will get to that step, and best be sured I will accept it with full heart!
Eric Malamisura
Sunday, September 30, 2007 3:15:17 AM UTC
Scott,

Even before I reading the comments above I knew you hit a core issue with the work-at-home crowd (myself included) with your last couple points. Setting boundaries was the hardest for myself in the first year. Setting boundaries for others became the problem in the following years. Here's some sage advice I've been processing with Jake, my 4 year old (which has been working awesome for quite a while):

Premise:
Kids don't particularly know when I'm working/not working in the "cave" - neither does the wife, but she has stronger communication skills and just gets mad instead (jk).

Solution - Visual Cue:
You can help them by buying yourself a LED bike tail lamp (Bright is good), small and easy to turn on/off. If you're open to having him/her come talk/bother you, it's off. If you are busy or on the phone, turn it on solid when you need him to leave you alone. Turn it flashing (most LED's do this) if you really need to be left alone. Pairing this up with a "raising their hand" first to ask a question works wonders. If you're wondering, it doesn't work with the 6 month old - he eats the light and gets cranky at the Microsphere seat and craps on me when I hold him.

Overall, this one small thing has definitely helped the understanding of my "state" of being.

As for the balance issue - I finally learned that it's just a choice. One I make daily, you'll know how well you did at the end of the day. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Good on ya for breaking out on the homefront - welcome to the club, we've got jackets.
Mark
Mark Deason
Monday, October 01, 2007 5:50:45 AM UTC
Scott,

Very interesting post. I've worked from home for the past 6 years. I agree that it can be very lonely. You long for the social interaction that comes with a workplace environment, even with all of the online interactions.

Interestingly, when my little one arrived, I was forced to get office-space (since he needed a bedroom). I dreaded it at first, but it's been healthy for me to move my home office to an actual office. Granted it's a ten-minute walk, but the simple act of going someplace different for work is a good thing.

It sounds like you are doing the right thing, but if I can offer some advice, try very hard to make your home office-space single-purpose. Work only. It may sound weird (and it is) to ask your wife to knock or call before coming in, but it will make things work. At least it did for me. Best of luck.
Monday, October 01, 2007 6:05:23 PM UTC
I worked from home 2-3 days per week for about 9 months. After which I decided to find a job closer to home and work in the office full-time.
There were two major problems I discovered, and I'm curious how other people here (especially those telecommuting 5 days/week) deal with:

A) Perception.

Our co-workers are human. That was a lesson I learned the hard way at my first job out of college. I was sure that people would understand that just because I don't come into the office at the crack of dawn like them, doesn't mean I don't work just as hard and accomplish as much (or more.) After my 2nd or 3rd scolding for "coming in late" (at 9am) I finally realized that the issue wasn't about performance, it was about perception. This problem resurfaced again (at least in my mind) when I started telecommuting. I was constantly aware that if I wasn't producing a ton of code and making exceptional efforts for myself and my work to be visible, people might perceive that I was milking the company. For most people, reality isn't as important as perception. Spending a week digging through source and documentation to plan out a new architecture is fine when they can see you sitting at your desk, but when you're at home - it's a tougher nut to swallow.

B) Synergy.

An old buzz-word, but nevertheless it has value. When two people work closely together, they can generally accomplish far more than they could working independently. The challenge lies in finding ways to "work closely together" while physically being hundreds of miles apart. I found that the days I was in-office produced a lot more knowledge transfer than the days I worked remote. For instance, the value of eaves-dropping on a design discussion or debugging session two cubes away was something I completely underestimated until I was no longer able to participate.

That said, I did thoroughly enjoy (and now miss) the benefits of telecommuting. Particularly the elimination of a daily commute, the flexibility to schedule deliveries, installations, and repairs (we bought an old house during the time I was telecommuting), and the opportunity to spend more time with family.
Monday, October 01, 2007 11:35:03 PM UTC
One item I'm surprised you didn't mention is the access to great new software. When I was at MS in the 90s, we were always on the latest alpha - using the code the rest of the world would use 2 years from now.

On MSDN you get a tiny taste of this - but at MS you get full access to download just about anything. It was awesome.

I found after leaving MS it took about 2 years for the new-stuff overhang to wear off, as I got back in pace with what the general public has access to. After that time it finally then seemed in my world like MS was producing novel new stuff again. :)

Peter H
Tuesday, October 02, 2007 9:33:39 PM UTC
Scott,

I'm very curious about the 20 minute PC image while at MS corporate.

We are seeing times in the 45 minute range for Vista image to login timings.

Do you remember if the machine spent a long time finding drivers or if it blew right past it?

Wayne
Wayne A
Tuesday, October 02, 2007 9:37:01 PM UTC
Welcome to the social (I know, I feel dumb even writing it!).
When worked in the UK I was remote for about 18 months...worst things about working remotely is RAS access even though we have alternatives now with the 'public site' stuff there's still times when RAS is the only option...an it can be painful!
On thing which can help is video conferencing (I know, I read your previous post on this but try..). Lots of meeting rooms on campus have the fancy new video conferencing thing set up; if you can try to get the meeting organizer to use it, you get much more from the meeting when you can see what's going on.
The major thing which caused me problems (as come previous commenters have already mentioned) is retaining work-life balance...this is where you can make working at home really work for you...*do* block off time in your calendar for no-meeting time (whatever job you have, everyone needs time to read, study etc...).
If you can make it work you have a great time ahead, no-one can really *make* you work insane hours here, you have choice in that and you can and should be as strict aobut working hours as you would be if you had to clock in...start at a fairly fixed time and end at a fairly fixed time, makes life a whole lot more predictable. Oh, and hotels...sounds like your admin is good but always get the best hotel you can...there's no bonus points for saving $40 a night!
Tuesday, October 02, 2007 9:41:57 PM UTC
@Wayne - I don't remember ANY driver time. I think they have images with drivers prebuilt.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007 10:52:13 PM UTC
Yup, all the standard machine types have drivers streamlined into the install image. It's really fun if you get a non-standard machine though!
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.