I started a job at Microsoft last month. That’s right, I’m no longer an online dating coach! Now I’m a full-time Program Manager, working with early access customers to improve our products. I’m SO excited. (You might be surprised that I’m leaving behind the company I’ve built over the course of a decade, but the fact is, I’ve been burnt out on self employment for a few months now and have been actively seeking a role just like this one. I feel very fortunate to have made this move… and I’m keeping the podcast!)
Despite my elation, a change in routine is always challenging. There are so many things I have to readjust to, especially after three years of home-office-based self employment for my own one-woman company. Here are some of the odd adjustments I’m still getting used to:
Oh my god, it’s weird having to dress up for work again. Sure, I had to look good for my clients, but I was also mostly interacting with them via video chat. So, you know, nice shirt, nice lipstick, mascara, visible earrings, decent lighting on my face, cool backdrop = that’s all I needed to make a good impression. Now I have to worry about so much more!
HAIR. I have a lot of hair. (I started growing out a shorter cut when my husband proposed to me in early 2009 so I’d have “wedding hair;” I’ve basically been waiting for an excuse to stop growing it out ever since then.) I’m actually really liking my long locks these days, but they can be hard to wrangle in a manner that is both attractive and professional.
If I wear my hair down, which everyone agrees is the most flattering on me, it can get sorta vavoom/Jessica Rabbit real quick. Not a great “take me seriously as a new coworker” vibe. And yet, frumpier sleek coiffs make me less attractive, which generally harms my likability and therefore effectiveness because everyone everywhere is implicitly sexist. Yes, even other women, usually subconsciously; this is a Society Thing and not a Workplace Thing but I’m far more aware of it in a workplace where I inherently pay more attention to how professional microsociety views me.
And, like, when do I shower? At night, and risk Crazy AM Hair because you never know what you’ll get when you sleep on it wet? In the morning, and work out some sort of car vent system that simultaneously dries my waves while preventing condensation on the windshield during damp winter weather?
Don’t pretend this isn’t a real workflow I need to develop. For now, I have an entire drugstore stashed in the filing cabinet in my office. We’ll see what sticks.
SHOES. Business-appropriate footwear that’s comfortable, fashionable, and professional can be tricky. Sure, on regular weeks I can get away with a much more casual vibe, but I started my tenure here by jumping right into a massive customer-facing event. (Followed by a global all-hands among my distributed team, in case you were wondering.)
I gotta BRING IT with the footwear, espeically with an international audience (trust me, we Americans are slobs with our footwear and other countries judge us, I think often appropriately, based on this; wear better shoes; you probably need them). I also gotta be able to walk somewhat long distances with no warning because that’s what event planning occasionally requires. And yet I gotta keep it office appropriate.
I’ve been doing OK-ish on new footwear acquisitions, but I’ve probably bought four different pairs f because I truly didn’t have anything suitable and comfortable. (I have angry feet; don’t ask. Doesn’t help that I’m a size 11, a wide calf, AND a tall calf so sleek boots dip in for the knee joint about four inches below my knee, you know, right in the middle of my calf muscle bulge. It’s real attractive, trust.)
These have been wonderful for fancy days; a few other recent acqusitions help on chiller days. I’m astounded by how much I spent on shoes in the space of a month; totally worth it but like these are the actions of a woman with a suddenly regular paycheck, haha.
CLOTHES. I think I dress well in public most of the time, but the challenge is that now I have to actually remember what I’ve worn recently and mix it up enough to look like I actually change my clothes. I have TONS of stuff, but I tend to get fixated on two or three pieces that I feel really good in, and then re-wear those VERY frequently. Running my own home-based business allowed me to do this with few people noticing, except for my husband, who doesn’t count in this context, obvs. I might need to start documenting my outfits in some sort of insanely pragmatic yet ridiculous selfie journal for this express purpose instead of whatever look-how-wrinkly-I-got usual purpose people do that for.
Oh, and that customer-facing event with the business casual dress code? CHALLENGING clothing-wise (although I think we all did great, tbh). I tweeted about it and there were some helpful (though occasionally inconsistent) replies, in case you want to peek. It’s just psychologically much more fun to dress up because you want to than because you have to, haha.
COMMUTE GEAR. Is there any more hideous and forlorn retail category than the commuter bag? They’re so depressingly pragmatically ugly. And the ones that look halfway decent hurt your tech and your back. Unacceptable. The very few exceptions to these rules cost like my entire hiring bonus (btw first one of those ever, what’s up future new bag). And much like my feet, my back/shoulders/neck are wrecked from the nefarious and confusing spread of chronic tennis elbow.
Please, send me links to acceptable commuter backpack (not messenger for me) models for me to hand-wringingly reject privately but appreciate publicly because we all know I’m going to have to make some kind of lame compromise. I HATE spending money on something that doesn’t feel exciting or well designed, haha. (I can’t believe I once owned an LG Chocolate phone, but that slider mechanism was incredible. Where is the LG Chocolate of commuter backpacks, I need that.)
BATHROOMS. Let’s talk about corporate restrooms. Specifically, auto-flushing toilets. Note to toilets: I will tell you when I’m done. You don’t need to interpret every shift as I pull my shirt back over my waistband or fish in my purse for a tampon as an auxiliary flush cue. You can just flush the one time, when I’m truly done, not before and not after and not when the door bangs slightly ajar either. Our state is still technically in a drought, you know! I know it’s confusing because of all the rain, but it has something to do with snow melt and global warming and I’m seriously not making this up. Quit wasting all that water.
(Athough, to be fair, another Big Tech former employer’s way-too-low-flushing toilets were definitely worse, and they also seemed like they over-taxed the local sewer system so the air around the urban campus smelled like sewage all the time. Point to Microsoft, even with caveats.)
Also, real quick: paper towel machines with automatic sensors. I am a Paper Towel Ghost. I can get soap and water just fine most of the time, but I stand there waving like an idiot dripping on the floor begging you for a towel. Have mercy on the new hire and let her dry her hands! (The kitchen towel dispenser mysteriously works fine every time; different model.)
KITCHENS. Sepecifically, CORPORATE KITCHEN SINKS WITH SPONGES. UGH. Sponges in corporate kitchens are always disgusting and stinky. I made the mistake of washing out my mug with one on my first day and my hand smelled like spongefoul all day long.
Here’s my handy if slightly wasteful trick, if you don’t want to literally bring in your own sponge like I plan to do:
-Get a paper towel
-Squeeze some dish soap into it
-Pour some sugar on [me] [er, on the soap]
Now you have the abrasion power of a scrubby sponge with none of the icky smell. And I checked with facilities; this is compostable when you’re done scrubbing. You’re welcome!
OFFICE EQUIPMENT. Despite having great coverage for equipment, I find all office furniture and gear wanting. The furniture pieces are ugly, the color palettes are boring neutrals that somehow always still manage to clash and depress, and the standard-issue equipment is never quite good enough. In addition to the stuff I’ll be getting via the ergonomics department, I have like four keyboards I brought in from home, and monitors sitting on reams of copy paper. Sigh. At least they’re free.
Actual tech company stuff
Okay, now that I’ve griped about the sometimes silly challenges, let’s talk about some WONDERFUL changes this brings to my life.
SALARY. Listen, sometimes it’s nice to have a paycheck that comes from someone else. It’s been a while. That’s all I have to say on this matter. :)
BENEFITS. It’s been ages since I had benefits that covered me, or were at all luxurious. Not having to worry about in/out of network is golden. Knowing that even with a high dedicutible my out-of-pocket max won’t be insane is also wonderful. I’ve had some scary and expensive ER visits and surgeries in the past couple years that we only just finished paying off, because emergency stuff is expensive and our benefits sucked. It’s insane how broken this system is in our country, but I’m super-duper-grateful to have cushy corporate coverage again.
PERKS. I get to ride a privilege bus! With Wi-Fi! It’s confusing and sometimes hard to book seats on, but it exists and I’ve never not gotten a ride when I wanted one yet. I’ve never worked anywhere that operated its own bus service from my home neighborhood to my work neighborhood before. Ridiculous. I haven’t yet gotten into the swing of doing actual work on the bus; we’ll see how that goes. Today I made a Twitter list. (Baby steps.) Oh, and I get a free gym membership to a gym so great that there is an individual spray bottle and towel roll at each and every machine in all rooms. Think about that. That is a fancy-ass gym. For FREE.
AN OFFICE. I’ve never had an office at an actual job; it’s great even though you have to be proactive about seeking out coworker interaction with anyone not immediately across the hallway. I swear there’s a whole Door Status Etiquette thing I could get into here, and its various translations and misinterpretations, but the point is, the ability to close a door when you need to focus or talk without disturbing others is amazing. And I bought a rug, and a lamp Grant hates and wouldn’t want around our house. And hey, my whole team happens to work from home every Friday, so I still get to enjoy my home office.
Pro tip for people in windowless offices like mine:
-Buy multiple plants and lamps
-Buy multiple grow bulbs; I like this one because it’s also full spectrum for SAD help (can’t hurt, right?)
-Buy multiple outlet timers; this two-pack works for me
-Set up lamps to point at plants, depending on plant light exposure needs (read the damn tag silly)
-Set up timers to light up about when you want to get in and shut off about when you want to leave
-The click off is jarring enough, I find, to serve as a signal to go home!
I’ll post more about office design as it evolves. But to tease the next section, I was able to put in a request to have my bright orange wall painted soothing gray. Heck yeah. :)
INFRASTRUCTURE AND RESOURCES. Today I got a free flu shot at the Microsoft Living Well Center, which has doctors and a little drugstore and pharmacy and an ergonomic assessment center with incredibly in-depth equipment options. That’s not even half of it! There are cafeterias in walking distance from any building. There are free parking spots if you just keep looking for them. There is a phone number for helpdesk, a website for facilities requests, an intranet to answer your every question that’s much easier to grasp than most intranets I’ve seen. I love a place with resources and infrastructure like this so you can self help and solve problems and be more effective.
There’s insanely helpful personality testing to improve collaboration across teams with diverse people. There are training modules on like everything. Eventually I can even formally seek a mentor. FORMALLY. I’ve only ever gotten on-the-fly soak-it-up-when-you-can mentorship in my life. To have a program that facilitates and formalizes this process just blows my mind. I haven’t been there long enough to take advantage of this, but I look forward to learning from Microsoft badasses with insights to share someday.
There is also a fridge in each kitchen full of free beverages that are mostly a bad idea for me but still nice to have, and nice filtered water and ice machines and vending machines that take Apple Pay, and if I remember to keep Wi-Fi turned on I can stretch the range on my Apple Watch to make vending purchases with my phone sitting on my office desk many meters away. Cool. It sells apple chips (not Apple Chips though). I love apple chips. I think they’re even organic.
Oh, and during events there’s lovely catered food for free, and in the cafeterias there’s lovely infused water for free. I like cucumber best. And there are Coke Freestyle machines. And really fresh healthy meal options including a totally well-stocked salad bar, which has a price cap so if you get all heavy items like I do you can never be charged more than a certain reasonable ceiling. #smokedsalmon
VOLUNTEERING. Microsoft has great volunteering campaigns with encouragement and matching. I’ve never worked anywhere that made my dollars count this much more when it comes to causes I care about. My first question in my first sync with my boss was how/if I could work App Camp for Girls volunteering into my schedule successfully; I’m confident that I won’t feel like having a day job cramps my volunteering much at all even if I now have to take official vacation time to pull it off. In fact, I think the structured giving and the increased connection opportunities with more women in tech will only help in the bigger picture.
All in all, I might seem quieter on Twitter than usual, but don’t fret—it’s because I’m soaking up all the joy this new gig has to offer. And now I only blog/tweet/podcast evenings and weekends. :)