Windows on the World [Susan Isham]

Wednesday and Thursday of this week I was at Microsoft. I sat in on some of their PAC meetings – Partner Advisory Council meetings. No, not as a guest. I was the recorder of all that went on. Every statement, bit of feedback and question was captured by my typing fingers.

My old co-worker from ancient IDC days got this contract to provide this service for Microsoft. She herself took notes, grueling 8-hour days, for 10 years when these bi-annual conferences came up. She friended me on Facebook last year and asked me if I’d like to take a conference. I couldn’t then, though the idea intrigued me. Could I do it? What would it be like?

It pays ridiculously well. In fact, this 2-day gig is equivalent to what I made working 4 months in my old job as part-time church secretary. Hard to pass that up, especially with Jonathon unemployed.

It was very posh. Hundreds of people, mostly men, from around the world. Amazing food and coffee everywhere. The conference rooms were sort of built into the walls and the rooms had what we used to call “boat” tables. Part of my job was to record everyone’s names and companies and make note of their comments. I coded them all and tried to make mental notes as well. In my meeting alone, there were 7 nationalities represented. At least.

It was very difficult. I had to be “on” all the time. I sat in the front, just under the screen, able to view most everyone and hear them. Not everyone knew who I was. One presenter asked another, “Who is that? What is she doing?” like I was some kind of spy from Apple. Some of the presenters, well, just about all, had another language as their mother tongue. The guy from Sweden was exceptionally hard to understand. He kept saying “surfaces” and I was typing “surfaces”. I thought, Cool! Another Microsoft term that means something different inhouse than outside. Then I realized he meant “services”. And acronyms! EAS sounded like EIS when the guy from Moscow said it. They put the government to shame with all the acronyms. Even some of the other PAC participants didn’t know what they were.

The most fascinating thing was that the partners were very transparent. When the presenter said they needed to be selling this software or that software, the reception was definitely blase. They didn’t like it. Didn’t see the purpose for it. The honesty was…surprising and made the atmosphere contentious at times. Microsoft listened and empathized but didn’t back down on their positions.

The atmosphere was not all that different from IDC, especially when HP or Intel came to visit and confab about possible projects. IDC itself was international, with engineers from as far away as Lebanon and Egypt, and all parts of Asia. And a part of me longed for that mix again. Shelton, and my life there, is very homogenous. I love the people I interact with, but we’re pretty much all whitey. We have a similar background and context. I am a team player ( not self-promoting here, just stating a fact). I like to collaborate, work with others. I love feeling like I’m part of something bigger than myself, and we’re all working together towards a common goal. I miss that. I saw some of the female presenters and I wondered, If I had stayed the course at IDC or even Aspen, would I be doing this? Would I be in business development or marketing? What if I’d been more career-focused?

Then I remember the sacrifices I saw my colleagues making. Staying late, working holidays and weekends, even Christmas, to meet deadlines.They were, and are, amazing in their dedication and focus. I wasn’t ready to do that. I’m still not. I enjoyed my time there at Microsoft and a little dabble of a more glamorous, cosmopolitan lifestyle. But I like my life. It suits me and I don’t need a career or salary to give me worth anymore, my long-time Achilles’ heel.  That was my take-away.



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