Through the architects and program managers, Gates was able to control the work of every programmer at Microsoft, but to do so reliably required cheap and obedient labor. Gates set a policy that consciously avoided hiring experienced programmers, specializing, instead, in recent computer science graduates.
Microsoft became a kind of cult. By hiring inexperienced workers and indoctrinating them into a religion that taught the concept that metaprogrammers were better than mere programmers and that Bill Gates, as the metametaprogrammer, was perfect, Microsoft created a system of hero worship that extended Gates’s will into every aspect of the lives of employees he had not even met. It worked for Kim Il Sung in North Korea, and it works in the suburbs east of Seattle too.
Most software companies hire the friends of current employees, but Microsoft hires kids right out of college and relocates them. The company’s appetite for new programming meat is nearly insatiable. One year Microsoft got in trouble with the government of India for hiring nearly every computer science graduate in the country and moving them all to Redmond.
So here are these thousands of neophyte programmers, away from home in their first working situation. All their friends are Microsoft programmers. Bill is a father/folk hero. All they talk about is what Bill said yesterday and what Bill did last week. And since they don’t have much to do except talk about Bill and work, there you find them at 2:00 a.m., writing code between hockey matches in the hallway.
Microsoft programmers work incredibly long hours, most of them unproductive. It’s like a Japanese company where overtime has a symbolic importance and workers stay late, puttering around the office doing little or nothing just because that’s what everyone else does. That’s what Chairman Bill does, or is supposed to do, because the troops rarely even see him I probably see more of Bill Gates than entry-level programmers do.
At Microsoft it’s a “disadvantage” to be married or “have any other priority but work,” according to a middle manager who was unlucky enough to have her secretly taped words later played in court as evidence in a case claiming that Microsoft discriminates against married employees. She described Microsoft as a company where employees were expected to be single or live a “singles lifestyle,” and said the company wanted employees that “ate, breathed, slept, and drank Microsoft,” and felt it was “the best thing in the world.”