I worked at Atlas Solutions, a subsidiary of aQuantive, from October 2005 to July 2007.
Google bought our largest competitor, DoubleClick, for $3 Billion in April 2006. In the following five weeks, all the other major web advertising companies were bought up, culminating in Microsoft paying the stupendous sum of $6 billion for aQuantive. The Microsoft-aQuantive deal closes in mid-August.
To put it mildly, I was not excited at the thought of becoming a Microsoft employee yet again. Cumulatively, between 1992 and 2005, I spent 10 years at Microsoft as an employee or contractor, including a year and a half on Cairo, seven years on IIS, and a year on FlexGo.
Nevertheless, I had absolutely no desire to go back to being a Microserf. I don’t like Microsoft’s business practices, I’m sick of the evil empire vibe, I’m tired of the hostility to Open Source, I don’t want to work for asshats like Steve Ballmer, and I have old scars from my earlier tours of duty that trigger my fight-or-flight response. I’ve done my time in the Redmond saltmines and I just want to be a productive member of society now. Microsoft is like a gravitational black hole: it warps everything in its vicinity. Life is too short to work at a company whose values are fundamentally different to my own.
Your mileage may vary. I know many decent people at Microsoft who are doing good work. I applaud them, but I do not wish to rejoin them.
That’s not to say that I think everyone should flee Atlas. Having Microsoft on your resume is a definite plus, and it’s the right choice for many people. I think everyone should make their own cost-benefit analysis and decide if they want to work for Microsoft or not. I’ve written code that literally runs on hundreds of millions of machines: http.sys, available on all Windows XP SP2 machines, Windows Server 2003, and Vista. There are few other companies where you can have that kind of reach.
However, Microsoft and Atlas have very different corporate cultures. Microsoft is a hard-assed, hard-driving culture. Atlas has a far more reasonable pro-work-life-balance culture. I’ve seen several alpha-male types being rejected by the team-fit interviews at Atlas who would have fit in just fine at Microsoft.
Microsoft claim that they will make few changes to aQuantive and Atlas. Certainly, they would be incredibly foolish to kill the golden goose after spending such an enormous amount. I really hope they have the sense to leave well enough alone.
Anyway, I’m not going to find out first hand. I spent a few weeks looking around in June, and I found a new position at Cozi.com. My last day at Atlas was Friday, July 27th. I’ll miss my old team in Emerging Media. They were the best team that I ever worked on, and I’m proud of the Video-on-Demand and In-Stream web video products that we built.
My criteria for a new job were that it should be a small company, somewhere in downtown Seattle or Fremont, within an easy bus ride of my home in Beacon Hill, doing something reasonably interesting. From 1992 to 2005, all my jobs were on the Eastside, while I lived in Seattle proper. I never, ever want to commute across Lake Washington again. Atlas has 300 or 400 employees, aQuantive has 2600, and Microsoft has 78,000. I wanted a small company, where it’s really possible to make a difference.
On Monday, August 6th, I’ll be starting work at Cozi.com, building groupware products for families: shared calendars, lists, messages, photos, Outlook integration, and so on. Cozi is in the Smith Tower, three blocks from Atlas’s Pioneer Square location. Cozi is a two-year-old startup with 18 people when I signed on, and they flattered me by aggressively pursuing me. I have high hopes that it’s going to work out.
Cozi recently raised $4 million in a second round of angel financing. We consider our biggest competitor to be pencil and paper and we like to consider ourselves as a digital refrigerator magnet. The Wall Street Journal’s Mossberg Solution and Lifehacker have favorable reviews of the released product. PodVentureZone has a multipart interview (mostly transcribed) with Robbie Cape, Cozi’s CEO and co-founder.
Cozi’s vacation policy is 2+2. Everyone gets two weeks off when they choose, and the company closes for a week at Christmas and a week in August (this week). I’ve spent the last week doing a lot of cycling around the Seattle area. We’re going to Ireland and Italy at the end of August, and Emma couldn’t take any more time off.
Back to work next week. Wish me luck.