As mentioned earlier, I was approached by both Microsoft and Mozilla with the possibility of a job with one of them. I’d like to give an update on the situation.
First of all, I really appreciate how Microsoft (specifically, Markus Mielke) hung out with me, sat in my IRC channel and chatted with me, and generally made me feel welcome throughout the last few weeks. Their sales pitch was also about the best pitch they could have made: if I really want Internet Explorer to improve, why not roll up my sleeves and play an active role in its development myself? I felt then and still feel today that I’d love to do what I can to help move Internet Explorer in the right direction.
However, as the discussion progressed, a few things started worrying me.
In order to work for Microsoft, I’d have to agree to not post or maintain any content particularly critical of Microsoft’s products. I already figured that the Internet Explorer is Dangerous page would have to be dumped or given an overhaul (and I actually do plan to eventually do a major rewrite of the page with better focus on what the core problems are rather than just “it’s fundamentally flawed”). But I’m no legal expert, and the loose wording they used put up a red flag in my mind, especially considering Microsoft’s extensive history of dishonesty and shady “gotcha” fine print in their agreements. There isn’t much I value more than freedom of speech, and if I receive a slightest hint that I may be unable to publicly express my true concerns on an issue, I have to take a step back and reevaluate the situation. I can’t risk Web Devout being sacrificed for a position that, in terms of how much influence I’ll actually end up having, is a bit of a gamble from where I stand.
Where I currently work, the only restrictions on my freedom of speech are for things like account passwords. The hours are flexible and the work is flexible. If I feel like making a blog for our organization, I make it, show it to my boss, and he says, “Cool, you should send links to everyone.” I love my job because I feel free. I only make $25,000 a year right now, but I’m fine with that. For now, all I need are a computer, Internet connection, food, bill repellent, and some money in reserve for emergencies. That’s enough.
I was never considering the Microsoft job for the money and benefits. Those are nice and all, but it wasn’t really a factor in my decision. From the beginning, my decision was going to be based on how much freedom I was willing to give up and how much that sacrifice would help me accomplish my goals. I want the Web to be a better place. I want web developers to have the right tools to make the most out of it. I definitely want Internet Explorer to be a better browser, but that’s just one piece in the big puzzle, and if working on that one piece would prevent me from working with the many other pieces I want to work with, then that’s a problem. How much of a difference would I really be able to make on the IE team? How much of a difference would I be able to make elsewhere if I had more freedom? I’ve been juggling these questions in my mind for the last few weeks.
I noticed something else. Somehow, I was under the impression that Microsoft had been improving over the last few years in regard to their role in the industry. Maybe it was just because they stopped being quite as aggressive for a few years and sort of sat on their laurels, I don’t know, but somehow I thought Microsoft was learning and improving, more openly embracing freedom of choice and standards, or at least not trying to fight it as much anymore. But the last few weeks have shot that idea dead in the water. Microsoft began sending out mass e-mails telling people to vote against the California state bill promoting ODF, instead telling them to push for Microsoft’s OOXML, using shameless flat-out lies like OOXML being better supported than ODF and being more application-agnostic (which anyone remotely familiar with the formats knows is B.S.). Microsoft began making up baseless nonsense about open source patent infringements for which they refused to provide any evidence. I’m hearing one story after another lately, and it’s really irritating. Microsoft gave me another reason to be concerned about taking a job with them: overall, Microsoft has continued to fight against the best interests of the computer industry, and they seem to be sparring against every application and technology that I personally like.
Then I thought about my future after Microsoft. I don’t want to work with Microsoft forever. I know that I’d have trouble adjusting to their culture, I don’t have any particular enthusiasm for their products (for the Web, sure, but not Microsoft’s products), and it’s generally not a company that I could feel proud or excited to work for. But once I decide to leave, then what? There aren’t many interesting companies in the area, and I wouldn’t have as good of a chance making positive connections with interesting companies as I might working for Mozilla. Big companies, maybe, but not as much interesting ones. Then, I have to consider any legal agreements Microsoft would require me to sign which would restrict what I can do after I leave the company. I recall a guy who left Microsoft for Google to manage the China operations, who was then forced to change jobs because of a previous contract he made with Microsoft. Like I said, I don’t have much of a mind for legal fine print, and I’m a bit paranoid about possibly putting myself into one of these types of situations. It’d be different if this were with a company that I really wanted to work for long-term, but Microsoft isn’t that company.
The bottom line is that I enjoy what I’m currently doing, I feel like I’m being productive toward a goal, and I have several doubts about what would become of my ability to achieve my goals if I were to work for Microsoft. I would love to chat with the IE developers and discuss what future directions would be in the Web’s best interest, but I’d much rather do that without the major legal bindings to Microsoft itself. I have no personal beefs with anyone at Microsoft; it’s just the overall company policies and history which worry me. In the end, I just wasn’t comfortable enough with the idea of working for them, so I declined.
Shifting back to Mozilla, I honestly don’t know what the status is, but I have a feeling it’s currently in limbo. I had a phone chat with someone who was considering me to do documentation work, but we agreed that some sort of development position would be better suited to my skills. He said someone from that end of the company was supposed to get in touch with me a week later, but I haven’t heard from them since. I really hope the message didn’t get lost in the spam filter; I just discovered that every single blog comment moderation notification was getting marked as spam without my knowledge, so I just approved a bazillion comments earlier today.
For now, I’m having fun at my current job, and I have some nice tools in the works for Web Devout. I’m also planning to, in the near future, get a lot of my source code cleaned up and open sourced under GPL licenses. I’ve already released the generic syntax highlighter script used on the webpage test system, and other tools like the log-scanning visitor statistics system, site crawler and search engine, and eventually the PHP-based SGML/XML parser will come later.