Back in the 1990’s Microsoft was the coolest, hottest tech company to work for. People used to love Bill Gates so much, they dressed like him, particularly his oversized glasses.
Flash forward through the next couple of decades and Microsoft became the company people loved to hate: There was Windows Vista, Internet Explorer 6,a decade of oversight by the Department of Justice to thanks to anti-competitive behaviour. There were hackers all over Windows, bashing of open source development methods. And there was Windows Phone and Windows 8.
At some point, working for Microsoft was no longer considered cool.
Working for Google became the ideal.
But now Google is starting to look like the new Microsoft, a company that a lot of people are starting to dislike, with its European anti-trust troubles, and its Google buses. And Microsoft is having a come-back, with a new CEO, a new warm-fuzzy attitude toward traditional competitors, and exciting tech like Microsoft HoloLens.
Some people are even saying on Quora that Microsoft is becoming a better place to work than Google.
One college grad who interned at both companies wrote:
The level of political inertia at Google is massive and growing, whereas at Microsoft people are being spurred to action. … In terms of overall direction, MS has a more realistic vision of the future, are iteratively and tenaciously driving towards it, and have a culture that’s beginning to blossom, whereas Google feels as if it’s hit a point in its life cycle where it will be primarily coasting and uninteresting for a while.
Microsoft is more interesting to me because of diversity of revenue. Google, despite making oodles of cash, makes it mostly only in one business: advertising. Whereas Microsoft makes money across a much wider variety of segments.
On the other hand, Google, with its amazing pay, perks and atmosphere, has for many years been named one of best places to work by all kinds of lists that keep track of that sort of thing. It still almost always ranks higher on these lists than Microsoft.
Google offers more freedom to move around, has consistently been more dynamic and forward-looking, while offering at least as broad a selection of things to work on and work styles. Of course, your mileage will vary depending on the group where you actually are, the people you work with, your own technical and communication skills, your creativity, and luck.
But perhaps the truest observation came from another engineer who worked for both companies and is still at Google. He notes that both of them are so huge an employee can feel like a cog at either:
Having worked at Microsoft for 6 years and Google for 10, in that order, I can tell you unequivocally that there is more variance within each company than there is between them. There are plenty of boring jobs at Google, and there are plenty of exciting jobs at Microsoft. And vice versa. … If you’re after a chance to really change the world, then those positions are an extreme rarity in both companies.
So what’s the upshot? Microsoft hasn’t fully yanked the cool crown back from Google yet, but it’s got one fist on it.