How to get Raymond to stop being interested in talking with you

I was at a party in New York City earlier this year, and a conversation went like this:

Person: What do you do?
Me: I'm a computer programmer at Microsoft.
Person: <viciously> I hate you.

If Miss Manners didn't say so explicitly, I suspect she would nevertheless agree that snarling "I hate you" to somebody on first introduction is not exactly getting off on the right foot.

[Raymond is currently away; this message was pre-recorded.]

Comments (46)
  1. SteveM says:

    At least that’s an interesting response. When telling people I’m a computer programmer, the usual response begins "I’ve been having a problem…."

    Might as well be a bloody doctor ;-)

  2. Jon says:

    "What do you do?" is a lame question. You didn’t want to talk to that guy anyway.

  3. Ytram says:

    So do you think it was that you were a programmer, or that you worked at Microsoft, or both?

    Was this person wearing a shirt with a penguin on it?

  4. Andrew Nonymous says:

    The best way to deal with these people is to troll them ruthlessly.


    Say that you don’t like Micosoft either, but the work is very interesting, even though you don’t really know why they want to do it. Then describe how you’re writing software to protect PC’s from malware – once the OS is installed by the OEM it will be protected against modification. This will protect users from spyware and rootkits. If they ask what about GPL software, just say something dismissive like "well the company that makes the software could just sign an NDA, buy a patent license and then pay a fee to sign their kernel"

  5. John Topley says:

    I’m surprised that Joel Spolsky was so rude to you! ;-)

  6. Willi says:

    Well, I have a better one. Just happened to me in a party last saturday.

    Girl: Where are you from, actually?

    Me: I am dutch.

    Girl: I hate you!

    Me (thinking): wtf?

  7. cooperpx says:

    Ouch, that’s harsh.

    I think her vicious response was an efficient method of disengaging herself. I highly doubt she had any animosity for you.

    Tell us more about the surrounding and environment. Where were you, how were you dressed, who was around you? I bet you plenty of blog readers have some advice that worked in the past.

    I met my wife while she worked at Chapters (the Canadian Barnes and Nobles). She picked me up at the wicket counter.

    She hates being cornered by strangers. She turns into super bitch if you try to talk to her in an elevator, bus, while waiting at a traffic light, etc.

    If that’s how she is, how did I get my first date without a nasty experience?

    I snuck her my phone number by returning a book. I had to fill out a form (name, address, phone number, etc), and when doing so I was flirting with her (mostly physical language). I also told her that it wouldn’t be terrible if I received non-Chapter-business-related phone calls. I think it’s about fearing / disliking strangers.

  8. AndrewSeven says:

    "A computer programmer at Microsoft"…

    Surely if you had said some more important title the reaction would be a bit different…at least the tone :P

  9. AndrewSeven says:

    "I’m a computer programmer at Microsoft."

    I’m having difficulty believing that’s your actual title or job description.

    At very least there is a "Senior" missing in it.

  10. schwiet says:

    Well, you were in New York.

  11. Len says:

    That is a new response I have never got. Course I do not work for Microsoft. :)

    The standard response when I say ‘I am a computer programmer’ is ‘OH you must be rich how much do you make?!’

    Now if it is another programmer it usually ends up being ‘OH me too! Where do you work?’

    For friends or family it is ‘Oh my computer has been acting up could you take a look at it I think I broke it.’ It seems everyone is absolutly terrified of breaking thier computer.

  12. Jonathan says:

    Responses I got:

    1. Oh this must be an interesting job, right?

    2. So Bill Gates is your boss, ha ha, did you meet him, can you ask him for a million or two, he has so much he wouldn’t notice, ha ha.

    3. As you the guy who wrote Word? (No, that’s the guy in the next room, I did Excel)

    4. (from people with some clue) So what language do you program in? (Whatever I need to, why does it matter?)

    Around here, it’s considered rude to ask how much one makes.

  13. Manip says:

    You guys are very defencive about what I see as innocent questions… Why is it such a secret what language you work in? … I want to know too if Microsoft-ese are using .Net or VC++.

  14. Mike Jones says:

    Well, maybe the guys machine recently Blue Screened on how loosing him lots of work. In that case, he has good reason to hate MS programmers.

  15. Wilhelm Svenselius says:

    Mike Jones, sounds like a very stupid reason to me. Two obvious reasons why:

    a) It’s not sensible to hold any programmer working for Microsoft responsible for every bug in every Microsoft-branded application. Pick a random programmer at MS, and chances are he’s perfectly innocent as far as your latest BSOD is concerned.

    b) BSODs are usually caused by third-party software, usually buggy hardware drivers. Putting the blame on a programmer working for Microsoft is, therefore, misplacing it.

  16. Will Dean says:

    Wow, and that was *before* you told them you worked on the shell?

  17. david matusov says:

    manip: I have never seen Microsoft not answeing questions about what languages are using. And the answer is usually quite logical: whatever language was the most practical when developement began. Which means that old projects (or projects close to the hardware) are usually C or assembly, projects started in the 90ies are usually C++, and projects starting now are often .NET. Makes no sence abandoning old code that still works.

  18. Tony Cox [MS] says:

    Yeah, the other standard response I get when I say I work at Microsoft is: "Oh, do you know <random name>?". Since there are over 50,000 employees, it seems unlikely.

    Still, at least it’s not as crazy as some Americans with no sense of scale who discover that I’m originally from London and wonder if I know their friend who lives there…

  19. Julien Ellie says:

    Working for MS, I’ve had several vicious comments from people I just met, mostly when I go back to my native country. Someone told me he’d never work for MS, he’d rather work for anyone else. One person went as far as to ask how I could sleep at night working for MS. Mean people are dumb.

  20. Mathias Ricken says:

    Most of the time, I also get the "Oh, I have this problem with my computer…" response. That’s when I tell them that I most of the time I just work with a computer and that I’m happy when it works without a problem. And that’s not supposed to be a quip against you, Raymond ;)

    I recently was able to enjoy the following dialog:

    She: What do you study?

    Mathias: Computer Science.

    She: Do you have a geek complex?

    Mathias: Uh… no.

    She: Yes, you do. You’re getting defensive.

    I guess some people just have a much better idea of what we do and who we are than we ourselves.

  21. Erbo says:

    If I asked someone what they did and they said, "I’m a computer programmer at Microsoft," my response would probably be, "I’m sorry!" But I’d kind of be grinning while I said it, and I’d probably follow it with, "No, seriously," and then some other question about what they work on, or something. (And, if it happened to be Raymond I was talking to, and I found out, I’d likely start doing the Wayne’s World "We’re not worthy!" bit…)

  22. Craig Ringer says:

    That’s unfortunate, and hardly justified. They know nothing about you.

    I wonder why? Somebody who’d just had Win9x or Office eat all their work and didn’t know the meaning of the word "backup"? Some free software zealot (I hope not – those people give a bad name to the rest of the OSS community)?

    Above all else, that’s really antisocial. Most people would, even if they for some reason felt that way, at least know how to make an excuse and depart. I guess that argues in favour of the "zealot" possibility, as total lack of social skills frequently accompanies that persuasion.

  23. :: Wendy :: says:

    Stop winging and be thankful you dont have a psychology degree. I quickly learned tat saying I had a PhD in psyhcology either led to:

    1) detailed personal problem descriptions (pull yourself together mate!), or

    2) "what does this mean" (normally accompanied by scrathcing their nose of groin)

    So I started telling people I studied computer sceince, that quickly turned the conversation onto another topic.

    Just omit the microsoft reference and say you’re a programmer – people will probably change the topic really quickly and you wont get the ‘problem’ stories… …though they can acually be fascinating…

  24. Nick Lamb says:

    It’s certainly anti-social, and we don’t know the age of the other person in the conversation (after all, at age 12 "I hate you" seemed like a reasonable response to "No, you can’t have a pony", while at 30 it seems like an over-reaction to almost anything)

    As to the specific dislike of Microsoft and through that its employees, well I can’t say I’ve had good experiences from encountering Microsoft employees in person, at formal events, someone should tell them not to promise what they can’t deliver. If they’d had the guts to say "No, we aren’t going to fix that" or even "We’d like to, but our priorities lie elsewhere" then at least it would be honest. I’m going to hold a grudge about that for a few more decades yet.

    If it was a Free Software zealot, it’s worth reminding them that unlike many other companies Microsoft has always carried out its obligations under the GNU GPL in full, and more without any phone calls from FSF lawyers. While Bill is telling the press that the GPL is a blight or a virus, Microsoft’s FTP servers offer the complete source for the GNU toolchain, ported to Windows. Actions speak louder than words.

    Hey Raymond, at least you didn’t get a pie in the face, right?

  25. Jani Kuusisto says:

    You’re all weird. That was a funny reply. Like doing the unexpected mostly is.

  26. Why is it such a secret what language is used for any particular software project? Because of the risk of (1) wild generalization: "Well, I talked to some guy at a party and he said they use C so the entire company must be using C — what a backwards company, stuck in the dark ages.", and (2) ascribing political motive to language choice: "Well, I talked to some guy at a party and he said they use C, so obviously when they are going out selling .NET they’re just a bunch of hypocrites." (Nevermind that the guy’s job is writing device drivers for Windows CE.)

    It’s safer simply not to take the risk at all. You don’t want your name attached to some article in next week’s issue of PC World.

  27. Andreas Johansson says:

    I write software for a company specialised in shipments of alcohol. So usually I get a response like

    "Can you change the delivery address of a shipment to my house?"

    At least those who like a nice wine or just to get plain drunk on something else than beer. :)

  28. Moz says:

    I love this, and if I worked at MS I’d love it even more:

    She: What do you study?

    Mathias: Computer Science.

    She: Do you have a geek complex?

    Moz: Hell yeah, it’s the biggest geek complex in Seattle. Although most people call it a campus, I think complex is a much better word. Thanks.

  29. Kuwanger says:

    Somebody who’d just had Win9x or Office eat all their work and didn’t know the meaning of the word "backup"?

    I just wanted to throw in a comment about this, since this sort of struck a cord with me. A large part of the reason people have a problem with computers (Mac and Linux not excepted) is precisely because of software eating their work. As much as regular backups are an important idea that should be followed, backups won’t save you anything if you were working on a document just today. And backups only partially save you if you’ve been working on a document for days.

    The fact is that all modern OSs should have a built-in versioning system to mitigiate such problems, though mainly to mitigate human error. Not having such is even one of the laundry list of complaints in the Unix Haters Handbook. In any case, that’s just something that bothered me. The only time a backup to external media should be really needed is when there’s a hardware error. Software shouldn’t have such bugs in the first place that require some sort of magical foresight in order to workaround.

  30. rickbrew says:

    In college everyone knew I was a Cpt. S. major and would ask me if I could fix their printer, etc. I started out saying ‘yes’, then I switched to ‘no’, and then eventually the dialog would go like this:

    Them: "Hey Rick, can you help me fix my computer … I can’t print!"

    Me: "Sorry, I don’t know anything about computers, I’m studying agriculture."

    Them: "Dang you!"

    They realized it was a smartass, yet more polite, way of saying "no, I won’t fix it for you" :) What’s even better was at a party when I was talking to a friend and his girlfriend:

    Her: "… and my laptop is [having some random problem]. Do you know anything about that?"

    Me: "No, I’m an agriculture major."

    Her: "Really? ME TOO!"

    Carl: *dies laughing* (Carl knew what a huge computer guy I am)

    She was so excited to have finally found another person who studied the same thing …

  31. Adam T says:

    Wilhelm writes: "It’s not sensible to hold any programmer working for Microsoft responsible for every bug in every Microsoft-branded application. Pick a random programmer at MS, and chances are he’s perfectly innocent as far as your latest BSOD is concerned. "

    Now, that’s some attitude. If I work for a company, I should feel some responsibility for the company itself, no? Doesn’t matter that the company employs 50,000 people. If somebody has a problem with one of MY company’s products or services, I try to help. It doesn’t matter that it’s not my "division" or "group". At least I try to come up with a suggestion which point of contact to approach, whom to write to etc. After all, I am probably the only one from this company that person knows. So my attitude and the way I behave represents my company to that person. The "leave me alone, I just work here" attitude is the worst think you can do.

    At least that’s how I perceive the word "company" in the first place. If you think otherwise, perhaps it’s time to look for another job?


  32. That's life says:

    "At least that’s how I perceive the word "company" in the first place. If you think otherwise, perhaps it’s time to look for another job?"

    Not in the real world.

    Welcome to big companies; big companies have divisions, big companies seperate employees, so it really is not valid to blame any old problem on any one employee.

    You can blame "any one problem" on managers/board/ceo though :) So when you meet one of them feel free to bombard them with anything and everything. (Even pies).

  33. Terazilla says:

    I work at a game company, and there’s two excruciating responses that almost always come from a stranger finding that out:

    1) "Wow, you get to play games all day?"

    2) "I have this great idea for a game…"

  34. "Yeah, the other standard response I get when I say I work at Microsoft is: "Oh, do you know <random name>?"."

    I know what you mean, I get the same question when I say I’m from Gothenburg (second largest town in Sweden with ~500000 people).

  35. Will says:

    Next time a bird asks you what you do, Raymond, try "dolphin trainer". Chicks love it.

    (Got my brother his wife, because he couldn’t admit that he was a tax inspector before the first date..)

  36. You mean... says:

    I’m originally from London and wonder if I know their friend who lives there

    You mean you don’t know all of the 7 million people who live there? Jesus, geeks are so unsociable.

  37. Adam Gates says:

    Favorite responses to "I work at Microsoft." (Well when I used to work at MS)

    4. I hate you (really they hate the Execs… don’t worry we hate them too.)

    3. Can you fix this for me? (Yes I could… but your still a Mo-Moe so what good could you do with it anyway?)

    2. Wow! What do you do at Microsoft? (If you had the ability to understand what I do you wouldnt ask… lets just say I’m WAY smarter than you.)

    —>1. Are you related? (a. Why yes Mr. Gates was my father, b. Only Mom really knows, c. Related!?! I am Mr. Gates)

    Favorite Sub question -> I bet you get asked that ALL the time. (a. No, your the first one… aren’t you clever! here’s a cookie. b. Yes, I do get asked that all the time and your a moron.)

  38. ScottR says:

    :: Wendy ::,

    "2) "what does this mean" (normally accompanied by scrathcing their nose of groin)"

    has to be the best typo ever. :-)

  39. John Topley says:

    Adam Gates: You’re so smart and yet you don’t know the difference between "your" and "you’re"! Here’s a cookie. ;-)

  40. Psychic says:

    Adam Gates: I don’t understand. If I had the ability to understand what you do, I wouldn’t ask. Eh? So, if I had the ability to understand what you do, it would also give me the ability to know what you do without even asking? Wow, that’s some special stuff you’re working on.

  41. scottty says:

    Gates: I am your father.

    Luke: Nooooooooooo!

  42. JN says:

    "Computer programmer"?? I thought that term went out with the "grammophone" in the 1970s… ;-)

  43. BryanK says:

    Kuwanger — I think you need to look into ITS. ;-)

    (At least, that’s the environment that most of the UNIX-haters handbook came out of: the ITS vs. UNIX wars. ITS had versioning, if you added a > to the end of the filename — see the Jargon File’s revision history. I don’t know details, though, having never used it myself.)

  44. I get that all the time. Sometimes they later ask me if I can help them get a job or an internship at Microsoft. Since my job is as a Developer Evangelist when someone says they hate me or the company that just means I have to talk to them.

    The most memorable comment though was when someone who heard I had taken a job at Microsoft asked me if I got a receipt for my soul.

  45. Looking for the complicated way.

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