Why I Work In Windows Mobile

My manager asked me to write something to convince other Microsoft employees to come work in our division.  Originally this was going to be posted internally somewhere and linked from our job descriptions.  But I realized that some of this might be interesting to you folks too.  I’m going to explain why I get out of bed every day and come in to work.  Although it’s all true, some of you will feel that this is pure marketing drivel.  If reading that kind of thing here will annoy you, I suggest reading my other blog entries instead.

I’m in it for the toys

I’ve always been into mobile devices.  It’s just cool to constantly carry a device that I can write code for.  Before coming to this group, I bought at least one of every generation of Windows CE device, from the first Handheld PC to the last Palm-Sized PC.  Since moving to here in 2000, I’ve stopped needing to buy my devices.  Now they give them to me. 

Everyone in Windows Mobile has at least one device provided for us by the group.  Most of us also have a cell plan with unlimited data.  All of Microsoft believes in “eating its own dogfood” (using the products you’re working on).  For some people that means using a SQL server database.  I’m sure that’s exciting and all, but for those of us in Windows Mobile, it means playing with cool toys.  I dig the toys.

Working here also means playing with the new versions of the software.  As you folks wait in anticipation for WM6, I’ve been using it for months on end.  By the time you get it, I’ll already be using an early development build of the next version.  And, though not everyone in the division gets to see things as early as I do, I tend to see OEM devices long before the public does.  I got to play with a Treo 700 a year before anyone even knew we were working with Palm.  I got to see every iteration of the Q, from a bare circuit board to what you eventually got to buy.  I’m currently carrying a device that I can’t tell you about, but that would blow your mind.

We really are the next big thing

Although working on products with large numbers of users can be challenging and even frustrating (see all the feature prioritization stuff I’ve talked about), there’s something very cool about it too.  It’s practically a cliché, but many, if not most, of the people who work at Microsoft do so because they want to “change the world.”  It’s much easier to do that in a hugely successful group than in one with only a few users.  Case in point, many of my blog entries have been read by more than a hundred thousand of you.  Writing skill aside, that only happens because so many of you are interested in the products I talk about.  Even better, the code I write literally helps millions of people.  It’s hard not to get job satisfaction from that.

Everyone knows about Windows and Office.  They’re the big success stories in the company, and they bring in the bulk of the company’s money.  Lots of groups at Microsoft aspire to being “the next Windows.”  We have reason to believe that it’s us.  We’re a development platform, like Windows is, we’re playing in a similarly large market, we’ve got a significant number of units sold, and we’re growing like crazy. 

Different people will believe in differing reasons for Desktop Windows’ success, but I’ll make the claim that it’s founded on the large number of business and user apps that are written for it.  Windows Mobile currently has over 18,000 commercial applications and over 1725 user ones.  If I’m right that success on the desktop is based on app support, we’re heading in the right direction here too.

I’ve talked a lot about not understanding marketers.  It’s even harder to understand accountants (even though I’m married to one…).  For some reason, our accountants think that the “year” starts in July and ends in June.  Well, in the first half of this “year” (in the accounting sense), we sold over five million phone units.  Last “year” we sold 150% more units than the year before.  And in that year we sold 150% more units than the one before it.  Weird accounting speak aside, we’ve been growing at 150% for a couple of years now.  That’s easy to do if you’re small.  But we’re not small.  Exciting times.

Yet we’re the underdog

It’s easy to look at Office’s current success and forget that it was once the underdog in the productivity market.  In fact, just about every major success at Microsoft has come as a result of being a scrappy underdog in a market that was completely dominated by some competitor.  We like being the underdog.  It’s a position that we, as a company, do very well in.  And Windows Mobile is the underdog in the phone market.  Nokia dominates.  But we’re starting to nip at their heels.  If you’ve ever thought, “I wonder what it was like to be in Windows when they were just starting to catch on,” we’re one of the places where you can experience it.

One of the results of being the scrappy underdog is that we ship a lot of products.  There are groups at Microsoft that take five years to ship anything.  In the last five years, Windows Mobile has shipped six major versions and countless minor ones.  If you’re looking for a place where things get done, check us out.  

And we’re not insane

In the past I’ve worked for crazy people who figured the best way to treat highly paid employees was to keep them in the dark as much as possible.  My current management chain, though, is much more enlightened.  They’re of the opinion that, if you treat people like adults, they’ll act like adults.  This is both good and bad.  On the good side, it means that management is nice and open with us about what’s happening, etc.  On the bad side, this is how I’ve always treated my people.  Under the crazies I was something special, and everyone wanted to work for me.  Now you can find good managers all over the division.  Makes the stack rank meetings harder….

We also do other strange things.  We’ve got people who live and work remotely.  We’ve got people who work at different times than the norm.  And we’ve got people who work for different amounts of time than the norm.  We do a better job than most of understanding that different people have different needs, and we work to meet them.  Management that treats people as … well … people, almost seem human.  I read Dilbert.  Management isn’t supposed to be human.  There must be some sort of local distortion field over our buildings or something.

Also, because phones are bigger in Europe and Asia than in the US, we end up with a lot of neat opportunities for assignments in foreign countries.  I don’t make much use of this, but I’ve sent some of my more adventurous (or at least less tied down) coworkers oversees from time to time, and they’ve always enjoyed the experience. 

Come work for us

This is why I love my job.  If you’re a Microsoft employee and the place sounds interesting to you, go to the career site and search for jobs under the Division “Mobile and Embedded Devices / Comm Sector.”  If you’re not a Microsoft employee, you can get started here, and then go more specifically to here

Mike Calligaro

Comments (18)
  1. Matt says:

    Woah, slow down there. There’s no reading this site because I’m interested in the devices. I read this just to find the little bits of info that sometimes grace the page and to use some posts as starting points for various development questions.

    I have a half dozen Windows Mobile phones on my desk. When I leave the office, the stay on my desk. I carry 4 year old Nokia that is faster and more capable at the tasks necessary to be a phone. When I pull out my ancient Nokia around the Windows Mobile phone users, its light weight and decent speed often impress.

    I do not see myself ever using one of these phones seriously. I may have to start carrying one for testing, or dogfooding our product as you put it, but its not like I’d make phone calls with it. Except, of course, for when it just dials people from in my pocket even with the screen lock on like the other people with Windows Mobile phones do to me regularly. Its so bad that they get an automatic one point off in answering priority because, hey, it might be important but there’s a 20% chance the call will just be the rustling inside their pocket.

    On the topic of dogfooding, I know Visual Source Safe is not used as the source control for Windows or Visual Studio. I dare the Visual Studio team to migrate their repository for all of Visual Studio to Source Safe. I bet that’ll be about as smooth as migrating Hotmail to Windows those half dozen or so times it was tried. While I’m ripping the Visual Studio team, I’m guessing they have no concept of network drives, because trying to do a build with the source on a network volume is all sorts of trouble. A number of tools either just plain don’t work, or gain fun new limitations like no spaces in any path or no relative paths allowed.

    You say its best to be the big guy, but then you talk about how you’re the underdog, so which is it? Nevermind talking about being the next Windows when you already are a third of Windows. (Windows CE + Windows ME + Windows NT = Widows CEMENT, yay) You’re only the underdog in a market that is new for Microsoft, but soon eventually those monopoly powers will be exercised enough that you will either own the market or get bored of waiting and decide it doesn’t matter while never admitting defeat.I’ve heard the bit about changing the world, but I’d like to change it for the better. That could only be done while at Microsoft if I had the ability to delete all of Windows and force a fresh start. Of course, if that happened in Microsoft today, based on the wondrous success of Vista, the outcome would be even worse.

    I’m not an idealist, or else I wouldn’t have a job because I would be too busy fixing stuff. I’m a realist, and the reality is most jobs are on Microsoft platform. That sucks. I avoided the mess in the past, but at this job I can’t. Its the worst part of the job. It feels life sucking at times when I waste a whole day, or more, on some retarded problem that’s a matter of blatantly wrong docs or OS errors I have to devise a way around. Sometimes, I really don’t know why I still put up with it. Oh yeah, because I’m too busy working overtime to find something else, and it’d be a decent company if I could ever work on another platform.

  2. Craig Dahlinger says:

    I would looooooooooove to work on Windows Mobile!!! I envy you!!

  3. We work on Windows Mobile because we’ve figured out how to make it do some very cool things – like accept GPS information and use it to do local search inside the  browser, and we’ve figured out how to dynamically re-structure the Menu bar on the fly in response to a user logging onto a Web site. Check out the images at http://www.5o9.net/mobile/docs/dynamic_menus/

    Looking forward to the next rev of your software,


  4. Dale Lane says:

    Sounds fantastic – it’s just a shame that you dont all fancy packing up and moving to the UK so I can come join. Or you invite me out to the States to come work for you.

    Either is fine with me – I’m not fussy 😉

  5. Ellie Gates (HR Manager, MCMG) says:

    I love working in Windows Mobile too because you guys are really changing the world.  As one of the support resources here to help enable this team I must say, I have never worked with a more people friendly, do the right-thing group.  I’ve been her just over 5 months and look forward to helping make this even better!

  6. ce_base says:

    I came for the toys and the next big thing.  I stay because of the quality of the people and management I work with.  And because of the satisfaction I get from improving our customers’ lives.  After 8 years I am still happy.  It doesn’t get better than this, at Microsoft or anywhere.


  7. Lee Bailey says:

    Nice post-

    I don’t develop for mobile (yet), but I’m saving up to buy an HP HW6900 for the summer, because I find a lot of truth in what you say- Programming for phones is cool. And it’s not just cool, it’s the next big thing. I want to write mobile, GPS-aware applications that do really neat things, because a "get_current_location()" function is a relatively new frontier for anyone who’s been programming for desktop and/or web environments, and it’s an extremely powerful and daunting idea to have one.

    [Think about it- Just to shoot some ideas around, what if your phone knew the location of the corporate lunchroom. Come 8pm, your phone notices that you’ve been in your office since 10am, but haven’t been to lunch since 2pm- So it looks up a local pizza company, pulls their number, and asks you if you want to call. Because who hasn’t missed a meal when polishing off a particularly annoying function?]

    I just managed to land myself an internship on another Microsoft team for the summer, and I’m very excited to be out there, but sometime within the next 4 years (I’m a freshman), I’ll probably have to consider putting in a transfer request to your team. Windows Mobile 6 looks just phenomenal, and I’m enamored by the idea of building WM7 (or whatever comes next).

  8. Jenson says:

    Hi Mike,

    I really envy your job and hoping that I can join ur team one day. Too bad I’m not in US. I’m currently working in a software house in Singapore, when I browse the MSDN site, it happens to bring me here by following the links given and I found your blog which seems to be quite interesting and enjoyable when i read your posts.

    From your desciptions on the work place, environment, as well as the team and company, it really makes someone like me drooling. I’m new in this area as I’ve not been touching mobile application ever since I graduated from my college last time. I’m not even a degree holder, which make my dreams to work there even difficult.

    I’ve been very interested in mobile development ever since my colleagues start to use windows mobile based PDA phone, as well as after I joined this company. Everything looks so cool to me and I love doing the development work for one of the project sponsored by Microsoft Singapore. They sponsored my company one O2 Stealth, and one Treo 750v. I love the Treo over O2 Stealth. Unfortunately, I cannot use it as my own, but I can use it for development and I’m happy to work on it during development.

    Looking forward for your next post 😉

  9. Kyrill says:

    Hey Mike !

    Are You also taking guys, which are only willing to spend a certain amount of time in Your team – lets say  6-12 months and then to go back to their initial division in Microsoft ?


  10. Donovan Palmer says:

    Windows Mobile makes every day a better day.

  11. Larry Bank says:

    Is it true to you’re allowing off-site workers?  The last time I was there (it’s been a while), the big turnoff for me was that working in Redmond was the ONLY option.  If I could continue to work at home, I might consider working at MS.

  12. Stephen Leverett says:

    Mobile 6 is very nice!

    I would love to work for the Mobile team. I worked for MSFT for many years.

    But Redmond’s standard of living costs are a bit extreme. During a training trip in Redmond I was treated to an earthquake which left a lasting impression. :0

    Please note on your website if working remotely or as a contractor is an option. Visiting Seattle is always a exciting!

    I have enjoyed learning and writing programs for Windows Mobile for nearly 2 years. Mobile 6 is by far the most useful release. The emulator has a few glitches maybe I will start a blog of my adventures.

    Overall the emulators are quite good.

    The new features make writing and testing programs much more productive.


  13. Marilyn says:


    I’m glad you’re passionate enough about Windows Mobile.  So, where do I go to ask how I can incorporate MapPoint into our Pocket PC Phone project?  Don’t tell me to go Microsoft’s newsgroups because my questions has been unanswered since April 14th (I guess they don’t respond when you only have a developer account).

    Our inspectors go around Hawaii’s coastal areas conducting inspections but carrying a laptop or tablet pc is too cumbersome.  I thought a PDA or pocket PC would be the right answer since they are lightweight and you can enter the data directly in the SQL Mobile database and synchronize them back at the office.  One setback we noticed was that we often get lost trying to find the properties we need to inspect (believe me, Kauai can be hard to navigate).  So, I thought it would be neat to get MapPoint in there.  But since I can’t find any Knowledge Base article about this (using Windows Mobile 5.0), I guess I’ll just download Google Mobile Map.

  14. MikeCal says:

    Sorry I haven’t been responding, folks.  I’ve been completely "heads down" working on a particularly nasty power problem on a device.  It’s not often that I find myself fine tuning a processor’s clock stabilization registers on a raw circuit board hooked up to the modern equivalent of an oscilloscope, but my job is such that I end up there sometimes….


    Wow, I’m sorry to hear that you dislike your job so much.  Not that you should treat advice from some random guy at Microsoft as anything more than advice from some random guy, but I’ll say that job satisfaction is an important part of life happiness.  


    You should check the job search website that I linked.  We have a group in the UK.  It’s possible that they’re hiring (I don’t know).  Also, for a good enough candidate that we want to hire, we pay for relocation.  


    Keep at it.  We love enthusiastic college hires.


    If you’re asking, "Do you ever get someone who works in Desktop Office to come to Mobile for a few months then go back to the desktop?"  The general answer is no.  I’m sure there are cases everywhere of people changing jobs, deciding they don’t like the new job, and going back to their old ones.  But that’s definitely not the norm.

    However, within the Mobile group, we do sometimes exchange developers for a few months or so.  This is especially good when two groups often work with or rely on each other.  Doing an exchange program can better teach the two teams what each other does and build relationships that will help them work better in the future.  

    For instance, I tend to write drivers for OEMs.  We have another group that tends to write drivers for generic dev platforms.  We’ve done exchange programs in the past to better teach each other what kinds of challenges each of us faces and to make us better able to understand each other’s needs.  Etc.


    (I responded to Larry offline, but I’m going to repeat it here in case others have the same question.)

    So far, every offsite worker we’ve allowed has been someone who worked locally with us, proved him or herself, and then, for whatever reason, needed to move.  There are a lot of challenges to working offsite, both for the employee and the manager.  When we know the employee is a strong contributor who we don’t want to lose, we’re likely to take the risk of having them work offsite.  We’re much less likely to hire an unknown entity and have him or her work offsite.  That HAS been know to happen, but it’s usually with someone famous enough in the industry that articles are written about his or her joining the company….


  15. Oleg says:

    If you love it so much why can’t you fix the damn bugs in it, or are you in it for the toys ? I mean, seriously, I feel like I am running a Windows 95-quality system on my phone every day. Don’t get me wrong, Windows Mobile is better than Palm but come on, guys, do you really enjoy spewing out low quality code ??

  16. MikeCal says:

    As much as I love the job, there are certainly frustrations as well. One of them is that more than half of the code on one of our phones is written by other people (OEMs, ISVs contracted by OEMs, ISVs contracted by Mobile Operators, etc) and any failing in any of that code is usually blamed on us.  

    I understand your frustration, but the problem isn’t easy to fix.  I can’t fix other people’s code unless they give it to me.  They can’t give it to me, because they’re worried that, if they do, I’ll give it to their competitors.  Etc.

    That said, we spend a lot of time and resources working on this problem.  My whole team’s primary job is helping OEMs improve their code.  In some cases we write code and give it to them.  In others we help them debug problems.  It’s always fun to try to debug problems in code that you’re not allowed to see, but that’s what we do.  We also write tools and tests to help third parties find the problems in their code before they ship it to you.  Then, when their code fails those tests, we help them figure out why.

    So, while it’s an extremely hard problem, we’re definitely working on it.  In general, device stability has been going up.  That’s a result of our efforts to fix this problem.  We have every intention of keeping at it.  


  17. sparx says:

    just some random guy from a non-descript part of the UK, to say, i like whats happening, if the "it just works" experience that i had on the xbox360 and with vista is what will be coming with Windows Mobile in the future, im sure device manufacturers will get my money again…. I was super excited by WM6, although not the overhaul that wm5 was to 2003se, the features added seemed to continue along the "it just works" theme… voip/sip intergration, amazing, just what you want in a converged device… but alas, Hewlet Packard see it fit not to give hw6915 users the upgrade to WM6 🙁

    Keep up the good work, one day nokia will roo the day… go on, start rooing!!!!

    All the best,


  18. sohbet says:

    just some random guy from a non-descript part of the UK, to say, i like whats happening, if the "it just works" experience that i had on the xbox360 and with vista is what will be coming with Windows Mobile in the future, im sure device manufacturers will get my money again…. I was super excited by WM6, although

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