A Maze of Twisty Passages, All Alike …

Know this, for after fifteen years at the company I can say it’s a fact: Microsoft’s developers/software/executives/employees/actions are not, and never have been, intentionally evil.

Microsoft’s building designers, however, are.

Actually, that’s not fair. The designers are just doing what they are told: maximizing available space for working environments, all within a budget.

But the people who design all the directional signs inside all Microsoft buildings? Spawn of … someone really, really evil. Like Hitler. Or Stalin. Who’s worse, Hitler or Stalin? Or Satan? Is Satan as bad as Hitler, or worse? Okay, the sign people are spawn of Hitler, Lizzie Borden, Satan, and Billy Bob Rubik, designer of the Rubik’s Cube. Thanks Wikipedia.

It’s bad enough that in the from-the-top-down X-ray view every Microsoft building resembles a maze from one of those 1001 Mazes! books you see at the checkout at the grocery store. It’s bad enough that even inside some Microsoft buildings, the first floor is designed completely differently from the second floor, and the third floor bends space and time such that I swear I once saw David Bowie on the ceiling.

Those two things alone would be villainy. No, what is worse, far worse, is the fact that all the interior signs helpfully lead you right like a lamb to the slaughterhouse. But the signs end up leaving you just short of it, wondering if you missed a sign—and by the way, what’s with all the lambs screaming?

Here’s an example. To be mindful of Microsoft’s security protocols, which restrict our taking photos of our buildings with the level of detail I am about to describe, I am going to instead provide you an approximation of the hell we have to go through trying to find our way around.

Setting the mood: you’re in an unfamiliar building for a meeting. You’ve arrived with more than five minutes to spare. Plenty of time! You exit the elevator and are greeted with this initial sign:

← 2000–2200
← Restroom
→ Kitchen
→ 2300–2400
→ Conf Rms 2202, 2205, 2206, 2576, 2999

You know that your meeting is in conference room 2576, so you exit the elevator to the right, intending to go to the kitchen to grab a drink because it’s on your way. You walk down the hall to the next sign, which says:

↑ 2300–2400
→ Kitchen
→ Conf Rms 2202, 2205, 2999

That’s odd, you think, where did 2576 go? Oh I’m sure there’s another sign near the kitchen, you decide. So you enter the kitchen and grab a coffee. The Microsoft Starbucks coffee machines brew your coffee per cup from a custom grind. It takes about 90 seconds, but you figure you have plenty of time. Coffee accomplished, you exit the far side of the kitchen and find this:

← 2300–2400
↓ Restroom
↑ Conf Rms 2576, 2999

Oh, you think, see? There it is. You continue down the hall. You now only have a minute or two before your meeting, so you scan for the next sign and see:

↑ 2350–2491
↑ Restroom
↓ Kitchen
↓ 2300–2349
→ Office Supply

You’re momentarily surprised that the restroom has now folded space to move in front of you, but then you realize that certainly there would be more than one restroom on the floor. But then you pause to realize the conference rooms have disappeared from the sign to be replaced by the office supply room.

Now you’re completely confused, because the last sign had a room range of 2300–2400 but this new one expands that to 2491 and sends you in a different direction for the other rooms. Neither room range matches the conference room. Figuring that surely a conference room like 2576 would be in the general direction of the increasingly larger-numbered offices, you proceed gamely in the direction of the 2350–2491 range. Your meeting is now officially started when you reach 2491 down some long, deserted hallway and stumble across conference room 2999, filled with people you do not know. On the door is a sticker that says “meeting moved to Conf Rm 2202 (by the stairs).”

Now people in the offices around room 2999 are kind of looking at you because you probably just uttered out loud, “You gotta be fucking kidding me.”

Your smartphone/watch/internal timing mechanism informs you that you are now three minutes late. You hustle back down the hallway to the sign you last passed, only to see that totally different signs are posted facing the other way:

↑ 2491–2500
↓ Conf Rm 2999
← 2000–2050
← Kitchen

All right, now you are six minutes late and you still have no idea where you are in the building. You get a text message on your phone from your boss or other helpful co-worker trying to protect your reputation as not being one of those people who is always late:

“VP is here. We’re all waiting on you to start.”

The VP? The vice president of the division is there? “Oh my God!” you may or may not exclaim out loud. You hustle back to the elevator.

On the way you pass conference room 2202. In your haste and panic, you think you recognize a friend of yours in 2202 who is supposed to be at your meeting, but that can’t be because yours is in 2576. Maybe they just had a more important meeting in 2202 and could not make it to yours. Regardless, you’re seven minutes late and you need to find 2576. Heading in the opposite direction from the elevator’s initial sign, you find, five feet away with no signage pointing you there, conference room 2576. It is filled with people you do not know and has a sticker on it saying “[Your meeting] moved to 2999,” which you realize had the sticker on it saying it was moved to room 2202, which you just passed and now realized is filled with your friend, the people, and the vice president for your meeting.

You may or may not at this point scream out loud, “Motherfucker!” and run back to 2202, forsaking signs altogether. You try as nonchalantly as possible to open the door and enter, saying carefully and slightly breathlessly, “My apologies for being late. I couldn’t find the room.”

The vice president looks you up and down and says, “But had enough free time to get some coffee, I see.”

The signage situation at Microsoft is so pervasive that among some employees, if you want to send a passive-aggressive signal about who needs the meeting more than you, you make all the invitees come to your building. Likewise, if you need to make peace or resolve a conflict you think you might be wrong about, you schedule the meeting in their building as a peace offering.

No, really.

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