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Orange Badge Culture At Microsoft 264

coolball writes "For those of us that have worked as a contractor (a-dash or orange badge or whatever), Seattle PI's 'Microsoft's 'orange badge' culture gets forum' article caught my eye this morning. He talks about and Contractor's International Network, two forums that have sprung up as a meeting place (cyber & meat) for current/past/future contractors of the empire. If you have been a Microsoftee, then you would laugh out loud in recognition some of the tales he relates."
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Orange Badge Culture At Microsoft

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  • by FearTheFrail ( 666535 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @11:48AM (#14364845)
    Wu claiming that he doesn't want to try to unionize contractors to Microsoft rings hollow. If he's building a site that encourages community, couldn't any other member in the community just as easily make a big push to unionize as he could? I suspect that if enough buzz was drawn around the idea, it wouldn't necessarily matter what the founder thought, unless said founder quashed notions of the idea, an action I find unlikely.
    • by garcia ( 6573 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @11:58AM (#14364927)
      If he's building a site that encourages community, couldn't any other member in the community just as easily make a big push to unionize as he could?

      What's the point? They are Microsoft contractors and temporaries usually hired by outside firms. These workers would need to unionize within their own temp agencies and then bargain for better treatment/wages/benefits with them.

      I don't see the benefits of independent contractors unionizing as it would defeat the entire purpose of being an independent.
    • by bmajik ( 96670 ) <> on Friday December 30, 2005 @01:33PM (#14365549) Homepage Journal
      When i was still working at the redmond campus (as a blue), a few times a year we'd see a bunch of bozos walking around campus with "WashTech" signs / banners etc. A few people were trying to start a tech-workers union back then.

      The sort of people Microsoft wants to hire (as FTEs) are not interested in unionization. Microsoft, more than anywhere else i've worked, is a meritocracy where people are vastly rewarded for excellent personal performance. We want to hire people that excel in that environment. People that know they are bright enough that they could walk and find other gainful employment, so don't put up with things they don't have to where they are. People that have a variety of options and beleive where they are at is the best available.

      That's pretty much the opposite of the sort of people that are interested in unionization.

      I don't see Microsoft putting up with any kind of unionization of contract workers. The last time contractors aggregately sued MS, we amended our policy by making them sit on the bench 100 days per year (to make it crystal clear that contractors/permatemps were temporary.. a- (agency-temp) workers have to take 100 days off every year now)

      There are some distinctions at MS between blue and orange that probably need to remain, but others that could probably go away. The latter are mostly individual actions.. people with poor professional behavior that treat contractors unfairly or as if they're some kind of lesser person. There need to be some differences in the way you treat the non-blues for legal/other reasons, but that shouldn't spill into how you treat them as humans. Unfortuneately it is completely possible to work at MS and not really have any sense of how to interact with people effectively [unless you define "effective" as badgering people into submission].

      I've worked with great contractors and not so great contractors. Hell, I know of at least one guy that moved from blue->orange so he could take 100 days of "vacation" every year to snowboard. Not a bad sounding idea, honestly :)

  • by garcia ( 6573 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @11:51AM (#14364875)
    two forums that have sprung up as a meeting place (cyber & meat) for current/past/future contractors of the empire. (emphasis mine)

    Ummm?! Sounds like you get a whole lot more when you are a contractor for Microsoft ;)

  • For the record (Score:5, Informative)

    by gcnaddict ( 841664 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @11:52AM (#14364877)
    Microsoft's two biggest contractors are Volt and Kelly Services
    • Technical, yes. There's ABM and Grubb-Ellis that most people tend to forget about, not to mention Eurest. And after Kelly, there's Excel Data, Siemens, A-Dot, Saxon & Taylor, and many more...
  • by bADlOGIN ( 133391 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @11:54AM (#14364892) Homepage
    Thats what some of the full time blue badges at one point liked to call any of the vendors/contractors (they get e-mail addresses that start with a "x-" before the username and the different letters stood for differnt contracting & temp agencies. A friend of mine used to work there (went from Orange to Blue badge) said that there were a number of full timers who completely looked down on the contactors. They would ignore thier e-mails, not co-operate with them and brush it off since the temps were just "dash trash". If this is still happens and full time employees still get away with it, they could use a support forum or two...
  • by MonkeyCookie ( 657433 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @11:54AM (#14364897)
    We don't need no stinking orange badges!
  • by robipilot ( 925650 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @11:55AM (#14364905) Homepage
    You've got to give them a bit of credit. Here these guys are making money from the great evil one, working in the belly of the beast. At least they didn't end up changing badge colors.

    Having been a contractor in IT working for some of the "big ones" the last 10 years, it is a lot different wearing the OTHER color badge. Things like:

    1. No free meals on "employee appreciation day".
    2. No access to the company park/gym/pool/volleyball pits.
    3. Parking 2 miles from the building entrance.

    On the good side:

    1. Real easy to leave and go to the next gig.
    2. Money.
    3. More autonomy. I am my own boss when my wife's not around.
    • I couldn't agree more. I was a contractor for 8 years for various big companies, and I couldn't be paid enough to be a permanent employee. As a contractor, I made a LOT more money than the "permanent" employees, I got to dodge most of the beauracratic bullshit, and I got paid overtime if I worked more than 40 hours a week. In fact, I always thought that the "permanent" employees were the suckers. And you're right, the ability to switch jobs without it looking bad on a resume was invaluable. I went from
      • ...and then there is a departmental budget shortfall, and you are out on your ass to find another gig. Or you get sick and need to be out of work for a couple of weeks, and your bodyshop fires you.

        Contract staff always brag about how good they have it -- until something happens.
        • Sure, that happens. That would happen with a "perm" job, too. The good thing is that as a contractor is that it's very easy to find another job because you don't get branded as a "job hopper". You just say that your contract ended, and there you go.
  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Friday December 30, 2005 @11:56AM (#14364912)
    "It might be psychological, but it does make a difference," he said. "You walk into a meeting and everybody knows immediately that you're orange. It changes things a little bit -- however slightly, but it does."

    People recognizing your orange badge instantly makes you an 'outsider' or 'not really and employee' at Microsoft. It is in people's nature to want to belong to a group, and once they see that you are not part of their group, you are not deemed as trustworthy or good enough to be part of their select group.
    If I ran Microsoft, I would make a lot of changes but first I would not make badges with an opposing colour scheme. Everyone should have the same badge, eliminating the psychological effect of being an 'outsider' or 'not really part of the same team.' One less thing to worry about and one less possibility for employees to become divisive and uncooperative.
    • It may be an internal security concern. Non-permanent employees at my high security office carry different badges as an easy indicator of whether a person is in a location where they do or do not have clearance. I'm not sure if this is the case with Microsoft, but it seems to make sense.
      • If this is the case, then they are not relying on more than one method of verification and that is not very secure.
      • When you get a security clearance, you go through a process that's supposed to verify that you can be trusted with sensitive security or military information. (I have my doubts about that process, but that's another issue.) At a company like Microsoft, the only issue is whether you can be trusted with trade secrets and undisclosed business plans -- serious stuff, but not the life-and-death issues hidden behind security clearances. Both contractors and perms sign agreements that they won't disclose confident
    • If I ran Microsoft

      That's the funnies thing I've read all week! :)
    • From another point of view: even though as an employee, you have your companies interests at heart, you should realize that contractors often dont. Contractors are mainly interested in performing in a way that seems productive, but which improves the profitability or length of the contract. Management will often hire them because they feel they have no other choice, and hope that they get some useful productivity out of them if they are careful enough with the design of the contract. But you, as an emplo
    • If I ran Microsoft, I would make a lot of changes but first I would not make badges with an opposing colour scheme. Everyone should have the same badge, eliminating the psychological effect of being an 'outsider' or 'not really part of the same team.' One less thing to worry about and one less possibility for employees to become divisive and uncooperative.
      Maybe Microsoft wants the employees divided from each other. That way they cannot team up on MS.
    • If I ran Microsoft, I would make a lot of changes but first I would not make badges with an opposing colour scheme. Everyone should have the same badge, eliminating the psychological effect of being an 'outsider' or 'not really part of the same team.' One less thing to worry about and one less possibility for employees to become divisive and uncooperative.

      I think the equation Microsoft is using is

      "Divisive and uncooperative employees cost in $" "number of contractors that sue because they were treated as a
  • by Television Viewer ( 941923 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @11:57AM (#14364918)
    Those hoping to change the situation include the Center for a Changing Workforce, a Seattle-based non-profit that was initially funded by the law firm that brought the permatemps case. The center's director, David West, said the group advocates limiting the cumulative amount of time that a contractor could work for a company, regardless of breaks in service, without becoming a direct employee -- a status that typically results in better benefits.

    I knew a guy who worked for a company as a contractor. He was billing $60 an hour, and they were giving him about 50 hours of work a week. They gave him a nice office. The guy turned around and sued the company to be recognized as an employee because he wanted the benifits. I forget the details, but his argument boiled down to "they treated me like an employee, so I am an employee, now give me my benifits or severance pay".

    I'm the kind of guy who likes working on projects, then moving on to something different. What is wrong with contracts? I have been very happy working on a project for 5 or 6 months, then taking two or three weeks off before starting the next project. I have more vacation time than my friends who are employees.

    • I'm pretty sure this article is more about "temps" and is just using the word contractor as a PC term.

      And for temps it's a whole different world, of course.
    • Your freedom to do that costs a couple thousand other people the ability to get a mortgage, get many health care expenses covered, and often costs them the ability to get work for three months at a time. Nobody wants to hire an MS contractor on break, because they know they'll lose you in 100 days.
    • I knew a guy who worked for a company as a contractor. He was billing $60 an hour, and they were giving him about 50 hours of work a week. They gave him a nice office. The guy turned around and sued the company to be recognized as an employee because he wanted the benifits.

      If this is the same guy, then he worked contract for 2 or 3 years, was offered a blue badge and refused it, and sued over stock options, not benefits. This was a class action suit that cost MS a pretty penny and resulted in the 100 day

  • by davro ( 539320 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @12:05PM (#14364979) Homepage
    Anyone with an orange badge should be forced to wear it for life !
  • by big_groo ( 237634 ) <groovis AT gmail DOT com> on Friday December 30, 2005 @12:07PM (#14364996) Homepage
    Badges orange you!
  • by Saint37 ( 932002 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @12:08PM (#14365000)
    Im contracting for a financial services firm and I see the same childish behavior everywhere I go. They put contractors out in hallways with a desk, pc and chair. The employees used to laugh. Then, suddenly, an employee was sitting out in a hallway one day and the contractors were laughing. All the while, no one realizes that companies create an environment of uncertainty and stress by putting workers against each other. Contractors are not the only mechanism used this way. Forced ranking systems are another example. This atmosphere creates workers that are on edge all the time, overworked and worried. []
    • It was largely the same when I contracting with large pharmaceutical companies -- often we'd get put in an empty conference room, maybe five or six of us just sitting around the table, one shared phone, and best of all, one eight-port hub plugged into the room's only 10baseT socket. Yeah, that was great. And of course, we were given the jobs that kept the company humming day-to-day, while the FTEs worked on multi-year, multi-million-dollar projects that would almost never see the light of day. Which was
  • No one really cares - of course since most of the contractors have been let go over the years it's quite rare to see a yellow badge. Usually it's someone involved in a VP's pet project or someone maintaining code that no one else can.
    • Let's see . . . my badge is yellow, the guy behind me has a yellow badge (was blue up 'til two month ago), the guy next to him has a yellow badge (has had it for several years), the guy in the cubicle across the hall has a yellow badge, the guy I answer to has a yellow badge, as does his boss.

      Cripes, I see more yellow than blue here (of course, much of the blue has gone home for the holidays, but still . . .)

      Yes, I'm working as a contractor for IBM. In Rochester, in fact.

  • IBM and Contractors (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chagatai ( 524580 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @12:10PM (#14365013) Homepage
    I found that IBM had a similar environment when it came to contractors. Although not ostracized as much as Microsoft appears to be (e.g. with the a- prefix to e-mail addresses), there was a certain stigma against them.

    I recall in one of their security training videos contractors were even mocked. Some "evil" data-mining company was doing things such as stealing laptops, eavesdropping on conversations, and pretending to be members of the target company. When the tasks for the day were given out, and dumpster diving came up, someone said something along the lines of, "Well, give that to one of the contractors. Heh heh heh." Funnier yet, when the "contractor" showed up in the video, he looked more like Joe Dirt, covered with tattoos and a mullet. He was dropped off way, waaaay up the street from the target CEO's house and the truck with the other contractor went and parked next to the trash cans. So about 20 seconds of the video shows this guy walking up the street in broad daylight, sticking out like a sore thumb, only to come to where the truck was parked, dumped the trash bins into the truck and left. It was horribly ridiculous and MST3K-worthy.

    • I disagree with you, sir. I have been well-respected and well-treated as a valuable co-worker (granted, half of my co-workers are "yellow-badge" types).

      I have encountered no unreasonable prejudices or bigotry connected to my "yellow-badge" status here at IBM Rochester. I am, in fact, quite overjoyed to have found such a magnificent work environment.

      Personal experience only, ymmv.

    • Bet when he came back with the goods his boss looked at it and said, "Son what you got there is a big ole piece of poopie."
  • by putko ( 753330 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @12:12PM (#14365027) Homepage Journal
    Doens't Google have the same setup: a team of enmployees and a team of disposable contractors?

    Are the contractors treated better at one place or the other?

  • Color theory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by davro ( 539320 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @12:14PM (#14365040) Homepage
    Why orange ? []
    orange is the opposite of blue, just like red and green.

    Is this intentional ?
  • It's the same everywhere. Contractors are second class citizens in terms of culture. Whether you are working at Microsoft, IBM, Ford, VW, GM, EDS or where-ever. However, if you are a smart contractor, you will do a good job, learn as much as you can, and moving for more money. The contractors I pity are the H1-B guys and gals since they are totally stuck.

    Contracting can be fun. I highly recommend it to all recent grads. Get out there and see the world, get good at what you do, and change jobs every
  • by greg_barton ( 5551 ) * <> on Friday December 30, 2005 @12:26PM (#14365120) Homepage Journal
    I started out at M$ as a contractor. (End user support for MSAccess in Irving, TX back in '95) I was an employee within six months. (Then an ex amployee six months after that.) When I switched over, the difference was like night and day.

    While I was a contractor there was a site wide carnival where they trucked in mini roller coasters and other fun stuff. Contractors were literally ushered out the door and weren't even told about it beforehand.

    One day when I was a full time employee all of the contractors...ALL 700 on site...were fired because of low call volume.

    The class action lawsuit brought in later years by former contractors didn't surprise me one bit after that. :)
  • A great idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sl4shd0rk ( 755837 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @12:40PM (#14365224)
    There is nothing that puts more fear in a Megacorp like employee awareness. Especially when they know if they treat someone unfairly, everyone is going to know about it. I've seen temps treated pretty unfairly at times, almost as if they agreed in writing to be treated like a doormat when they signed the contract. Good job Wu.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 30, 2005 @12:49PM (#14365276)
    I have contracted for years in Silicon Valley (since the bust) and am always treated well by the companies I work for: Invited to office parties, holiday bonuses and the topper of them all: quarterly profit sharing. All of this despite the fact that I am typically only at each client for 15-25 hours/week. Granted, these are smaller companies (under 500 employees), but nevertheless. I suppose you weigh your choices and go from there.
  • While a full time technical employee at IBM (Essex J*, ** - shhhhh!) in the nineties, we envied the contractors. At least they were treated like human beings. They were paid more. They had more free time. They had the option to convert over to regular where we would have to leave the site for a year before we could accept a job with a contractor. Job security, I got laid off after 15 years and offered a line job with a pay cut. "Brain the size of a planet and all they wanted me to do was open doors" -
  • by a-howardwu ( 942254 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @01:01PM (#14365365) Homepage

    Alright boys and gals, I'm here so, please, bring on the onslaught. I'm the grinning dude in the PI article, Howard that started DON'T ALL THROW FECES AT ME ALL AT ONCE!!!

    But seriously, I'm not sure if you all realize how huge an organization Microsoft is, and how much of its workforce is made up of temp employees. Just in Redmond, WA, there are 30,000+ head counts, and between 1/3 to 1/4 of that is made up of contractors. If you also take into account of the perma-temps of the 80s and 90s, plus, due to the "work-365-days-and-take-100-days-off-with-no-guara ntees-your-position-won't-be-fille-by-another-cont ractor" perma-temp settlement, there is a huge swarm of people flowing through the orange-badge system every year. That's easily 10,000+ people who are/have worked as an orange badge at MS. If you also take into consideration all the people who WANT to, plus all the international MS orange badges, you will realize that this is a huge community of people.

    Now, I know we are all supposed to hate Microsoft. Trust me, now that I am in the bastion of open-source @, there is no lack of distrust of commercial licensed software, but I'm talking about real people here. So, cut me some slack, boys and girls. It's just a message board. :-)

    OK, now you can all throw feces my way, and I will answer the best I can. :-)

  • I was an orange badge at Microsoft in 1999, when the contractor lawsuits were going on. Other blue badges automatically assumed I was a money-grubbing orange badge, out to get what was rightfully theirs. People would stop talking when I entered a room. What irked me the most was that we had a group outing to Stevens Pass to go skiing. I paid my own way on the trip, and rode up with some of the guys on my team. On the way back, they decided they didn't want to drive all the way into Redmond, so I had to
    • sorry for your bad experience.. i think it depends on the personalities of the contractor and the other people on the team.

      I don't know anything specifically about why GLEAM wouldn't allow you to join, but in general, non-blues are excluded from all kinds of things due to nobody understanding the legal issues involved and nobody being a real advocate of contractor "rights" [these are not really "rights" issues but thats the word that seems to describe the feeling best in my mind] enough to try and understan
    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @05:11PM (#14367028)
      I can't get over the deep irony of the gay rights group discriminating against you.
  • I work as a contractor for another big company in the industry. Same badges issues - I wear an orange badge, the permanent employees wear blue badges. It's kind of a mixed blessing for me. One one side, the side, I'm missing out of some of the benefits, and I'm excluded from some of the meetings. On the other hand, I'm paid really well, and I don't have to go to some of the meetings...
  • by aquatone282 ( 905179 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @01:45PM (#14365644)

    . . . in DOD TS/SCI (Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information) facility.

    When I arrived at a new assignment in the former West Germany in the 1980s at a USAF TS/SCI facility, I waited six weeks for my SCI access to be verified.

    In those days, a red badge was issued to anyone who's SCI access had not been verified. While in the facility, you had to be escorted everywhere and before you entered a room your escort had to announce "RED BADGE" to alert everyone to stop the secret-squirrel stuff.

    And when I say "escorted everywhere," I mean everywhere, including the restroom. Red badges were encouraged to make number two BEFORE they entered the facility, or wait until they left.

  • Anheuser-Busch envied the MS contractor model so much that they implemented MS policies, right down to badge colors, contractor term limits and different user-id's mapped to email addresses.

    Working there as an "orange badge" is the equivalent to being charitably bussed to an expensive private school from a poor neighborhood. You are an untouchable, not to be socialized with and become the scapegoat for poor management. You don't attend department meetings that directly effect your project and workload, yo
  • by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Friday December 30, 2005 @02:37PM (#14365981) Journal
    I was a contractor for Intel, and because of that, I had a "Green badge" where the people that had checks with Intel's address on it were "Blue-badge employees"

    One of the differences that was clear on your first day, was that greenbadges had to swipe their badge every time they enter or exit the building. Bluebadges just showed it to the security guy from across the room and walked in or out.

    We developed a saying: "Green badges always swipe when they are done"

    There was a contractor once that used some of the 3M blue masking tape you find everywhere around Intel to turn his green stripe into a blue stripe, just to see if anyone noticed. It was two weeks later that a manager asked him "Hey - when did you get hired as a blue badge employee?"

    She wasn't happy when he peeled the tape off.

    Now I work at a company that has Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow badges for completely different purposes.

    Red = access to secure areas such as "the vault" in the Jewelry division, the datacenter, wiring closets, etc.
    Blue = employee non-secure access
    Green = contractor
    Yellow = temporary

    However, no one really even knows what the difference in the colors mean except the security clucks.
  • Only after reading this article did I see what color badge my team mates were wearing. It is true that contractors might get less benefits than regular employees, but fortunately, at my company [] we don't distinguish that much between permanent employees and contractors. But then again, I guess it is all in your manners and culture.

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor