In Depth Comparison of Working At Microsoft Vs. Google

The two largest tech companies have similar but different office buildings. Both sound absolutely amazing, but which would you choose if it came down to it? Here are the various perks, benefits, and features of each office. I think I’d be a Google man, personally.

working at google vs. microsoft
Notice the solar panels (green technology) everywhere and how there isn’t as much space between buildings?

The Cultures: Working At Microsoft Vs. Google

Google-Ireland-office-by-Camenzind-Evolution-Dublin-04Google’s company culture is much more open than Microsoft’s, though it seems that’s something Microsoft is working (very slowly) to fix. At Google, I could pull code from and do spontaneous and unsolicited reviews for any non-stealth team. People were encouraged to talk to people on other teams about their work. Teams regularly present on their latest progress and visions/goals to the rest of the company at the weekly all-hands meetings. There’s a number of internal tools that make working there more fun, such as an internal meme generator or a way to automatically recommend a cafe based on your food preferences via regex-like weights.

At Microsoft, however, I wasn’t just discouraged but flat-out disallowed from discussing my work with interns or full-timers on other teams due to the (at the time) stealth nature of my team’s work. Windows Phone interns weren’t allowed to tell me about Windows Phone 8/Apollo, Xbox interns couldn’t discuss Durango/Xbox One… even my roommate wasn’t supposed to tell me something as mundane as “yeah, we’re finally consolidating the million different Microsoft logins into a single account”. I had to sign three separate NDAs just to be allowed to be told the month and year of the Xbox One’s release (this was the summer of 2012). There were many instances where I didn’t feel trusted by my employer when I worked there, and it wasn’t because I was “just an intern”.

there-are-multiple-fitness-centers-on-campus-we-didnt-get-to-see-any-but-heres-a-picture-from-a-tour-google-gave-to-reuters-a-few-years-agoCompetition between teams/divisions is absurd. Y’all have probably seen this image, and for the Microsoft section, it’s particularly true. Work at Microsoft revolves around what are known as the “locomotive” products – Windows and Office. They’re hugely popular, and they make a ton of money. If you’re on a team making a technology that Windows Phone or Bing would benefit immensely from but Office wants it in their next release, Office wins priority… even if it’s barely relevant to Office as a productivity suite.

Again, one of the big objectives with the recent reorg of the company is to fix many of these issues, and I really hope they’re successful, as this is the most significant way that Microsoft loses the comparison to Google (IMO).

One of the big differences between the two is the notion of “work-life balance”. Google wants to blend everything so you feel at home while you’re at work (to encourage you to stay longer), while Microsoft wants you to go live your life. The perks section is next, but that’s largely why Microsoft doesn’t offer dinner or have a significant on-site gym (I think).

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The perks: Working at Microsoft vs. Google

This gets to be a little less subjective, so hopefully it’ll more digestible.

Google Microsoft
Food Free breakfast, lunch, and dinner; high-quality food, tons of easily-accessible options. They prepare take-home boxes for people who miss the mealtimes. Microkitchens with tons of free drinks and overly-healthy snacks. Bars are pretty common in buildings Discounted (but not free) breakfast and lunch (no dinner); no free snacks, but you do get free soda, juice, and milk. Food’s pretty good, but not as good as Google’s, and not as much variety either.
Gym On-site + free, though it’s kinda small and can get pretty crowded; free personal trainers and on-campus classes for cross-fit, martial arts, etc. Free (but taxable benefit, so actually $5/month), nearby to campus. Pro Club is huge and has fantastic facilities. Tennis courts cost money, though =/
Campus Athletic Facilities One turf field, tennis, baseball/softball, basketball, shuffleboard. Off to the side of campus, a bit of a pain to get to. Two (or three?) turf fields, multiple baseball fields, basketball, bocce ball, volleyball, roller hockey court. Spread around campus, felt much more accessible
Campus Perks bowling alley (four lanes; free), bikes for getting around, well-maintained pool/foosball/ping pong tables, relaxation rooms, massage credits (60 minutes free/year; additional for purchase), laundry service and haircuts (for pay). Free access to electric vehicles (Volts, Leafs, some unreleased cars Google’s testing for Honda and Mitsubishi) for running errands throughout the day. Amazing arcade room (driving sims, DDR, pinball, etc.) in the main Android building The Commons is amazing, and felt much better done than Google’s on-campus perks. Bicycle shop, instrument/music shop, fee-less bank, fully-staffed shipping counter (combination UPS/FedEx/USPS), eyecare (free pair of glasses each year with updated prescription), newly added medical office, miniature Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile shops. Much more active common-interest groups – the Tuesday night board games group is especially great, with crates on crates on crates of choices. For getting around, on-demand shuttle service to/from any building.
Area Perks Discounted Hertz rentals, free Zipcar signup, a couple hardware discounts. No Clipper Card/public transit discount. Prime Card – Google has nothing remotely comparable to it. For those who don’t know, it’s stuff like 40% discount on Lenovo laptops and 10% on pretty much any other tech, discounted cell phone plans, buy-one-get-one free/half-off entrees at tons of places in the area, $4 IMAX tickets… Corporate public transit card (Orca Card in Seattle, Clipper Card in SF, Charlie Card in Boston…)
Other stuff Much easier to requisition hardware for work or blended work/personal use (like Nexus hardware, nice headphones, keyboards). Themed areas are fairly common, and are a really nice/comfortable touch Bit of a pain to requisition or expense stuff since almost everything has to be approved. Discounted Microsoft hardware (keyboards, mice, Xbox stuff, webcams) and heavily discounted (or free) MS software.
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The Google Campus in General

Google started small and bought up surrounding buildings from dying startups, while (the sense I get is that) Microsoft bought up land and built their own buildings. The result is that Microsoft’s campus feels much more cohesive and accessible. Microsoft’s sprawls in a thoroughly suburban area, has excellent running trails, and tons of green space and landscaping; it feels like a comfortable college campus. The Googleplex stretches, though, making it seem like a bit of a trek to get, say, from the Maps buildings to Research (and those aren’t even the end-points). Almost everything at Google is either buildings or roads; there’s no “accidental” open area, so it feels simultaneous sparse (for the outdoors open areas) and crowded (tons of buildings and roads).

Google & Microsoft locations

Google-Seattle-13-for-WEBPuget Sound (Seattle/Microsoft) blows the Bay Area (San Francisco/Google) out of the water, in my opinion. The weather is not “always rainy” per its reputation. Spring, summer, and august are beautiful, and winter is perpetually overcast and drizzles lightly fairly often. San Francisco (the city) has bipolar weather, such that you need to wear pants and have a pretty decent jacket on if you’re going to be downtown once the fog rolls in (around 4pm every day); yes – you have to carry a heavy jacket/light coat even in August. Summers in the lower Bay (Mountain View, San Jose, Cupertino) are stupidly hot – you can’t go outside without sweating a flood. Bay Area winters are the same as Puget Sound spring/summer/early fall – absolutely divine (upper 60s to low 80s, sunny/few clouds, slight breeze, comfortable humidity in the cool mornings that burns off as the temperature rises throughout the day).

The Bay Area is crowded and spread out. It takes forever to go anywhere, and public transit is expensive and can be described as a “fabric” – everything weaves in and out without pattern; reminds me (in a bad way) of my home area of Northern Virginia. Seattle, by comparison, has easier-to-navigate public transit, better-organized highways.

Victor Agababov checks on Stewie, a coworker's dog, at Google's offices in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle.
Victor Agababov checks on Stewie, a coworker’s dog, at Google’s offices in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. Click to tour Google Seattle.

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Seattle has much more geographic diversity. Drive less than hour in any direction, and you’ll hit rainforest, snow-capped mountains, beaches, or wine country. If you’re looking for a bigger change of pace, Canada’s nearby. San Fran has a lot to do, too, but it requires more time/planning. Lake Tahoe is fantastic, but it’s a four-hour drive each way. Santa Cruz is largely meh, and that’s 45 minutes. Big Sur national park is another great outdoorsy place nearby, and that’s a couple hours south, too.

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Seattle as a city also felt much cooler. I found many more eateries that were quality and felt unique (food is huge for me) there, while it was difficult to “discover” places in San Fran, due to the less enjoyable nature of wandering around. SF is larger, grimier, there are many more cars (gotta be more careful), more streets felt in disrepair/suffered from Broken Window Theory, and if it’s fog-o-clock, it’s chilly (regardless of the time of year).

The Tools: Microsoft vs. Google

Hugely down to preference here. I learned to program in Java, C, and Python, and found C# + Visual Studio to be a massive breath of fresh air in comparison. It was very difficult to return to C++ and Eclipse at Google. Google mostly uses a custom version of Ubuntu (+ Unity), which provided a much less-smooth experience than Windows (both 7 and 8), I thought. I operated exclusively in Linux for five years years (2005 – 2010), so it wasn’t for lack of familiarity, either. I simply hate Unity and Eclipse, but you don’t have much in the way of options there. Depending on the work you’re doing, other editors may be an option, but Google relies strongly on Eclipse plug-ins for heavy lifting.

The work: Google vs. Microsoft

I got really lucky in that both my internships were on high-impact, forward-looking teams (rather than a maintenance team). That’s not always the case, though. Both Microsoft and Google have some really cool products, and some where I’d be thinking “ugh, I’m stuck working on ____ when I could’ve been doing _____”. I think Google does a better job of getting their projects that are inherently less exciting nicely. This is owed largely to the greater sense of “I have the flexibility to do what I want with this”, therefore enabling employees to introduce neat features or clever integrations into overall mundane products. There’s great benefit to a company that’s trying to play catch-up in an area, which drives them to take more risks and think up more interesting solutions to existing products, so that gives existing products an interesting spin. Look at what Google did with Docs/Drive (all the cross-product integration), or what Microsoft did with Windows Phone. Ultimately, this is going to be on a team-by-team basis.