Microsoft is basically a creepy old man, and the interns are all brainwashed and deluded. Or so one might think after reading an article that Reuters published earlier this week.

The headline reads, “Aging Microsoft Lures Young Tech Idealists,” and that says it all. (It certainly evokes an image of a creepy, predatory old man.) While Microsoft is considered “irrelevant, bureaucratic and dull,” the interns bubble with unbridled enthusiasm and students have ranked it #2 in a survey of the best places to intern. How did this happen?

“Microsoft rolls out the red carpet for interns,” the author, Bill Rigby, explains. “Last year more than 1,000 of them were treated to a surprise show by the Dave Matthews Band at a Seattle zoo. State troopers paid by Microsoft have in the past cleared the usually clogged State Route 520 floating bridge to downtown Seattle to make way for buses full of interns.” Clearly, gimmicks have won over the interns. Why else would young, fresh minds express such excitement over musty old Microsoft? Especially with Google and Facebook knocking down the recruiting door?

Well, Mr. Rigby, as a current intern, perhaps I can explain.

For many students, big companies are a draw. “Microsoft or Google means a lot more on a resume than some startup which might fail at any time,” said one of my friends. And while I didn’t choose Microsoft for that reason, I did pick it in part because I believed I would benefit from a mature internship program, complete with learning experiences like standardized and rigorous code reviews. Microsoft’s internship program is, in part, about making each intern more competent, something which doesn’t necessarily happen at companies which are smaller and more focused on building a product than building a company. (There’s nothing wrong with that, at a certain stage, of course. But these are things many students consider when they’re picking an internship.)

Big companies also tend to have a wider range of technical specialties. For someone who’s trying to find a niche in a field as wide as computer science, that’s pretty cool. Today, after learning of my interest in linguistics, a coworker who I’d never met before handed me a 35 page paper he’d written on computational semantics. I hadn’t even finished the first sentence before I needed to look a term up, but I think it’s pretty damn cool that he gave it to me. I’m hoping to knock on his door with a list of questions soon.

Microsoft certainly has its flaws, and I will be the first person to agree that it seems to be struggling to remain relevant in certain fields. I know that many people find it bureaucratic and bloated–but not all do.

I had lunch recently with a intern who is starting her third summer here. She has experience with startups, too, and is actually in the process of recruiting developers for one from her alma mater, MIT. But she loves Microsoft. “I’ve taken a lot of flack for coming back three times,” she said. “But I’ve made a very careful decision. I realized that you can do a lot of intrapreneurial things here,” she continued, invoking a term used to describe entrepreneurship within a larger company. “You can get support for almost anything you want to do.” When I told her that I’d heard it was hard to get people to leave proven projects, like Office, to work on these new ideas, she gave me a half-smile. “But that’s just like the real world, right? It’s hard to convince people to leave stable jobs to do startups.”

Meanwhile, some interns find the prospect of working on proven projects, like Office or Windows, exciting. Others like the fact that Microsoft has opened its Program Management (PM) position to interns. (Many students, especially at my school, Penn, are drawn to the PM position because it requires a broader blend of technical and “soft” skills.)

Microsoft has also done a good job of drawing a diverse group of interns. Their Explorer program, in particular, draws students who are less experienced and has a tremendous number of women. I applied for the Explorer program chiefly because I found it less intimidating, and though I ended up being a “full” Software Development Engineering (SDE) intern, the Explorer program helped convince me to accept my offer. The idea of working with a healthy number of other women is appealing, and unusual, in this field.

Of course, I have a whole host of other reasons, too, which are more personal. As a Seattle native, I have a lot of warm feeling toward Microsoft. I recognize that the company has transformed the region, I think for the better. Working for the company is extremely gratifying. I also prefer the mild Seattle summers to the weather I might experience on the east coast. I’m sure that the other interns have their own reasons which are just as personal.

So, have we been brainwashed? The interns don’t think so. “ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOSTEVE,” one wrote, facetiously, before sending out this picture:

Mr. Rigby, we haven’t been hypnotized. We’re not naive–or, at least, we’re not as naive as you portray us. We haven’t been sucked in by private Dave Matthews concerts, and though I wouldn’t say no to another one, that’s hardly the most exciting thing that happens over the course of an internship here.

We’ve carefully considered our options. We’re here because we’re smart, and because we’re enthusiastic, and because we chose to work here, at Microsoft.

I’m Tess Rinearson, and I’m currently “the extra-young” SDE intern on the Visual Studio team. I write about a lot of things, and this post is part of my Iron Blogger challenge. If you liked this post, you should try following me on Twitter! And if you didn’t, you should let me know why. You might also want to discuss or upvote this post on Hacker News.



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