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Orange Badges Culture

Todd Bishop writes at the Seattle P.I. about “orange badges”, the subculture of contract workers at Microsoft, and a new website designed to help give the community.

“You tell people, ‘I’m an orange badge at Microsoft,’ and pretty much everybody in the tech industry knows exactly what that means,” says Howard Wu, a software project manager who worked at Microsoft through a temporary staffing firm. “It’s practically a subculture in Seattle.”

Wu is trying to do something about it. He has launched an online forum,, that is one of two new efforts to bring together Microsoft contractors, people who work temporary stints at the company. But unlike other initiatives among Microsoft contractors, organizers of both groups say they aren’t trying to create unions. is meant to be a place where current, former and prospective Microsoft contractors can seek advice, trade information and share frustrations and experiences, says Wu, 26.

The site is still in its infancy. But Wu — who also founded the popular BEAN professional networking and volunteer group in Seattle — says he hopes ultimately gives Microsoft’s contract workers some of the elements of community that were missing from his experience at the company.

Some comments from Slashdot:

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.

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]. - #

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… - #

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. :) - #

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 catch the bus back with the other blue badges. People literally did not want to allow me on the bus because I was an orange badge. I wanted to join and/or participate in a group called GLEAM (Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft), yet they were actively exclusionary too.

What made all this so irritating for me was that I looked at my job at Microsoft as a crowning achievement in my career when I started there - I had every intention of doing my time and converting to blue. I knew I wasn’t entitled to stock options or other benefits since I was an orange badge, but people didn’t seem to recognize that I knew that.

Quite honestly, I still hold a grudge against Microsoft because of this. I work for a large software company now, where contractors that I’ve worked with are treated with the same respect as the full timers. Yeah, they don’t get some of the benefits the rest of us do, but I’ve never seen anyone hold that over their heads. Just about every contractor I’ve worked with here has been converted to a full timer, also. - #

Expect there to be a lot of war stories at this new site. I leave you with this, from Seinfeld:

Kramer: You think that dentists are so different from me and you? They came to this country just like everybody else, in search of a dream.

Jerry: Kramer, he’s just a dentist.

Kramer: Yeah, and you’re an anti-dentite.

Jerry: I am not an anti-dentite!

Kramer: You’re a rabid anti-dentite! Oh, it starts with a few jokes and some slurs. “Hey, denty!” Next thing you know you’re saying they should have their own schools.

Jerry: They do have their own schools!

December 31st, 2005 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Corporate | no comments