I was at a seminar yesterday with other attendees from various companies. Of course, introducing myself as a Microsoft employee, and compounded by the fact that the two instructors had worked with Microsoft in consulting capacities, I was automatically approached as an individual representative of the whole company. In this way, any reference that was made to Microsoft was addressed to me as if it was something personal. One of the instructors at one point asked my permission to tell a story about Microsoft that had nothing to do with me.

With this kind of response, which is just as true today as it was twenty years ago, I wondered if the same thing would happen if I was an employee of, say, Boeing. That is, would people expect me to be answerable or responsible for their experiences with a 737 in the same way they do about their experiences with a Windows PC? It didn't seem like it.

What I realized is that people approach Microsoft employees more personally because their own relationship to Microsoft is essentially a personal one--personal, daily, and often for-much-of-the-day interaction with a Windows computer of some kind. Their interaction with most other things, like a Boeing 737, is much more sporadic and much less personal (the airline owns and operates the airplane). And so the tendency is to then project that intimacy with one's computer--more speciifcally, the software--to a personal representative of the company that makes it.

It's also that 90% of computer users are on Windows, so any group that contains professionals--which are the kinds of people you meet in such seminars contains probably 90% Microsoft customers. And those who aren't probably have a strong opinion as to why, because of their intimate relationship with another computer system.

I have a hard time thinking of any other technological relationship that gets projected in this way. With automobiles, there is much more of a mixture--many manufacturers, many different models, so a representative from, say, Chevrolet, wouldn't have the same experience unless they were specifically attending a meeting of Chevrolet owners.

Personally, I'm not bothered by how people respond to learning that I'm employed by Microsoft. I'm not in the least way shamed by the relationship and, in fact, deeply honor it. Indeed, when I attend such seminars and hear some of what people experience in other workplaces, I'm increasingly grateful for the fabulous environment in which I'm blessed to spend my professional hours.