Microsoft Gives PC Guy a Makeover

A new site hopes to dispel the tech nerd stereotype, one atypical Microsoft employee at a time. 

By now, it would be hard to have missed the "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" commercials.

The commercials feature a young, hip-looking, casually dressed guy meant to characterize the Mac persona, and a formalistic, stuffy, work-obsessed guy representing PC users.

They certainly didn't fall under the radar of Microsoft employees.

"Those ads tapped into an old stereotype. There used to be a stereotypical Microsoftie, but those stereotypes are hard to maintain when you have 70,000 employees," Ariel Stallings, a Microsoft employee and the blogger behind, told eWEEK.

With the tagline "Like the paparazzi, but for geeks" represents a new wave in corporate workplace communications-using Web 2.0 technologies to introduce employees to each other, and to the world beyond the corporate campus.

Sponsored by Microsoft, written by a Microsoft employee and focusing on Microsoft employees themselves, it features photos and short interviews with people on the software marker's sprawling Redmond, Wash., campus.

Stallings likens her role to being a roving reporter. For months, she jokes that she "stalked" the gold-helmet-wearing, Segway-riding Microsoft employee everyone saw, but few had the nerve to talk to.

"He's very visible to employees, but he's mysterious. Who is he? Why does he wear that helmet? He even gets on the elevator on his Segway. Northwesterners are really polite, so they're not going to ask the guy with the sparkly gold helmet what his deal is," said Stallings.

"When I featured him on the blog, it was the story that's gotten the most talk internally. 'Oh, it's that guy,' people would say."

In the interview, readers learn that not only is "The Golden Helmet" a perfectly normal guy (who got the sparkly helmet because he wanted something drivers could see in the dark), but he's also the guy who created the yellow highlighting that shows up if you use Outlook's search function.

A petticoat- and top-hat-wearing Goth was another Microspotted employee, also not the image presented by "PC guy."

From the interview, readers learn that not only does this Technical Editor on the Dev Div team write an online advice and etiquette column for Goths, she often finds herself doing the same for Microsoft employees who have questions about her subculture.

"Every team I've been on, I'll get someone who wanders into my office and says, 'So, my kid's getting into this wearing all black kinda thing, listening to weird music ... can I bring them into to talk to you?' And I'm always like, 'Sure! I'm happy to explain that you can still be a freak and a gainfully employed grown-up,'" Jillian Venters told Microspotting.

However, one of the most telling facts about the shifting culture at the software giant is not that Stallings-who openly admits she never thought she'd end up at the "so-called Evil Empire"-works there. Nor for that matter is it any of the other employees featured; it's the blog itself.

Microspotting is run not on Microsoft's Spaces blog platform, but WordPress, an independent platform; the photos are hosted on Flickr, a photo service owned by competitor Yahoo, and the videos are hosted on YouTube, which is owned by Google.

"When I asked about using these backend systems, I was basically told that the era of Microsoft people only being allowed to use Microsoft products is over," said Stallings.

That's a change in and of itself.