Last week I started in the middle of the 2-week "new hire" cycle, so until now I've not had to sit through "new employee orientation", but Monday was the day. As I was driving down to San Jose for a 9:00am start (groan), I was musing on the many orientations I've attended over the years ...
By far the longest was my first entry into Apple (in 1991) which consisted of a solid week of endoctrination. Apple had a special building for this activity, where we role-played ethical decisions, was introduced to the Mac operating system and the company's both dubious and illustrious history, met executives who graciously stopped by from time to time. We were taught about AppleLink (global internal email years ahead of its time) by logging in and each penning hate mail directly to John Scully ... and then using the "unsend" feature to erase it before he ever saw it. At the end of the week we were given our "Journey is the Reward" tee-shirts and away we went, each believeing we were going to help Apple "Change the World". It was heady stuff.
Microsoft, by contrast, had a half-day that was pretty dry in 1994. Key skills I gathered at that orientation were learning to navigate the famous "X" buildings (which have seemingly miles of identical corridors) and what to do if I got an email from Bill (RUN, don't walk to your manager and ask for help).
Back at Apple 4 years after I started, I found that orientation had morphed into 1.5 days, no executive visit (there were videos), no tee-shirt. Such was the "Steve doesn't work here anymore" tonal shift. I did experience my first-ever "sexual harrassment" segment in orientation. It was 15 minutes long.
Symantec's orientation was completely forgettable, except that then CEO Gordon Eubanks did make an in-person appearance. Once I got back to my desk, my colleagues were interested to hear what I thought of their mandatory harrassment training and honestly I didn't remember hearing it. I'm certain I would have remembered learning the "Symantec and the Law" hand gesture (extend your right index finger and thumb into a letter L shape, then pantomime and S shape) which they reflexively did anytime a conversation veered in the direction of somebody feeling harrassed.
Sun Microsystems famously recruited me from an overheard conversation in a sushi bar in Cupertino. I remember their orientation being refreshingly un-insulting to my intelligence, and very sparse on the rah-rah factor. In fact that was a theme that would play out in all of my time at Sun, and might be one reason why I thrived there. As I was technically joining JavaSoft we got extra things like free sodas (maybe not such a good thing, in retrospect) and frequent beer bashes ... it was good to be elite, was the main messaging I remember. Oh, and also according to the big marketing campaign at the time, we wanted to "Stop the Technology Madness" which was really confusing; didn't Sun sell technology? I gathered they needed better messaging people. We did get a fly-by visit from Scott McNealy at my orientation (no idea if this was normal, but it happened to ours).
And now we've come to Intel ... before I tell you this one, I have to say that I actually broke out in hives during this orientation. I had done an earlier consulting gig at Intel and I found their culture to be de-humanizing and possibly damaging (this was during their "Constructive Conflict is Healthy" phase, and I'd seen that phrase used to justify outrageous and unprofessional bullying behavior). I became an employee 5 years later because I liked the project I was going to work on, and my hiring manager convinced me he would sheild me from the negative aspects of the culture (which promise he honored, I'm happy to say). But at orientation I was still really uncertain, and I went in with misgivings. The content was delivered by a retired Intel employee doing part-time service as a welcoming committee, which on the face of it is a charming idea until you factor in that this person was a S-L-O-W talker. When I left (and I left early, which was clearly a controversial thing to do, but I couldn't stand it anymore) he was already an hour overtime, and he was by no means finished. After I left I went immediately to a bon-voyage party for me being thrown by Sun colleagues at a local restaurant. I remember hugging each of them and thinking, "I'm never going to be allowed to hug anybody at Intel; I am *so* screwed". So all in all it was pretty negative. The one thing that I found really valuable in that experience was (and you're sensing a theme by now) their harrassment segment. It was 90 minutes long by itself. During this segment we were asked to practice a) asking a co-worker out on a date b) declining such an ask c) behaving respectfully once refused. I found it fascinating that they actually had us model these behaviors. I wish more companies did this.
While I've been writing this post, my orientation has been proceeding and now its done. I have to say EBay/PayPal exceeded my expectations at least in the orientation. They did their best to make a dry subject fun and informative. We did a scavenger hunt at one point which taught us a bit about EBay history and the facility. Instead of talking at us about the companys' achievements they had us do guided research and prepare (in small teams) presentations on aspects of the company. The last bit was a visit to the "Customer Innovation Center" at PayPal to see present and future products in "action" at mock storefronts and livingrooms.
My big "ah-ha" this was during segment. I had no idea that PayPal thinks of itself first and foremost as a benevolent risk-management company for small (and some large) merchants. This is just so far off what I and most of my friends think of first (payments company and necessary evil of internet commerce) that I'm intrigued (and I've added a blog on my explorations into this gap for the future). So, as always I guess stay tuned...