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In The Company of Women: Don't Flip The Bozo Bit.
By Morris Sim
Friday, 17th May 2013
 
At Microsoft, there's a saying 'flipping the bozo bit'; bits are binary – they can either be on or off, so the saying describes the moment when a person loses credibility completely and with it, their career.

In my first few months at Microsoft, I was useless. The product I was supposed to market was delayed by at least a year, and as the most junior marketer, I had little to do.  My first manager found tasks for me and I became a glorified admin.

4Hoteliers Image Library(Picture shows Morris (centre) and Guy Charusadhirakul, Sr Manager Partnership, APAC, TripAdvisor on a panel)

One day in a meeting, I blurted out an idea so outrageously non-Microsoft that the reaction I got convinced me that my managers and my peers had flipped the bozo bit on me. 

As I sat dejected in my office contemplating the end of my career, a manager from another department who had been in the meeting came to my office to talk to me about what I had said.

What I suggested was wild, he said, but he saw in it a spark of creativity.  He wanted to know if I would consider working for him, even though it meant switching from marketing to technical development.  I said yes, and dodged my bozo bit being flipped for the time being.

When I began working for him, he told me to wear glasses because I "looked like I was sixteen. It's hard to respect someone who looked so young."

"Don't wear shorts," he also advised for the same reason, despite a working environment where everyone else dressed as they pleased: shorts, tank tops, Birkenstocks, and even flip-flops. They were trying to stay in high school; I was trying to look like an adult. 

"If what I said offended you, sorry. Just don't take my advice," he said. "But please don't tell HR that I told you this. If they found out I'd probably get fired."

I couldn't have been more grateful. As a young Taiwanese employee starting a career in the software world some 25 years ago, I didn't know the inside scoop. Through the years this manager who was very much part of the establishment protected me, yelled at me, defended me, made me stay late and work weekends, gave me the best projects, helped me navigate through internal politics, and asked other great mentors in his circle to do the same for me.  Had it not been for him and other mentors, I wouldn't have risen through the ranks as quickly.  They taught me everything I know about building a product.

As I sat at WITX in Bangkok – I came to appreciate the gathering and also understood why Siew Hoon wanted men like me to be there. Even though I felt like a fraud – really, what do I know about being a woman – I realized that wasn't the point. The point was: it's one thing to have mentorship from one's own kind, but help from people outside one's group can accelerate progress, as it did with me when I worked at Microsoft.

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