On a drizzly, mid-September Saturday morning, players from a Microsoft corporate soccer team dash up and down the length of CenturyLink Field, engaged in the Seattle tournament’s final match against their rivals from Starbucks. A fast-moving, slippery ball foils both sides’ attempts to score. One shot makes it past the Starbucks’ goalie — but the referee’s “offside” call keeps the score at 0-0.
In the end, with stadium staff already preparing the space for an early afternoon Seattle Sounders match, players line up for a nail-biting penalty shootout to break the tie. Victory? Microsoft!
The competitiveness and camaraderie of these matches are a big draw for employees, but one of the best parts is the venue. Some say passing and dribbling on the very same pitch where the Sounders or Portland Timbers score goals is a chance of a lifetime.
“People underestimate what it feels like,” says player Chris Bohm, senior software engineer on Microsoft’s .NET team.
At Microsoft, there are almost as many different affinity groups for sports and social activities as there are career paths — the choices for both are nearly endless. Sports, arts and cultural activities abound—both locally and globally. Soccer is just one avenue many use to stay in shape and have fun.
The company hosts two corporate soccer teams — one for men, and one for both men and women. Players wear uniforms, travel for tournaments and compete against other big companies’ teams to make money for charity. Most also participate in the separate Microsoft Soccer League (MSSL), which draws hundreds of employees each year.
And for those employees, there are plenty of reasons to join the excitement.
The corporate men’s soccer team, for example, is a microcosm of diversity; five different languages are spoken within the group, and it includes people from many different levels of the company and a variety of businesses and groups.
“One of the things that’s great about Microsoft is we have people from all over the world. And soccer’s a unifying sport — it brings us together,” says team coach Larry Sullivan, a partner group engineering manager for Azure IoT.
Sullivan appreciates how soccer becomes another “connection point” with coworkers because “it opens the door to other conversations,” he says.
A software engineer on the co-ed team, Meghan Reid, says she loves soccer because “anybody can learn and enjoy” the sport. As someone who works with the Outlook Client Engineering group, she loves sharing her passion for the game with others across the organization.
For MerryJane Fosdick, co-captain of the co-ed corporate team and senior engineering lead in the Windows and Devices Group, putting together a good soccer team is a lot like building a work team. “It’s not just about skill,” she says. “It’s about working together and communicating in the right ways. It’s stronger when you have all those pieces in place.”
Fosdick’s teammates say they still remember her scoring the winning goal this past summer during the last five seconds of her team’s final match against their Nike opponents, in Portland. The win brought home the tournament’s trophy. This was the first year the co-ed team made the finals and won.
“It happened so fast,” says Fosdick. “Time was almost up, and when I got the ball, I turned and shot. I didn’t see it go in — all I saw was net.” Then she heard the ref’s whistle and knew they had scored.
Joey Mack, a manager within Global Talent Acquisition, says being on a sports team with other employees leads to new friendships among people who wouldn’t ordinarily meet, as well as an increased sense of trust.
“When you play with someone who’s in another group, you win and lose games together,” he says. “You have someone you’ve gone to battle with.” As someone who spends his days in Human Resources, Mack has enjoyed expanding his relationships outside of his organization. During the workday, he never talks to engineers. “And that’s a big part of our company,” he laughs.
For many, participating in the annual tournaments — especially the thrilling final matches — are a highlight. Corporate teams that make it to the Seattle and Portland finals play in each city’s respective professional soccer stadium. Many players had “play soccer match in a huge arena” as a “bucket list” item. Mack and Bohm say the chance to play in a big stadium was one of the things that attracted them to the company.
Of course, taking advantage of Microsoft-sponsored soccer isn’t just about playing under the big lights. There are other benefits, too.
Younger players receive informal mentoring from more veteran employees. Bohm says when he wants another perspective on how things work, he bounces ideas off of a soccer teammate with more industry experience, and receives “solid, direct advice.”
When Bohm was ready for a change from a previous role, he networked within the corporate soccer team and was hired into a new group. Without soccer, it’s unlikely he’d have found the job so easily. “It’s fun to work with people you already know,” he says.
“A big part of why I’m at Microsoft, is the relationships I’ve built.”
Newcomer Jesus Fernandez, who interned for the Web Platform team, was surprised at the amount of talent on the corporate teams. At tryouts, he was simply expecting to meet “employees who like to kick the ball around.”
Fernandez says he appreciates the freedom and flexibility he experienced this past summer. “At Microsoft, even when I’m working, it doesn’t feel like work,” he says. As his team’s highest scorer, he’s known to work as hard on the soccer pitch as he does behind a desk.
Peter Marcu, one of the team managers, echoed Jesus’ enthusiasm. The principal software engineering manager on the .NET team is glad to have company-maintained soccer fields so close to his office and the “opportunity to represent the company with some of the best players at Microsoft.”
The experience, he says, has factored into his positive work-life balance and overall job satisfaction.
He particularly values the culture at Microsoft that encourages people to connect outside of the office. “A big part of why I’m at Microsoft,” he says, “is the relationships I’ve built.”