As I prepare to do my final packing for Africa (weight limit: 33 lbs for 4 weeks, ug), I’m reminded of the quaint tradition of ship gifts at Microsoft and wonder again why ship gifts tend to be so bad. Ship gifts, in case it isn’t obvious, are gifts that the company gives a development team when a product finally makes it out the door.
I’m reminded of this because the duffel bag that I’m packing is pretty much the only ship gift that I’ve gotten in nearly 12 years at Microsoft that I think is actually worth a damn. As a gift for shipping Access ’97, everyone got these really nice High Sierra duffel bags with a tasteful “Access’ 97” sewn into the bag. The duffel is really great — besides being rugged, it also expands from normal size up to a bigger size in case you buy stuff on your trip or need a little extra space. I’ve taken the bag all kinds of places and it was my primary bag on my last really long trip, my monthlong honeymoon to Spain four years ago.
In comparison, the 8 or 9 other ship gifts have either been entirely forgotten or were so cheap and/or useless that they’ve been tossed out. I know, I know, the old adage about looking a gift horse in the mouth applies here, and it’s not like Microsoft doesn’t pay me a living wage. So what am I complaining about? Mostly the waste. I mean, for shipping Access ’95, we were given a pretty decent letterman’s jacket that was marred by, excuse my French, a butt-ugly Access logo that I think was supposed to be purple but ended up looking more pink. Some sewing minded coworkers managed to get the logo patch off without destroying the jacket, but who’s got the time (or the equipment for that matter)? Instead, it’s been taking up space in my closet for the past eight years because I can’t bring myself to throw it out or give it away.
In a lot of ways, ship gifts are just a part of the love affair that corporate America as a whole has with cheap, useless and/or ugly swag. And I do think most of the time it’s just a huge waste, fueled by everyone’s love of getting something, even a crappy something, for nothing. (And based on my own behavior at trade shows, this is the pot calling the kettle black.) I think we’d all be a lot better off either getting high quality useful stuff that we’re not going to toss or leave in the hall closet for years or just not getting anything at all. It’s not like we need most of this stuff.
But, then, that’s just my $0.02…