The Mystery of Microsoft’s Building Seven Lives On

And other stories of geeks hazing their peers.

A new-hire hazing ritual and other employee pranks at Microsoft's Redmond campus may live on, thanks to some good-humored building planners at the company.

The jokes revolve around the mysterious building seven. The Seattle area has 116 Microsoft buildings, and the buildings on the Redmond campus are numbered sequentially except for the number seven. There isn't one.

The missing building is fodder for various commonly executed employee pranks (or at least regularly boasted-about jokes).

Perhaps the best known is when Microsoft managers send new hires to meetings in building number seven, so that they can snicker while the new kid on the block scrambles to find the building. Or another good one entails making an anonymous call to the new hire late in the day and telling him to report to building seven within 20 minutes to pick up a security badge.

Other employees announce to coworkers that they're heading to building seven when they're going outside for a cigarette or lunch break.

But all the fun and games threatened to end recently with a new campus expansion. The facilities team announced that one of the new buildings that is part of a massive campus development would carry the number seven. That news produced a flurry of outcry from employees nostalgic about keeping this piece of campus lore alive.

The facilities managers seem to have a sense of humor, because at least according to one employee blog that refers to an employee newsletter, they relented. The blogger said the facilities department decided against using the number seven in response to the outcry.

Microsoft jokers aren't out of the woods yet, however. The company's public relations firm said that Microsoft in fact hadn't announced or decided on anything yet regarding building seven.

Either way, the mystery is still unsolved. Microsoft workers have some good theories about why there isn't a building number seven. One, who posted a comment on a colleague's blog, said that when construction companies started to clear an area for building seven, they found that the ground wasn't stable enough to support a building. Plans for buildings eight through 10 were already under way, however, so they just skipped the number seven.

Another Microsoft blogger says the company was expanding very quickly and decided to make buildings eight, nine and 10 twice the size of previous buildings, and that decision involved using up the space that had been allocated for building seven.

A commenter on that blog said that actually the city wouldn't let the company build number seven on the chosen site because at the time it was too far away from the main campus entrance and emergency vehicles wouldn't be able to reach it quickly enough. Because Microsoft wouldn't pay to widen another nearby road that would have enabled quicker emergency access, the blogger wrote, the city refused to permit the building.

Microsoft's PR firm gave me an official explanation that is really an amalgamation of some of these theories. Apologies to anyone so interested that this amounts to torture, but I've decided not to spell it out further in the spirit of letting the (harmless) stories flourish.

One other theory that wasn't mentioned from my official Microsoft source, but would be a nice thought, is that Microsoft decided against building on the spot where number seven would go in order to save old trees there.

Another commenter to that blog posting from several years ago wrote that he was glad there wasn't a building seven for that very reason. "It's actually a wonderful thing that Building 7 was never built," he wrote. "The site, just south of Building 5 and 6, was landscaped into one of the prettiest parks on campus. There are 15 or so Douglas Firs larger than 100 feet tall, remnants of the forest that fringes campus, that gave the surrounding suburb the name Sherwood Forest."

Alas, that's definitely an old blog comment because the tall trees—and in fact there were hundreds, not just 15—have recently been chopped down to make way for a new building. Amid the grumbling from some employees about difficulties finding parking on campus are laments about the loss of those beautiful trees. But at least the new building may not be called number seven and I haven't spilled the beans, so the pranks and the mystery can live on.


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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