This summer, Microsoft announced a program—similar to existing programs at Sun Microsystems, IBM, and Xerox—to reward its most talented engineers. In the first round of awards, Microsoft appointed 16 legendary codesmiths as Distinguished Engineers (DEs), a designation that entitles them to a financial rewards package similar to the package that the company gives its vice presidents. "We were trying to be sure that great technical people know that they have the opportunity to achieve the recognition that vice presidents receive inside the company," said Deborah Willingham, Microsoft vice president of business and enterprise division marketing.

"These appointments underscore Microsoft's commitment to our technical people as key partners in the leadership of the company," Microsoft President and CEO Steve Ballmer wrote in an email message to the company's employees. Not surprisingly, many of the engineers who received the DE awards were instrumental in the development of Windows NT, which forms the technological base for core Microsoft products. The DE awards went to the following people: Dave Cutler (who spearheaded the creation of NT), Mark Lucovsky (a founding member of the NT team), Wael Bahaa-El-Din, Anders Hejlsberg (the original author of Borland's Delphi and Turbo Pascal), Antoine Leblond, Suryanarayanan Raman, Charles Thacker, Butler Lampson, Jim Gray (database and transaction-processing specialist), Darryl Rubin, Brad Lovering, Lou Perazzoli (an original NT architect), Michael Toutonghi, Peter Spiro, Charles Simonyi (the legendary coder who invented Hungarian Notation), and Mohsen Al-Ghosein.

"I think it is very important for any company to develop their people on a career path that is best matched with the talents of the individual," said DE Mark Lucovsky. "I am not a budget guy, would never be good at deciding who should be paid what. Somehow I have been able to avoid being a manager and have been able to stay an engineer, stay engaged in writing code. The fact that Microsoft created the DE classification is encouraging because they now are formally recognizing that there should be executive-level positions without executive-level management responsibility."