Microsoft Corporation announced Monday that it had established a program, similar to existing programs at Sun Microsystems, IBM, and Xerox, to reward its most talented workers. In the first round of awards, 16 legendary Microsoft codesmiths were appointed the title of "Distinguished Engineer," which entitles them to a financial rewards package similar to that given to Microsoft 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," says Deborah Willingham, the vice president for human resources at Microsoft.

"These appointments underscore Microsoft's commitment to our technical people as key partners in the leadership of the company," president and CEO Steve Ballmer wrote in an email to the company's employees last week. The first round of Distinguished Engineer awards went to Dave Cutler, who masterminded the creation of Windows NT, Mark Lucovksy, Wael Bahaa-El-Din, Anders Hejlsberg (the original author of Borland Turbo Pascal and Delphi), Antoine Leblond, Suryanarayanan Raman, Charles Thacker, Butler Lampson, Jim Gray (database and transaction processing specialist), Darryl Rubin, Brad Lovering, Lou Perrazzoli (an original NT architect), Michael Toutonghi, Peter Spiro, Charles Simonyi (legendary coder who invented Hungarian Notation), and Mohsen Al-Gosein.

"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 Mark Lucovksy, who was among those given the Distinguished Engineer (DE) title. Lucovksy was a key member of the original team created Windows NT. "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.