Goodbye Seattle…

I was a mountaineer,
Having climbed Mount Rainier
(sort of…)

I bid adieu to the Pacific Northwest today, as I head home to Southeast Ontario. Things are packed up (really had to jam those bags) and I’m setting off to the airport in 15 minutes.

It’s been a fantastic experience, one I have very, very few complaints about. For now, I’m simply content with a short break, before beginning my final semester of university. Has it really been so many years already?

Several Days Later Than Usual

A friend recently pointed out that I’ve written something on, or very near each of my birthdays since the inception of this blog, but not this year. It’s 5 days past my 22nd year of aliveness, and only now am I acquiescing to the habit. Simply put, it’s been an extremely busy time.

I spent my birthday in San Francisco, not having much of a care in the world, not thinking about grad applications, not thinking about school, not thinking about work. Those were two magical days that I felt free and happy. Since then, I’ve returned to a whirlwind of work, trying to wrap things up before I head back home for the Christmas holidays.

Let me throw this out there. I have just over one (1) week left in my internship with Microsoft, and things are not yet complete. Projects grew and grew in scope, and I certainly didn’t help matters by taking on more responsibilities and tasks. I look back on the commitments I set at the beginning of the semester, and I can’t help but laugh at how limited they were in context. Perhaps the kindest comment of my efforts at Microsoft were the words of my Group PM – I don’t think of you as an intern who’s been here for 3 months. I think of you as a PM who’s been with the team for years.

The internship here at Microsoft has given me the best sense of the real world thus far. I’ve seen and experienced bureaucracy, but I also realize that people still get things done. Innovation can happen even at a large company like Microsoft, and while it seemed to lose its way over the past several years, I am very heartened and inspired by what is happening around the company. It is reinventing itself. The will of the company and its employees to be the best in the markets it participates in is extremely strong. I saw it at the Company Meeting, shortly after I joined, and I see it now as I speak with employees around the company. The company is filled with people with great ideas, and the new Microsoft is allowing those ideas to bubble up. For the longest time, I wasn’t sure if I could accomplish and influence the things I wanted to at Microsoft. I’m seeing indications that I can.

With that said, is Microsoft in my future? I’m being pulled strongly in that direction, but there are still some factors to consider. It certainly won’t be an easy decision, either way.

Oh, and happy birthday, Charlie.

Forcing Function

Only a month left in my Microsoft internship. Whew. Time flies!

I feel like I should start wrapping up my projects before my last week here; leaving it that late is always a bit of a setup for disaster. Things never quite go as one plans, and if no explicit schedule is set up for these final weeks, deadlines will inevitably drag. And in Program Management lingo, schedules provide a nice forcing function.

I went to the 2010 Seattle Auto Show on Sunday, and ogled some sweet, sweet driving machines. I sat in vehicles I had no business being in at my age and got up close and personal with the Tesla Roadster’s electric engine. There were the typical Toyotas, Fords, Lexus (Lexii?), Acuras, Mercedes, BMWs, GMs, and Hondas. But then there were the exotics: Fisker, Tesla, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce, Lotus, Maserati, Lambo, and Ferrari. Interestingly enough, one of the cars that garnered the most attention was a Hyundai! The Equus was set on a rotating pedestal, doors open, showing the crazy interior, LED headlamps, adaptive cruise control, rear adjustable massage seats, a complete entertainment system, garish chrome grill, and no Hyundai badge – and all at a price of less than $50k when it comes to the United States next year, according to the lady giving the spiel.

Ferrari F430
No, that’s not the Equus – that’s the Ferrari F430

Back on the topic of work and career, my order for The Humane Interface and Don’t Make Me Think arrived from Amazon today. My passion lies in user experience and design, so I thought it was about time I read some of the books in the field. I attended a talk by a Microsoft PM last week on effective user interface design, which referenced these two books. I chatted with the speaker afterward, and she gave glowing reviews on the books so I went home and put in an order.

After Eight Weeks

I originally wrote this as an email to close friends of mine, giving them the lowdown on what life’s been like as a Microsoft intern. An edited and slightly expanded version follows:

——

Yeah, eight weeks ago, I arrived in Seattle, eager to start my internship at Microsoft. It hasn’t felt nearly that long, and I’m a bit sad that it’s gone by so quickly – there are only 8 weeks left. I’m interning as a Program Manager on the Microsoft Office InfoPath team. Basically, in this role, one works with other PMs, developers, and testers in planning, designing, implementing and supporting features throughout the lifecycle of the product. Due to the timeframe that my internship falls, I’m more in the dogfooding + planning and designing phases. I’ve caught on to some of the business-speak (BS?) – customer-facing, user-aligned, end-to-end scenarios, value-add, etc. InfoPath (very few people I’ve spoken to outside of Microsoft have even heard of it) is a product that allows users to create powerful forms for more accurate data collection. It might sound mundane, but after working with some customers and their scenarios, I can see the utility of the product. Think about how many forms you fill every time you go through any procedure. We make that experience better and more efficient for all parties.

One reason I think the time has flown by is because I’ve tried to integrate myself completely into the PM role. Microsoft has been great in giving me the opportunity to try out every aspect of the PM role in 4 months. Usually these experiences are spread out across a product lifecycle of several years. I’m very grateful for it, and it’s meant for some hectic work and late hours. Fortunately, the team I work with is phenomenal. There are crazy good developers, extremely creative PMs and the management is intelligent.

I had heard good things about working at Microsoft before I got here, but now that I’m in the thick of things, I appreciate the environment even more. There’s a very strong focus on personal and professional development. The structure they’ve put into place seems to reward merit. Furthermore, there are a ridiculous number of benefits to the job (not so much for me, but for full-time), from pretty much free everything-healthcare-related to tuition reimbursements for part-time graduate programs to mentoring from some leadership personnel.

And it’s that graduate program they support that has me seriously considering jumping into full-time work after graduation, given I an offer (I’m told I’m on track – my midterm review is this upcoming week). At this point, I don’t think I will pursue a doctorate degree – I want too much to work in practicality and with people. With that said, I still do want a Masters degree, and while my original plan was to continue on with studies after my Waterloo degree, things have changed. I’m mulling things over, and I will be setting up an appointment to speak with my recruiter at Microsoft to discuss some pros and cons. Of course, everything hinges on getting an offer in the first place, so I’m giving 110% effort on the job right now.

Outside of work, I’ve been out in nature as much as possible. The Northwest United States is home to a plethora of mountain ranges, ocean views, and fantastic vistas. I’ve tried my best to get out to do some photography, which has been generally successful. Now, as the winter approaches, the weather’s turned to crap, showering or raining 80% of the time. But while the weather was nice, I climbed part of Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain in the lower 48, drove through the Cascade Mountain Range, and visited Whidbey Island. Of course, I also explored some of Seattle and the surrounding region. There are some very cool, quaint districts, each with a very distinct feel. The diversity of a larger city is refreshing. My flickr account has been occasionally updated with some photos, but there sits a huge backlog, yet to be processed on my hard drive.

Nikon D90 at Kerry Park

The internship and everything surrounding it has been fantastic. The program is extremely well-run, and with the goal of enticing students to return for a full-time position, Microsoft has succeeded marvelously. It probably helps that I was quite partial to the company to begin with. Nonetheless, an eminently enjoyable experience!

Stress.

Completely slammed. That’s how I feel, after a 6-day work week and trying to fit in a short photography excursion in on the 7th day.

In light of the weak job market and an uncertain graduate school path, I’ve been doing my best to excel at my Program Management internship at Microsoft. The mid-semester checkpoint review is fast approaching (1.5 weeks out) and I’m working long hours to meet all my commitments, and at the same time, contribute to the team outside of those tasks explicitly defined in those commitments. So far, the outlook is bright. My weekly 1-on-1’s have been great, with the comments from my manager and group manger very positive overall. That’s not to say there aren’t things that I can improve and learn from, but that’s the whole point.

At the current stage of the release cycle for Office 14, the main work item is bugs. Bugs, bugs, bugs. And bugbashes, and a whole lot of dogfooding. Working on bugs wasn’t an item on my commitments, but seeing its importance amongst the team currently, I’ve taken it upon myself to see several of them through to fixes. It’s nice to know that I’m now in the contributing phase of the internship, having moved on from the resource-leech phase.

I started the semester off learning InfoPath. I hadn’t touched the product before finding out that I’d be working on the team. Due to its nature, the learning curve was pretty steep. The first couple dogfooding projects were immensely helpful in getting a hang of the core features. The more ambitious one will get wrapped up this Wednesday, when I present the final product to the recruitment team, which I was working with. The next major task is a feature spec. How Microsoft does this has been a very new experience for me. Working in tandem with a dev (the dev manager no less!) and a test, I’ve come to appreciate the concept of appropriate scoping (not everything can be a pie-in-the-sky feature wish). There are still several key points to discuss, but the first review is scheduled for next Thursday. That doesn’t leave me much time! Meanwhile, there are always bugs to tackle, and I see it as a major priority to contribute as much as I can in this space. After all, it’s resolving them that will make the biggest impact on the current product release.

There have been some long days and nights, but I genuinely don’t mind the work. I can feel that the Program Management role is what I’ve come to enjoy, so much so, that I’m second guessing my original plan to pursue graduate studies. The practical, hands-on work is invigorating, not to mention the Northwest is a fantastic place. To further complicate things, I have an full-time position interview coming up, also for a similar position at a different company. Companies have started posting jobs at the University of Waterloo, and to keep my options open, I’ve applied to a couple of them. I’ve spent some time preparing, but not as much as I’d like to, with the given time constraints that I’m under.

The next few months are going to be important ones for mapping out the rest of my life. It’s been stressful.