Tag Archives: co-op

Wrapping Up

Tomorrow is my last day at Microsoft, at least for the time being. After exactly 16 weeks, my internship is drawing to a close, and after checking off a couple more tasks tomorrow, it’ll have been successfully completed. How do I measure success in this instance? I’ve learned a lot about the Program Manager role, as it is defined at Microsoft. I’ve gained valuable insight on what it means to be a full-time employee. I’ve had a ton of fun with the team and the intern program. Finally, I will walk out of Building 36 tomorrow, with a full-time offer in hand.

I’m about halfway done packing things up to return to Canada. I’ve collected many things that will need to be shipped back separately. While it feels like the 4 months have flown by, each item I pack into my suitcases brings back a specific memory of the semester. It makes those memories more vivid.

I’ve always been very loyal to my places of internship, but this Microsoft team experience has been especially deep. The team welcomed me with open arms, inviting me to all sorts of after-work events. Perhaps most touching was the invitation to a Thanksgiving dinner at a teammate’s home, along with other friends. The display of friendship meant a lot to me. Despite being an intern, I felt as if I had known some of these people for years. They made me feel like an integral part of the team.

As a result, it is with both sadness and contentment that I’ll be leaving tomorrow. I’ll be sad to leave a great group of people, but it’s been a fantastic experience working with them. Thank you, team InfoPath.

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.

First Week In the Northwest

Okay. I’ve been in the United States Northwest for a week, worked at Microsoft for 5 business days and took a trip to the Boeing wide-body factory in Everett. I’ve experienced sun and some rain. I’ve driven around the area and now understand why Seattle is called the Emerald City. I’ve come to worship SlickDeals and the Zune Pass. Now, it’s time to put down some thoughts.

The Northwest is a dark, gloomy, wet, and dreary place to work and live. Being in the Northwest has upset many of my preconceptions of the region. I’d read about how few days of sun Seattle gets each year. I heard about constant clouds and rain and complete utter misery. Granted the amount of precipitation will increase throughout the months that I’ll be here, I can’t help but be so excited about being straddled by the Pacific Ocean and the Olympic Mountains/rainforest to the west and Mount Rainier and the Cascades to the east. There is simply too much fantastic nature to take in over the next 4 months. The Labour Day long weekend is shaping up to be a pretty rainy one, but Monday should be sunny and I’m planning a photo trek out towards Lake Wenatchee. The new camera backpack is purchased and ready to go (a Tamrac Aero Speed Pack 85). It also helps that the entire area, the city included, is filled with lush trees. Driving on the local freeways gives the air of being in the middle of a forest. Hence the Emerald City nickname; the color green permeates the region.

The first week at Microsoft consisted of drinking lots of the corporate kool-aid, which is a very tasty drink, I might add. It’s hard not to feel good about working for a company that’s so successful. The perks are awesome (Microsoft Prime, health benefits, private offices, car rental subsidies, and a generous salary) and the people all top caliber. Microsoft gets painted in terrible light, almost everywhere in the world, but being on the inside, there’s no indication that they’re out to destroy lives and businesses. Yeah, there are jokes and banter about the competition, but it wouldn’t be normal for that not to exist. Subpoenaed communications between employees taken in the contextual vacuum of a courtroom means the interpretation can be quite different from the intention. That’s not to say Microsoft hasn’t made some poor decisions in the past. Just don’t mistake Microsoft for Godzilla. There is a reasoning behind the madness.

I’ve started settling in with the Office InfoPath team. Security permissions are still a mess and I don’t have access to any of the internal Office resources, which is putting a damper on my knowledge ramp up. In the meantime, I’ve been using InfoPath and learning the ins and outs. As a PM, I’m discovering that much of the day is filled with meetings. It’s not so bad right now, since I don’t have too much to do yet, but I foresee it as a challenge to attend these meetings and still get all the necessary work done.

The team in general is quite young, with three PM’s hailing from the University of Waterloo. Everyone’s been super supportive of the new intern, and I’m beginning to feel comfortable. I’m eager to get to work with some of the devs on real tasks, but that’ll have to wait until I can do more benefit than damage, with my limited experience with the product, for now.

Yesterday, I, along with some fellow interns, journeyed north to the Boeing wide-body aircraft factory in Everett, where we partook in the Boeing factory tour. I stood in the world’s largest building by internal volume and watched as Boeing 747-8s, 777s, and the new 787 Dreamliners were built. I often take my flying safety for granted, but seeing today the extreme engineering marvel that is aircraft construction, I’m going to say a little prayer of thanks to those workers every time I step on a plane from now on. Business Process Management? You haven’t seen it until you’ve witnessed the assembly line in Everett. I can’t imagine the kind of pride an engineer at Boeing must feel when the first plane of a new line makes its inaugural flight safely.

Pratt and Whitney at the Future of Flight

I signed up to the Zune Pass trial, something that I’ve always wanted to do when I was in Canada, but couldn’t due to region restrictions. I fully intend on continuing with the paid subscriptions once the 14 day trial is up. The value proposition is fantastic and I’ve been itching to discover some new music. The internet connection at the place I’m staying at is quite slow, 1Mbps, so we’re trying to get that upgraded. Once that’s done, I’ll have nearly uninhibited access to a wide selection of music. That reminds me, Pandora should be available as well, now that I’m in the US.

Looking forward, next week will be a shortened work week, both due to the Labour Day holiday, as well as an all-hands company meeting on Thursday. I’m excited to see the executives talk about Microsoft’s progress over this difficult year, and perhaps even Steve Ballmer jump around on stage. On a more serious note, I’m very curious as to how Ballmer is as a CEO. Every time his name comes up, most people probably see the generic fist pumps or awkward facial expressions. I’m more interested in the untainted person who has such a large say in running one of the world’s most successful companies.

URA, Co-op, and Orchestra

The last week has been quite eventful.

After some scrambling, I was able to get an Undergraduate Research Assistantship with a professor in the Computer Science department, working in the area of HCI, which is a great match for my user interface interest. I’m slightly unsure how to approach the project I was given, which will involve interviews with others, so I’ve been absorbing all the research papers on the topic as I can get my hands on. In the meantime, I’m planning some meetings with my supervising professor to get some pointers. The excellent opportunity should give me an idea of what graduate research is like, before I apply to grad schools in the fall. It’s like… part-time co-op for grad school.

Although I didn’t need to apply for jobs this semester, I am more pleased than ever that I secured a job with Microsoft last semester. The Microsoft job posting for the fall semester was suddenly pulled from Jobmine earlier this week. I later found out that all the positions for the fall had either been filled, or were in the process of being filled. The head recruiter was quick to point out that it wasn’t a matter of Microsoft not hiring, but rather that the available positions had been filled. Although slightly odd to have interviewed a semester early, in retrospect that would have been the only way for me to work there in the fall.

Orchestra is in full swing now, and I’ve been appointed percussion lead once more. The others in the section are all musically talented, but their musical training, like mine comes from piano, and neither have much experience in percussion. Consequently, I’ve been ‘mentoring’ the section somewhat, with my decidedly meager skills. It’s a great learning experience for me, both in terms of making sure I know the technique well enough to impart it on others, as well as actively teaching something to someone on a continuing basis. I’m planning extra sessions outside of rehearsal to answer questions and help the other percussionists.

I’m headed home again this weekend as my cousin is coming to visit for the US long weekend. From what I understand, he’ll be bringing his newly acquired Nikon D700. I can’t wait to talk shop with him, not to mention try out a damn nice camera.

The Beginning of the Rest of My Life

Midterms are finally over (having stretched over 4 weeks) and despite the extended period of time, the convergence of lab reports, fourth year project requirements, and a software engineering project have sucked up just about all the time I can devote and still get enough sleep. But now that they’re out of the way, I find myself with some more time to think. Think about the short term, this semester, think about the medium term, until I graduate next year, and the long term, the rest of my life.

Earlier today, I formally accepted the Program Manager co-op position at Microsoft. I suppose in consideration of my request during the interview, I will be working in the Office group, and more specifically the InfoPath team, which, admittedly, is a product I know very little about. When asked if I knew about the product, my mind’s eye leapt to the Office 2007 install screen where I uncheck options such as Access and InfoPath.

Microsoft Office InfoPath

Thinking that probably wasn’t the best answer to the question, I simply told the truth; I know very little about InfoPath. I say, it’s a form designer or something along those lines, right?

Fortunately, I was able to speak with my manager-to-be. He gave a fantastic, concise overview of the product and the direction they’re taking it. After a couple use cases, I felt I had a grasp of at least the main goals of the product, if not the details.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that I might have preferred to work on a product that I am more familiar with; however, I did mention my interest in user experience and interface design when prompted. My thought is this: I’d rather work on something I enjoy in a product that I can’t relate with as well than work on something I’m not interested in on a product I use every day. We’ll see if that mindset is justified.

While I’m very excited about the prospect of working at Microsoft in the fall, my proximity to graduating from this 5 year engineering program has me considering my life afterward. I’m not looking forward to that with quite so much enthusiasm.

Thus far,  my life has been structured. Six years in elementary school. Three in both junior and senior high school. Five years at the University of Waterloo. Those last five years could be further divided into semesters of work and study, an even more defined pattern. But when I think about April 2010, the beginning of the rest of my life, the vast unknown spooks me.

Do I try to cocoon myself in further studies by pursuing graduate studies? At the very least, that would give me a few more years to  figure things out. What if I receive a full-time offer from Microsoft? Am I ready to commit the rest of my life to this vast thing I know only as a ‘career’?

For a few years, while I trudged through the first half of my degree program, I answered my parents’ questions of my future with, oh, I still have time. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. I do. So much. The problem is that thinking about it is scary. Just like when I had to decide what to do after high school, the unknown that stands before me is very murky. I wanted to ignore the problem for as long as I could.

And the time to face this problem is now. I am gearing up to potentially continue with graduate studies. I’m also preparing to do as well as humanly possible at the upcoming Microsoft opportunity, in the hopes of receiving a full-time offer. I want to keep my options open. This semester, more than ever, I’m trying to bring my marks up even more and get on Dean’s List again. I’m realizing that getting 95% or 100% on an exam is no longer impossible, so when I recognize mistakes after writing one, I’m disappointed. Contrast this with my first semester at Waterloo, fresh out of high school on PEI, not even knowing if I could be average.

It’s a good thing that I’m not realizing this too late; I still have some time to figure things out before graduation. I need to find the goal for my life. That it’s easier said than done would be a gross understatement. Wish me luck.

Elation – Microsoft PM

It seems like when things go right, they really go right.

No point beating around the bush here, I received an offer for a PM position at Microsoft for the fall semester earlier today. Furthermore, I found out yesterday that I (finally) passed PDEng 55.

On my second attempt at a Microsoft position, I did a significant amount of preparation, which paid off in the best way possible. I have a call scheduled for Monday, when I’ll get a chance to ask some more questions and maybe speak with the team that I would be working with if I were to accept.

Funny thing is, I actually had a dream about receiving a call from Microsoft last night. In the dream, my interviewer called me to inform me of their decision, but for some reason, I couldn’t hear what he had to say. I was in agony over not knowing, despite being on the phone with the person who was telling me. That dream was the catalyst that made me inquire about my fortunes. I sent an email to Microsoft before heading off the class this morning.

I picked up the real call in the the Davis Centre library, around the tables where it’s quite noisy, and yep, I initially couldn’t hear what the HR contact I’d been communicating with was saying. Talk about semi-deja vu. But once the message got through to my brain, I spent the remainder of the call tripping over myself and thanking her profusely. It was probably embarrassing, but I was simply too happy to care.

The opportunity is still 5 months away, so it’s a bit premature to get overly excited now, but I’m already thinking about it. It’s only natural, I suppose. In the meantime, I’ll be preparing for the last two midterms on Tuesday and Wednesday. Focus!

Verge of Reading Week

A midterm, an interview with Microsoft, picking courses for the next semester, and a troublesome lab. Those are a few of the things that I’ve been indulging myself in. Now, I’m packing on the verge of reading week, when, for once, I’ll actually be ‘reading‘ for upcoming midterms instead of catching up on classes after midterms.

My biggest event of recent memory was the Microsoft interview for a Program Management position. I was initially contacted for an interview for the upcoming semester (they had my resume on file from my product planner attempt), but they didn’t have any issue with interviewing for the fall semester, when I’m actually available for my last co-op term. Although not one to subscribe to the multitude of superstitious beliefs, I’m going to  refrain from writing any details about the interview questions, which was held yesterday. That said, overall, I am hopeful.

I prepared hellishly hard for the interview and I’m glad I did. A couple of the questions (in particular during the behavioral portion of the interview) were ones I’d predicted. I made sure to employ some key skills during the design problems, such as focusing on user experience and tying every feature back to driving value for the customer. With every extra minute of preparation, I wanted the job more and more, but at the same time, I think I need to be realistic and not become too emotionally attached. Easier said than done, to be certain.

Now that it’s over, I’m trying not to dwell on things that are no longer under my control. I’m shifting focus over to the 4 midterms I have after reading week. Genuine interest is being formed for many of the topics being covered in class now, so studying’s not much of a chore. I hope that feeling will continue next semester; I’ve picked ECE 411 (Digital Communications), ECE 418 (Communications Networks), and ECE 438 (Digital Integrated Circuits) as my core technical courses.

I also hope to get out and do some photography next week. The weather looks nice for this weekend and early into reading week. My involvment with the University of Waterloo Photo Club has pushed me to buy a Nikon SB-600 flash. There were some very cool lessons on flash photography last week which I’m interested in diving into.

Another Shot at Microsoft

Last year, I interviewed for a product planning co-op position at Microsoft, which I unfortunately didn’t get. I ended up working at Indigo, and if you’ve been following recently, I don’t regret that one bit.

But it’s a new year and I still have an itch that hasn’t been scratched.

At the beginning of the semester I attended a Microsoft mix & mingle event where I was able to speak with the recruiter for the University of Waterloo, as well as both full-time and a co-op UI program managers. While my work at Indigo showed me that web development is indeed more of a hobby than career path for me, user interface and experience design is something I’m very interested in as a potential career. The opportunity of UI PM at Microsoft was enticing, to say the least.

So, imagine my excitement when I received an interview invitation for a PM position at Microsoft a couple days ago. I don’t have a work term until the fall, and thus didn’t apply to any jobs this semester. Regardless, Microsoft keeps résumés on file for one year and contacted me outside of Jobmine. I got word back today stating it was alright that I interview for the fall semester.

The interview is slated for either the upcoming Tuesday or Wednesday. In addition to studying for an ECE 355 midterm, I will be preparing for an interview I intend on nailing this time.

Indigo – Life Changing.

Note: I’ve been sitting on this post for nearly a month now, tweaking it and sanitizing it to make it convey how strongly I feel, but at the same time respect the people I care for. I feel that it is ready now.

I worked on what may become a darn popular web site.

I pulled several 60 hour+ weeks (consecutively).

I fell in love with the big city.

I was surrounded by damned smart and fun people.

I met an amazing person.

My initial thoughts on working at Indigo went something along the lines of, Oh great… this is glamorous. I visited the office prior to my start date and found an old, nondescript building that had but a Chapters banner hanging on the front. Unimpressed would be an understatement. What can I say, I’m influenced by first impressions and this one wasn’t good.

That’s not even mentioning the fact that I’d be working in Toronto, which was lumped into the places to avoid category, in my big-cities-are-bad mentality. Having grown up in Charlottetown, spending an extended period of time in a crowded, bustling place didn’t appeal to me in the least. I figured it was expensive, noisy, and dangerous – again, a function of that first impressions thing of mine.

Coupling the above two thoughts, it was one semester I wasn’t looking forward to.

In a way, I’m glad I commuted 2 hours each way for the first two weeks, even though it was killer (physically/mentally). It eased me into the city atmosphere for the day, but I didn’t have to spend all my time there, yet. However, seeing as working overtime would be too difficult with the commute and that I was simply spending too much time on the road, I bit the money wad and rented a studio in a condo, that was sort of out of the way (if you count a 20 minute walk to the heart of the financial center ‘out of the way’). Pardon the explicit foreshadowing, but if I did it all again, I’d move 20 minutes closer.

I think my job title was UI Developer Co-op, but I ended up delving further back into the code-base than simply HTML, CSS, and JS, just as I wanted. Probably an indication of my being partial to business, I also got involved in requirements review, was as proactive as was possible, and worked directly with the business team which, I later found out from my team lead, he frowned upon slightly. (On the other hand, this did give me the opportunity to be involved in requirements planning which as a co-op I normally wouldn’t expect.)

Yeah, I’ll admit it, I suck up a bit, and whether it’s intentional or not doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. I’m really glad my team lead was blunt about it (he was two things: extremely smart and completely to the point on everything). I hadn’t realized it in this case, and I consciously watched my actions with business from that point on. Hey, office politics are an integral part of the co-op experience as much as whatever work one actually does. May as well learn it now.

I worked like a madman. It helped that nearly everyone else at the office was a part of my madman family. I worked past midnight on many occasions, but was (surprisingly) never the last person in the office. The flexibility offered by the team director was beyond description, but I’ll try anyways. I could roll in whenever I wanted. Although I never took advantage of this to its maximum extent (I’m too structured for that unfortunately), some of the others did, skipping the day and arriving after most people had left for the evening. I didn’t bat an eye when I decided to stroll around downtown mid-afternoon on a weekday for a couple hours to do some photography. The freedom and trust placed in us was, well, liberating. I’m not sure if I’ll ever find another workplace like it.

I overcame my fear of the city. In fact, my feelings of Toronto quickly progressed from anxiety to neutrality to adoration. There were countless choices for food within a couple blocks of the office (so much so that it was hellishly difficult to choose anything). The Toronto Symphony Orchestra was but a 5 minute walk away and musical theatres lined the street. It doesn’t get much better than that, as I soon found out. I went to a few phenomenal TSO concerts and saw the musicals Spamalot and The Sound of Music. What’s more, I didn’t feel like I was going to be stabbed, shot or mugged at any point, even when walking around well past midnight.

And the people. The work was already pretty good, but the environment, the people, made the job. I looked forward to going to work almost every morning. There’s something to be said about enjoying the work – it doesn’t feel like a chore you do to get by. It didn’t feel like working with co-workers. It was as though I were amongst friends. Generally, there was no fakery – people were blunt when they needed to be and felt comfortable giving and taking social jabs. I think it would be best described as comfortable.

That comfortable atmosphere also afforded me the chance to interact with some people beyond simply work, but to a level of friendship. One of my fellow co-ops was especially a blast to work with. We seemed to be on the same wavelength. He was more of a back-end developer and more often than not, we’d write our code individually and it would just work together on the first try. I’ve been keeping in touch and hope to do so for the foreseeable future.

And that amazing person. She’s one of the most phenomenal people I’ve met in my short (as she reminded me on more than one occasion) life. Although not significantly older, in the presence of her maturity, I felt rather innocent and naive (not necessarily in a negative way). I attribute it not to immaturity on my part but a vast amount of life experience on hers. Having gone through a similar university program to what I’m currently undertaking, I learned a lot of what to expect over this last year and a bit. I also garnered invaluable lessons in life. I hope to keep in contact for as long as I can, but even beyond that, I won’t soon forget her.

I’m certain even many years down the road, this semester will still stand out in the grand scheme of things. The experience encompassed everything from office politics to deep personal interactions to, oh right, learning a heck of a lot about web design and development. The contacts I’ve made are ones I hope to keep beyond using just as career-building tools.

Oh, and the project I worked on?

Shortcovers