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.

Real Awkward

Recent developments have made the next couple of important decisions in life quite awkward.

Add on top of that, my first spec review is tomorrow. I feel somewhat underprepared.

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.