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.

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:

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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!