Life at Microsoft

It has been two weeks since I started working for Microsoft as an intern so I figured it would be a good time to give my thoughts about life at Microsoft so far.

For those who don’t know, I am currently in the midst of an internship with Microsoft’s Word team in Redmond, Washington. To learn about the internship program (it’s rather unique), please check out my previous post, A New Type of Internship.

The Work

So far the work has been beyond anything I could have imagined! I feel constantly busy, yet having fun at the same time since I’m working on something I feel greatly passionate about. It is definitely challenging since, being on the Word team, there is such a large user-base being designed and developed for (according to Michael Schultz, Microsoft Office Live Director of Marketing, “All told, roughly half a billion people use Office."). This creates intriguing obstacles when creating a design that is both feasible to create, yet satisfies the needs of the majority of users. There’s a saying I’ve heard which describes this situation perfectly and goes something like this: “Most people only use 10% of a large program’s capabilities. The only issue is that everyone uses a different 10%.”

Currently I am only in the PM phase of the internship, however when I get to the developer phase the fact that the code base is so incredibly large and aged (the first version of Word was released in 1983) will also create many challenges in bug creation/fixing and general implementation problems.

The Campus

For those who have not been able to visit the Redmond campus, it is truly breathtaking. Its sheer size is incredible, occupying an astonishing 388 acres in 2007 on both sides of a major highway. In addition, despite the fact that a technology company occupies it, there is a vast amount of green space, with sports fields, forested areas and trails to walk or ride on in abundance. I find that Microsoft really has done a great job of making sure their campus isn’t a concrete jungle. Indoors, along with a myriad of offices to fit the approximately 40 000 employees in the Puget Sound area, there are multitudes of cafeterias, cafes and other small stores.

To get around the massive campus, there are a fleet of shuttle vehicles that go from building to building getting you to exactly where you need to be. This service is very fast: I’ve only had to wait more than 5 minutes for a shuttle once and I’ve ridden a number of shuttles since I started work.

Getting to work provides a number of different options. While public transit is always available, if you like to drive yourself there are parking garages under practically every building. Microsoft also provides a free commuter service with a fleet of private buses that contain secure WiFi access and pickup locations around the Puget Sound area. If you prefer to ride a bicycle and live close enough to campus, there are bike racks in front of all the buildings, with some buildings having a large bike rack in the parking garage for protection from the weather.

 The People

All of the people I have met thus far have been amazing. I have never been in a place where I have felt so much drive and passion; it is truly infectious once you are here. Everyone wants to do the best they can, and want you to do the same. If you need help, everyone wants to give their expertise and if they don’t know the answer, they will find someone who does. Not only are people driven, they are fun. I have attended one random game night that someone set up over the course of a day and I’m sure there will be more to come!

One thing I have been thoroughly impressed with is how many people have been provided for myself, as an intern, to go to for advice and help. These people have no influence in the hiring process and all they are there for is to help me succeed; to get that offer to return. In fact, that reminds me of one thing that was said during the orientation:

“We make it so the only reason you don’t succeed is because of you.”

I feel this is true both at Microsoft, and with life in general. If you have the ambition to reach out to and learn from the resources around you, applying the knowledge and skills back to work and life, you will succeed over any obstacle.

What This All Means

Although this may sound like an advertisement for Microsoft, I can honestly say that it isn’t in any way, shape or form. What I have said is truly how I have felt about working at the company for 2 weeks. So far this has been one of the best experiences of my life and I’m looking forward to 10 more weeks of working and interning for Microsoft.

A New Type of Internship

As a student the world can be incredibly overwhelming, demanding that you decide on a specific job and career path when you haven’t experienced much besides school. I personally have worked a number of jobs, however they had no relevance to my chosen career of programming and computers. Because of the lack of experience in the actual career path I have chosen, I don’t know exactly where I want to be. Do I want to be part of the IT department at a large corporation? Join a small software development company? Create my own business? Work for a large consumer software corporation such as Microsoft, Google or Apple? There are so many options with so little experience on which to decide.

This is why in September 2010, I attended a career fair hosted by my university. It was there that I found out Microsoft offers a new type of internship. A 12 week summer internship, designed specifically for students coming out of their 1st and 2nd years of university: Explore Microsoft.

What is “Explore Microsoft” compared to a regular internship? Variety. During a regular internship, you choose and work in a discipline for a specific amount of time. Although this gives you great experience with that specific discipline, it does not allow one to experience any other roles in the company with which you are interning. If you don’t like the job, there is no immediate chance to try anything else. The effects are magnified when, at least at the University of Calgary, our internships for engineering are supposed to last 12-16 months and be completed all at once between our third and fourth years of university. This results in our only chance for work experience in our chosen field most likely being restricted to one job before finishing our education.

Alternatively, the Explore Microsoft internship offers 4 weeks in the three main disciplines found in Microsoft software development: Program Manager (PM), Software Development Engineer (SDE) and Software Development Engineer in Test (SDET). Each role fully immerses you, requiring you to perform all of the duties a full time employee would; albeit in a shorter period of time. This gives you the chance to make a more informed decision as to which role fits you the best, either in Microsoft itself or somewhere else. In addition to offering the variety, the 3 month duration of the entire internship is ideal, allowing students to complete it without cutting into the school year.

Let me walk you through a typical Explorer Internship.

First of all, you are put in a team with 2 other explorer interns. As a group, your team is assigned a project that directly relates to the product you are a part of. After dividing the project into 3 parts, each of you plans out the part you are responsible for and creates what is called a “spec” or specification sheet. This document is a plan for the developer to work off of. After the PM phase is done, everyone transitions to the SDE position where you develop and implement a team-member’s spec. This is realistic to the actual development life-cycle, since as a developer you would never write the spec you are implementing. Lastly, you would transition to test and find bugs in the implementation that you didn’t code or write the spec for. Once again this closely follows the actual development life-cycle for a feature.

This close following of the real feature life-cycle is paramount to knowledge gained as an intern since you feel as though you are truly an employee of the company. I find this greatly increases my drive to learn and do my best work.

Although I am only two weeks into my Explorer Internship with Microsoft and have only experienced the PM role thus far, I am immediately witnessing the benefit of partaking in this form of internship. By the end of the summer I can see having a far greater understanding of the choices before me which will allow me to confidently decide where I would like my career to start when I finish university.