It’s the day before my summer PM internship (05/03/2015) with Azure and I’m sitting in a swanky one bedroom apartment (courtesy MSFT) in Redmond, WA. I got in a day ago and highly recommend an early arrival (the max MSFT allows is two days early). I was able to get a lot of my living situation setup: got my wifi working in the apartment, bought some necessities from the grocery store (“QFC,” or Quality Food Center) and transported them back via Lyft, looked up gyms, found the bus stop so I know how to get to work tomorrow, etc.
Tomorrow’s NEO (New Employee Orientation) and includes the usual onboarding and introductory spiels. More importantly, it marks the first time I’ll learn what I’m actually doing this summer.
Microsoft and Details
While every person to person interaction I’ve had with Microsoft so far has been pleasant and even invigorating, at times adjusting to a mega-corp mentality presents a unique experience. For example, I start my internship tomorrow and I do not know what team I will be in, what work that team does, or who my supervisor will be. All I know is I’m signed up for a Program Manager internship with Azure. To put things in perspective, the last time my recruiter reached out to me was two months ago, during the signing of my offer letter. And in fact, another recruiter actually ended up handling that since mine was unresponsive (I later found out, through an auto-away email, that he had taken vacation days). While it’s always hard to know what other commitments or challenges someone is dealing with outside of their work life, I would have appreciated a smoother hand-off and some follow up.
How to Prepare for the Unknown?
This leaves me with an interesting challenge: how should I prepare for an internship with minimal details? I’m well aware of what an amazing opportunity interning for MSFT is, from the quora posts to chatting with alumni (from both Harvard and Duke) who are happily full time employees, and even getting to tour MSR (Microsoft Research) NYC thanks to a friendly Duke alum who gave a guest lecture in a recent class I attended (thanks Dr. Pennock!). The people I’ve met at MSFT are routinely smart, capable, and exciting peers I know I can learn from.
On the other hand, there is some pointed criticism with regards to MSFT’s internal culture vs. that of Google and Facebook, like this reddit post by shadowthunder or the entertaining imgur post below.
Nonetheless, recent reorg changes by CEO Satya Nadella along the Ballmer-initiated “One Microsoft” angle seem to be having an effect, judging by conversations with current employees. Certainly there is a lot of movement and I get the sense that things are opening up with teams collaborating in a more friendly fashion. MSFT is also a massive corporation and the intern experience can be highly variable depending on the individual team culture, as is no doubt the case at other companies of similar scale.
What I’m Reading
Comptuer Science Review
I’ve been reviewing my “cheat sheet” notes from several classes, including Intro to Network Architecture, Machine Learning for Computer Vision, and Artificial Intelligence.
PM (Program Manager) Specific
The MSFT PM position is similar to, but different from, the more commonly abbreviated Product Manager position. I happened to read these in preparation for my original interviews, so I spent a little time refreshing my memory before moving on to more specific items.
-Steven Sinofsky’s excellent Zen of PM (an official MSFT whitepaper)
-Joel Spolsky’s How to be a Program Manager and Painless Functional Specs Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
Links from Browsing Sinofsky’s Twitter (@stevesi)
–Africa’s Mobile-Sun Revolution
–Modeling mediums (interesting post on communication media and how to categorize them, e.g. Snapchat vs. Youtube vs. Skype etc.)
–Phablets are Eating Phones and Tablets
Summer Internship Specific
-Den by Default blog posts on his summer PM experience (Summer 2013): http://www.dennisdel.com/?p=67
-Matt McCormick posts on Summer PM internship (Summer 2011): http://mbmccormick.com/2011/05/first-week-at-microsoft/, http://mbmccormick.com/2011/06/becoming-a-program-manager/, http://mbmccormick.com/2011/06/week-six-at-microsoft/, http://mbmccormick.com/2011/08/ending-the-best-summer-of-my-life/
-Daniel Dressler’s weekly blog posts on his summer software dev experience (Summer 2012): http://danieru.com/2013/10/26/overview-of-my-2012-microsoft-internship/
–MSFT Intern Onboarding page (would have been helpful to get this link from my recruiter instead of a random reddit thread…)
–Quora thread on interning at Microsoft
Since I don’t know what Azure team I’ll be on, I chose a wide range of Azure material to read. I have some exposure to overview material (Peaks in the Valley), real world use case examples, crisis management (the outage interview), storage, IaaS, security, and VM management (ASR).
-Den by Default “Building a Notification Hub for Windows Phone on top of Windows Azure Mobile Services”
-A Visual Studio article on a 2014 Azure outage interviewing Jeffrey Fritz, senior PM with Azure Development Team
–Azure Peaks in the Valley, a good overview of Azure announcements from Microsoft’s 2015 BUILD conference, which just concluded last week
–Interview with Craig Osborne, Principal PM for Windows Gaming Experience team on using Windows Azure (part of the “Real World Windows Azure” series)
–IaaS Just Got Easier. Again, blog post by Corey Sanders, Director of PM at Azure on template-based deployments via Azure Resource Manager, something that seems to be a big recent launch/upgrade
–Migrate Heterogenous IT Environments to Azure with ASR, blog post by Abhishek A. Hemrajani, PM for Cloud + Enterprise, about using Azure Site Recovery.
–Furthering Azure Security at the RSA Conference, blog post by Chris Niehaus, Sr. Director of something called National Cloud Programs which I couldn’t find any info on, other than an outdated link to a .mil jobs site with an invalid TLS certificate (!).
–Build 2015: Azure Storage Announcements!, blog post by Michael Curd, PM with Azure Storage. Included interesting updates on support for Client Side Encryption (very happy to see this), a Xamarin library (Xamarin is a tool allowing single-source cross-platform development in C# for mobile), and a near-term roadmap for upcoming features.
-Cute Skype ad featuring a Russian missing pet detective
What My PM Goals Are
My last PM internship was at SaaS startup ReverbNation. It was a time of explosive growth for the company, which had just doubled in size from 40 to 80 employees (in response to this background my current Microsoft manager recommended I google “Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing” for an overview of stages of team building). The team I interned on lacked a full time PM, so I got added responsibility and reported directly to the VP of Product (a friend and colleague to this day).
My manager at the time claimed I had the following strengths:
- Learn fast
- Identify/articulate problems with surgical precision
- Distill key information quickly
- Managing up
- Setting expectations by clearly stating tradeoffs
And the following areas for improvement:
- Using audience-specific language (simpler phrasing, analogies, stories) when 100% coverage is the goal
- Talk more with users
My focus areas for growth this summer are:
- Users, users, users – engage the customer, understand what they need, and engage them again
- Surgically precise solutions – scope solutions as elegantly as I describe the problems
- Positive human experiences – maintain awareness of group dynamics and phrasing to produce joyful work experiences with my colleagues
The goals boil down to some pretty simple stuff: know the user, think constructively, and make work personally enriching for my team. I of course expect to learn topic specific knowledge re: cloud and networking as well, something I plan to discuss more fully once I have my intern project.
In general what I’m looking for out of this internship is something I seek in every project I undertake. I want to grow–in as many dimensions as possible. So not just as a PM, but also as a person, as a thinker, and as a human. I desire the kinds of collaborations that prompt T-shaped growth.
While IBM somewhat dystopically tells me this is the Shape of the Ideal Information Worker (though I think the concept actually originated in the HBR article on managers I linked above), my life goal is not to become the Cloud-age Dilbert. My end-game is a mass agglomeration of these T’s. What happens if you take a bunch of T’s and glue them together by their bases? Think a big ball with lots of spikes (but friendly!). Wouldn’t it be cool to trip through knowledge as a spiky spheroid?
Some Closing Thoughts on the PM Role
I recently saw my friend and former college classmate Jason Shah (CEO of Do.com, which just partnered with Office 365 in a huge way – congrats Jason!) retweet a great graphic from Daniel Zacarias: