Our ‘A Day in the Life’ series highlights alumni in various fields and positions, offering a glimpse of what life after graduation is like. This post comes to us from M&T alum Amin, currently working at Microsoft in Seattle.
Please briefly describe what industry you’re in and what your particular position entails.
I’m in the software industry, specifically smartphone software. I work on creating a phenomenal user experience for Internet Explorer on Windows Phone.
What time did you get up this morning before work?
I woke up at 6am, bright and early! (it’s a new habit) I spent my morning planning for the day, writing down my long term goals and what I’d like to accomplish today. The remaining time I use to think, read, or write. It’s amazing how effective your mind can be when you take time away from your regular rhythm.
What time did you start working, and what time were you done for the day?
I get in to work at 10am and typically leave around 6 or 7pm. I occasionally check email afterwards, but usually my evenings are leisure time. I’m typically in bed by 10:30pm so I have plenty of rest for the next day.
Who specifically did you interact with today, besides coworkers (clients, interns, researchers, executives, founders, etc.)?
There are a whole slew of folks I may interact with on any given day.
Primarily my developer and tester counterparts, who actually build the experiences we collectively decide to pursue. They write the actual code to forge our ideas into reality.
My design team, who is a great partner in thinking outside the box and envisioning delightful experiences. They focus more on the overall phone experience, and ensure each piece fits well in the system – in terms of visual and interactive predictability for the user.
Marketing, to anticipate future user expectations and define how we communicate to customers.
The legal and content publishing team, to define any communication to our users, including legal disclosures.
And various partner teams, since teams often work together to deliver features.
What were some of the projects you worked on today?
The essence of my role at Microsoft is to create a rock solid plan and then deliver it. I take a look at where we are relative to competitors, determine what customers will want their smartphone to be capable of, consider the constraints of what is achievable in one release, and chart a course for the direction of the product. I work on this collaboratively with my team, though ultimately I am responsible for the plan and the product we deliver.
Once we have an agreed upon plan, my team (specifically my developer and tester counterparts) focuses on delivering that plan. There is never a 100% locked plan, especially in such a rapidly moving industry such as smartphones, and unforeseen circumstances will always arise. It is my responsibility to think through as many as possible upfront, and quickly tackle any that do crop up.
There is a ton of work that goes into building high-quality software, and my day really depends on the stage of the product cycle we are in. The three stages of the cycle are planning, development, and stabilization.
During planning, I’m thinking about how our target market will use a web browser on their smartphone, and envisioning the next release with my design team. We start by dreaming big and thinking of everything we could build, and then refine the ideas that seem promising and feasible (one idea we threw out early: a browser that makes you pizza). Eventually I write all of this down, gather feedback from my developer and tester teammates, and the result is a plan for the development stage.
During development, I’m off planning for the next cycle, though I also divert some time towards project management. I ensure my team is on schedule and other teams we depend on are making progress towards delivering what we’ll need to be successful. I’m also making tweaks to the plan when reality is different from what we predicted in planning (i.e. something takes longer than expected). When development is complete, the stabilization stage begins.
During stabilization, we push the focus on quality into high gear. In software, nothing is ever perfect for every possible situation, there are always “bugs” – some small and some severe. In this stage, I spend a significant amount of time with my team prioritizing where to improve quality (apply “polish”, as we call it). The goal is to spend our time wisely and deliver experiences that we are proud to ship to our users.
And all throughout I’m working on side projects, such as writing blog posts about new features, communicating with external website owners, and even filing patents for ideas we came up with during planning.
Here is a sample day during the development milestone. I find this stage the most exciting; I just love seeing new features we’ve dreamed become reality. A great perk of working in this industry is trying all the top secret new features before they are delivered to millions of users around the world.
10-10:30am – meeting with my development and test team leads (what we call managers) to look at all the new bugs that have been reported. Bugs are expected during the development stage, and we meet regularly to decide where we’d like to “polish” in stabilization. We call this meeting “triage”.
10:30-10:45am – status meeting with my development and test team, plus team leads (about 7 of us total). We update each other on what we’ve been working on, and it is the most useful pulse on whether my team is on track. My teammates will share roadblocks they are facing and it’s my responsibility to get them through – no matter if that means bulldozing or finding an alternate route.
10:45am-noon – conversations with smaller groups of the team working on a particular area as needed. Otherwise I head to my desk and start on my task list from the morning, which often involves email or writing planning documents (we call them specifications) for the next cycle.
Noon-1pm – grab lunch with team, friends, mentors, or in a to-go box if I need the extra time for my task list that day.
1pm-7pm – Work on tasks/email/documents, and hold/attend meetings as needed. Typical items:
- creating and refining plans with my design team and partner teams
- reviewing planning documents with my team and collecting feedback
- creating demo videos when a new feature from my team lights up (I’ve become quite the amateur movie editor)
- preparing for a presentation to leaders across my division on our plans for the next cycle (if only I could go back to my college self and tell him to just have fun with it – I really enjoy presenting now)
- tackling development challenges that come up while we’re building features
- weekly 1 on 1 meetings with my manager to discuss new ideas, progress on my features, thoughts on our industry, my career, or even life and happiness (he’s just a great sounding board for whatever I happen to be thinking about)
7pm-10:30pm – catching up with friends or otherwise unwinding from the day.
Are you currently traveling or about to travel for work?
My work does not require travel, though sometimes I’ll extend my trips to Chicago and work remotely for a few days – a great benefit of working at Microsoft. So I’m paid to work in my pajamas, while in a different city, and treated to home cooked food throughout – we ought to put that in our recruiting materials.
What was your favorite part of the work day?
It’s definitely interacting with the brilliant and passionate people I work with. We all have different roles and perspectives, which means we often disagree on the course we should take. This may sound like a recipe for disaster but the most important point is that we all have a common goal – creating delightful experiences for our users.
There’s never a dull day, since I’m always exposed to alternative ways of looking at the same problem. The result is a healthy tension between the various disciplines, which increases the likelihood that we’ll land on the best solution. The best moments are when we understand each other’s perspectives and come up with an extraordinary solution.
So every day I work with incredibly smart people and we think about what will make our users happy, what will bring a smile to their faces, or even what will just work as they expect it to. What could be better than that?
What are some of the challenges within your position that you particularly enjoy?
The interesting note about my position (Program Manager) is that it’s a misnomer – I don’t actually write code, nor am I a manager of people (my team and I are peers). So my team doesn’t have to just listen to me when I think we should do something, and I’m not the most skilled at doing it myself. Being a PM at Microsoft is largely about communication and influence. If I believe we should head in a certain direction, I need to be absolutely convicted about it and be able to convince my team, purely through my own persuasion skills, that it is the right call. That involves gathering the necessary data/information, actively listening to and addressing my team’s reservations, and being open to reevaluating my conclusions.
So most of what I accomplish is done through persuasion – whereas in other environments (e.g. as a student) I had more flexibility to just do what I thought was right. This can be a challenging shift, though I’m fortunate that M&T gave me a solid foundation: I can have in-depth technical conversations with my teammates, understand the business impact of our decisions, and astutely communicate my point of view while bearing it all in mind.
It probably seems odd that someone without organizational authority is the person responsible for driving an area forward, though I see it as ideal for better decision making. It means that my teammates will express their perspectives openly and honestly, and not just convey what they believe I want to hear. I can see the impact of this tension on our product – particularly areas in which one of us was convicted and altered the outcome that will eventually reach millions of users.
How did you end up in your current position or school?
I had known I was interested in Microsoft, so I applied for a Microsoft internship through on-campus recruiting (OCR) at Penn. I interned at Microsoft and worked on Windows 8 during the summer after my junior year at Penn, though I was most passionate about working on Windows Phone. I was incredibly aggressive about finding folks on the Phone team and showing my interest. I interviewed for Windows Phone on the last day of my internship and received a full time offer, which I accepted shortly afterwards.
How did M&T help prepare you for where you are today?
See above regarding how it helps with challenges.
Beyond that, M&T is an incredible network. You form a tight bond with your M&T class – I saw a bunch of my classmates for dinner after work today, and I still chat regularly with fellow M&Ts that live across the country. Beyond your class year, there are opportunities to connect with other M&T professionals – who are often in the upper echelon of their industry – and also to mentor more recent graduates. I’ve often contacted M&T graduates when I was interested in finding out more about an industry, and they were incredibly receptive. Similarly, I’m always pleased to chat with other M&Ts and find ways to advance their goals. In fact, I have a call scheduled with some M&T seniors this Saturday to advise them on their startup. There is a strong sense of community that persists beyond graduation.
What advice do you have for those who might be interested in pursuing a similar path?
Two things: be passionate and be aggressive. I asked my hiring manager why he hired me, and he said, “From the first time I met you, I saw the fire in your eye, and then you just wouldn’t leave me alone!” Know the space incredibly well and be able to talk about why it’s uniquely compelling to you (shows your passion) and then just be relentless in your pursuit (aggressive). This advice applies to any career you’re interested in.
If you believe I can be of help to you in reaching your goals, I invite you to get in touch with me via the link below.
Amin is a Program Manager for Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. He graduated from Penn and M&T in 2011 with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Science from Penn Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School with concentrations in Marketing, Operations and Information Management, and Entrepreneurship. In his free time, Amin loves taking improv classes, reading self-improvement books, and visiting his large extended family in Chicago.