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 Matt, 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, working on smartphone apps.
As a Program Manager (PM) for Excel on Windows Phone, it’s my job to determine what users want to do with spreadsheets on their phone (“scenarios”), brainstorm and design features to make these scenarios an amazing experience for our users, translate these designs into specifications (specs) for developers to build and testers to validate, and navigate our team through any issues or dependencies that come up along the way.
I’m also a World Readiness PM for my team, which involves determining the languages we should support and markets to which we should ship, as well as driving our team to deliver upon these goals by making sure our product is localized and tested properly.
What time did you get up this morning before work?
I set my alarm for 7am, but am never really fully awake and out of bed until at least 7:30. The past couple Fridays, I decided to be ambitious and wake up even earlier (6:30am) so I could play Frisbee before work.
What time did you start working, and what time were you done for the day?
I started working around 8:30am, and left around 5:30pm. I generally don’t have to bring work home, but do check work email occasionally after I leave.
What were some of the projects you worked on today?
Amin, another M&T alum and Microsoft PM, perfectly captured the essence of PM projects in his recent post. However, I’ll try to add on some projects specific to my team.
Since we have an upcoming spec deadline, a large part of my day was devoted to preparing my specs for my team’s next coding milestone. Since we’re early in the overall project, my specs concentrate on the basic framework of our app, making sure we get the essential details of our product correct from the start. Spec preparation is not just about writing, but also includes meeting with my feature crew (dev and test counterparts), designers, and partner teams (see below for more details).
Additionally, I started laying groundwork for our team’s world readiness plans for our new project. Since our schedule is still developing and changing, I have to fit world readiness processes and milestones so that they align with the overall project timeline and can realistically be achieved by our team.
Who specifically did you interact with today, besides coworkers (clients, interns, researchers, executives, founders, etc.)?
PMs talk to numerous people on a daily basis.
I meet with my feature crew, or dev and test counterparts, to update them with my new designs or overall project details, as well as to discuss any technical questions or obstacles they have discovered in the course of their prototyping or investigations.
I talk to my designer and researcher, who help set up user studies, translate the findings into actionable feedback, and assist with design iterations.
I sync with partner team PMs and designers to ensure that our dependencies and scheduling are aligned (i.e., if we need code from them, figuring out when it will be finalized and shared), as well as to make our designs consistent where necessary.
I have bi-weekly meetings and regular email discussions with our localization team to develop our world readiness timelines and prepare our features to be translated and tested in different languages.
I also have regular one-on-ones with my manager and mentor, who keep me apprised of macro-level project updates (shifts in timelines, updates from across the organization), offer career advice, and even help me find new and exciting things to do around Seattle.
Are you currently traveling or about to travel for work?
No, but some of my co-workers have previously traveled to China, India, Ireland, and elsewhere for work. We also get visitors from Microsoft offices throughout the globe.
It’s also worth noting that we do get to work from home occasionally, so I’ll sometimes work from New York in order to extend my visit to my family.
What was your favorite part of the work day?
I truly enjoy working with my co-workers on challenging design or technological problems and reaching an “aha!” moment together. Everyone I work with is extremely smart and passionate, and it makes for very interesting discussions when people approach these problems from different angles. These conversations could span an hour or they could last over a month, but it feels so rewarding to reach a solution that we know will work well for our team or make the user experience in our app that much better.
Additionally, I always get really excited to see my specs and designs light up in our prototypes and end products. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to see and interact with features that I’ve worked on, and then to realize that potentially millions of people could use these features as well.
What are some of the challenges within your position that you particularly enjoy?
The challenges that I enjoy most within my position are the ones in which I have to translate user needs and pain points into designs which are technically feasible and fit in the team’s schedule. These are my favorite problems because they fit directly into my background as an M&T. For example, I can use my marketing experience to prioritize feature ideas based on how important they are to users and how much value they can provide. Then, taking designs based on the prioritized feature ideas, I can use my computer science background to figure out which are technically feasible within the time constraints of the overall project. Using all this information, I can figure out the right tradeoffs to make in order to deliver a great design that we can achieve and light up in our product.
How did you end up in your current position?
My sophomore summer, I interned as a developer at another company, and although I realized that I didn’t want to write code full time, the internship also introduced me to the field of Program Management. I interned as a PM at Microsoft my junior summer and loved my team and job so much that I decided to return full-time!
How did M&T help prepare you for where you are today?
As I mentioned above, M&T is actually a perfect fit for a career as a PM. I love being able to link the business and engineering worlds, and get to use my M&T experience on a daily basis. Although I never took a class in Program Management, the concepts and lessons I learned throughout my four years at Penn prepared me well for the daily responsibilities and activities of a PM.
What advice do you have for those who might be interested in pursuing a similar path?
Be extremely passionate about what you do. For the most part, PMs are not expected to be experts in their specific fields before they start, but a commonality I’ve seen in successful PMs is that they use their passion and drive to become experts and completely own their features. For example, I never had any experience in delivering products to other countries, but I have always been interested in smartphone apps and enjoy the intersection between business and technology. Using these interests, I threw myself into the world readiness field and discovered that it was truly fascinating and something that I enjoyed driving.
Matt is a Program Manager for Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. He graduated from Penn and M&T in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Penn Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School with concentrations in Marketing and Operations and Information Management. In his spare time, Matt participates in Microsoft-organized flag football, Frisbee, and softball leagues and loves finding new activities and restaurants in Seattle. When he gets the chance to travel, he especially enjoys visiting family in New York and Florida.