JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs We take you behind the scenes to show you what it’s like to apply, interview and work here. You’ll find stories by and about employees and tips directly from recruiters. Thu, 25 Aug 2016 13:00:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6 Windows of opportunity: Where career potential meets cutting-edge technology http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/windows-opportunity-career-potential-meets-cutting-edge-technology/ http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/windows-opportunity-career-potential-meets-cutting-edge-technology/#respond Wed, 17 Aug 2016 13:00:03 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/?p=17241 Nikhil Gaekwad was only a month or two into his freshman year of college when, out of curiosity, he popped into a Microsoft career information session. He knew many of his fellow engineering students dreamed of working at the company and wanted to see what kind of positions it might have. He ended up deciding, right […]

The post Windows of opportunity: Where career potential meets cutting-edge technology appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
IMG_6209

Program Manager Nikhil Gaekwad

Nikhil Gaekwad was only a month or two into his freshman year of college when, out of curiosity, he popped into a Microsoft career information session. He knew many of his fellow engineering students dreamed of working at the company and wanted to see what kind of positions it might have.

He ended up deciding, right then and there, exactly what he wanted to do with his future.

“The company, the perks and the work culture seemed like a dream come true,” he says. “I was intrigued by the wide variety of opportunities available in one company — and came out of that session learning about the unique program manager role and how well it fit with my desire to design, problem-solve and innovate to impact millions of people around the world.”

That fall day in 2010, he set his goal and started planning how to achieve it. Six internships later — including two at Microsoft — he’s a program manager in the Windows Storage, Things & Connectivity team (internally known as STACK). Just a year after graduating, he’s responsible for projects and features that people around the world will use regularly.

“Working on such a large, ubiquitous product as Windows immediately presents an opportunity to impact millions of people,” he says. “It is really satisfying to think about how the work that you do will help improve the productivity and user experience of customers who use the Windows platform.”

“The possibilities are endless.”

Windows offers potential-packed career opportunities in part because of its remarkable evolution: What was once thought of as the operating system you’d mainly use to do work and homework is now the constantly updated platform behind countless cutting-edge technologies and devices from Xbox to HoloLens to the internet of things (IoT).

“When you think about Windows, you immediately think about the PC. And we love that. But Windows also powers IoT devices — everything from a small maker board powering a personal weather station, a robot, a streaming video player or Internet-connected speaker, a refrigerator — the possibilities are endless,” says Billy Anders, director of program management in the Windows and Devices Group.

The other part of Windows’ appeal is Microsoft’s practice of giving interns real, meaningful projects and then not just valuing new perspectives but actively seeking them out.

“Windows is a fun place to work and provides great opportunities for interns, and we learn a lot from our interns. Our interns bring fresh perspectives into the product, oftentimes very different than how we might be looking at an opportunity,” Anders says. “We incorporate their diverse perspectives, allowing them to help shape their project, the program and the product. Ultimately, this shapes the overall business, and I think it’s great for interns to know they made an impact to something at the scale of Windows.”

 Anders says the Windows team is an ideal place for people who “really want to be a big part of the tech industry future, and the future for enterprises and consumers alike.”

"Working on something that would impact millions of customers around the world really interested me.”

Gaekwad, who was born in India and grew up in Toronto, was studying system design engineering at the University of Waterloo when he set his sights on Microsoft. He aimed to build the experience and skills he needed, first seeking technical internships at other companies to broaden his knowledge, develop his ability to speak the programming language and ensure he could communicate well with developers, customers and partners.

“There are not a lot of companies that have the program management role for interns,” he says. “Working on something that would impact millions of customers around the world really interested me.”

In his first internship, he joined the Windows Devices and Networking team to improve a feature that allows users to share content wirelessly between Windows devices that are near each other, a role that gave him the chance to define his own vision for the technology.

The position allowed him to jump right into an important project rather than wait, as he had in  internships with other companies, for managers to figure out an assignment that sometimes felt like it was more to assess his skills than accomplish something worthwhile.

In that first role, he says he developed “a whole new set of skills,” from creating his own vision and focusing on the big picture to advocating for customers and collaborating with various groups to make the best products possible.

His success with the project helped him land his second Microsoft internship. He returned to the same team to define and develop a way to bring the “magic tethering” feature – the capability to turn on the mobile hotspot feature remotely through Windows Phones – to other platforms such as Android.

“I had the opportunity of writing an app to prototype the design that I came up with,” he says. “I never would have thought that coming to Microsoft, I could work cross-platform, especially on Windows. A lot of people think you just code in C# or C++, but I was coding in Java and writing an Android app.”

“Everything I worked on is something we’re using now, or will be using.”

In both Microsoft internships, he felt like he was given significant responsibility and was surrounded by talented, experienced people who were willing to take the time to help him learn new things.

And “everything that I worked on is something we’re using now, or will be using,” he says.

 Gaekwad says doing a few things helped him land the full-time role he has now: Exceeding expectations on the projects he was assigned, proactively seeking feedback, demonstrating project-management skills and simply just having fun.

He advises interns to ask plenty of questions, become “best friends” with their assigned mentor and “go above and beyond” what they’re expected to accomplish.

Nikhil Gaekwad on the Microsoft Redmond campus. Nikhil Gaekwad on the Microsoft Redmond campus. Nikhil Gaekwad on the Microsoft Redmond campus. Microsoft Building 111 Nikhil Gaekwad on the Microsoft Redmond campus.

Gaekwad says the best part of his job now is “being able to live in the future.” He gets to work on products and features that haven’t yet been released to the public, so he’s privy to what great technologies and capabilities will soon be in users’ hands.

“As an early adopter, it’s always fun to get a sneak preview of the future — and, of course, provide my inputs to make it better,” he says. “The opportunities are endless for Microsoft employees to try out the latest and greatest in tech.”

As he approaches his one-year anniversary as a full-time employee, he is glad to have the opportunity to work on projects he’s passionate about and help the tremendous number of people who use Windows for daily tasks.

He says “the rapid growth in the technology industry and the latest agile model adapted by groups such as Windows makes Microsoft one of the most exciting places to be.”

The post Windows of opportunity: Where career potential meets cutting-edge technology appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/windows-opportunity-career-potential-meets-cutting-edge-technology/feed/ 0
After spending time behind bars, this employee set no bars on his own success http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/spending-time-behind-bars-employee-set-no-bars-success/ http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/spending-time-behind-bars-employee-set-no-bars-success/#respond Wed, 10 Aug 2016 13:00:11 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/?p=17109 Ed Sproull was 27 when he woke in the hospital, disoriented and hung over. He felt a searing pain in his left leg, and suddenly the memory of the motorcycle accident came flooding back to him. He had been racing drunk when the brake line blew out, and he clipped his leg on an oncoming […]

The post After spending time behind bars, this employee set no bars on his own success appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
Ed Sproull was 27 when he woke in the hospital, disoriented and hung over. He felt a searing pain in his left leg, and suddenly the memory of the motorcycle accident came flooding back to him. He had been racing drunk when the brake line blew out, and he clipped his leg on an oncoming car. His upper leg had been fractured in 80 places, and his lower leg had been severed below the knee.

Flash forward 35 years, and Ed is now celebrating his 16th year as an engineer at Microsoft and training for his fifth Iron Man race—and it never would have happened without his superpower, what Ed calls “stupid optimism.”

But this future was hard won.

A rocky past

Losing a limb was a low point in Ed’s life, but he didn’t hit rock bottom until 10 years later, when he landed in prison on a six-year sentence for drug possession. As he lay on a prison cot that first night, using a toilet paper roll as a pillow, he wondered where his life went off the rails.

Ed couldn’t see a way out of this one; his future felt dim. That’s when he met the professor.

Serving time for tax evasion, Dr. Reed was a lively Jamaican professor with a Ph.D. in math. One day he approached Ed. “Listen man, we can play dominos, or we can learn math,” Ed recounts. “I hated dominos, so I said sure, let’s do math.”

Up to that point, Ed’s education consisted of a narrowly acquired high school diploma. “Here I was, a 37-year-old learning how to add fractions. It was humiliating, but it helped fuel my addiction to learning, plus with someone willing to help me—that’s what kept me going,” says Ed.

Dr. Reed helped Ed finish his education and earn an associate’s degree. Later, when the prison cut the education program, Ed refused to stop learning.

One of his previous test proctors slipped Ed contraband textbooks, telling him to take them to the prison library to study. Ed took the books to the library alright, but not before he had labored over every one of those tomes, teaching himself calculus and physics.

“I was literally smuggling books. But what could happen?” he says, laughing. “I mean, I’m already in prison!”

Slowly, one textbook at a time, Ed was forming a new future.

Ed Sproull started triathlon competitions at age 57. Five years later, he's competed in 40 races, including four Iron Man races. He has to change his prosthetic leg for every part of the race.

Ed Sproull started triathlon competitions at age 57. Five years later, he’s competed in 40 races, including four Iron Man races. He has to change his prosthetic leg for every part of the race.

As Ed’s release from prison approached, he found a Newsweek magazine article that featured the top engineering schools in the country and decided to apply to Case Western University, the school closest to his parents.

“I’m sitting there in a prison cell and told my mom I wanted to go to Case Western. The line went dead. ‘Mom? You there?’ She gently asked me if I knew how prestigious and expensive the school was. I did, but I didn’t care. I guess I believed there was a way,” he recalls.

Ed knew he had to at least give it the old college try.

Future, head on

“I still get choked up when I think about it,” Ed says, remembering when he got the news from his mother, telling him that he’d been accepted to Case Western. He calls it a miracle because he still cannot fully explain how he got in.

“My vision for the future was getting bigger and bigger with each step, but the day I knew I was accepted, I felt like the sky was the limit,” he says.

The hardships were far from over.

When Ed started at Case Western, his leg was infected and he needed surgery—so he spent the first term hobbling around on crutches. He felt small, living with his parents at the age of 44, and he racked up debt to pay for tuition.

But he told himself he wasn’t stopping. Ed’s determination helped him graduate Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor of science in computer engineering and a masters of science in engineering one year later.

Ed landed a job at Rockwell right out of grad school, but it wasn’t his first choice.

“All the kids were going to Microsoft—it was the dot com era and a very exciting time. I wanted to be where it was all happening,” he says.

Ed applied to Microsoft and met with a recruiter. It didn’t go well.

“She looked at me totally deadpan, in total friggin’ disbelief,” he says, laughing. He thought people were put off by his age, lack of experience, and maybe even the outdated suit he was wearing.

Ed and his wife, Linda, lost 60 pounds and started running triathlons to keep in shape. "Linda's my buddy, the love of my life," says Ed.

Ed and his wife, Linda, lost 60 pounds and started running triathlons to keep in shape. “Linda’s my buddy, the love of my life,” says Ed.

“But it was Microsoft,” he says emphatically. “We all come from all over the world and all have a different story about how we got here. Mine is a bit unusual, but when you think about it I’m just another part of the puzzle. We all are.”

The stubbornly optimistic Ed continued to beat down the doors of Microsoft. Ed nailed his third attempt, was hired as a software developer in 2000, and started walking into his future, head on.

‘Screw being right’

Ed sits in his office in Redmond Studio F, chatty and super casual in his gym shorts and running shoes. Ed may be 62 but says he eats like a 14-year-old, as he brushes food crumbs off his lap.

He’s hungry all the time because he’s training all the time. He’s competed in 40 triathlons and several Iron Man competitions (which include a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a 26.2-mile run).

But he’ll be the first to say he could never have done it alone. This morning, for example, he and his wife, Linda, got up at 5:30 a.m. to swim in the frigid waters of Lake Sammamish and then lift weights at the gym before work. He’s helping her train for her first half Iron Man.

He’s sold on this kind of buddy system, especially at work, and credits helping others as a reason for his longevity at Microsoft.

“Reviews used to be really scary! I used to see people who got ahead by stepping on someone else,” he says. He opted for a different approach, knowing from his past that he’d be happier making someone else look good.

“Screw being right all the time; I’d rather learn something new.”

After working with the Microsoft Shell team for just over 14 years, he’s now taken on the new challenge of trying to shave hours off the time it takes to push out a Windows build.

He readily offers up that he often doesn’t know what he’s doing before he dives into problems like these. But life and work have taught him that the answer will reveal itself as he works the problem with an open mind and a willingness to be wrong.

Ed absent-mindedly scratches his knee just above his prosthetic leg.  “I never want to sit on my hands and say, ‘I’m good enough,'” he says.

In a company that is trying to solve the world’s biggest challenges, Ed hopes we keep moving forward by learning, by slowly knocking away at obstacles, one by one, like a good engineer. Like a good athlete. Like a good human.

“Your situation could be really bad, but you’ve got the ability to move the needle just one tick. If you are running and you think you can’t go on, just walk.”

What’s next for Ed? He laughs away the question, but whatever his future holds, you can bet we’ll find an Ed who believes the best future is still yet to come.

The post After spending time behind bars, this employee set no bars on his own success appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/spending-time-behind-bars-employee-set-no-bars-success/feed/ 0
A rising tech star’s advice to her younger self http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/rising-tech-stars-advice-younger-self/ http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/rising-tech-stars-advice-younger-self/#respond Tue, 09 Aug 2016 13:00:39 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/?p=17013 As a graduate student in computer science, Lauren Tran was used to being one of just a few women in her class. And when she interned at a large tech company, she was the only woman in her cohort. So she was thrilled when Dartmouth College sent her to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women […]

The post A rising tech star’s advice to her younger self appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
IMG_6106

Technical Evangelist, Lauren Tran

As a graduate student in computer science, Lauren Tran was used to being one of just a few women in her class. And when she interned at a large tech company, she was the only woman in her cohort.

So she was thrilled when Dartmouth College sent her to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. She had never been to a big conference before and says she was “really excited to see thousands of women come together” to share their passion for technology.

She didn’t realize the event would also lead to what she considers to be a dream job: She’s now the lead startup technical evangelist for Microsoft Silicon Valley, a role that has enabled her to develop a wide range of skills and do what she’s long wanted to do.

“Since I was young, the Microsoft brand has always been powerful,” Tran says. “I aspired to work here for years.”

At the Microsoft booth at Grace Hopper, Tran says she found “tons of hopeful candidates vying for time with recruiters.” But she got lucky. She had the chance to interview with one of those recruiters — an interview she was sure she had failed.

“I thought I’d completely missed the questions,” she recalls. Fortunately, the recruiter thought differently; she called Tran a few weeks later and asked if she wanted to interview for a technical evangelist position. “Even though I’d never heard of that type of role,” Tran says, “I decided to give it a shot.”

“I aspired to work here for years.”

She began working at Microsoft two years ago, in a job that blends two of her skills as a coder who specializes in machine learning. She’s now working with Azure Machine Learning to build machine learning models that analyze email text in an effort to detect the sender’s tone: Is it corporate-speak or conversational? Authoritative or deferential?

The project is part of her work creating lively demos she presents to inspire developers to get creative and build cool apps on Microsoft platforms.

She also talks to startup CEOs, CTOs and developers to help them define their cloud and mobile strategies.

“As an evangelist, you’d think I’m extroverted. It’s definitely not my nature; I tend to be naturally introverted,” she says. “You have to break out of your shell. It’s really fun, and it stretches me — it’s something I never thought I’d be able to do.”

When she presents her demos in front of live audiences, she doesn’t script her talks. “I have talking points,” she says. “It’ll come out a little different every time. It’s more natural.”

Tran says she has figured out how to present her demos so they come across well but explains that her confidence has evolved over time.

At first, as a newcomer to the tech industry, she had to strategize about how to deal with performance anxiety and give her confidence some time to catch up. “You don’t know how you stack up to others,” she says. “I wasn’t a coder my entire life, like a lot of people around me.”

Though she earned her master’s degree in computer science, her undergraduate degree was in marketing.

“I decided that instead of trying to portray myself as something that I wasn’t, I would embrace the uniqueness of my background and show them what I’m passionate about,” she says.

“Be super confident in who you are. Embrace all of your skills.”

Now, if she could give advice to the person she was two years ago, she says she would tell herself to “be more confident and secure” in asserting herself. “I had a lot to bring to the table,” she says. “I had knowledge other people didn’t have, which was why I was valuable to the company.”

At first, Tran didn’t realize just how much her perspective would be valued and appreciated by her colleagues. Now she does.

She advises others who are just starting out: “Your manager has ideas. The people around you have ideas. But that doesn’t mean you have to say yes to them. Ask questions. Figure out the full picture. Express your opinion. Sometimes it’s better to drive your opinions home. I’ve had multiple times when I’ve said ‘No, I don’t think that’s the way we should do this — I propose we do this instead.’”

She says stating her thoughts has proved to be a winning tack, and she has been rewarded for it. She’s also been recognized for taking risks.

“I used to be very risk-averse,” she says. “I’ve learned to take one smart risk per quarter. It’s not always going to be successful, but sometimes those smart risks become home runs.”

Tran also believes in helping make others successful. “I make sure to support others,” she says. “I open myself up to one-on-one meetings with the people who were hired after me. I reach out and make sure they have all the tools they need. I help them on a technical level, I’m there to mentor them.”

LaurenTranTwo years after her initial Microsoft interview at Grace Hopper, Tran returned to the same conference — only this time, she attended as a presenter. A packed house of nearly 300 female engineers crowded in to hear her talk about machine learning.

“She wowed the audience with her demo capabilities,” says Shaina Houston, director of Community Evangelism in the U.S. “She did a phenomenal job. She used examples that were humorous and relatable. She left them wanting more.”

Tran’s teammates cheered and high-fived her as she exited the stage.

“It was such a different feeling than coming out of the first Microsoft interview,” Tran recalls. “It was the first time I’d been in front of that many people. I felt like I really nailed it.”

Tran may have surprised herself with how adept she is at public speaking, but her mentor did not find it unusual. “When I first met Lauren, I was really impressed with her maturity level and technical capability,” Houston says. “She has a very good stage presence.”

“At Microsoft, you’ll be empowered to work on things that you’re passionate about."

Though Tran loves her role, she appreciates how many other opportunities the company has to dig into whatever’s most meaningful to her.

“At Microsoft, you’ll be empowered to work on things that you’re passionate about. You’ll be given autonomy. Your ideas will matter,” she says. “You’ll be given so many opportunities that you’ll have to say ‘no’ to many. There’s no shortage.”

Based on her own experience, she has advice for people who want a job at Microsoft but aren’t sure they’re qualified.

“Take a chance and go for it. Be super confident in who you are. Embrace all of your skills,” she says. “Know that there’s so much opportunity for you to shine and show how brilliant you are.”

 

Want to learn more about what Technical Evangelists do at Microsoft? Head on over to Microsoft careers.

 

The post A rising tech star’s advice to her younger self appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/rising-tech-stars-advice-younger-self/feed/ 0
#HelloPride: ‘We’re everybody’s company’ http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/hellopride-everybodys-company/ http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/hellopride-everybodys-company/#respond Thu, 30 Jun 2016 13:00:08 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/?p=16720 Dan Bross remembers the meeting as both traumatic and a turning point in his life: It was 1984. He was working for an energy company in Houston, where some of the city’s business leaders were trying to repeal a new ordinance banning the discrimination of city employees based on their sexual orientation. Bross was gay, […]

The post #HelloPride: ‘We’re everybody’s company’ appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
Dan Bross

Dan Bross, executive co-sponsor of GLEAM

Dan Bross remembers the meeting as both traumatic and a turning point in his life: It was 1984. He was working for an energy company in Houston, where some of the city’s business leaders were trying to repeal a new ordinance banning the discrimination of city employees based on their sexual orientation.

Bross was gay, and he also valued his career. So he nodded, silently feigning approval, as his company’s senior executives discussed their support of repealing the law. He still recalls their jokes, their hate — and his immediate decision to join the campaign that was fighting for equality.

Back then, if someone told him he could feel accepted and supported in the corporate world, he wouldn’t have believed it. But in his 18 years at Microsoft, he’s felt completely able to be who he is.

“The first day I showed up for work at Microsoft, I put a picture of my partner up at my desk, and I’ve never taken it off,” says Bross, senior director of Business and Corporate Responsibility, who married his partner in 2013. “Everyone has been 100 percent supportive. I can’t think of even one uncomfortable moment.”

Bross is executive co-sponsor of GLEAM, Microsoft’s employee resource group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees. It offers employees a broad network of support and a platform for taking a stand on issues they care deeply about, getting involved and making a difference.

“The mission of GLEAM is really to support Microsoft employees, helping them with career development, and helping to advance equality, celebrate diversity and champion Microsoft’s engagement in the LGBTQI community,” Bross says. “GLEAM is also a place where employees can come together and effect change.”

“The first day I showed up for work at Microsoft, I put a picture of my partner up at my desk, and I’ve never taken it off.”

GLEAM first formed in 1993 with about a dozen employees; it now has well over 1,000 members around the world. Though the name stands for Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft, it includes employees in the broader LGBT community, those who count themselves as allies and any others who want to join.

The group is an instrumental part of the culture of diversity and inclusion in a company that is consistently ranked as a top place to work for LGBT equality.

At Microsoft, diversity and inclusion are considered key to future success, enriching employees’ lives and leading to better products, Bross says. Senior leaders “are well aware of strong support the employee base broadly has on issues related to human rights, equality and diversity and inclusion, including LGBT issues. Our employees care deeply about LGBT equality, and that employee support extends far beyond the 1,500 to 1,600 members of GLEAM.”

Naomi Boyd knew she wanted to join GLEAM even before Microsoft hired her as a full-time employee four years ago. She’d moved to Boston and didn’t know many people there, so she saw it as “a great way to meet new people and get involved in community events and volunteerism.”

She quickly became interested in becoming more deeply involved. Now she’s the interim chair of GLEAM worldwide and plans on running to keep that top leadership role in an upcoming election.

“I think when I came out and I realized that my company supported me in being my authentic self, I knew that GLEAM would be a really great fit,” Boyd says. “Our company accepts us as who we are, but not everyone feels comfortable. Having this group gives people a safe space to be themselves and connect with other employees and do great things at the company.”

"Our company accepts us as who we are."

Boyd, who works in the Windows and Devices Group and is also co-chair of outreach for GLEAM, is proud of the group’s many accomplishments, including awarding scholarships to LGBT youth and organizing Pride events around the world, as well as its outreach to interns, networking opportunities and strong support of Microsoft’s efforts to bring diverse talent to the company.

“None of these accomplishments would be possible without the hard work of our members, the current Worldwide GLEAM Board of Directors and our Global Diversity and Inclusion team,” Boyd says. “I am so incredibly grateful to work with such dedicated, thoughtful and talented people.”

Earlier this year, Boyd worked to make sure Microsoft recruiters came to the Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco to connect with the many talented people who attended. She also has a front-row seat to GLEAM’s momentum in other countries — the new chapters forming in Brazil, for example, and GLEAM members’ impressive showing earlier this month at a Pride march in Tel Aviv.

Microsoft employees have participated in Pride marches in various countries this month, which many celebrate as Pride month, or are planning for their upcoming celebrations. GLEAM Pride Director Alex Mullans has coordinated more than two dozen Microsoft-sponsored Pride events around the world this year, and “his commitment to these celebrations empower us to reflect on all of our accomplishments, and demonstrate our commitment to equality, equity and inclusivity as individuals, a community and a company,” Boyd says.

“We show people that we’re everybody’s company.”

Bård Buan, a Dynamics AX product marketing manager for Western Europe, still remembers the yellow T-shirts. A few years ago, when he was working for another tech company, he was watching the Copenhagen Pride march and noticed a particularly joyful group of people. All wore bright shirts with the slogan “Out is the new In,” which made him chuckle, and had a Microsoft banner waving out front.

Buan, who is gay, was impressed enough to go to a top manager of the company he worked for at the time to suggest that they participate in the event the following year. The manager said they really didn’t have policies or budgets for that sort of thing, Buan recalls, and the idea “basically died there and then.”

About three years later, a Microsoft recruiter contacted Buan about a job opportunity, and the first thing that popped into his mind was “this image of the happy, yellow-T-shirted people marching in the Pride parade,” he recalls. “I had this great impression of Microsoft … What GLEAM is doing is so important.”

Buan, who’s been at Microsoft a little more than a year, joined GLEAM immediately and now, as his chapter’s lead, has worked to build the group’s presence across Scandinavia. At last year’s holiday party, he and other members created a GLEAM section to raise awareness, complete with rainbow tablecloths and rainbow cocktails, and it’s not uncommon to see employees in the Copenhagen office wearing rainbow “Microsoft Proud LGBT Ally” lanyards.

Buan even convinced leaders to hold this year’s worldwide GLEAM summit in Copenhagen.

“No matter who you are, come as you are and do what you want. And love who you want.”

“It is all about reaching beyond boundaries to unite and advance and promote our community, internally within Microsoft and also externally,” he says. “We show people that we’re everybody’s company. No matter who you are, come as you are and do what you want. And love who you want.”

Microsoft has scored 100 percent in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index each year for more than a decade. The company was an early leader in providing same-sex domestic partnership benefits and including sexual orientation in its corporate non-discrimination policy, as well as broadening its health benefits for transgender employees.

GLEAM was engaged and working to raise awareness as the company supported marriage and benefits equality for same-sex couples in U.S. Supreme Court cases, as well as more recent local cases, such as Microsoft’s support of a lawsuit against a Washington state flower shop owner for refusing to provide flowers for the wedding of two men.

Microsoft is among many companies that joined the Washington Won’t Discriminate campaign to oppose state Initiative 1515, a measure the campaign says would “repeal our state’s non-discrimination protections that for 10 years have helped ensure our transgender family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors are treated fairly and equally under the law.”

“Diversity & inclusion is a strength for Washington State. We’re joining @NoDiscrimWA to ensure everyone is treated equally. #NoOnI1515,” Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith tweeted in April. The company has also opposed similar legislation in other states.

"Look at what Microsoft has done and use that as a template."

Microsoft’s decision to take a public stand on such issues is hugely important to Sophia Lee, a software development engineer for MSN. Lee joined GLEAM when she started at Microsoft in December 2013 and became more active with the group as she began her transition to her new gender role a year later.

GLEAM “is showing the rest of the world that everybody is accepted within the company,” Lee says. “It shows that the company is ethical and cares about social issues, and people in general.”

Lee and two other transgender GLEAM members started the Gender Expressions and Trans Discussion group, which is aimed at talking over issues and concerns, sharing advice and helping to educate others. She says Microsoft has been supportive throughout her transition, from providing health insurance that covered visits to a therapist before her transition to a manager who allows her to work a flexible schedule to accommodate medical appointments.

“Microsoft has been pretty wonderful, actually; I don’t know if there is a company in the world where it is better to transition,” she says. “The benefits that Microsoft has for transgender employees, the nondiscrimination policies, the general open-mindedness of the employees — all of that is really critical, and it really helps facilitate you being free to be who you are.”

Microsoft is such a leader in LGBT equality that she believes newer tech companies should “look at what Microsoft has done and use that as a template,” she says. “It’s widely known how accepting Microsoft is — and part of that is the employee resource group.”

LargeProfilePic

Tom Eddings, design lead for Modern Apps

Tom Eddings, design lead for the Modern Apps team in the U.K., considers himself a fairly private guy who doesn’t broadcast that he’s gay but is open about the topic with colleagues when it comes up. He started attending GLEAM meetings to understand more about what the company was doing for the LGBT community.

This year, he brought his design skills into a more active role helping plan for London’s Pride parade. He helped design T-shirts that incorporate Microsoft’s logo with rainbow colors, a smiley face, the slogan “Be yourself with a smile” and the global hashtag #HelloPride.” He also helped create a diverse group of artistic cartoon characters — one sporting a rainbow cape — to adorn badges, posters and other Pride gear.

Eddings says his involvement isn’t just about design but also raising awareness about GLEAM and, ultimately, helping those who are unsure whether they can be themselves in a corporate environment know that there’s a support network there for them.

He believes one of the most powerful things GLEAM has to offer is promoting diversity, which he calls “absolutely critical” to the company.

“The best ideas come from diverse teams where people feel confident that they’re able to contribute their ideas to the process,” Eddings says. “That comes from having a diverse culture where people feel confident and don’t have to pretend to be someone they’re not.”

The post #HelloPride: ‘We’re everybody’s company’ appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/hellopride-everybodys-company/feed/ 0
One of the most creative women in advertising joins Microsoft http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/one-creative-women-advertising-joins-microsoft/ http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/one-creative-women-advertising-joins-microsoft/#respond Tue, 21 Jun 2016 13:00:21 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/?p=16327 Eliza Esquivel has never been one to take a linear path anywhere. It’s clear in the way she put off diving into a career in her 20s to focus on meditation and figure out what life meant to her, and in the way she changed her plans of becoming a literary critic to venture into […]

The post One of the most creative women in advertising joins Microsoft appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
Eliza Esquivel has never been one to take a linear path anywhere.

It’s clear in the way she put off diving into a career in her 20s to focus on meditation and figure out what life meant to her, and in the way she changed her plans of becoming a literary critic to venture into advertising — and went on to run a $36 billion portfolio of well-known global brands.

But when you’ve been named one of the most creative women in advertising, your work igniting a broad debate about Oreos and using a futuristic idea to help change how people see chewing gum, what’s next?

For Esquivel, it’s making an impact in technology. She says her new job at Microsoft meshes perfectly with her passion for creativity and its power to transform the world.

“I’ve always wanted to work in technology, and I am obsessed with the future,” she says. “In this day and age, there’s a real sense that a lot of where the creativity is happening is in the technology space.”

IMG_5954_v2

Esquivel’s new frontier for creativity and shaping the future is Microsoft Office. As senior director of brand, strategy and naming in Office Marketing, she and her senior team of strategists will define and tell the story of brands like Office 365, Skype and Outlook, going beyond the products’ useful functions and features to show the indispensable role they play in the lives of people around the globe.

She’s excited to help influence the way Office evolves and have a lasting impact on products that countless people use each day by coming up with the names for new apps and features.

Microsoft’s dedication to creating what customers want and need “is all about having insights, so that we can make sure what we build connects with them,” says Matt Donovan, general manager of the Microsoft Office Brand, Studio, Web and Social team. “I think Eliza has a really strong skillset in that area.”

Donovan first met Esquivel last year, when she was vice president of Global Brand Strategy at Mondelēz International (formerly Kraft Foods) and had a wide range of creative, strategic, planning and marketing experience working with Coke, Nike, McDonald’s, Cadbury and other major brands.

“I thought she had a lot of positive energy and a great understanding of brands and the challenges that they face in today’s world,” Donovan says. “We had a lot of good discussion about how global brands can really thrive — and that’s something that’s obviously at the heart of Office, as a truly global brand.”

But for someone who’s made a name for herself in advertising, Esquivel has an unexpected history with technology. Her father was an exec for the Tandy Corporation, so as a kid, she tapped away at her family’s TRS-80 computer, mostly playing games that taught about the inner workings of electronics.

She spent a summer at coding camp when she was in grade school and she focused her science fair project on trying to prove that computers help people learn.

She loved science and astronomy, and still does.

“I think maybe my fascination with the future stems from my general sense of wonder about things.”

“There are so many things we don’t know about our own planet, or the way that our bodies really work, or where we sit in the universe,” she says. “I think maybe my fascination with the future stems from my general sense of wonder about things.”

Yet her creative side found room to grow, too. Her mother was an artist, so Esquivel tagged along for art openings and spent time hanging out with other artists. In her 20s, she joined a spiritual community that was primarily focused on meditation — something she has done daily ever since.

She figured she’d be a writer and later, a literary critic, and earned her bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Texas. But as she considered her future, a mentor suggested she’d do well in advertising. She gave it some thought, applied for her school’s master’s program and earned a full scholarship to write cultural theory about advertising, she says.

Since then, Esquivel has been fascinated by the history of advertising, which she calls “the most sophisticated form of communication” — in part because of its roots in behavioral science.

“If you go back into the history of communication theory and persuasion, you’ll see that there’s a lot of power and a lot of money spent trying to understand how you motivate human beings for larger causes,” she says. “It’s a very powerful form of communication. We spend a lot of time figuring out how it is that we can say something that will get somebody to take an action.”

Esquivel’s career included planning leadership roles at advertising agencies including TBWA\Chait\Day in New York and Wieden + Kennedy in Amsterdam before she joined Mondelēz in 2012. She has led campaign development for what she calls “more progressive, out-of-the-box content creation.”

Eliza on the Microsoft Redmond, WA campus Eliza on the Microsoft Redmond, WA campus Eliza on the Microsoft Redmond, WA campus Eliza on the Microsoft Redmond, WA campus Eliza on the Microsoft Redmond, WA campus

Case in point: She helped design a campaign for Trident to convey the idea that chewing gum helps you focus. She and her colleagues took the fact that people are often distracted by mobile devices — and then designed a clothing line made out of radio-frequency shielding fabric that blocks their signals.

The idea was that the person wearing the futuristic clothing could drop their phone in their pocket and focus on the world around them or the person in front of them without distractions.

“It was really future facing, and the attention it did get was from the most forward-thinking parts of culture,” Esquivel says. “A lot of influencers reappraised not only Trident but Mondelēz, in terms of the way they thought about them as a company.”

She’s also proud of her work on Oreo’s “Cookie vs. Creme” campaign. It included a Super Bowl commercial in which chaos ensues over an argument about whether the best part of an Oreo is the chocolate cookie or the creme filling, inviting viewers to vote on Instagram, as well as a quirky video about a man who creates an elaborate machine to separate the creme filling from the cookies.

Just last year, Esquivel was ranked No. 6 on Business Insider’s list of the 30 most creative women in advertising.

She says much of her work has been focused on connecting with millennials, and she acknowledges her own secret interest in teenage pop culture. She devoured the “Twilight” book series and jumped at the chance to see “Superbad” when the movie first came out, confiding that “somewhere deep inside me is a 16-year-old girl.”

Esquivel says she is ready to apply her deep knowledge of consumers and understanding of culture to “have a really profound impact” at Microsoft, a company she believes actively sought out the very different ideas about marketing and communication that she brings to the table.

“From day one I’ve been encouraged to share my unique perspective, even if it runs contrary to what may appear to be Microsoft convention,” she says. “At the same time, I’m also being encouraged to take my time to learn about the people and resources within the organization. The freedom to be curious here has been very inspiring.”

“Honestly, I’m so thrilled to be here; I don’t think I’ve ever been happier coming into a new job.”

Coming from New York City, she was struck by the “gorgeous” Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, and the many smart, courteous people who work efficiently — the pace is much quicker than in advertising, she says — and know how to get things done.

“People are very respectful of one another and everyone’s voice is heard, yet people don’t sit around talking about things all the time; they take action,” she says. “There’s a really nice combination of democracy and dynamism at play.”

One of the things that attracted her to the company was the sense that there’s a lot of career mobility.  “You’re never going to stop growing,” she says. “You can switch topics and explore new avenues over the years, and that’s really encouraged within the organization.”

And she believes now is the ideal time to be at Microsoft, a company she says is full of energy and momentum and is poised for even greater things.

“Honestly, I’m so thrilled to be here; I don’t think I’ve ever been happier coming into a new job,” she says. “It’s so exciting what’s happening in this company, and I’m delighted to be a part of it.”

 

The post One of the most creative women in advertising joins Microsoft appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/one-creative-women-advertising-joins-microsoft/feed/ 0
New Microsoft offices boast ultramodern design and stunning views http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/new-microsoft-offices-boast-ultramodern-design-stunning-views/ http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/new-microsoft-offices-boast-ultramodern-design-stunning-views/#respond Fri, 17 Jun 2016 16:30:27 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/?p=16267 A group of program managers visiting Microsoft’s modern new offices in Vancouver, British Columbia, sat in tall chairs at a stylish triangular table in one of the sleek conference rooms, where they were coming up with new ideas and drawing prototypes using an 84-inch Surface Hub as their interactive whiteboard. The creativity flowed freely. They […]

The post New Microsoft offices boast ultramodern design and stunning views appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
A group of program managers visiting Microsoft’s modern new offices in Vancouver, British Columbia, sat in tall chairs at a stylish triangular table in one of the sleek conference rooms, where they were coming up with new ideas and drawing prototypes using an 84-inch Surface Hub as their interactive whiteboard.

The creativity flowed freely. They got their work done quickly. But what they were able to accomplish so efficiently in the relaxed, contemporary setting — decidedly unlike a stodgy office — was only part of what made an impression on the visiting employees on that recent day.

“We have a 360-degree view of the entire downtown and the mountains, and everybody was just awestruck. They all loved the office,” recalls Megha Tiwari, a program manager who gets to enjoy the view and accommodations on a daily basis. “They keep joking about how they want to come back every month.”

CWA_Microsoft_1484_v2

The Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre (MCEC) formally opened Friday with a planned visit from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It will house developers from across the Vancouver region, Canada and the world who will bring to life new features and technologies for productivity products including Skype and OneNote, games such as the Gears of War franchise, interactive television apps for NFL, Xbox and Windows 10, mixed reality products such as Microsoft HoloLens and ground-breaking accessibility services like Seeing AI.

The MCEC spans two light-filled floors atop the Nordstrom building in Vancouver’s Pacific Centre mall. Its contemporary workspaces are arranged in airy groups amid neutral-toned wood décor, brightly colored lounging areas, expansive windows and soaring ceilings.

“It’s an exceptionally designed, state-of-the-art facility that unifies Microsoft’s Vancouver teams, creating a new collaborative culture,” says MCEC Director Edoardo De Martin, who was born in British Columbia and has lived in Canada all his life. “The MCEC is raising Microsoft’s profile in Vancouver, giving employees the chance to shape the local tech scene.”

More than 550 employees are now working in the vast space, which brings together teams from Skype for Business, OneNote, MSN and other products and has room for nearly 250 more. Microsoft plans to hire across all teams, filling positions for front-end and back-end engineers and a variety of other roles.

MCEC-CasualWorkspacesTakeAdvantageOfSunshineAndCityViews

Nestled in the heart of the vibrant city, the new office “brings restaurants, shopping and nightlife to our doorstep,” De Martin says. It borders Vancouver’s entertainment district and houses two rapid-transit line stops directly under the building for easy commuting.

One of the many highlights is the Garage, where teams, interns and local startup workers can come together to bring ideas to life. The Garage “has prime views of the city and straddles the line between ‘cool coffee house’ and ‘industrial workshop,’” De Martin says. “It allows our teams and community to hack, build and explore.”

Senior software engineer Kiky Tangerine considers Vancouver a second home. He grew up in Indonesia, but moved to Canada when he was 18 to attend the University of British Columbia and began his career there after college.

CWA_Microsoft_1220 (1)

He joined Microsoft in 2011 because he says he “wanted to contribute to the advancement of technology and make a difference in people’s lives.” He spent a few years at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, but when an opportunity came up in the Applications and Services Group in Vancouver, he took it.

That was in 2014, when Microsoft employees worked in several smaller buildings in Vancouver. Tangerine, who is now working to improve the reliability and speed of OneNote Online client sync, has been in the new office for a few months now.

Picturesque views fill the floor-to-ceiling windows. From his desk, he can see the stately Vancouver Art Gallery and the snow-capped mountains where he and his colleagues sometimes go after work — a 40-minute drive — for night skiing and snowboarding.

MCEC-EmployeesTakeAdvantageOfCasualWorkspaces MCEC-RecreationIsIncluded MCEC-EmployeesTakeAFewMinutesforTableTableTennis MCEC-TheSpaceIs142kSqareFeetOnTwoOpenConceptFloors CWA_Microsoft_0140 CWA_Microsoft_1220 (1) CWA_Microsoft_1321 CWA_Microsoft_0636 CWA_Microsoft_0754 CWA_Microsoft_0816 Panorama CWA_Microsoft_0991 CWA_Microsoft_1029 MCEC-TheSpaceIncorporatesLotsOfColour CWA_Microsoft_1104 Panorama CWA_Microsoft_1252

“I especially enjoy being in Vancouver,” he says. “Not only is the space great, the project I’m working on is really interesting and very technically challenging, and the people I work with are very smart and energetic.”

He likes that the office is open and huge, with plenty of space for discussions, meetings and socializing. He also makes good use of his mechanical desk that allows him to sit or stand — an often-requested item that is standard throughout the MCEC— so he “can switch it up from time to time,” he says.

Perhaps the best part is that the office sits squarely in the middle of so much to explore. He and his coworkers often venture out to the many restaurants within walking distance or grab lunch at one of the nearby food trucks serving Thai food, kabobs, tacos and other global treats. They also try new coffee shops regularly.

“Right now, what I really love is working with my team,” he says. “We work hard, and we play hard.”

Tiwari, who’s on the Microsoft’s Storefronts team, can see why the employees who visited recently were so captivated. She says the offices’ bright splashes of color give it “a feel-good kind of vibe” and that “everything is very inviting and a good facilitator of the work that we do.”

“The layout is very open, and all of my team sits in the same area. This allows us to work together efficiently,” she says. “It’s the perfect space that you need to be creative and have open conversations while being able to unwind and take breaks when needed.”

“Microsoft is at the cusp of transforming how millions of people around the world do more and achieve more, and there is no better time to be part of this journey."

Tiwari, who grew up in New Delhi and lived in the U.S. for six years, had never been to Vancouver and was initially unsure about moving there. Now she doesn’t want to live anywhere else. She spends much of her free time with colleagues exploring fun places to go for happy hour and making their way through the long list of restaurants she wants to try for brunch.

She says the city has an international feel that seems inclusive to everyone, and offers plenty of things to do and new experiences to discover.

“It makes me feel I am part of here, in a way,” she says. “The city is very culturally diverse, with so much happening constantly. There is something to do all the time, which keeps me occupied, satisfied and happy.”

And the work itself gives her just what she came to Microsoft for: the ability to grow, lead and make a difference for people around the world. She’s currently working on creating a website where MSN’s millions of users worldwide will have schedules, scores, results and everything they need for this year’s Summer Olympics at their fingertips.

“Microsoft is at the cusp of transforming how millions of people around the world do more and achieve more, and there is no better time to be part of this journey,” she says. “It is an amazing feeling to see some of your ideas be in the hands of millions of users.”

Paul Richardson, a senior software engineer manager for the Vancouver Storefronts team, had already lived and worked in Vancouver for nearly eight years when Microsoft hired him as a full-time employee in 2012. His team of eight engineers work on the development side of the MSN site’s sports, autos, entertainment and news sections.

He says he and his team take advantage of the new office’s various conference rooms for more formal meetings, its cozy clusters of sofas and chairs for more casual discussions and the huge whiteboards in their area for “engineering doodling” and brainstorming.

“It feels like a dynamic place where you can walk around and see the kind of passion and excitement people have,” he says. “And it’s big and open, so you really get to experience what the other teams are doing.”

Richardson says the new MCEC holds plenty of career opportunity, and that the best part of the job is being able to “come in and work with some great, smart people who are really passionate about learning and making great software.”

And the city itself? He says it’s in a class of its own. It has a downtown surrounded by water that’s just a short walk from the office, and mountains that feel close enough to touch. Locals often boast that you can go kayaking in the morning and hit the slopes in the afternoon.

“If you like outdoor activities, this is the place to come,” Richardson says. “When you compare Vancouver to other places from a lifestyle viewpoint, it’s kind of hard to beat.”

The post New Microsoft offices boast ultramodern design and stunning views appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/new-microsoft-offices-boast-ultramodern-design-stunning-views/feed/ 0
Data scientist dreams up ideas and then brings them to life http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/data-scientist-dreams-ideas-brings-life/ http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/data-scientist-dreams-ideas-brings-life/#respond Wed, 15 Jun 2016 13:00:25 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/?p=15817 Anirudh Koul’s grandfather was slowly losing his ability to see. By 2014, he was having a hard time recognizing Koul’s face in their weekly Skype calls bridging the vast distance between the Silicon Valley, where Koul is a data scientist at Microsoft, and the elderly man’s home in New Delhi. So Koul started reading up […]

The post Data scientist dreams up ideas and then brings them to life appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
Anirudh Koul’s grandfather was slowly losing his ability to see. By 2014, he was having a hard time recognizing Koul’s face in their weekly Skype calls bridging the vast distance between the Silicon Valley, where Koul is a data scientist at Microsoft, and the elderly man’s home in New Delhi.

So Koul started reading up on the challenges of vision loss and thinking about how the recent advances in deep learning, a potential-packed area of machine learning, could help give people a new way to recognize what’s around them without actually seeing it.

That was the modest beginning of Seeing AI. Two years later, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduced the budding technology to thundering applause at this year’s Build conference. It grabbed headlines, inspired people around the world, was showcased at a White House event and prompted many in the tech industry to contact Koul and his colleagues with congratulations and offers of assistance.

“We were beyond amazed,” Koul says. “Never in our wildest dreams did we think the response would be so huge. It was a deeply humbling experience.”

Koul has the sort of job that many in the tech world dream of: About 80 percent of his work is on projects or ideas that he’s come up with himself and gotten his managers’ support to pursue. He says Microsoft has the cutting-edge tools, vast data sets, talented people and an “innovation pipeline” that gives data scientists the opportunity to turn their ideas into real products and features.

“I could not have asked for a better career path for myself,” Koul says. “If you’re passionate, driven and have a thirst to innovate, there’s no better place for you than Microsoft.”

Irene, showcases Pivothead glasses

Irene Chen showcases smart glasses by Pivothead

Seeing AI is one of a long list of revolutionary technologies being created with machine learning at Microsoft. Still in development, the app can be used on a smartphone or with smart glasses from Pivothead. It uses computer vision, speech recognition and natural language processing to help describe a person’s surroundings, read text, answer questions and even identify emotions on people’s faces.

With a quick snapshot of a scene, the app may tell the user it sees a dog playing with a Frisbee, a crowd waiting at an airport baggage carousel or a young man who is smiling. It can help those who are blind or have low vision read a menu, determine how people are reacting to what they’re saying and tackle other routine tasks without having to rely on others for help.

“That was a really defining moment for me, where I felt that what I’m making is actually making a difference”

Irene Chen got the chance to work on Seeing AI as part of the Garage Internship Program, in which interns work toward building a new product in just four months. The University of British Columbia student initially just wanted to learn about computer vision but found something much more transformative in working on Seeing AI. She remembers the first time she saw a blind person use it.

“She struggled a little bit at first, but then it read what she wanted it to read perfectly, and her eyes lit up. Her whole face was glowing,” Chen recalls. “That was a really defining moment for me, where I felt that what I’m making is actually going to make a difference … It wasn’t something that I’ve ever felt before.”

Chen, a software developer who worked on backend development — “where all the algorithms and magic happen,” she says — and deployment, says the project involved collaborating with people in Microsoft offices in Japan, Serbia, Cairo, London, Washington and California, where the team found the different kinds of expertise they needed.

“Whenever we emailed teams all over the world and asked them to assist us, they were all very open to chatting with us and helping us, even though they’re not directly involved with our project,” she says. “I thought it was just incredible.”

Koul, who admits he’s sometimes star-struck by some of the people at Microsoft who have accomplished amazing things, agrees that having that open-ended resource is invaluable.

“You can reach out in an internal group list and say, ‘Hey, I have this problem that I’m coming across.’ In maybe one or two hours, you have responses from, like, five people from around the world who are experts in that particular area,” he says. “It’s like instant problem-solving.”

Now Koul taps regularly into the nearly limitless tools and talent of the company to follow his interests, but there was a time when he wouldn’t have believed he’d find his ideal career at Microsoft. The tech industry, sure — but working at a big company? That wasn’t in his plan at all.

He became interested in technology as a kid growing up in India. His parents got an MS-DOS computer with a black and white screen, which they had little interest in, but Koul began tinkering with it and was writing his own programs by the time he was in high school.

He earned a computer science degree from Dalhousie University in Canada, worked for four years as a research engineer at Yahoo and went back to school at Carnegie Mellon University for his master’s in computational data science, specializing in machine learning and natural language processing.

There, he was the entrepreneurship advisor, guiding fellow students to build prototypes for their ideas quickly and generally speed up their innovation processes. At the same time, he churned out his own projects for various hackathons, racking up hacking experience and awards.

“I had this image of Microsoft being this mammoth company where things moved sluggishly.”

Back then, he was the opposite of the kind of person who worked at Microsoft — or so he thought. “I was completely into open source, Linux and the fast-working mindset of startups,” he says. “I had this image of Microsoft being this mammoth company where things moved sluggishly.”

But when a Microsoft recruiter contacted him, he decided he’d check out the company. He says he went for an interview and could immediately see “the growing startup culture” — and realized his previous impressions were completely wrong.

“The people I met here had this hacker spirit in them,” he says. “And they also had this amazing amount of data that would be hard to get in any other company.”

He remembers how on his first day as a data scientist at Microsoft, he was playing around with some data and ran a program with it that took about two hours to finish, using a cluster spanning thousands of computers. On his home computer, he figures, it would have taken about seven months.

“They have fine-tuned the machinery and made tools available so that it’s very fast for a data scientist to iterate and get answers from data,” he says.

deep_vision_group_photo

Top row (Silicon Valley) : Sherlock Huang, Salman Gadit, Antony Deepak Thomas, Anirudh Koul, Meher Kasam, Serge-Eric Tremblay, Eren Song Bottom row (Redmond) : Wes Sularz, Mary Bellard, Anne Taylor, Abhinav Shrivastava, Margaret Mitchell, Ross Girshick, Kartik Sawhney, Ishan Misra; Gaurang Prajapati Not in the photo : Saqib Shaikh (London)

He started Seeing AI as a project for last year’s //oneweek hackathon. He shared his idea with colleagues who had worked with organizations for blind people, those who had worked on accessibility technology, developers, researchers, designers and others. His idea seemed a bit overly ambitious to many, he says, but he built a team of 16 people from Microsoft offices in California, Washington state and London who wanted to help.

“With advancements in computer vision and deep learning, I knew we could build something more useful than what currently exists” he says.

Saqib Shaikh, who works at Microsoft in London, had created a primitive version of the same idea at the previous year’s hackathon. The software engineer, who’s been blind since age 7, was searching the 2015 hackathon submissions for technology to assist blind people and came across Koul’s project.

Shaikh immediately contacted Koul to find out how he could help, and the two “ended up talking for hours about different ideas and technologies,” Shaikh recalls.

Shaikh participated from London as Koul and others got down to work at the three-day hackathon in the Silicon Valley and Redmond, Washington. Margaret Mitchell, a Microsoft researcher who specializes in vision-to-language and assistive technology, provided the image captioning capabilities that were instrumental to bringing the project to life.

Competing against 13,000 employees, they ultimately won the global event’s Tech for Good category with their project, which was called “Deep Vision” at the time.

“That was amazing,” Shaikh says. “We’d all decided that this was something worth doing, and that we’d like to push forward regardless … To win was just like the icing on the cake.”

Koul says he was incredibly lucky to be a part of such an amazing team, calling it an “honor and privilege to work alongside such dedicated people who care deeply about accessibility.”

Shaikh says he’s started using the app, especially when he wants to read something, and expects to find more ways to integrate it into his daily habits as it becomes more polished and refined. He’s eager to help make it so that others will be able to do the same.

“I think the impact could be huge. In the short term, this is some really interesting new tech that we could bring to the world to help people in novel ways,” he says. “Going forward, I think the future is going to be incredible in terms of what these different AI machine learning algorithms can do.”

Since the hackathon, the global team continued improving the project, often in their spare time. Shaikh’s managers at Bing recognized his passion for the technology and gave him two months away from his regular project to build the foundations for the current Seeing AI app.

Mitchell hired Koul to be a full-time driver on the project. Koul’s first move was to pitch Seeing AI as a project for the Garage interns to work on – and they accepted. Koul, Mitchell, and Shaikh all credit the Garage interns for making the Seeing AI app possible.

Mitchell says the project is a powerful example of what she wanted to do when she came to work at Microsoft: develop core research and follow it through all the way to the consumers.

“There is no other place that makes such amazing connections, freedom and resources possible.”

“Microsoft provided the opportunity to work directly with visually impaired communities, have access to massive computing resources and the opportunity to showcase cool and important work to the rest of the world,” she says. “There is no other place that makes such amazing connections, freedom and resources possible.”

Koul says the project probably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground anywhere else; Microsoft leadership’s support is what helped “this dream come to fruition.”

“I have seen so many accessibility-related projects here that would not have seen the light of day if it was not at Microsoft,” he says. “Accessibility is built deep into our culture, and it encourages people to think of how to make things that are inclusive of our whole society.”

In his nearly five years at Microsoft, Koul has helped create various hacks and picked up numerous awards for them. He says he enjoys being given so much independence in his daily work and having so many avenues to present his ideas. He also credits Microsoft’s StayFit program, one of the company’s many employee benefits, for helping him lose 84 pounds.

As for Seeing AI, he says, “This is just the beginning. We have a long road ahead of us, with many more features in the works that we’re excited to showcase in the future.”

His grandfather passed away in late April, the same week Microsoft created the fully funded Seeing AI team. The 85-year-old man knew a little bit about it and “was impressed to hear about me working toward scenarios for blind users,” Koul says.

Koul is grateful for the opportunities he’s had to turn big-data ideas into new products and features. After all, he says, “What’s the fun of working on something if you don’t see it come to life?”

The post Data scientist dreams up ideas and then brings them to life appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/data-scientist-dreams-ideas-brings-life/feed/ 0
Elite engineering team ready to take on any tech mission http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/elite-engineering-team-ready-take-tech-mission/ http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/elite-engineering-team-ready-take-tech-mission/#respond Thu, 09 Jun 2016 13:00:02 +0000 http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/?p=16048 An elite team of engineers at Microsoft is always ready to go wherever they’re needed and dive into building a brand-new technology, solving a problem or otherwise using their varied expertise to help get an important job done — and it’s no coincidence they’re called the Spartans. Technically, the name stands for the Special Projects […]

The post Elite engineering team ready to take on any tech mission appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
An elite team of engineers at Microsoft is always ready to go wherever they’re needed and dive into building a brand-new technology, solving a problem or otherwise using their varied expertise to help get an important job done — and it’s no coincidence they’re called the Spartans.

Technically, the name stands for the Special Projects and Resources Team. But really, it refers to the supersoldiers of the popular Halo video game franchise who swoop in and brave unpredictable dangers as they do whatever it takes to complete their assignments.

True, these real-life Spartans aren’t exactly risking their lives — but it certainly makes for an exciting tech job.

“I send them off and say, ‘I need you to go attack this project or look at this area,’ and they hit the ground running,” says Shaiwal Singh, the Spartans’ leader. “They basically look at the lay of the land and figure out how they can make an impact.”

“They basically look at the lay of the land and figure out how they can make an impact.”

The Spartans — a growing squad of 14 that will expand to some 20 members in the coming weeks — have tackled a broad array of assignments. They’ve helped create the user interface for a mobile analytics platform for Skype, for example, and helped build a real-time pipeline to process Bing Ads data.

They often work on innovations that are among the company’s top priorities, from creating intelligent bot technology that lets people accomplish tasks through natural-language chatting to building the platform that enables machine learning and artificial intelligence at scale.

“Every new project is a new challenge and a fresh, energizing new experience, and I love that,” says Hugo Aponte, a senior software engineer on the Spartans team. “That’s why I’m with the Spartans and plan to be here a long time.”

“Every new project is a new challenge and a fresh, energizing new experience, and I love that.”

Aponte has been a Spartan ever since the team was created three years ago. He’d worked for a large oil company in Venezuela, where he grew up, and then for a major digital-media company, where he rose through the ranks but found himself wanting to do less management and more “cool stuff” with technology.

He set his sights on a big company like Microsoft so he could do big things, and the Spartans role sounded like an interesting challenge and an extraordinary opportunity to learn.

“I liked the idea of not being attached to a single technology or product or component,” Aponte says. “I would be able to move around the company and have the opportunity to see and work first-hand with a lot of different things.”

“The Spartans are very strong engineers that are bringing massive experience and are boosting our team.”

The Spartans began as a little-known group within the Bing Ads team. But these days, its assistance is in high demand in a variety of different areas across Microsoft’s Information Platform Group.

Aponte says he’s enjoyed all of his projects so far, perhaps most the one he’s working on now. In January, he was asked to help a team create a bot that helps users make restaurant reservations, call a cab, schedule household services or do other tasks easily by chatting.

“Immediately I recognized this as a great opportunity,” he says. “It was something in the company that people were starting to talk about.”

Now several months into the assignment, things are “moving fast, and soon we will be truly enabling our users to be more productive in their day-to-day life,” he says. “In the near future, it will be natural to just ask the bot to book a flight, given some constraints, and you won’t need to spend time chasing a good deal for your next getaway.”

Yael Karov Zangvil, the Microsoft partner scientist who leads the bot project, says the Spartans have been an integral part of it. Their assistance allowed the group to kick off development even as the team was still being built in January, and the combined team has already created “the most sophisticated and productive conversational bot,” she says.

“The Spartans are very strong engineers that are bringing massive experience and are boosting our team,” she says. “They are fully motivated, and each of them owns significant parts of the bot.”

Spartans team member Rosa Enciso grew up in Peru, earned her doctorate in computer science at the University of Central Florida and planned a career in academia. Then she attended the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, where she met many women who were doing exciting things in the tech industry and found herself inspired to give it a try.

“We are in a unique position where we can build smarter products and advanced machine learning technologies.”

“I joined Microsoft because I wanted to put my background in algorithms to use in solving shorter-term and high-impact problems,” she says. “Microsoft is one of the few companies that develops products in so many areas, you could never be bored.”

Enciso started with MSN and had been working at Microsoft almost five years when the Spartans opportunity came along. She liked the idea of having very well-defined projects that had a specific length, crystal-clear goals and the opportunity to achieve great things.

“Microsoft develops technologies that have an impact in the order of millions,” she says. “We are in a unique position where we can build smarter products and services with our rich data and advanced machine learning technologies and expertise.”

The chance to learn so much from talented people at Microsoft, all nearby or just an email away, turned out to be one of the best parts of the job. So did the fast-paced environment.

“When you work in development, there is always this high point when you’re working really hard to ship, and then there’s some maintenance and incremental features to work on until the next wave comes,” she says. “But in the Spartans, you’re always on the top of the wave — always working toward shipping. That part is really exciting.”

Completing an assignment is also rewarding.

“It feels good. I like being able to say, ‘In this time, I did this. This is what I accomplished,’” she says. “I don’t know if, on other teams, you know when you will be able to say that… It’s very clear, and many times, you can quantify what you did.”

“Microsoft doesn’t just care about advancing technology; it also really cares about people.”

Enciso, who’s currently working with Bing’s Satori team to improve the coverage and precision of social profiles for millions of entities in the knowledge graph, which enhances search-engine results, also feels like the culture at the company is caring and inclusive.

“Microsoft doesn’t just care about advancing technology; it also really cares about people,” she says. “Our management team has been extremely supportive in initiatives to recruit, advance and retain women and other underrepresented minorities.”

Singh, a principal group engineering manager, was tapped to start the Spartans a few years ago and has led them ever since. He says the team is made up of skilled, full-stack engineers who have differing backgrounds but one thing in common: a “learner mindset.”

Each member has “the incessant desire to learn and know everything inside and out,” he says — and being able to do that while making an impact at the same time is what makes the team so revolutionary.

Hugo Aponte and Rosa Enciso at the Microsoft Bellevue, WA office Rosa Enciso at the Microsoft Bellevue, WA office Shaiwal Singh at the Microsoft Bellevue, WA office Hugo Aponte and Rosa Enciso at the Microsoft Bravern office Shaiwal Singh at the Microsoft Bellevue, WA office

“The Spartans model allows us to take some of our best talent and apply it to solving the most critical problems our division is facing,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter what category it is. As long as it is critical and aligned to the success strategy of our division’s mission and vision, we are on top of it.”

Spartans get assignments based on company priorities, as well as their own skills and interests. Some jobs call for a group of Spartans; others, just one. They go to where the need is, assess the requirements of the project and quickly become part of the team working on it.

The projects usually last six months to a year, and the Spartans typically get outstanding feedback on their work, Singh says; it helps that “they’re awesome developers who have great attitudes and are extremely good at collaborating,”

Singh says he has “the enviable job of hiring the best and most diverse set of talent” for his team. He enjoys meeting skilled engineers and getting to know their unique perspectives and the strengths they bring to the table.

“What I love most about interacting with great engineers is understanding their potential and helping them unlock that to make the most impact that they can,” he says. “In many cases, it’s more than what they imagined.”

Singh is proud of the Spartans and all they’ve accomplished, and he believes it’s an incredible time in general to be working at Microsoft.

“There is an opportunity to make an impact in many different places, whether it is to build next-generation breakthroughs in technology, products or services, or in organizational structures and systems, like I did with Spartans,” he says. “No doors are closed. Everything is a possibility.”

 

The post Elite engineering team ready to take on any tech mission appeared first on JobsBlog: Life at Microsoft.

]]>
http://blogs.microsoft.com/jobs/elite-engineering-team-ready-take-tech-mission/feed/ 0