Experience Microsoft 2012

So I just spend about 4 days in Seattle/Bellevue for an event called Experience Microsoft. The program is for undergrads who (from my understanding) have applied for an internship, scholarship, or the Explore program and did not get accepted. Explore Microsoft is a summer internship program for first and second years. Read more about it here: http://careers.microsoft.com/careers/en/us/internships-explore-microsoft.aspx

I got into the program because I applied for their Academic Scholarship, and I actually won : ) It was thanks to StudentAwards , as I wouldn’t have known about it without their scholarship database.

There is actually no information online about the Experience Microsoft program, so I guess it’s pretty secret. Not anymore though (haha). A few of my coworkers at Lookout worked at Msoft previously, and told me a little about Msoft before I went off. I decided I would go in with a clean slate, though (without external opinions).

Msoft flew me in on Wed night and I attended this 2-day event at the main office with ~75 other students across North America. I was actually surprised by the large amount of Canadians! There were at least 10 or 20 of us; lots of freshmen and sophomores, and a very equal ratio of guys to girls.

We stayed at The Westin, which was probably the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at. So the awesome thing was that msoft reimburses all our meals while we’re there.

Day 1 (Thurs) consisted of presos, good food, networking, activities, and tours.

We had a workshop on windows phone development, which was pretty fun. It’s actually so similar to Android development, but the tools and interface are much nicer. Visual Studio is pretty awesome, and is so much more friendly than Eclipse :P Learned some C# syntax, and like everyone has told me, it is similar to Java. The mapping from xaml layout objects to methods is very VB-like (VB6 was the first language I used, brings back memories!).

The presos were interactive and gave a great overview about how the work is at msoft. Something that really stood out to me was The Garage – a place to do personal projects. It gave off the start up / open source feel, in this huge corporation setting.

There were a ton of raffles going on throughout the day, and I was especially jealous of those who won windows phones!

Lunch was really awesome, as we got to choose from food at The Commons, which is basically a huge food court. It was great.

We also did an engineering activity: propelling a balloon across a string that went from wall to wall. Personally I’ve always disliked these kinds of activities, but my team was really into it, and we actually won J (at least in our sub-group).

The networking event was pretty cool, there were probably 20 msoft employees to talk to (a mix of PMs, devs, and sdets), but everyone had so many questions so I only got to talk to 2 or 3 of them.

EOD – dinner and bowling at Lucky Strike. I’m not much of a bowler though so I left early to go to Bellevue Square. The Microsoft Store Smoke Challenge was still happening, so I went with some people to check that out. They ran out of phones (no surprise), so they just started giving out $25 Gift Cards if you lost the game. Unfortunately my phone was dead (and you need a smartphone to play so I couldn’t use my iPod), but I went back there on Saturday to claim it. And yes, it was an easy loss because WinPhone focuses so much on people, and easy people interaction.

Almost every activity/preso talked about the Metro concept, which I think is pretty awesome. (Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro_(design_language) ) I actually fell in love with WinPhone after seeing the interface, it’s so smooth and visually appealing compared to iPhone and Android. After doing some research – WinPhone is not a big hit in Canada yet, so I’d probably have to search around at Pacific Mall if I plan to buy an unlocked one in the future.

So Thurs night, I’m chilling in my hotel room, enjoying fast internet. I brought my Windows laptop over there (an Asus), and I spilt water on it. I trusted the water bottle that they gave us, which actually leaks. And.. yeah I think my motherboard died.. but I have to wait a few more days to confirm. The sad thing is that I barely used that laptop this term since I always bring home my Macbook from work. Sighh and I can’t really sell the parts since it’s a laptop.. I actually backed up all my data before the trip, and the only useful things were my past schoolwork, and all my music (which is already all synced to Google Music). So… I’m not too worried about my data. I just feel really bad because I had this laptop for a little over a year. I hate spending big money but I may have to do it soon so I have a laptop for my next school term (in which case I’ll probably be getting a Macbook).

Luckily Msoft let us borrow laptops, so I just used one of their Thinkpads for the hackathon.

Day 2 consisted of a more detailed set of presos on the 3 major roles – pm, dev, and sdet. I found it super useful, and it was interesting to relate it to my current and past coop because they actually went into detail of how they work, what tools they use, what challenges they face, etc.

Msoft actually uses an internal repository, and another internal tool called Codeflow (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2012/jan12/01-05CodeFlow.mspx) for their code reviewing. Having 2000 people working on the same branch…. Merge conflicts must be a pain.

The lunches weren’t as amazing on Day 2. It was catering, but we just got salads and sandwiches (which I’m actually not that fond of).

The afternoon was more touring of the various studios, showing off cool research projects in the making. It was not as packed of a schedule as Day 1, which was nice.

We also did mock interviews. Now this was a very useful session, despite the fact that I’ve done so many interviews last term for Winter ’12 coop. Someone was critiquing me things I was doing right or wrong, on the spot. Coding question was basic: write a function taking in an array of intact, all intact are repeated except 1. Output that 1 int. Most efficient way is by XORing, I didn’t think of that at all though. It was a 30 min session, but obviously real Msoft interviews are longer (and there’s multiple interviews).

Each of us were also given 50-dollar vouchers to spend at the Msoft company store, which was super generous of them! We already got so much swag, and now we were given the chance to pick and choose more swag. I ended up getting an Arc mouse, shirt, and some mousepads for the bf/ parents. Total was 50.94 so I only spent .94 :p

Arc Mouse: I guess I’ll do a mini review right now. It is quite fitting on the hand, and very light! This is pretty useful and saves room for people on the go. I got it in white J Obviously I do not know how the battery life is yet, though. I have not installed the software for it (if there is even software for it), but I hope there is smooth scrolling. Apparently I bought V1 of the Arc Mouse, and V2 takes out the scroll wheel and folds flat (it’s called the Arc Touch mouse, and it essentially scrolls like the Apple Magic Mouse). I didn’t know it was V2 though so I got the V1 D: Oh well~

After all that … came the Win Phone Hackathon. Many people had cool app ideas but I didn’t think of mine until 20 minutes into the hacking. We were supposed to hack from 5-12 but dinner cut it short, and they made the deadline 1030pm so we could all present and leave the building by 12. So… we only had 3-4 hours of coding, in reality. It was an individual or pair thing, so no huge teams. The coding zone was in a chairs + tables area @ The Commons, it was so dimly lit though, my eyes were starting to strain a lot :|

They fed us Mexican food (make your own tacos). The funny thing is that I had Chipotle on Monday, Chipotle pizza on Wed night, now more mexicano.

After some brainstorming (or lack thereof), I decided that maybe I could implement something that Lookout already has (since well… there’s no WinPhone version for our app yet ;)) Originally I wanted to create a way to password protect certain apps, which would be an awesome feat for when you borrow a friend your phone, or parents let their kids play with their phones, etc etc. But after consulting with some Msoft devs that were walking around, that would require me to go into the kernel, which is a little crazy and unfeasible for 3 hours of coding.

So I decided instead to make Safe Browsing (a Lookout feature) on wp. Well.. a modified version of it since we only had 3 hrs. My idea was to create a blacklist of websites, and password protect certain sites. The idea would be more geared towards parents with kids, who don’t want their kids browsing around and ending up at some rated R website.

Now this was a pretty naïve idea, because say facebook.com is on the blacklist, I’d need to do something with Regular Expressions to get facebook.com/photos for example. I didn’t worry about that for demo purposes, though. Another component was creating the password (which would be used across all blacklisted sites). And.. I guess when the user first starts up the Safe Browser, they’d have to set up that password. In order to Enable/Disable the Safe Browser, they’d have to enter in the same PW. Now… of course the kid could just use IE (the default WinPhone browser)… yeah I guess I wasn’t thinking too deeply into it haha. But it was just an idea, and a lot of the devs I was talking to thought it was cool so I just went with it. I was really enjoying myself though, it was the first time in awhile where I had a rush of ideas, resources were there to assist me, and I was able to create a product (well, a prototype).

At 11ish, we started having presos (and it went a little longer than we all expected), so only Lindsay (the MC) judged for the ‘winner’. There were a lot of people who did cool stuff with audio and drawing, many people created games. So my app was in another league, haha. I barely worked on the UI at all, which would have been interesting, since the UI would have been fun to play with.

Prizes composed of Win Phones, but if you’re a student and submit 2 apps to the Marketplace, you get a Win Phone anyway (which is awesome… now I need a 2nd idea).

More raffles: We got a page to submit names of people to recommend to Msoft for an internship, and the number of names = the number of extra raffle tickets. I asked my class facebook group, got ~18 names, got a ton of tickets, and won 1 of 3 prizes: an Xbox! Now I’m not a gamer… and I’ve only played Kinect once at a friend’s house… So I may sell the Xbox when I get it, haha. I was really hoping for WinPhone to be 1 of the raffles : / But 2 were Xboxes, 1 was a mini prize pack. Oh well!, I’m still really happy I won J And the event ended just like that.

Many people had early morning flights, so not a lot of us were left to do sightseeing. I think more people flew in early on Wednesday to do early sightseeing. Oh well, I did end up exploring the mall, and went to Space Needle. My flight was at 730 so I didn’t get to do much. In my prize pack, I also had a $120 GC for Spa services at this place in Bellevue. Even though they had openings for Sat, I decided Space Needle since the tickets they gave us were only valid for that day. Space Needle is obviously of a lower caliber than CN Tower and Empire State Building, but it was still beautiful, especially because it was a clear, sunny day on Saturday!

So overall, I had a great time in Seattle/Bellevue. Learned a lot about Msoft, the recruiters did an amazing job of putting the event together!

So to summarize, here are the benefits of the Experience Microsoft program:

  • -have a better understanding of the internship roles, and 3 core roles at Msoft
  • -connect with other undergrads from across North America
  • -connect with your recruiter
  • -connect with Msoft employees and learn about what their day-to-day work is like
  • -get overloaded with swag, and possibly win awesome prizes
  • -have a good time in an awesome city
  • -eat delicious food
  • -create Windows Phone apps with the assistance of current Msoft employees

Interesting things I picked up from all the presos and talking to various employees:

  1. People who have worked at Msoft for a long time switch their teams by their own preference. So a lot of them have worked on different teams (Xbox, Office, WinPhone), and even switched between different roles (PM, Dev, Tester) just because they wanted to have more breadth or maybe go for something that they enjoy more.
  2. Work hours are flexible (which is pretty prevalent at these big companies)
  3. Very nice work-life balance, every Friday is Family Day, lots of kids showed up on Fri when we were there.
  4. I actually picked this up from a current Lookout employee: using Macs is nbd, using iPhones is nbd. Most people at Msoft actually carry 2 phones in their pockets – iPhone/Android as their personal, and WinPhone for their calendar and work-related things.

How they could make the program better for next year:

  • -Split the program into 3+ days so that people have more free time, especially just to get to know one another
  • -Have a longer hackathon for better results (although, not everyone likes that sort of thing)
  • -Create better scheduling for the hackathon, since the presentations went kind of long. I’m sure they’ll modify for next year J
  • -Inform students earlier about the program so that more time can be given to prep for win phone development, getting to know other participants, etc.
  • -There was a lack of clarity on how students were chosen to attend the program. I initially thought it was all students who won their scholarship (which is my case).
  • Better hackathon location (better lit place).

How this program compares to others (like Google FUSE, which I attended in summer ’11):

So I’m not going to do Google vs. Microsoft, but I’ll compare these 2 programs for those who are interested in either. Google Fuse is a program for rising sophomores, and takes place at the NYC office. It used to be a 3-day event, and in my year it became a 1 week event. I don’t know if they’re still having it this year, though, because I don’t see it on their website anymore.

Anyways, at Google FUSE, the schedule was a lot more sleep-friendly and there was a little more free time. The hackathon was all night, and it was done in teams that we could not choose (which was sort of a disadvantage IMO). It didn’t have to be an Android app, so it was pretty flexible in that sense. I like that Msoft allowed us to do ind’l projects or things in pairs, and the fact that WinPhone is so easy to develop for in comparison to Android, most people knew what they were doing. Google gave everyone a Xoom tablet for the event, while Msoft gave out raffle prizes and gift cards to their company store. The Google NYC office doesn’t have a company store unfortunately.

Google Fuse was more focused on encouraging continuation of CS for minorities, while Experience Msoft was a program to educate us about opportunities and internships, so I actually found it more useful.

I do not recall employee panels at Google Fuse focusing too much on the work cycle, though. Ie. Source control, internal tools, etc.

Both programs had mock interviews – Google did it in a way so that we solved the problems as a group, which was sort of useless since in a real interview, you don’t solve problems with 6 other students. Msoft was smart about this – they split us up into smaller groups and there were about 8 Msoft employees who did the mock interviews (which were 1 on 1), as it’s impossible to ask 75 employees to interview 75 students at once.

Both let us borrow laptops: Google gave us Macbooks for the time being, while Msoft had a variety of Windows lappys.

Luck with weather: Seattle/Bellevue was pretty dry the whole time I was there, and not too cold. Like I mentioned earlier, Saturday was beautiful, around 14 celcius (teenagers were actually wearing shorts and tees at the mall when I was there… )

NYC – the program was actually held during the East coast heat wave last summer, so it was extremely hot all around.

Which company would I work for?

This is a tough one. I think I fell in love with both. But it really depends on the teams – I would love to work on WinPhone or Windows at Msoft, and Google – Gmail, Android, Ads, SEO, Maps would all be cool things to work on.

I know Google’s offers are unconditional (is that the term for it?) where once you get an offer, you can take that offer anytime. So this is super helpful for smart people at Waterloo that get internship offers from all of Facebook, Google, Apple, etc. I’m not sure if the same applies for Msoft though.

I’m actually hoping to get a Fall coop in K-W, so Google @ Kitchener would be 1 of the options.

Anyways, overall it was an awesome time. This was a 13 page word doc post (LOL) so for those that read through the whole thing… sorry that there was a lack of pictures. I plan to post some shortly :)