Seven months of Microsoft

This is a response to the open letter to PM recruiters that Ellen Chisa wrote, which is in turn a response to a tweet by Jon Bell.

I’ve been a PM at Microsoft for about 7 months now. In that time, I’ve gotten solicited by quite a few recruiters aiming to poach me. The interesting thing is that they don’t seem to care about my current job as anything more than a sign that I am, in fact, hireable. I’ve gotten comments on my UX background, and my essays, and my Github profile, and my philanthropic work, but not a single recruiter has asked me “So, what do you do at Microsoft?”

It’s a shame, because my experience is that Microsoft PMs do a lot of great things that would be valuable anywhere.

Caveat: These observations are based on my personal experience working in the Windows Shell. They cannot, and should not, be extended verbatim to every organization in the company. However, I believe they’re still a good representation of organizational culture at Microsoft.

Networking

In my day-to-day I work closely with 5 designers, 1 user researcher (soon to be 2), and 2 other PMs. My team, which is part of the Windows Shell, also works closely with our sister team on the Windows Core, so we regularly meet with 2-3 PMs from that team.

I’m involved in a cross-group initiative, which includes meeting weekly with PMs from half a dozen teams.

We’re also trying to help app teams do great things with our features, so my teammates and I have been reaching out to people from various app teams. We’re actively talking to about half a dozen of those too.

I also own a feature that spans multiple areas in Windows, which means working closely with PMs from at least two other Shell teams.

Not to mention daily interactions with the rest of my team – even though we’re focused on different areas, we regularly chat in the hall, eat lunch together, and find time to bounce ideas off of one another.

In a normal week, I’m working with upwards of 30 people. And we’re in planning right now, so I’m really only interacting with Design and PM. That number is only going to grow as we start working with Developers and Quality folks (formerly known as Testers).

Collaboration

I haven’t met a single person at Microsoft who isn’t willing to help others. Even when old conflicts resurface, individual people are willing to help individual people. Playing well together and teamwork are highly valued here, and it’s reflected in our new employee assessment format (which specifically calls out helping others get work done).

The most common sentiment expressed in our many cross-group collaborations is “Tell us what you need to be great, and we’ll see what we can do to help.”

Design

PMs aren’t designers, but we work closely with them and we all care about great design. Furthermore, every PM I’ve worked with feels a responsibility to champion end users and deliver great experiences. People come to the company because it’s opportunity to touch hundreds of millions of people. We have to make hard decisions along the way and things don’t always work out the way we expected, but don’t doubt for a second that Microsoft employees don’t want to build things that make the world a better place.

Just about any idea you can imagine to make a product better, someone at the company is thinking about. Hopefully they’ll get to build it! But if they can’t, it’s because shipping a product to a billion people is hard. Maybe the onscreen keyboard doesn’t have as many cool accelerators as you’d like because someone spent the last release making it support Buginese (and several other languages that previously didn’t work with computers).

Data

The engineering culture here is unquestionably data driven. User research, usability studies, flighting and telemetry, and competitive analysis are all part of day-to-day life. If you can’t back up what you’re saying, people aren’t going to take you seriously.

Product vision

It’s easy to assume that employees at such a massive company just show up and build what they’re told to build. I’m sure there are places where that is fairly accurate, but it’s far from true in my organization. We get direction from leadership, and we the areas we own are scoped, but PMs are given autonomy and expected to use it to think strategically.

At the end of the day, features have to add value. How will this feature appeal to people? How will it move product off the shelves? How does it affect our app ecosystem? Our device ecosystem?

The best PMs are the ones who pitch ideas with answers to those questions. Want to get a proposal through? Explain how what you’re working on helps grow the business.

Execution

At the end of the day, a PM’s job is to make things happen. It’s the primary thing that we’re assessed on. A good PM anywhere makes sure that the right thing ships, in the right condition, at the right time. Because so many people have to work in tandem, execution is rigorous. PMs have to deliver.

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