As promised, Ben Riga has agreed to a “blog interview” on his experience so far at Microsoft (I think this is week 2!); specifically his experience going through the recruiting/interview process and his on-boarding. As I mentioned before, Ben recently joined us a a Platform Evangelist in our Platform Strategy group. I'm sure Ben would be happy to answer follow up questions...
HH: First, tell us a little bit about your background prior to joining Microsoft.
BR: Most recently I was Director of Product Management at Syndera a Business Activity Monitoring startup.
Before Syndera I was at Borland for 10 years. I started with Borland Canada where I held several Sales and Marketing positions before Borland dragged me down to California. At Borland in California, I started as the Delphi product manager but moved up to manage PMs for Delphi, C++Builder and JBuilder. I helped kick start a new development services platform group at Borland as Director of Marketing. And finally I was Director of Marketing for Borland’s middleware group including the J2EE and CORBA platforms.
I started my career in Montreal, Canada. I held a couple of technical positions including one as a management consultant for a ERP software company where I helped port their system from a proprietary mini platform to Unix. Oops, I probably won’t talk about that much anymore. J
HH: Tell us about the Platform Evangelist role. What is a Platform Evangelist and what will you be doing?
BR: It’s a really interesting position. My role will be to help customers to understand the roadmap to Longhorn. Longhorn will be a significant new release to Windows on the same scale as the move to 32 bit but it is still some time out. There are several stepping stones (WinXP SP2, Whidbey, .Net 2.0, Indigo, SQL Server 2005, etc) that customers can use to be ready for Longhorn when it does arrive. My job is to make sure customers understand the roadmap. I’ll also be responsible for finding some early success stories as, for most people, the best way to understand how technology will affect you is to see it in action. To see what I mean, have a look here.
HH: What originally interested you in joining Microsoft?
BR: That’s an easy one but not obvious. Living in Silicon Valley it’s easy to get used to hearing about how MS is the evil empire and all that. Some of my friends were quite shocked when I told them I’d accepted a position here. I take a more pragmatic approach. I’ve used Microsoft software forever (well ok since 1981) and it’s the best around. Ok, I’m over-generalizing but even when it isn’t the best we go figure out why it isn’t and fix it. The consistency and predictability of how simple the model is is something I have always respected even when I was competing hard against Microsoft. It’s all about hiring really smart people (they hired me, right? J) and staying close to the customer. It’s not about religion. It’s about solving customer problems. The fact that we get to do it by building some really cool software is just a really nice bonus.
HH: Tell us about your experience with the recruiting/interview process at Microsoft.
BR: The experience was a positive one from beginning to end. When I heard that Heather was coming down to speak at the SVPMA I emailed her requesting a meeting. We met on May 6th. My official start date at MS was June 7th. I’m told that I may have broken some speed records in how quickly that went. In between was a whirlwind of activity. Heather passed my info on to Eric, a recruiter for the developer and platform evangelism group. I had a phone interview with Eric the next day. The following day I had a phone interview with the hiring manager Carter Maslan. A week later I flew up to meet with a bunch of other folks in the group. A few days later I met with Carter again and a week or so later I had an offer. It was all quite amazing to me as I had been interviewing with 2 other companies (both startups) and the process at MS was extremely streamlined. There was no indecision. Everyone was focused.
HH: How did you feel at the end of your interview day?
BR: I felt great. I met with 5 people. Each had their own focus and their own style of interviewing. I wasn’t really sure how I was doing until pretty much the end of the day. There were a lot of discussions about the technology but also a lot of time was spent talking about situations and how I might deal with different scenarios. I think more focus was placed on how I think as opposed to what specific skills I have. I was really impressed with the caliber of people I met with. Everyone is just smart. As I thought about the day on the flight back, I was pretty much convinced that I wanted the job. The team I’d be working with was really strong. The technology was very cool. If you haven’t looked at Longhorn yet, go do it now I’ll wait… J. (http://msdn.microsoft.com/longhorn/ ) I’d be working directly with the customer at a company that worships the customer. I tried, really tried to find a downside but couldn’t. I was really psyched.
HH: Was there anything that surprised you about the interviewing experience?
BR: Well obviously the speed with which things moved along was very surprising. The fact that such a large company can still move quicker than startups really impressed me. I was also surprised at how much we place the emphasis on getting smart people that can grow with the company rather than people that know a specific technology.
HH: What made you say "yes" to Microsoft?
BR: It was a really easy decision. I wanted to join. MS wanted me to join. It was just a matter of working out the details. In the end I got a decent offer. The benefits are great (the best in high tech, bar none). I was comfortable that I would fit into the team and add value quickly. I was excited with the technology. I was transitioning from a product management role to a role where I’d be moving closer to the customer and that excited me. As I mentioned earlier, there was no down side so that made it an easy decision.
HH: I'm assuming that you went to new employee orientation your first day. How was that? Who was your executive speaker?
BR: I was lucky to go through orientation in Redmond even though my position is in Mountain View. It was really really smooth. There were between 75-100 people there besides me and they do the same program every week so they’ve had a lot of time to practice. When I left I felt pretty good about knowing where to look to find what I needed. HR in general is well organized at Microsoft. The culture is such that we try to make it easy for people to succeed. Everything is organized around that. Everything and I mean everything is online. I didn’t have to fill out any paper forms once I joined. There are literally hundreds of internal websites for every conceivable thing you might want.
The exec at the orientation was Chris Capossela. Chris is corporate vice president of the Information Worker Product Management Group (i.e. Office). He’s a great speaker and it was interesting to hear about his career path through the years. He’s spent time in the products groups. Then he was a speech assistant for Bill Gates (he had some good stories). Then he went off to work in the field in Europe and came back a few years ago to get back into the products. I found his story interesting as I found some parallels between his career and mine so I could relate.
HH: It's still early, but are you drinking from the fire hose yet?
BR: Are you kidding? I haven’t come up for air in weeks. Carter started feeding me information before my start date and since I started I’ve been doing nothing but learning. There’s a ton of stuff to know and not much time. The good thing is that everyone is very open here. Every one wants you to succeed so that makes it easier. The information is readily available you just have to find it.
HH: What do you think will be the biggest challenge to you in your job?
BR: I think the biggest challenge we have is our image. We get a bad rap on a lot of fronts and we have not done as good a job of articulating our position as I think we could. I guess part of my job is in my own small way to make sure we do better on that front.
HH: Where do you see yourself 5 years down the road?
BR: I’m not sure what the exact position will be but I know I’ll be working on some cool software and staying close to the customer. I was at Borland for 10 years and the company before that I was there for 7 years. I see a lot of room to grow here at MS so I think you’ll still find me here in 5 or even 10 years. One of things that I’ve found pleasantly surprising is the number of people that I’ve met that have been with us for more than 5 years. In Silicon Valley it’s easy to think that you shouldn’t be in any job for more that a few years. Well at MS we take a long term view.
HH: Any advice that you would give to someone considering Microsoft? Any advice for people with ResumeBlogs?
BR: If you’re in Silicon Valley, forget everything you’ve heard about Microsoft. You’ll be surprised at how cool we are. If you want to work with smart people on cool software that solves real problems this is the place to be.
Heather is probably a better person to help you with how to improve your ResumeBlog as I’m not an expert on ResumeBlogs or on recruiting. The concept is really interesting and it obviously helped me. I think the idea is to show what you know not just what you’ve done. If you can do that effectively in a regular blog then the ResumeBlog stuff will help you to get visible quickly.