PM#6: Microsoft vs Garage?

I wrapped up my internship on the docs.microsoft.com team last month and I’ve have some time to reflect on how my past 2 internships at Microsoft has differed- I last interned in the Microsoft Garage (experimental projects) over a year and a half ago. My experience this time around was naturally very different because of the difference in timing alone. But here are some of my thoughts:

Product management is an ever-changing role, whether it be different companies, or even different teams / products. I’ve thoroughly loved both internships and at the core of all this, they are very very difficult to compare. The skills required to be successful are more or less aligned, but the actual tasks and execution of these tasks feels very different. In The Garage, I was the sole PM intern in charge of 4 very different projects (Snipping tool, AI chest x-ray diagnosis app, Minecraft for Education, and a HoloLens project). On Docs, I worked in a team of PMs and I was specifically in charge of coming up with features to solve 1 specific problem statement we were facing. 

Time 

The Garage required strong time management skills because I was directly collaborating with 20 engineers and 4 designers who all had different priorities. I needed to make sure that I was resolving blockers quickly to ensure that every team could focus on their work without any bottlenecks. In Docs, I collaborate with other PMs, Designers, Engineers and Content Developers, but all of them have other work to do- my project is 1 of X many projects that they are working on. I had to work around their schedules while still ensuring that my features could be delivered in the timeframe I needed to.

Domain Knowledge

The 4 vastly different projects in The Garage gave me a breadth of knowledge across different projects and domains, but Docs gave me a depth of knowledge in our platform’s problem space. In both cases, I got to spend a lot of time diving into the problem spaces and speaking to actual customers about our platforms, but the scope of which I got to do this was more laser-focused in Docs.

End-to-end

In The Garage, we started all 4 projects from scratch. Some projects were ideas on a napkin, while some already had an existing product team but the type of work we were doing has never been done before. We had the freedom to build whatever we wanted to. We did everything from planning the technical architectures, conducting user research, prototyping our ideas, all the way to going through accessibility and security reviews, compliance, global readiness etc. to push the project out to the public. Being involved in a process like this in a corporation like Microsoft is rare, I learnt a lot from it. In Docs, I was in an already existing team working on a product with 40M+ MAU, so my feature had to be not only innovative, but also be aligned with the rest of what the platform has already built out. If you didn’t know- Microsoft Docs are completely open sourced (azure-docs is actually the 5th largest project across the entire GitHub), and the platform and pipeline is one of elegance and intricacies. Rather than shipping a full project, we would ship a feature to the public and share it with customers in the form of a blog post / tweet. 

Impact

The Garage is an outlet for experimental projects, so what happens to our project after our internship could vary vastly. Maybe it never sees the light of day, and the project we work on will be archived as research for other future projects. On the other hand, we could very well be pioneering something that has never been done before and the impact of that will have a rippling effect. For our cohort, projects have been open sourced on GitHub, they were announced at Microsoft Build Developer Conference, they were picked up by various news sources including TechCruch- very exciting stuff! The Garage has many safe guards that prevented us from failing- carefully chose stakeholders, mentors and processes are all in place to set us up for success. I have always been a huge fan of Docs, and there are 40M+ of us who feel the same way. The feature that I work on is guaranteed to reach this massive developer audience, knowing that what I do is making millions of developers’ lives easier. This is something that made me excited to go to work every morning. I felt the impact of my work.

Team Dynamics

The Garage feels more like a family than anything else. I have spent almost every waking hour in my 4 month internship with the fellow interns, whether it be working or hanging out. Outside of The Garage, employees can’t spent all their time with their coworkers- that unfortunately wouldn’t be very healthy work-life balance. But this actually gave me more free time to work on projects outside of my internship that I didn’t have time for before. So the team dynamics is different, and they both have their own merits.

In conclusion, the PM role is one that continues to fascinate me everyday. I’ve learnt so much on the two teams I’ve had the honour to work in- and I’m forever grateful to have experienced both. If you’re considering interning on either Microsoft Garage or taking a Microsoft PM internship, the only advice I’d have is- go for it. Either way, you’re guaranteed an experience of a lifetime.

PM#5: Outside of Work

I love hearing about what people do at work, but I especially love hearing about what people do outside of work. This inspired Derek and I to start The Intern Podcast last year— a podcast about employees’ side hustles. And one of my ongoing questions then becomes, how can I leverage my work-work to serve other initiatives I care about outside of it?

I’ve found one way!

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Over the past 2 months, I have donated $1300 to 2 non-profit organizations— A.I. For Anyone and Unloop, all through volunteer hours. Not only does every employee start with $50 they can donate to any organization of their choice, Microsoft also matches every 1 volunteer hour to qualifying non-profits as a $25 donation. This means that not only am I helping them with actual volunteer work, I’m also actively donating money to the cause. 

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Going into my internship, I knew I wanted to dedicate my non work hours to solving problems I really cared about, with democratizing technology being my leading motivation. This translated into reaching out to A.I. For Anyone and asking to start their newsletter for them. This gave me an opportunity to kickstart an initiative, learn about AI (and interview awesome researchers), and of course, write. It has been an absolute honour moving the needle with them, and I’m excited to see where this newsletter takes us.

The first issue of our newsletter, All About AI— a newsletter aimed at demystifying and democratizing AI by improving AI literacy, comes out today. Subscribe here!

PM#4: Exhibit and Encourage Transparency

Transparency comes hand in hand with accountability, and accountability is terrifying in the same way that this:

$ git blame 

feels like a dirty task.

Let’s get rid of that stigma and help each other do our best work.

 

For a bit of context, when I first joined Slack as an intern, the first thing I noticed was how quickly I was onboarded. I got there one day, and the next day, I was creating my own spec and pushed my first line of code. This boggled my mind. A task that was normally viewed as a dread and drag to the team was eliminated. Yet, I didn’t feel lost. I didn’t sit through a week of onboarding sessions learning about things that may or may not come in handy for me during my internship, their training was short and concise because they trusted us to learn the rest in our own time. I didn’t need to set up a meeting with my manager to ask when the team generally comes into work, how code reviews will work, templates for PRs, how to set up accounts etc. because they were all available directly on our instance of Slack, sitting just a search away. I knew what all my teammates were doing at all times. In fact, I knew what everyone was doing at all times (if I wanted to). I saw this again when I came back to Microsoft. This is transparency.

 

Here’s an example scenario: 

Alex has worked on a team for 15 years so she knows what everyone has worked on, what they are working on, and she can probably predict what they will work on in the next fiscal year. And then whenever a new project comes up for her, she sits down and thinks about whether her work overlaps / will overlap with anyone else’s and contacts all her potential stakeholders. She pulls them into a meeting and discusses how they will collaborate together to achieve the best results together. She sends over meeting minutes directly to everyone who was involved in the meeting right after. She ends up with a successful project that she and her team are proud of!

 

The problem? 

Jim—Alex’s coworker doesn’t have the 15 years behind him. Without the connections and the experience, he doesn’t know that any of that was happening, and there is little to no way for him to find out. Maybe most of the time, this is okay. But on occasions where his work starts to overlap with other people’s, he wouldn’t know. In the best case, he duplicates already completed work. In the worst case, he messes up fundamental architectures of a product and ends up eating into other people’s time to fix what he missed out on. Either way, this could have all been prevented if only Jim had the knowledge that Alex did. So how do we fix this?

 

Transparency is a 2 way street—I like to boil the solution to all of this down to 2 points.

 

1)    Exhibit transparency

  • Start sharing our work on public and shared channels and ask for feedback (a win-win)!

  • Avoid private DMs as much as possible.

  • Provide details on our work—maybe Alex and Jim are both working on creating a new website but one calls it a “site”, and the other calls it an “app”. Without further context, they would have no idea they are working on the exact same thing.

2)    Encourage transparency

  • Pay attention to what other people are saying during standup / team syncs.

  • Take the time to find and go over the work that other people have shared. Leave comments and leave feedback.

  • Tell others to share their work, whether it be online, through team meetings or through brown bag sessions. People dismiss how important their work is to others, it’s easy to be scared, or forget—give them the push they need.

  • Talk to coworkers. There’s a reason why they’re coworkers! 😊

 

When knowledge in the workplace becomes a commodity, we can all start doing our best work.

 

PM#3 : User Research

One thing I love about product management over software engineering is the ability to view projects in more holistic views. I want to understand not just how we should build something but rather, why we are building a product, and who we are building it for. That’s where user research comes into play. I’ve conducted over 30 user research and usability testing sessions during my time with 4 projects in the Microsoft Garage— working with a diverse set of Windows users, cancer researchers, and finally published a research report with Xbox research about accessibility in gaming. More recently, I’ve conducted another series of user research sessions to learn more about user needs and expectations for the docs.microsoft.com platform. 

I’ve started becoming more hyperaware of when I walk out of user research sessions feeling like I’ve lost a sense of direction for my project vs. when I leave having gained clarity and my mind is bubbling with ideas. At the end of the day, the former is bound to happen, and sessions like that could very well be why we should do these in the first place. But I’m hoping to reflect on how I can stop being the reason why the former happens.

Here is how I generally approach conducting user research:

Create a user research plan with the goal, hypotheses (optional), research details etc.

    • No leading questions

      • For example, rather than asking “Do you have any problems with x?”, which implies that a user has a poor relationship with x. Instead, ask “Tell me about your experience with x?” so they get to choose how they feel about it, and then follow it up with why.

    • Tie numbers to questions

      • Especially for more qualitative studies, tie number scales to questions (i.e. “On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very poor to 5 being excellent— how do you feel about x?”) to quantify sentiments of responses after the interviews. It can be difficult to differentiate a “decently good” to a “fairly well”, but it is easy to know the difference between a rating of “2/5” and a “4/5”. Of course, scales are relative as well, but they are slightly more empirical.

    • Let them tell me a story

      • It is sometimes helpful to leave questions intentionally broad so users have the freedom to answer with anything they want. This can often reveal unidentified flaws in a product, opening up my eyes to not just to a solution I like, but rather, the solution we need.

    • Magic wand question

      • Very much like the previous point— give users the option to describe their ideal experience with x if they had a magic wand and anything is possible. This helps me understand what the desired user journey could look like, without constraining them to my own bias / questions. Although remember, users are experts of the problem space, but not necessarily the solution space.

Create a user interview guide

    • The user research plan is helpful for outlining everything I hope to get through in an interview, but the truth is, it’s difficult to keep referring to a sheet of paper when I want to foster an organic conversation with someone. So making and reading over an interview guide (a simplified version of the research plan with bold highlighted points), allows me to glance at my cheat sheet during the interview and know exactly where I am in terms of progress.

Conducting interviews

    • Don’t interrupt them

      • It can be difficult to hold myself back from steering conversations “back on topic” when I feel I’m not getting exactly the response I’m “hoping for” from a user, and they start going off on a tangent. But people speak the truth when I let them speak their heart.

    • Don’t try to fill in awkward silence

      • Sometimes user research will feel awkward— and that’s when I generally go rogue and start suggesting answers to users. I fall straight into the trap of asking leading questions, in hopes that they don’t feel bad. But after a terrible interview where I basically spoon-fed a participant all the answers, my mentor gave me the advice of just letting awkward silence happen. This worked surprisingly well. People feel obligated to come up with answers (and often even more innovative ones) because of the uncomfortable dead air.

Summarize interviews

    • I find it helpful to conduct interviews with another person so that one can ask questions, while the other focuses on note taking. This time around, we did our user research through usertesting.com which meant that I didn’t have to take notes at all, and could review the recorded interviews after each one. It also gives the flexibility of annotating the video to mark down key points.

    • I create a summary report with every interview I conducted based on (loosely depending on context) the following points:

      • Anonymous user ID (remove PII for confidentiality)

      • Background

      • What they currently do

      • What problems they have

      • What their wants are

      • Quotes

      • Other interesting observations

User research report

    • After all of my user research sessions, I sit down and draw themes amongst my observations and generate recommendations / actionable items out of my findings. This includes reviewing my hypothesis. 

    • It’s important to reflect on and share my learnings so that there is transparency in the work that I’m doing, and the team should be aware of concerns that users have. This facilitates an environment where teammates share and learn from each other’s work.

Don’t let user research be the be-all and end-all

    • It’s inevitable to have anomalies in user research findings, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean the research should be scrapped or augmented to prove the initial hypotheses. Rather, the holistic result of the research can be used to help drive part of the decision making in creating a solution that users will love, but it should be coupled with data and metrics to ensure that a solution doesn’t just satisfy the needs of the small sample size of users that were interviewed.

Huge thank you to Sara Lerner, Den Delimarschi, Horyun Song and Melissa Boone for guiding me through all of this. I still have lots to learn. 💖

PM#2 : OKRs to an Intern

I sat by the poolside at Bota Bota in Montreal as I began to read “Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth” by John Doerr. The next time I glanced up, my skin had gotten 5 shades darker and I, had become fascinated with the idea of OKRs.

Objective and Key Results, OKRs, is the 3 letter acronym that propelled the growth of companies like Intel, Google, Amazon, and Uber. Put simply, Objectives are goals, while Key Results are measurable milestones to show the achievement of those goals in a timebox. Doerr shared a powerfully structured concept with strong use cases. But by the end of his book, I figured it would be the first and last time I would hear about OKRs (half buying into this).

I was wrong.

When I stepped into my internship the next week, I was given my summer project stitched together with a list of organizational OKRs. Shortly after, my skip manager had created a new set of OKRs for Q1, and our team had made our own too. 

If you want to read more about OKRs, I highly recommend you check out the actual book. But here are some value adds that OKRs have given me as an intern:

  • Allowing me to do my best work. Most managers and mentors that I’ve had in the past know the importance of defining goals for me as an intern. Sometimes these goals were directly matched to my project, while others gave more transparency on the top down goals. However, I can’t count the amount of times that I’ve worked through a project and only upon speaking to different stakeholders, do I realize that everyone’s version of the team / organizations’s goals differed. Hence, everything I did, from doing user research, making feature specs, to every meeting I sat in felt like I lacked clarity. With clearly defined OKRs, I can align my project’s goals directly to that of the organizations, while being confident that those are the agreed upon goals— and not just what my idea of what it should be. This is something I never even knew there was a solution to, until I stopped struggling with it.

  • It’s simple. Big ideas are boiled down to concise bullet points that are easy to read and digest. There is no room for confusion as every KR is measurable, so the desired outcome feels more attainable. I know how to get there.

  • Transparency of teammates’ work. It’s not easy to keep up with what my coworkers are doing, especially as an intern because 1) our work is often isolated, 2) there is so much to learn— learning about other people’s work becomes deprioritized, and lastly 3) their work often takes too much context to understand thoroughly, I don't know where to start. However, defining OKRs as a team allowed me to learn what everyone was working on, and their goals. I enjoy being a part of something greater.

  • Are we on the same page? It’s helpful to understand what my team is fundamentally focused on, not just because it helps me with my work, but also because it prompts me to think about if my personal values align with that of the team’s.

The First Road Trip

It's 3am on a late Sunday night / early Monday morning, and I'm on the couch of an Airbnb near Portland. Everyone else is fast asleep upstairs. Today was a fun one— we left Seattle at 8am and drove to Sunset Beach on our way to Portland. Ah, the first road trip of the summer.

In these past 2 weeks: I’ve packed up a suitcase and left for Seattle (I pride myself in being the world's lightest packer). I moved in with 4 other roommates, and I started my new internship at Microsoft on the DevRel team. I hadn't even noticed how comfortable being back at UBC for the first time in 20 months made me feel. I forgot what it was like to feel struck by something unfamiliar every turn I took— until now.

Change is scary. The only time I stop getting scared is when my mind feels so consumed by the changes, that I don't even have the mental capacity to feel fear anymore. But, the little things help, and I just feel like jotting them down to remind myself that familiarity, can come from anywhere.

The same boy who reads a new book everyday on the bus to work. Going to more trivia nights than I have ever been to in my whole life. Being on first name basis with the barista at the Chatime by my home. My roommate and I regularly binging shows like The Bachelorette. Finding the quickest way to get from my work building to my friend's. My friend teaching me how to play Madeo's Pop Culture mix on the Launchpad. Seattle's UDistrict is the type of neighbourhood I've spent my whole life dreaming about living in. Reunion with ex-interns and visting friends. Spending time in nature again. Hiroshi's Poke. Groups of friends who I love spending time with.

But most importantly, I found comfort in the discomfort. I'm okay with not knowing every single thing. In fact, I came on this Memorial Day long weekend trip having barely met anyone in this group prior to today. But I'm glad I did because I really love hanging out with them. And I was so close to missing out on all of this, had I just adhered to the safety net of my introversion.


A question that Emmanuel brought up on our way back to Seattle: What are you feeling grateful for?

PM#1 : Notes

Here are some points I hope to remember after reading through Den’s very helpful resources for Product Managers:

Want To Build An Incredible Product? Strive For The Delta Of “Wow” (Wayne Chang)

  • We shouldn't aim for MVPs

    • You only get one chance to make a great impression. Why would you test your product externally so early on and waste that opportunity?

  • Minimum Lovable Product

    • Product that is so intuitive, so satisfying to use, that your customer base can’t help but tell someone else about their experience

    • This is what people invest in!

  • Do something so great, something they didn’t expect, that they have to tell someone else.

    • Delta of “wow” saves resources down the road

      • Cuts down on sales cycles —  people start talking about the product for you

      • Reduces need for marketing and “user acquisition”

      • Makes customers feel like they’re part of something special, a community, instead of just purchasing a service from a vendor

  • Don’t engineer solutions, engineer emotions

  • If a user expects their experience to be painful, and it’s the opposite of that — it’s intuitive, surprising, gratifying —  you’ve won them over

What distinguishes the Top 1% of product managers from the Top 10%? (Ian McAllister)

  • Don't be constrained by resources

  • Use data appropriately, when available, but they'll have to tap into other biases, beliefs, and triggers to convince the powers to give you headcount, money, or other resources and then get out of the way

  • Get 80% of the value out of any feature or project with 20% of the effort

  • Balance offense and defense projects appropriately

    • Offense: projects that grow business

    • Defense: projects that protect and remove drag on business

Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager (Ben Horowitz)

  • Good PMs:

    • Don’t give direction informally

    • Gather information informally

    • Think about the story they want written by the press

    • Send status reports in on time every week, because they are disciplined

  • Bad PMs:

    • Point out that they predicted they would fail when they fail

PM at Microsoft (Steven Sinofsky)

  • (Fun fact: position started at Microsoft while developing Excel for Mac)

  • Advocate for end-users and customers

  • Where developers were focused on code, architecture, performance, and engineering, the PM would focus on the big picture of "what are we trying to do" and on the details of the user experience, the feature set, the way the product will get used

  • You will see how easy it is to over-emphasize early power user feedback or anecdotes over broad based feedback

    • Power users are great but they are just one type of user

    • Most people are not techies, but most beta customers and most early adopters are so you as a PM have to do the leg work to validate your work with a broader audience

  • Gradually expand the number of customers involved

  • MVPs are power users

  • A PM needs:

    • Strong interest in what computing can do— a great interest in technology and how to apply that to problems people have in life and work

    • Great communication skills— you do a lot of writing, presenting, and convincing

    • Strong views on what is right, but very open to new ideas— the best PMs are not necessarily those with the best ideas, but those that e the best ideas get done

    • Selfless— PM is about making sure the best work gets done by the team, not that your ideas get done

    • Empathy— As a PM you are the voice of the customer so you have to really understand their point of view and context

    • Entrepreneur— as a PM you need to get out there and convince others of your ideas, so being able to is a good skill

New Beginnings

My first semester back to school is finally over!

I can’t lie— it’s been such a fun semester that I almost miss staying up at Tim Horton’s studying until 4am with my friends, freaking out over logistics nightmares of the 3 nwPlus hackathons we organized, and playing tetris with my schedule to try to fit in ballet and UBC Acappella on busy days. But, it’s been done, and I averaged an A this semester! 🎉

I flew to Toronto the day after my last final exam and visited a bunch of friends. In fact, they even surprised me at the airport with a banner— it was one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me. I’m so grateful for friends like these. It’s always fun to catch up and listen to all the incredible things everyone’s up to!

I then took the bus and spent the rest of my days before the start of my summer internship, in Montreal reuniting with friends, and my family. My sister, her boyfriend, and I dreaded going to bed every night as we consistently stayed up playing (our favourite) Overcooked, Just Dance 4, (and our least favourite) Roblox. We cooked, we baked, we ate a lot of hot pot, we played tourist and finally, we visited Bota Bota—the most beautiful floating spa.

And now, I’m saying “Until next time!” to all this as I move to Seattle for my summer internship at Microsoft, where I’ll be joining their Azure Developer Relations team as a PM.

Here’s to a fun summer filled with learning! 🌞

It's Snowing

It's the day before reading break, and it's been snowing in Vancouver. For a city that normally dances its way around the typical Canadian winter to stay warm, I've only been familiar with the melted kind of snowmen— rain puddles. It's different, but I like it. (I'm scraping pathetic fallacy, I know.)


So after over a year off, I'm back in school. A lot has happened since school has started; let me take your hand.


I've actually been enjoying school, probably for the first time in my life. I've never minded school but I don't think I've ever loved it as much as I do right now. Shifting my mindset from wanting to get good grades, to just wanting to learn has changed the way I see things. It takes the pressure off due dates and exams. Instead of telling myself that I need to understand this for X, I can get there the same way through just wanting to understand one more thing than when I started, recursively. It sounds so trivial, but for some reason, it really didn't feel like it.


Earlier last month, my mother moved to Asia (nothing bad happened, don't worry!). To avoid thinking about how much I would miss the very same cooking I complained about all the time growing up, I have been spending a lot more time away from "home"— I guess home is relative now. I've fallen in love with coffee shops and quiet corners in the library again.


We put on nwHacks 2019. This has been an emotional one. This was my 4th nwHacks and probably my last as an organizer, as we are passing on our hackathon to a very, very promising teammate. It's bittersweet, but mostly sweet because I'm excited to see how our hackathon will evolve.

I've been branching out, media wise. I've been listening to a lot more of what my friends describe as "Mom Rock", but it's really just 70s-80s music. I also realized that I've been snoozing on Childish Gambino, so I changed that. For someone who was a die hard Troy Barnes fan, I am just as disappointed as you. Speaking of Childish Gambino fans, Joseph and I joined UBC Acappella together. I think this has been a long time coming, and I'm glad he gave me the courage I needed to finally do it. 💖 I've also been reading a lot more different genres of books (picture books are hidden nuggets of gold) and films, mostly because I'm trying to learn different writing styles. My world feels bigger because of it. Lastly, I finished Serial, the podcast. Thankfully, Tanha is just as invested in it as I am, so it's been helpful sharing my theories with someone. If you have listened to it / end up listening to it, I would love to exchange ideas about it. (I actually posted about this in my new media course and I've had 0 responses far, so maybe I can delete that post, and recruit discussion group members here instead)


Board game nights. I'm glad those are back.

Most recently, I spent Valentine's day photoshopping pictures of my friends for this Valentine's card tradition that we started maybe 5 years ago. We also had hot pot, my true love.

What's next?

A fellow ex-Slack intern is visiting Vancouver from Toronto during the break, I'm excited to explore the city with them. Then, I'm heading to Boulder, Colorado for HackCU right before the break ends! 🎉

So all in all, it's been snowing a lot but I feel everything but cold, or cool for that matter. 😉

Slack Internship

My vision was foggy and my cheeks were marinated in tears as I laid down Emily Chang's "Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys' Club of Silicon Valley" in the ruffles of my blankets. I raced through the book as my blood boiled because once again, I felt frustrated by the culture our industry has fostered. But the last chapter gave me hope. The frustration evolved into inspiration. It highlighted how Stewart Butterfield built Slack as a company with diversity and inclusivity cemented into its core. They prioritized growing people instead of the company and evidently, that worked— they successfully did both and are still continuing to do so everyday. I wanted in on the action.

Shortly after writing my previous post about my bittersweet parting with San Francisco, I accepted an offer to join the Demo Engineering team as an intern at Slack. The spark of inspiration that I felt in my heart when I read about the company's work culture grew and continued to fill my heart throughout the internship. For Slack of a better phrase, I am in love.

Slack is the product of 1) passion for connecting people and 2) great software lodged between 3) intentional culture.

I kept a growing list of bullet points in the back of my Moleskine that felt special to me:

1. Empathy

It feels silly I had this as the first item because everything after relates to this in one way or another, but it's true. Slack cares about their people and their people care about each other. My mentor called me the week before I started my internship asking me what I was hoping to get out of the internship— not what I can do for Slack, but what Slack can do for me. She gave me the space to communicate what this internship meant for me after I had already accepted the offer in a non-interview setting. I mentioned that I wanted to build upon my software engineering skills, but I wanted to do more than just that. I was interested in building projects end-to-end. From research, writing out product requirement docs, tech specs, building out and deploying my projects, all the way to user adoption. My manager and mentor, both having been through a breadth of different technical roles before, understood what I was looking for and guided me through it. My input was honoured, and I was given the opportunity to fulfill a hybrid role between a software engineer and a PM.

2. Look for culture add, not culture fit

Slack meticulously eliminates the overused term of "culture fit". When a company seeks "fit", they will hire people who are exactly like existing employees to fit the mold. Diversity comes from a desire to have someone be an addition to their culture.

3. No games, no dinner and leaving on time

Foosball, ping pong, serving free dinners at 8pm all encourage employees to stay at work for just a little longer. Work was work— we had fun during work, but work shouldn't permeate into the rest of our lives. When we were at work, we worked hard. But by 5-6pm, the office would be cleared out. Noticing this pattern from my coworkers, my mentor, my manager made me realize that it was important for me to pursue more than just work, which leads me to my next point.

4. Social #channels allowed coworkers to bond over shared interests

Anyone and everyone in Slack could create a channel about something they were passionate about. Consequently, everyone else can join them if they too, were interested in it. There were a lot of active channels. During my time there, I helped kickstart our SF book club. Awestruck by all of this, I started a podcast with a fellow intern— Derek Fang, to chat about what people do outside of work. For me, that included finding my way back to the studio for ballet, aerial silks and yoga after a hiatus.

5. Be transparent with mistakes and grow from them

Slack is growing, and rapidly at that, which means that mistakes are bound to happen. There are very transparent conversations both in and outside of Slack about these issues. These dialogues drive the culture of growing from mistakes. You can find examples of this here and here. This applies to both the company and our day-to-day work.

6. The people

I fell in love because of the people.

I had the opportunity to pick many brilliant brains through Donut.

I love my team— both in Demo Engineering and Solutions Engineering.

I love the interns. Because of them, when I think back to this term— I think of string lights that fueled late night conversations, neon signs from diners that painted our faces, roadtrips out of the city while jamming along to mom rock, climbing up Angels Landing with trembling legs and unsteady breath that ended up being my favourite hike (despite my fear of heights), recording songs in the middle of a little living room in the Mission (as a joke 😉), and friends that made me happier that I have been in a very, very long time.

That marked the end of my Moleskine, but the beginning of the rest of my journey.

Thank you for coming along with me. I'm excited to finally be back in Vancouver and school! I can't wait for the new year. I hope 2018 treated you well, and that 2019 gets even better!

Thank you, Slack.

UBC Local Hack Day 2018

What started off as UBC Hacks, an event that Kristen and I started together in the beginning of our university journey has now grown and evolved into a 34 person Alma Mater Society (AMS) club, under the name, nwPlus. This December 1st marks the third time I've organized UBC Local Hack Day— the largest LHD in North America! 🎉

We have already published blog posts about the event itself through Medium, The Ubyssey and our Facebook page, but here are some of my personal learnings from watering this plant for the past 3 years! 💖

1. Building out a vision is important, but what's next?

It's no secret that this event started off as a seed in 2 people's minds. Kristen and I wanted to promote diversity, inclusivity and accessibility within our local tech communities. And I do truly believe that we have made significant strides towards that goal, by bringing students together to discuss and solve problems in these sectors. We invested tremendous amounts of effort and time towards building this, and I don't regret any of it. However, we were tunnel visioned by our own vision and forgot to think about what comes next. What happens when Kristen and I graduate— how could this legacy possibly be carried on, if we didn't proactively pass on the torch on our end?

In comes nwPlus and Allison.

  • We expanded our club so there were now dedicated teams bringing in their domain expertise for both LHD and nwHacks, meaning that more people were involved with putting the event together as a whole, and this knowledge and pipeline were being passed on.

  • We also welcomed Allison into our family as a Logistics Coordinator. She wholeheartedly believes in our mission and I believe in hers. Even if Kristen and I hadn't started this event 3 years ago, I have faith that Allison would have. I feel so lucky and honoured to pass on the ins and outs of the hackathon to her while knowing that she will take them with a grain and salt, and always question them if there is room for improvement.

For the first time, the behind the scenes of UBC Hacks expanded beyond just Kristen and I, and this is exactly what we were hoping for.

2. Do things because you want to, not because you have to

The logistics of merging the 2 clubs was easier said than done, and it probably didn't help that Kristen and I had so much ownership over everything we've done prior to the creation of nwPlus. That being said, I do think we have successfully done this now, and it was a lot more seamless than one would probably imagine it being. However, there were definitely small hiccups along the way (which were bound to happen).

  • It was difficult for our sponsorship team to reach out to companies for both LHD and nwHacks. I stepped in and helped move a lot of the LHD sponsors along, while the team worked on nwHacks as the larger event took up more capacity. That was a tradeoff that we needed to make because we have yet to merge our 2 sponsorship packages together, but I think this ended up being a helpful transition in terms of passing on the companies that were re-sponsoring our event to the team.

  • Our dev team was crunched for time and we knew we couldn't finish building the LHD website before registration would have gone live. So I stayed up that night and made a temporary (and admittedly not AMAZING) website for us to put up so that we could at least open registration at the time we intended to, while dev team made our dazzling final website.

A part of me felt disappointed about these 2 things, yet, it was exactly times like these where I realized how important it was that we were now part of a larger team. It's so that I have the opportunity to help out however I can, while knowing they would and did do the same when I ran into roadblocks myself. Upon that realization, I started doing things because I wanted to contribute / help, and not because I felt like I had to. This is the same motto that everyone in this club embodies, which brings me to the next point.

3. 💩happens but it's how we, as a team, deal with it that matters

The day before the event, I drafted up this doc of "Worst Case Scenarios" that we could run into, and what we should do if they actually happened. Let it be known that almost everything on that list happened (mostly related to participants capacity)— but those we already knew how to address, we just needed to execute them. On top of that, our t-shirt orders didn't make it to the event in time, we lost the nametags we had bought, our videographer didn't show up, and the list could probably go on. None of which were within our control, nor drastically augmented the quality of the event, but my heart sank a little more every time I heard about these things. Upon realizing them, our team took immediate action to address them. We got a refund on our late t-shirts and assigned new pick up dates / locations for participants to come in at a different time to receive them. Nick and Lauren went to the store to pick up name tags. A lot of us brought our cameras so we all helped collect video footage from the event. Every time something didn't go exactly as planned, I knew that we would figure it out together, as a team. I am so thankful for every single club member who goes above and beyond to help make our events a success.

p.s. organizing an event is stressful, don't forget to check in on yourself and the other organizers throughout the day as well! 😊

4. People are great and we ended up donating all of our top prizes! 🏆

We had a $500 budget for our top 3 winners this year (along with some in-kind prizes). Knowing that we would have to buy either a gift card or some other gadgets with the money to give out anyway, we just decided to let the participants choose what they wanted to do with their allocated funds instead— with the option to donate the value of their prize to a charity / organization they cared about, or to choose from a list of prizes that equated to the same value. Here was a list of our prizes and our judging rubric, and all 3 winning teams decided to donate their prizes. This is inspiring.

1st place- $250 to Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre

2nd place - $125 to Lookout Society

3rd place - $75 to Greater Vancouver Food Bank

5. There's always more to do and more to learn

The event just wrapped up and I'm already pacing back in forth in my mind about ways we can continuously improve our event for next year, and all the years after that. We will also apply our learnings to nwHacks, which is coming right up on January 26-27! I'm so excited for what's to come and I can't wait to write about this again next year.

If you came to the event, I would love to hear how your experience was and what you think we should focus on next year, feel free to schedule a quick chat with me. Onwards and upwards!

Pursuing Hobbies

“I love intense people.” Zach Latta mentioned this to me while we were talking at Hackcon, and that one statement led to staying up all night and eventually watching the sunrise with Kedron and Patrick. Those 4 words have been looping in my mind on repeat since that night. To clarify, when I think of an “intense person”, I think of someone who is so passionate about something (their job, their side project, pottery— you name it) that when you ask them why they do it, they can go on for hours on end because when you love something, there shouldn’t be a formulated and rehearsed answer as to why, you just do. But the most important part is, you don’t have to choose just one thing, and that’s where I went wrong.

I’ve contemplated on keeping this writing to myself because I don’t generally publish stuff like this on my blog. I’m a big fan of coherency, which is probably why you’ll find yourself catching a slightly different version of myself on different social media platforms— I actually completely stopped posting on my Instagram account because I felt restricted by the “theme” that I chose for it 3 years ago. Thus, to prevent going down the same rabbit hole, I’ve decided that I should just post whatever I want to on here because it is after all, my blog. 3 years ago, I spent most of my free time in the ballet studio, doing aerial silks or singing with my choir, I also dabbled in writing fictional stories occasionally. 3 years later, I still love all of those things but I don’t do them as often as I would like, and I most certainly never post or talk about them.

Here’s why:
1. I found a community of people I love, who share a mutual passion as me— the tech community which I talk and blog about all the time felt like a blessing and a slight curse. I was so happy to have finally found a place within this community, that I would feel bad whenever I spend my time doing things other than personal projects, or hackathons. You see a large portion of my life within this one little website, but I have always refrain from posting about times when I jammed out at the beach with my friends recording covers of songs we loved, or that I finished writing a story that I was finally proud of for the first time in years. That was okay with me because I liked having something to myself but also because of that, I started pursuing these “side gigs” less and less. These passions became something I had to hide from the people around me just to be more distinctly known for doing and loving “my thing”. 

2. The fear of not being good enough. Sure, I loved all these things but was I good enough to talk about them? For example, I love taking pictures and recording / editing videos, mostly because I love the story they tell. But I could barely hold up a conversation about the focal length, or ISO of a camera. So was I really into photography? The same thing expands into something as simple as longboarding or baking.

I felt this problem long before I was cognizant of it, which probably explains why I get so defensive when someone asks me why I’m minoring in Creative Writing when it has nothing to do with Computer Science, and realistically probably wouldn’t “add” that much to my degree. But I do it because I want to acknowledge and give credit to the creative side of myself, and if getting a minor can drill into my head that it is okay to pursue more than one thing at a time, even if I don’t have 10 years of prior exposure to it, then so be it.

At the end of the day, I feel privileged to be able to do all of these things in the first place. But I guess my goal now is to more actually pursue those hobbies more actively, old or new. I’ll start talking about them more publicly so maybe I can even start being a part of active communities beyond just the one. At the very least, I’m hyperaware of what’s holding me back, so hopefully it’s onwards and upwards from here.

I’d love to hear about what you’re into, or if you too, are going through something similar. DM me!

p.s. If you want to know why I suddenly sat down and decided to piece all these things together, it’s because I saw Owl City perform live in SF and his passion for creating music really made me feel something. I guess you can say he’s “intense”.

San Francisco

Wake Up, San Francisco! 

I’ve dreamt about moving to San Francisco since the trip I took here for a high school choir competition in Grade 9. I still remember the morning of that trip, I was so anxious to board the plane of my solo journey that I somehow gave myself a stomach flu. But it wasn’t long before I fell in love with the city and its laid-back, yet, rich culture. I opened my heart up to this city and SF found its way right into it.

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Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 4.16.39 PM.png

Some emails I sent to my mom from my trip— super cringey emails. I swear I don’t type like that anymore, but that “stylistic writing” sure brought me right back to that time period.

 

So 6 years later, I finally found my way back. I spent my summer at Pinterest learning more than I could have imagined. I kept my days busy with work, nights fun with meet ups and intern open houses, and weekends reserved for my friends and hackathons (usually both). It was scary moving to a new place on my own, who would have known that toilet paper rolls don’t refill themselves? But soon enough, I found myself a couple groups of friends who I did everything with, I still felt homesick at times, but I found my second family here. My fear and loneliness were muffled by love.

 

So here’s a highlight reel of my summer:

  • Had the warmest welcome to San Francisco by attending Twitter’s #DevelopHER camp, which I wrote about here!

 

  • Stayed in a hostel right in the Tenderloin before moving into my new place, and if you know, you know.

 

  • I went to my internet-turned-real-life friend’s potluck and met Zoe and Daniel there.

 

  • Ate the best bread pudding at Tartine Bakery, best rice pudding at Loving Cup and spent too many late nights with a bowl of baklava frozen yogurt from Souvla in one hand, and a can of La Croix in the other.

 

  • Went to my first Pride Parade and I 👏 was 👏 not 👏 disappointed 👏.

Me with a pin-teresting wheel 😉

Me with a pin-teresting wheel 😉

 

  • Went to meetups that I have been dying to go to since the beginning of time, including SF DevRel, WaffleJS, Lesbians Who Tech, and Sentry Scouts. Listen, these 4 are the most iconic meetups I have ever had the honour of attending.

 

  • Witnessed apps on my phone work better than they ever have in Vancouver, I’m looking at you, Yelp.

 

  • Spent my first 4th of July at Mark Zuckerberg’s old hacker house in Palo Alto, where he built Facebook.

Breathing the same air that Zuck used to.

Breathing the same air that Zuck used to.

 

  • Took advantage of the free food at every intern open house / festival / hackathon. Huge thank you to the friends who share mutual passions with me in tech, and in food.

 

  • Shivered from the insanely cold SF summer nights no one warns you about, and the view from Battery Spencer (day) and Twin Peaks (night).

 

  • Watched School of Rock, Soft Power and Halsey’s concert (preference in that order only because my girl did not sing Roman Holiday).

Halsey's concert, in which she did not sing Roman Holiday

Halsey's concert, in which she did not sing Roman Holiday

 

  • Wondered how I spent my life without knowing René Magritte. SFMOMA, you showed me the light.

 

  • Stayed up too many long nights losing our sanity over made up board game rules.

 

  • Spoke on the intern panel at Spectra, which I am so proud of my friends for putting together!

 

I’ll have to stop listing things before I start getting emotional again (I'm talking Michael Scott leaving The Office in episode 148 emotional. Speaking of which, this remix of The Office theme song is my summer anthem). It's also important to note that these are only the highlights, San Francisco has its fair share of problems as a city that deserves a whole post on its own— I'm well aware of that, but let's celebrate the good things for now! 😉

 

Needless to say, I’m not ready to leave. But I guess I won’t ever be. I’ll make the most of my time left here and hang on to the latter half of this bittersweet feeling I’m drowned with, with the constant reminder that this city will always be here when I need it. 

 

San Francisco, stay Golden.

Twitter #DevelopHER Camp 2018

Most of my traffic sources to charmaineklee.com in the past year have predominantly been through Twitter. So, I really wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how your eyes ended up on this page as well. Why is that though?

At one point, Twitter was everyone’s go-to social media platform—I remember this because I didn’t have it, and my best friend would beg me to make an account every single day. So one day, I caved in and made a Twitter account under the handle @misscharmainerockz (carefully chosen by my classmate at the time). All I saw on my timeline were tweets from my friends announcing that they are bored, I followed the pattern for a bit until I decided that Twitter just wasn’t for me. The next day, I deleted my account and skipped happily back to Tumblr. I always loved Tumblr because of the freedom I have on there. I was recently speaking to the PR Manager at my work and she described the platform perfectly, “Tumblr feels like a black hole that you can yell into”. It was true, that’s why I loved it so much. But when I finally gave Twitter a second chance this past year and made what is now @charmaine_klee, I realized that Twitter filled in the gap of a platform like Tumblr (which I love oh so much)—a place where people could not only feel safe to share anything to their little heart’s desire, but also to have their voices heard and amplified. For me, I built a network of support within Tech Twitter. In other words, I found a family on Twitter where I felt more than a CS student from UBC— I was part of something greater, and I belonged. And of course, Twitter always comes through with those fresh memes and exclusive threads. But for others, well, name a platform with something that comes remotely close to Black Twitter, I’ll wait.

Needless to say, I was #ecstatic to attend #DevelopHER at Twitter’s HQ in San Francisco this past week. I went inside a company that I thought I could only ever get behind. 😉 

The camp was a series of ice breakers, workshops, #tern panels, selfie with @jack, lots and lots of delicious food, office tours, networking opportunities, resume revamps and coding challenges.

Selfie with THE @jack!

As a hackathon organizer, I’m always on the lookout for fun ice breakers that don’t have everyone in the audience sweating to find 7 “fun facts” about themselves, and I’m pretty sure Twitter’s nailed it this time. So to let my fellow event organizers in on the secret, the ice breaker rolled out in 3 rounds. The first was where we guessed who had more followers between two Twitter accounts, the second was “Name That Song” where we wrote down song names of instrumental tracks they, and the last was “Who D@” where we guessed whose Twitter profile pic was shown on the screen along with their handles (@TheRock, @KingJames were definitely some fun ones). They might be a little Twitter specific, but they’re definitely easy enough to modify to suit any audience. These ice breakers gave us the opportunity to actually get to know each other down to our interests and preferences, and you really couldn't get through the rounds without learning something new while contributing. I loved it! Between the uniquely valuable workshops and panels (I don’t want to spoil anything because I want future #DevelopHER attendees to be as pleasantly surprised as I was going in!), we also had a lot of fun competing in a series of coding challenges. It was inspiring getting to collaborate with these incredible women, I definitely felt that adrenaline rush from the challenges.

As the camp wrapped up, we all bid our farewells to Twitter and hung out for the rest of the night. #DevelopHER was a good one. It was a really good one. I loved everyone I met from there and I can’t wait to see what they all get up to next. If you're a rising Junior, you can (and absolutely should) apply for it here!

In the meantime, I am now officially in SF for the rest of the summer—hit me up if you’re around, I’ll be hanging out at Pinterest (and probably a lot of Pug Sundays @ Alta Plaza 🐕)

Microsoft Internship, Build 2018

I interned as a Program Manager at Microsoft's Experimental Projects Division, the Garage.

Group pic of all my best friends, aka fellow interns & our fearless leader, Stephane.

Group pic of all my best friends, aka fellow interns & our fearless leader, Stephane.

It’s the feeling of finding those who share mutual passions, those who make you laugh so hard you lose your voice for a week, those who go to the beach at 2am just to lay down and count the stars with you, people who just get it— your people. That feeling came rushing back to me every morning as I stepped foot into our office building. A series of inside jokes and silent chanting of our intern anthem (speaking of which, please listen to it while you read the rest of this post 🙏) laid the foundation of inseparable friendships. And I hope you too, will find your own Microsoft Garage.

I just came back from the Microsoft Build Developer Conference 2018, with a ticket so generously gifted to me from the incredible Cloud Developer Advocates team during my internship 🎉 . I went last year too, but this year was really something else. I sat in the audience as they announced the release of 2 AI projects we worked on during our internship— Snip Insights & Mobile Chest X-Ray Analysis. It was heartwarming to see how different teams across Microsoft have also spent the past year revolutionizing the way AI is used in our day to day workflows. But also, tears flew out of my eyes when I saw our faces on the screen credited as the team behind those 2 projects. The early mornings and late nights (not to mention, getting a flood of messages from our manager to go home) we worked have evolved from prime team bonding time, to now, products on the big screen for everyone to try at Build. Our project even made it to TechCrunch! It was at that very moment when I felt like the luckiest person in the world to be able to create such impactful projects. I never want to stop doing this.

Our pictures at Build!

Our pictures at Build!

These past 4 months have probably been one of the greatest experiences in my life. Every day of the internship held a new surprise and we never quite knew what we’d be working on or what challenges might come up, besides the fact that our team would always come out of it stronger. As the only Program Manager intern, I had the pleasure of working across all 4 project teams (Snip Insights, Cloud Chest X-Ray Analysis, HoloLens & Minecraft: Education Edition). 

This internship wasn’t an easy one. We built out our own prototypes, we sketched our own ever-changing architecture diagrams, threat models and scoped our own features, only to be (constructively) torn apart at our weekly “Dragon’s Den” style pitches to different internal teams. We did over 50 user research and usability testing sessions to continuously iterate on our features and design. We actually went through a 180-degree UI/UX change for Snip Insights 3 days before presenting our project to the CVP of Cloud AI. Needless to say, agile did us well. We passed compliance (accessibility review and testing, privacy reviews, security reviews, global readiness, code analyses, open source release review) by a hair, as we worked until exactly 5:00pm on our last day. And believe me when I say, I will never view products, and accessibility in particular, the same way ever again. I have a LOT more respect for products that go the extra mile to protect users' information, handle localization, and be accessible for all users. This internship was a life-changingly rewarding one.

The once foreign Garage desks, chairs, and kitchen had become so familiar. As I walked past the area one last time, the rush of nostalgia flushed away that familiarity and suddenly, I realized what was once the entrance had become the exit. With that being said, I know those doors will always be opened. In fact, I’ll be heading back very soon for an exciting Tweet Chat panel and to present our project at the Imagine Cup Finals! As for all the friends I made during my time here, stay in touch. The world is only so small. 😉 


Here are some bonus videos and tweets from our internship that you might enjoy!

If you too, love turning ideas into real projects, you NEED to check out the Garage.