PM#6: Microsoft vs Garage?

I wrapped up my internship on Microsoft's Developer Relations team (docs.microsoft.com) last month and I’ve had 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 at different companies, or even in 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 as an intern 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.