I came into this Princeternship with only a vague understanding of the role of a Microsoft researcher. Three days and many meetings later, I’ve learned that a researcher straddles the boundary between academia and business. He poses theoretical questions, performs experiments, and publishes scientific papers of his findings while simultaneously understanding and fulfilling the needs of Microsoft customers.
On the first day, I met with my host, Dr. Zicheng Liu *96, for a day at the research facilities. He introduced me to several colleagues, each of whom seemed engrossed in some project seemed too futuristic to be feasible (and yet the demos stood right before us). Everywhere I looked around the office building, there was some robot or screen or simulator that people could interact with as they passed by. It was also hard to miss the scribbling on almost every surface: the walls all function as white boards that allow the researchers to map out their thinking as they work. In all, the facilities gave me the impression that researchers are constantly thinking and creating.
On the second day, Dr. Liu arranged for me to meet with other alums: Jiho Lee ’13, who works in Advertising, and Andy Kaier ’12, who is a Program Manager. Both were in very different settings from the first day, and I was glad to learn about other facets of the company. Even if their work is more product- and business-oriented, the environment had the casual environment of a technology company.
On the third day, I met with Akarshan Kumar ’13 and Yan Zhong ’07, both Program Managers, and Wai Man Lam ’92, a developer. All three alums worked in still different areas of the company, and each area felt a little bit different. It was particularly interesting to talk to a developer who showed me how the theoretical material we learn in computer science classes addresses practical issues in the real world.
Despite having over one hundred thousand employees, Microsoft does not seem to smother its employees or even feel like a big company. Rather, the segments within the organization appear to have unique, inviting, and laid-back environments that evoke the warm culture of a small business while simultaneously providing the stability of an industry powerhouse. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Microsoft campus, and I highly recommend this Princeternship to future students!