10 years at Microsoft today

Today, I celebrate 10 years at Microsoft! It seems like a recent memory when I graduated from college and was weighing my options between a technology career at Microsoft vs. an investment banking career at BoA/Merrill Lynch. I am glad I made the choice I did back then :)

Although this sounds cliche, it has truly been an amazing journey so far and I am really looking forward to what lays ahead. Sharing a few things I learned along the way and some highlights and in no particular order…

1. Go Big or Go home:

My first manager on day 1 gave me a print-out of the Microsoft equivalent of the famous “Go Big or Go home” poster and I still have this in my office. It is a subtle and constant reminder of the privilege of working at a company like Microsoft where the potential impact of what we work on everyday is huge. Of course “going big” is relative. And I’ve had my share of humbling moments, but I am very thankful for receiving this advise early on in my career. It has helped shape my mindset around approaching work projects & challenges. Also, a key reason why this quote is one of my favorites:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”— Michael Jordan

2. “Usage hacking”:

“Usage hacking” is a term I coined up while rallying my PM team to become obsessed with learning how our existing users are using the services we ship (make telemetry your new best friend), and strategize on completing scenarios and building new features with an eye to increasing engagement among existing users. The driving thought here is — if we have existing users using our services more over time and reaping the benefits, it is a strong leading indicator of increased usage from existing & new users in the future.

3. Always be shipping:

‘Nuf said. I have been part of 5 major product releases so far: Microsoft Dynamics AX 4, AX 2012, R3, ‘AX 7' and Microsoft Dynamics Lifecycle Services (LCS). LCS is a “born in the cloud” service we envisioned and launched a short 2 years ago, and we have been rapidly expanding and iterating on it with monthly updates. We love it so much here that we even celebrate its birthdays :) — 1st bday, 2nd bday. In my mind, nothing keeps a team energized and relentless about pursuing customer delight than shipping often and at a rapid cadence.

4. It’s all about the people:

Success is a team sport. People envision new products and ideas, people write code, people listen to feedback and iterate, people do competitive analysis & build strategy. Computers don’t do these (yet :)). Fostering an environment where people feel empowered to do their best work is super critical to all this. I’ve had the opportunity to lead various Product Management and Engineering teams at Microsoft and this is a top priority every year—by no means do I have the “secret sauce” figured out here, but it is a work in progress and something I constantly push myself to get better at.

5. Embrace the code:

I am a big believer that to be an excellent Product Manager, it is important to have great code sensibility, have a solid grasp of engineering fundamentals and deeply understand technical challenges to make educated trade-offs with the team (in addition to all the other core traits needed for a PM in my mind… but I digress, that is a topic for a whole another blog post some day).

6. Epic ship-party:

A longstanding tradition at Microsoft is having ship-parties whenever we “RTM” (release to market) a major product release. These are becoming less grand and less common as we move to a cloud delivery model & updates world. In terms of epic-ness though, one ship party takes the prize in my mind. The Dynamics AX 4 ship party in Fall 2006 was a week of celebrations (and training of course) at Disney Land in Florida. Team members flew in from across 3 continents and we all had a blast getting to meet and socialize with a lot of colleagues in-person for the first time. Only down side is that no other ship party has been able to come close to meeting these early heightened expectations :)

7. Seeing (a bit of) the world:

One of the side-perks of my job is travelling around the world to meet customers/partners, attend conferences and more. One of the things I try to do whenever schedule permits is to take the public transit and “people watch” at local coffee shops while enjoying a local brew. Why, you may wonder? For starters — it helps me deal with jet-lag. Secondly, it’s a great way to learn about consumer technology trends in these local markets — in my mind, it beats all the second hand and aggregated reporting you will read on mainstream media any day. Try it next time, you might just enjoy it as well :)

8. Meeting Bill Gates:

One of my most memorable moments is meeting BillG in person for the first time. It was during my summer internship and on the eve of my 21st birthday, when he hosted a barbeque at his house. Having been an avid admirer of his work and world view, it was truly a dream come true. Related side note — my first online purchase was his book “The Road Ahead” on Amazon.com from Botswana back in 1998; found it very inspiring and ended up reading it 3 times!

9. Meeting President of Botswana at Microsoft:

Another cool experience that happened to me a few years ago was when the then-Botswana president, Rre. Festus Mogae, and a ministerial delegation visited Microsoft + the Gates foundation. The great folks at our Microsoft Events team organized a great event and while at it, tried to find somebody from Botswana at Microsoft to meet with them as well. Guess what — I was their only find at that time :) So happy they reached out and it was a great conversation all around over lunch with President Mogae & his delegation.

10. Bonus: Hear Satya’s biz apps world view from 10 years ago

When I joined Microsoft & Dynamics, Satya Nadella was our division VP. He has since moved up a little bit in the company :) His & our then-GM Hal Howard’s passion and optimism for the Business Apps space is one of the primary reasons I decided to join the team as a full-timer after my internship. Below is a video of an interview by Robert Scoble from 2006 talking Microsoft, Dynamics strategy & more.. interesting to look back on how much things have changed & how some have not in 10 years.

Here’s to the next 10+ years of fun at Microsoft!

Written by

@SatishThomas • Group Program Manager @MSFTDynamics • investing & poker enthusiast • from Botswana, now living in Seattle

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