In January, I traveled to Microsoft’s Redmond campus for the Microsoft Student Insider Program Kick-Off. What follows is a write-up of my interview with Kevin Grey, a Software Development Engineer on the Time Management team for Windows Phone.
Kevin Grey was initially attracted to Computer Science because the grade was clear cut: either the code works or it doesn’t. This was an environment he thrived in as it allowed him to distinguish himself without subjectivity. He was able to focus on learning rather than worrying about the grade. He also lucked out that he enjoyed programming, because if he’s not interested in the work, he won’t do it.
After working for a VOIP company, Grey moved to Boston and took a position with a consulting firm. The Boston firm assigned him to work on Pocket PC applications, which was Grey’s first experience with mobile computing. He was fascinated with programming for a computer with such tiny specifications.
Later, Grey moved to New Jersey and took a position with a different consulting firm located there. While there he received a phone call out of the blue from Microsoft, who had gotten his name from his time at the VOIP company. He interviewed for an architect position, which he didn’t get. He hadn’t felt ready for that position, so three months later he interviewed for a Software Development Engineer in Test (SDET) on the Windows Mobile team. He initially received a no hire decision, but was called back for a different SDET opening. Although he was hired as an SDET, his goal was to become a developer. Today, he successfully holds the title of Software Development Engineer.
Grey worked with Diane Curtis, who now runs the US Imagine Cup, when she was a Program Manager (PM) on the Windows Mobile team. Diane asked Grey if he would like to be involved, and he hasn’t missed a year since. He started as an interviewer when the competition format involved students competing individually. Students would work their way through unit tests, and if they passed, they were interviewed. He has also mentored a team. (What follows is a scenario I would have LOVED.) The process for that year involved creating an application over a week. Students were flown in and mentored for a week and participated in a huge coding party. Microsoft rented out the Courtyard Marriott for the geek out week, and since it took place in Bellevue, WA, the final judging was done by high level Microsoft employees from the Redmond campus.
As an experienced judge, Grey stresses that students be prepared to acknowledge and defend the weaknesses of their projects. Many times there are a fair number of PMs judging. While they may ask high level technical questions, Grey wants to know how much of the project is actually implemented. The more a team has implemented, the more the team understands about the feasibility of their project.
The Imagine Cup matches perfectly with Grey’s advice that outside classroom experience is essential for success in the field of Computer Science. You won’t learn everything you need for a job in your CS Courses and experiences such as the Imagine Cup and internships can help fill that gap.