What I Learned About Life … While Working at Microsoft

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Recently, I did a talk at the Bay Path College Women’s Leadership Conference on their Career Development Track. When I announced this to my email list, it led to a conversation with a former college professor about how the topic would be of interest to the community at my alma mater, Mount Holyoke … particularly to the senior class.

He offered to connect me to the “right people” at the school to set something up and asked for some background info he could pass on:

  1. About me,
  2. About the talk, and
  3. About how my experience in college led me to where I am today.

ON THAT THIRD POINT…

I want to share my reflections, since they feel the most interesting for me to reflect on almost 20 years later.

In college, I was a Comp Sci major, Spanish minor. Late in my time at MHC, I discovered a Five College grad level course called Advanced 3D Computer Animation. I could take as an undergrad, though I had to compete with about 50 others who wanted in to get one of 12 spots available). I learned to use 3D software to create “scenes” and animation. Turns out I had a knack for it.

It was here that I learned that I loved USING cool software more than I loved WRITING code for software. I still loved understanding the programming side, but I wanted to get to creative production.

With a job offer at Microsoft right after College, (as a software test engineer), I put those dreams of integrating design, art, and computer stuff on hold for a while. At Microsoft, I learned:

  • A lot about software development on a large scale
  • That it can be inspiring and intimidating to work in environment where EVERYONE is an over achiever and really smart.
  • That I didn’t love 10 months of grey skies over a 12-month period (Seattle).
  • That I didn’t love the narrowly defined role I have at a big corporation… I like more hats to wear, more creativity… This feeds into what I now call “Xtine’s Law of Perpetual Energy.”
  • I learned that in life sometimes I will find myself doing things that I don’t love to do. Sometimes it makes sense to stick it out (and LEARN!). Sometimes it makes sense to bail (AND NO SHAME IN THAT!).
  • No matter where you are, you can embrace life experience in all its many forms.
  • That the Pacific Northwest has some of the most breathtaking outdoor spaces that I’ve ever experienced.

I decided to stay at MS through the end of the project cycle I was on (about a year and a half). And I also decided that while I was doing this, I was going to make damned sure I was LEARNING as much as possible, and DOING things that I might only be able to do while I was there.

For me, this meant:

  • Really owning my job and kicking ass at it;
  • Meeting new people even when as an introvert, I might prefer to stay home;
  • Though I had no theatre experience and only very minimal training in voice/music, it meant I auditioned for a musical (and I surprised myself by getting one of the leads — comfort zone push there for sure).
  • Hiking Mt. St. Helens, the South Sister and others.
  • Experiencing Seattle, the Olympic Mountains, Skiing in the Cascade Mountains and sleeping on the hard desert ground of Eastern Washington after staying up most of the night to watch the meteor showers. (In a desert the air is crisp and clear, the sky is BIG, and the star gazing is profound.)

After 1.5 years at MS, I moved back to the happy valley and helped co-found Gravity Switch. Our business has changed and evolved by leaps and bounds in our almost 20 years of biz. But the core stays the same: To make a living doing what I love, working with and for people that I respect and care about, and getting a chance to do what I do best, every single day.

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