Monday, October 04, 2004

Being a Microsoft Intern

whatz it 2b a MS Intern...
(from the MS charts...)

A Fabulous Summer

Microsoft Research Internship

Galen Hunt spent his 1995 school vacation working. It wasn't the usual student job, such as flipping burgers or canning tuna. For his summer job, Hunt worked at Microsoft and invented the first Microsoft prototype for streaming media over the Internet.

"This is my story," explains Hunt. "About the third day of my internship I met Rick." At the time, Rick Rashid was the manager of the Operating Systems Group, and is now the senior vice president of Microsoft Research (MSR).

Rashid told Hunt that Bill Gates wanted to know if it would be possible to send movies over the Internet. Hunt said that Rashid then asked him to 'go off and figure this out.'

"I worked feverishly for the next three weeks and built the prototype for what is now the Windows Media Player. The very first one. We weren't doing live video, we were just doing audio and pictures, but I did the first prototype. That was my fabulous summer project," said Hunt.

It was an impressive innovation for an intern, but Hunt himself was impressed with Microsoft. "Being a Microsoft Research intern totally changed my mind about what Microsoft was. After I did the internship, in my mind there was no other place to work if you wanted to do research," he said.

After Hunt finished his Ph.D. he came back to Microsoft Research as a full-time researcher, and later moved his research project to a product group. "Anybody who comes to do research at Microsoft instead of some university somewhere comes because you don't just want to have cool ideas, you want to have cool ideas and see those ideas actually change people's lives," said Hunt.

Innovative Work
"We've always viewed the intern program as an opportunity to do two things," said Rick Rashid. "It's a great opportunity for Microsoft to get a lot of new, exciting and interesting research work done. The interns come in with great ideas, they get excited working with the various people here, and it's just a very synergistic relationship. They're put into a new environment, there's a lot of stimulation and great new things come out of that. It's also a great opportunity for them to meet with a lot of top researchers and really get some new perspective in their areas, and to learn more about what Microsoft is like."

Gina Venolia, a researcher who specializes in human-computer interaction, said, "One of the things that was so good about having my first intern was that he was such an autonomous worker and one of those godly programmers that you see every once in a while. We could give him an idea and let him riff on it."

Researchers get the help that they need, and interns often get a chance to publish. Venolia's interns have published their summer project results in papers for the prestigious CHI conference that takes place in April.

University Connections
In addition to published papers and innovative work, there's another benefit to hiring interns at MSR. Researchers and academics from the interns' universities get the chance to meet each other and develop collaborative relationships. Venolia said that before she employed her first intern, who was from the University of Calgary, she hadn't known his professor, Saul Greenberg. Since then, Greenberg has been to Microsoft to do some programming for MSR. Venolia also found Carman Neustaedter, her third intern, in his group.

"I ran into Saul at a conference and I asked him if he had a new one for me. He recommended Carman. He had exactly the skills Saul thought he did. I ended up giving Carman a pretty big chunk of stuff to do," said Venolia.

Rubbing Elbows
Microsoft employs some of the legends of the computer research world. There's Gary Starkweather, the inventor of the laser printer. There are researchers who have won the most highly regarded awards -- from the Turing Award to Hollywood's Oscar. There are researchers at Microsoft Research who literally wrote the book in their fields. These researchers are why some of the interns come to Microsoft Research for the summer.

"MSR has a great reputation for research in my area," said Carman Neustaedter, a summer of 2002 intern. "I have read papers by many of its researchers and felt being an intern here would be a fantastic opportunity to work with them."

Building the Future
MSR also wants to support the research community by contributing to the training and success of future computer scientists, some of whom might end up working at Microsoft, or collaborating with researchers here.

"When I'm looking at resumes for new hires, if they don't have some kind of experience outside the scope of their coursework, I don't find it a very interesting resume," said Venolia. "I love to see people go do their thing inside of a corporate environment. You need to set your own pace, goals, and objectives, and be able to work on time scales that are different from 'the project due next week is.' I think an internship is a big indicator of how a person can perform on the job."

Venolia knows the value of internships because she started her career as an intern at Apple. "My professor for my data structures class also worked at Apple. So he invited me to interview for an internship position at Apple, and I went there and forgot to leave. I worked there for the next 15 years."

A Big Job
Bringing in interns every year is a big job for MSR's in-house staff. The population of Microsoft Research grows by 24% during the April to September intern season.

"We brought in 124 interns in the Puget Sound and Bay Area last year," said John Hausmann, the Microsoft Research intern coordinator. Hausmann not only arranges space for the interns, he also plans some social events and thinks about how to help the interns adjust to the Microsoft culture.

"Last year I implemented intern pods," said Hausmann. He arranged to have interns from several different groups share offices, so that they could interact and learn about each other's projects.

"We want them to think of research as a place to come and just let their minds roam and come up with something wonderful."

Brian Dewey's fly-ash...



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