Leaving Microsoft after 3 years, on to Qualtrics

Over the past 3 years, I’ve had the pleasure working with some incredibly bright and motivated people at Microsoft and I’ll forever be thankful for the time I spent there. But, I recently switch to a “Full Stack Software Engineering” position at Qualtrics. Read on if you want my whole story.

My journey at Microsoft

As a program manager

I actually started at Microsoft as a Program Manager (PM) in May 2012, fresh from graduating at Clemson University with a MS in Computer Science. When I graduated, I honestly wasn’t sure whether or not a PM position was right for me – and I had a few other Software Engineering jobs on the table. However, Microsoft’s interview loop for the PM role was immensely interesting, so I decided to give it a try.

I actually loved being a PM when I first got there – I was able to write snippets of code when I needed and I was able to work with external partners, which I loved, who were building apps for Windows 8. Throughout my team as a PM, I was even lucky to travel to a number of conferences. I gave a total of 4 talks at two different //Build conferences (once in Redmond, once in San Francisco), 1 talk at TechEd China in Beijing and 1 talk (joint with others) at GDC (in San Francisco). I even had the pleasure of going to LA to talk with partners once. This was all within a 1 year span of being on the team – and I was loving it.

But after about 9 months into the role, I encountered a personal struggle with the PM role. The problem that I could never get over was that I never really had the chance to actually dive deep into the Windows source code and understand the very root of why things are the way they are, down to the minutiae that makes Windows what it is – and that bothered me. My other PM priorities were simply more important.

Diving deep as a software engineer

So, after about a year on the Windows team as a PM, I switched to a position in Office for Windows Phone/Tablet as a Software Engineer. I knew, immediately, that I made the right move in becoming a software engineer. I now had the power, and the network of fellow smart developers, to dive deep into the codebase for a massive product (in terms of code and user base!). It was awesome, to say the least – and my career was growing faster than I thought possible at such a large company.

But, not long after being in this role, I felt like something was missing. I wasn’t given the amount of freedom I had as a PM. In fact, many days, I could crank out some code with minimal interaction with other people. I also am proud of the fact that I fixed well over 150 bugs in the Office for Windows Phone/Tablet codebases, but that just isn’t as satisfying as saying “I built X architecture from the ground up.” After over 1.5 years in Office, I felt I needed a bigger challenge. However, it would be silly to think I, alone or with a small team, could change a product like Office (or Windows, Bing or any other Microsoft product) in the near term, so I decided to try my hand at a much smaller company.

The white knight?

When the “I need to find a new job” switch finally flipped all the way, I started looking for companies in the area and stumbled upon many early stage startups that weren’t necessarily proven yet. I felt that going from a massive stable company like Microsoft to a barely stage A startup would be, in my mind, too risky.

However, I found out, from my wife actually, that a decent sized company, Qualtrics, whose headquarters is in Utah (that’s weird?) just opened an office in Seattle. In fact, when I had my first phone interview with the recruiter, they hadn’t even gotten the keys to the building yet. This company wasn’t exactly a startup – they had something like 700 total employees (<100 engineers) and already had over $200 million from VCs when I first came in contact with them. But, what was awesome about the whole situation was that the Seattle office was going to be almost it's own start-up inside a bigger company - it's own products and features and everything. So, I interviewed with a couple companies and actually, Qualtrics was my first offer. I didn't take long to accept - I knew the opportunity was going to be right for me. After ~2 months at Qualtrics, I can safely say I made the right choice. I'm now given significant ownership over what I used to have. I'm talking to partners on a semi-regularly basis and also coding and doing architecture work. It's almost like my previous two roles at Microsoft were combined into one "super role" that, I guess, is sometimes called a "tech lead."

Memo to future Phil

I didn’t actually think I would put anything about this particular transition in my life in this blog, but I think it’s important that I do on occasion. It helps to be constantly reminded of our past so that we know where we are going as we move forward. As Steve Jobs said in a commencement speech, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.” If I don’t constantly look at the dots I’ve laid previously, how will I ever know that I’m going the right direction? The majority of dots in my past seem, at least to me, to not have a clear picture in focus – but I think the recent dots laid out are starting to take shape into something much bigger. I can’t wait to see what dots I lay in the next 5-10 years.

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