This week marks my third year on the Power BI team! In honor of my anniversary, I was thinking back on what brought me back to Microsoft and whether it was the right decision (TL;DR: it was).
I started at Microsoft right out of college working in the Office Natural Language group. I worked on various NL related features across Office — musing over whether the swiggle on the spell checker should actually be a straight line and building Outlook features that identified addresses or meetings in the content so we could surface a map or a meeting invite inline. This was Office in 2009 — when we shipped every three years. Two years in, I looked back at what I’d worked on and realized nothing I worked on had ever reached the hands of customers. It drove me nuts.
I ended up leaving the Office team and working in Windows Live for a while. Eventually, I left the company to join a retail startup called zulily. After a few crazy, fast paced years at zulily, I joined an even smaller company, a SaaS startup called Front Desk.
After all of these experiences, when it was time for me to look for my next role, there were a couple requirements that were important to me at this phase of my career:
- Autonomy — I realized I thrived in a working environment where no one told me what to do. That got boring really fast.
- Fast pace — As a PM, it was super important to me that I was constantly making an impact on the customer and that it was immediately measurable. Doing something to “sell more copies of Windows” was not the kind of goal I had in mind.
- A real customer problem — I wanted to work on something that truly impacted users. I didn’t want to work on incremental improvements in Word that 99% of users would never want and I didn’t want to sell things to people that I knew they probably don’t need.
- Strong engineering culture — my time at Microsoft gave me a strong understanding of how to build software with reliability, supportability, security as a critical component to everything we built. My time at smaller companies showed me just how much duct tape and string can be used to hold software together.
- Leaders I believed in — I wanted to work for someone who I wanted to learn from. People who cared about building a strong, inclusive team.
I started having coffee chats with folks at startups around Seattle, assuming another small company was where I’d end up. In parallel, I was working on a feature for Front Desk to embed dashboards in our product. I reached out to Nick, who I had worked with in the Natural Language group, since he ran this new Power BI product at Microsoft that looked like it could do what I wanted (it didn’t — Power BI embedded didn’t exist yet). But as we talked about the product, I got more interested in what they were up to. It was a small team, shipping weekly, building a brand new product with some crazy cool technology (reminder, I was an NLP nerd in college). Many of the folks on the team were the people I learned the most from while I was in Office.
It’s crazy to look back at how much value we’ve delivered to customers, how much the BI landscape has changed because of Power BI and how much my own career has grown. When I left in 2013, if you told me I would have gotten all of this at Microsoft, I would have never believed you. I’m so glad I gave it another shot 🙂