REDMOND, Wash., July 27, 2004 — When Makinde Adeagbo and 21 other undergraduate college students arrived here in June for a five-week computer-science training program on Microsoft’s corporate campus, they were excited about the opportunity to get an inside look at life at Microsoft. Among the surprises: how much input everyone has in defining the products they work on; how much pride everyone takes in their job; and, of course, the free beverages Microsoft provides to employees.
Undergraduates from six universities learn alongside Microsoft developers in the Explore Microsoft program. Redmond, Wash. July 2004.
But the biggest surprise was the fact that they spent so much of their time building real software features for real customers. While they expected to do some development work, most of the students assumed they would be assigned relatively meaningless tasks. Instead, they’ve toiled on a number of high-profile projects, including a feature in the upcoming MSN Music Service.
“The feature will be used by tens of millions of people,” says Adeagbo, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s been intense and included some all-nighters, but we own the feature, and we’ve done every part of it.”
Adeagbo is part of Explore Microsoft, a new program for U.S. students in their first or second year of college who are interested in computer-engineering science, but who haven’t necessarily committed themselves to the field. The program was created to teach students how to create software in the real world and inspire them to consider computer science — and Microsoft — as a career choice.
“The number of computer-science graduates in this country has decreased by about 30 percent a year over the past few years,” explains Lindsay Roitman, senior technical recruiter and diversity program manager for Microsoft College Staffing. “Explore Microsoft is a critical piece in our strategy to build a robust and diverse pipeline for Microsoft’s future staffing needs. Providing this experience early in the academic careers of these bright young people will pay off, both for Microsoft and the students.”
The students were chosen from a pool of nearly 1,000 applicants from six leading engineering universities. Roitman said cultural and racial diversity is an important focus of the program; and 70 percent of the students are from diverse backgrounds.
During the program’s first two weeks, participants spent mornings in intensive classes in the C++ programming language and afternoons observing program managers, software engineers, and testers in action. During the third week, most of the students began work on a development project.
For Adeagbo and four other interns, however, project work began on day one, when they were given laptops loaded with the information needed to start building a feature for MSN’s forthcoming Music Service t.
“We took a high-risk, high-reward approach,” says Brent Ingraham, development manager in MSN Entertainment. “We gave them a feature we’d decided didn’t fit within resource and time constraints and turned them loose to pull it back into reality.”
The interns started with three lists: “must-have” components needed to enable the feature, “should-haves” for expected capabilities, and a final list of “nice-to-haves.” They completed the must list in the first week and delivered a working version of the feature during the third week. During the fourth week, they presented a demo to the entire MSN Entertainment team.
“They definitely got more done than we expected,” Ingraham says. “As a team, we’re in ship mode right now, and they’ve been cranking right along with us. That’s why they’ve worked so hard. Just believing that they could accomplish huge things was a key motivator for the Explorers.”
Besides MSN Entertainment, Microsoft groups other students in the program were assigned to included Windows Security, Small Business Server, Visual Studio .NET and Exchange Server.
For Adeagbo, Explore Microsoft has been a quite positive experience. “The chance to do something I like and work on something that will make a difference has been great,” he says. “Seeing the impact that I can have, I’d really like to come back.”
For Ingraham, the program has been extremely positive, as well, and he believes it offers Microsoft a critical opportunity to recruit people who are both talented and young.
“The truth is that at Microsoft, we’re getting older,” he says. “I think it’s incredibly important to tap into the ideas and thought processes that new generations bring to the table. When Microsoft is more diverse in hiring, it makes us a better company. That’s particularly true of this key digital generation that has grown up using our products as a part of their day-to-day lifestyle.”