A group of program managers visiting Microsoft’s modern new offices in Vancouver, British Columbia, sat in tall chairs at a stylish triangular table in one of the sleek conference rooms, where they were coming up with new ideas and drawing prototypes using an 84-inch Surface Hub as their interactive whiteboard.
The creativity flowed freely. They got their work done quickly. But what they were able to accomplish so efficiently in the relaxed, contemporary setting — decidedly unlike a stodgy office — was only part of what made an impression on the visiting employees on that recent day.
“We have a 360-degree view of the entire downtown and the mountains, and everybody was just awestruck. They all loved the office,” recalls Megha Tiwari, a program manager who gets to enjoy the view and accommodations on a daily basis. “They keep joking about how they want to come back every month.”
The Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre (MCEC) formally opened Friday with a planned visit from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It will house developers from across the Vancouver region, Canada and the world who will bring to life new features and technologies for productivity products including Skype and OneNote, games such as the Gears of War franchise, interactive television apps for NFL, Xbox and Windows 10, mixed reality products such as Microsoft HoloLens and ground-breaking accessibility services like Seeing AI.
The MCEC spans two light-filled floors atop the Nordstrom building in Vancouver’s Pacific Centre mall. Its contemporary workspaces are arranged in airy groups amid neutral-toned wood décor, brightly colored lounging areas, expansive windows and soaring ceilings.
“It’s an exceptionally designed, state-of-the-art facility that unifies Microsoft’s Vancouver teams, creating a new collaborative culture,” says MCEC Director Edoardo De Martin, who was born in British Columbia and has lived in Canada all his life. “The MCEC is raising Microsoft’s profile in Vancouver, giving employees the chance to shape the local tech scene.”
More than 550 employees are now working in the vast space, which brings together teams from Skype for Business, OneNote, MSN and other products and has room for nearly 250 more. Microsoft plans to hire across all teams, filling positions for front-end and back-end engineers and a variety of other roles.
Nestled in the heart of the vibrant city, the new office “brings restaurants, shopping and nightlife to our doorstep,” De Martin says. It borders Vancouver’s entertainment district and houses two rapid-transit line stops directly under the building for easy commuting.
One of the many highlights is the Garage, where teams, interns and local startup workers can come together to bring ideas to life. The Garage “has prime views of the city and straddles the line between ‘cool coffee house’ and ‘industrial workshop,’” De Martin says. “It allows our teams and community to hack, build and explore.”
Senior software engineer Kiky Tangerine considers Vancouver a second home. He grew up in Indonesia, but moved to Canada when he was 18 to attend the University of British Columbia and began his career there after college.
He joined Microsoft in 2011 because he says he “wanted to contribute to the advancement of technology and make a difference in people’s lives.” He spent a few years at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, but when an opportunity came up in the Applications and Services Group in Vancouver, he took it.
That was in 2014, when Microsoft employees worked in several smaller buildings in Vancouver. Tangerine, who is now working to improve the reliability and speed of OneNote Online client sync, has been in the new office for a few months now.
Picturesque views fill the floor-to-ceiling windows. From his desk, he can see the stately Vancouver Art Gallery and the snow-capped mountains where he and his colleagues sometimes go after work — a 40-minute drive — for night skiing and snowboarding.
“I especially enjoy being in Vancouver,” he says. “Not only is the space great, the project I’m working on is really interesting and very technically challenging, and the people I work with are very smart and energetic.”
He likes that the office is open and huge, with plenty of space for discussions, meetings and socializing. He also makes good use of his mechanical desk that allows him to sit or stand — an often-requested item that is standard throughout the MCEC— so he “can switch it up from time to time,” he says.
Perhaps the best part is that the office sits squarely in the middle of so much to explore. He and his coworkers often venture out to the many restaurants within walking distance or grab lunch at one of the nearby food trucks serving Thai food, kabobs, tacos and other global treats. They also try new coffee shops regularly.
“Right now, what I really love is working with my team,” he says. “We work hard, and we play hard.”
Tiwari, who’s on the Microsoft’s Storefronts team, can see why the employees who visited recently were so captivated. She says the offices’ bright splashes of color give it “a feel-good kind of vibe” and that “everything is very inviting and a good facilitator of the work that we do.”
“The layout is very open, and all of my team sits in the same area. This allows us to work together efficiently,” she says. “It’s the perfect space that you need to be creative and have open conversations while being able to unwind and take breaks when needed.”
Tiwari, who grew up in New Delhi and lived in the U.S. for six years, had never been to Vancouver and was initially unsure about moving there. Now she doesn’t want to live anywhere else. She spends much of her free time with colleagues exploring fun places to go for happy hour and making their way through the long list of restaurants she wants to try for brunch.
She says the city has an international feel that seems inclusive to everyone, and offers plenty of things to do and new experiences to discover.
“It makes me feel I am part of here, in a way,” she says. “The city is very culturally diverse, with so much happening constantly. There is something to do all the time, which keeps me occupied, satisfied and happy.”
And the work itself gives her just what she came to Microsoft for: the ability to grow, lead and make a difference for people around the world. She’s currently working on creating a website where MSN’s millions of users worldwide will have schedules, scores, results and everything they need for this year’s Summer Olympics at their fingertips.
“Microsoft is at the cusp of transforming how millions of people around the world do more and achieve more, and there is no better time to be part of this journey,” she says. “It is an amazing feeling to see some of your ideas be in the hands of millions of users.”
Paul Richardson, a senior software engineer manager for the Vancouver Storefronts team, had already lived and worked in Vancouver for nearly eight years when Microsoft hired him as a full-time employee in 2012. His team of eight engineers work on the development side of the MSN site’s sports, autos, entertainment and news sections.
He says he and his team take advantage of the new office’s various conference rooms for more formal meetings, its cozy clusters of sofas and chairs for more casual discussions and the huge whiteboards in their area for “engineering doodling” and brainstorming.
“It feels like a dynamic place where you can walk around and see the kind of passion and excitement people have,” he says. “And it’s big and open, so you really get to experience what the other teams are doing.”
Richardson says the new MCEC holds plenty of career opportunity, and that the best part of the job is being able to “come in and work with some great, smart people who are really passionate about learning and making great software.”
And the city itself? He says it’s in a class of its own. It has a downtown surrounded by water that’s just a short walk from the office, and mountains that feel close enough to touch. Locals often boast that you can go kayaking in the morning and hit the slopes in the afternoon.
“If you like outdoor activities, this is the place to come,” Richardson says. “When you compare Vancouver to other places from a lifestyle viewpoint, it’s kind of hard to beat.”