IIMK Internship ‘K’ronicles – Pramod Nammi, Microsoft Summer Internship 2015 (Program Manager, Technology)

The 3rd edition of ‘Internship Kronicles’ features IIM Kozhikode PGP18 student, Pramod Nammi, who interned at MSIDC (Microsoft India Development Center, as Program Management). Pramod has completed Engineering with Information Technology as specialization from NIT Surathkal and has prior experience of working in Unisys Global as a Consultant for 24 months.

 1)What was the role offered to you at Microsoft?

I was working as a Program Manager in Microsoft India Development Center, Hyderabad.

2)How would you describe the process of project allocation and the structure of the teams in Microsoft?

Each Program Manager intern would bid for top 3 projects (app concepts) from a list of 8 projects. The projects are sponsored by various Business Groups or teams (Cloud & Enterprise, Bing, and Office etc.). One project gets assigned to the intern (two in my case). Regarding the team structure, each project team consists of one PM Intern, one design (User-Experience) Intern and three developer interns. Overall, it is a very intense program in terms of learning. The time-lines are designed to simulate the real life projects which I think is a very effective way to test our skills and to check how well we adapt to rapid development cycles.

 3)Describe the project assigned to you in brief. What were the biggest challenges you faced?

Due to confidentiality reasons I would briefly summarize the projects assigned to me. One of them involved audio processing while the other sought to address a common user problem related to mobile phone usage. We were given problem statements which tended to be quite short and crisp. We had to work our way towards developing deeper insights by researching the market and user needs. Then we defined the scope, roadmap and designed the concept in detail. After this process, we collaborated with UX (user-experience) inters and developers to make the product come to life. Thereafter, defining a Go-To-Market strategy for our product, though not expected of us as interns, certainly is a good thing to do.

As far as challenges faced, a Program Manager’s job is one of the most challenging one at Microsoft. There is no real authority over people and we must act as liaisons in the cross-functional teams. While maintaining an atmosphere conducive for creative thinking and collaboration, we must stick to the time-lines we define for ourselves.  Balancing work between two projects (and teams) was a challenge but the teams were very cooperative.

 4)You have prior work experience in IT industry, what difference did you find while working as an MBA intern with such technology giant like Microsoft?

Microsoft has a very open culture and a lot of emphasis is given to open discussions with leadership. The teams work in a very friendly way by focusing on the product and the user experience. A lot of fun filled demo sessions occur where we pitch our apps, the progress we made on them and the floor is open to discussions and feedback. Help can be sought from any one. I got to interact with the gods of software during my time. One instance is where I wanted to know about a certain technology and my coach/ mentor set up a meeting with someone who later turned out to be one of the original members of Skype team.

A lot of importance is given to new ideas and out-of-the-box thinking. The apps and products we make as interns are taken very seriously and a lot of them are rolled out to the app store eventually or are used for other cutting edge projects in the future.

 5)What was the most interesting aspect about your summer internship?

I would say it is the distinct work atmosphere of the company which is always delightful, and warm. Even the titans of software come to office with such a friendly attitude. Everyone is very humble and you could walk up to them and talk about anything under the sun. So many fun filled events happen regularly! Concerts, book fairs, Team outings (IPL matches, Theme park trips) are very common at Microsoft.

 6)What is your most significant takeaway from the summer internship?

One gets to learn how to get work done while still being nice to people! May sound generic but there is a lot of significance placed on attitude and temperament. Learnt how difficult it is to really make products that resonate well with users. User needs evolve ever so rapidly and as PMs it is our responsibility to factor this when defining the road map for our products. The emphasis Microsoft places on the quality of its products! Every process is designed so that the product or service that reaches customers works as promised.

 7)Now you carry a brand name with you, having worked with the biggest IT giant and PPI/PPO is the next sought-after thing by summer interns when they associate with such big names. What was the process like for you, and what challenges did you face?

The assessment is structured in the form of one mid-review and one-final review. For both of these, the PM intern specifies his/her objectives, what they seek to achieve in that period. At the end of the period, we are assessed against those objectives. But I think we are assessed from day one in terms of how well we understand the problem, how we think like a User of the product and articulate the scenarios of usage of our products. A lot of importance is given to understanding the user’s needs and how to address them. Focus was always on solving user problems rather than merely implementing fancy features. Ownership of the product was also a very important aspect in the process. How well an intern owns, defends and brings his/her product to life matters a lot here. Working respectfully with colleagues and fostering a collaborative environment also comes under the gamut of responsibilities of a Program Manager.

 8)What advice would you like to give to the incoming batch who aspire to work in the IT sector or want to target for Program Management kind of roles?

A common misconception is that a Program Manager is a highly technical role. Well, while there are technical Program Managers, technical knowledge (or a lack thereof) is not a deal breaker. Passion for problem solving, articulation of ideas is what matters here. I personally think that a Program Manager’s way of thinking is very much similar to that of a management consultant in terms or problem solving, analysis, synthesis and diverse knowledge.

I prepared for the role by reading a lot of Design thinking magazines, blogs and books. User-centered design was one of the concepts I quickly familiarized myself with before my interview during the campus selection.

 Interview Conducted by 

Urvashi Kalson -Media Cell, IIM Kozhikode