Firstly, I'd like to apologize to all that have been waiting for this. My health and unusually booked schedules are to blame. Lets get into the trip on a day to day basis then!
Before I begin, I'd like to thank Microsoft for having us in Seattle despite the prior two scheduling issues. More importantly, I'd like to thank Jas who did a great job of not only showing us around campus but around Redmond, Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland and other neighboring places always making sure we get the best experience during our trip, getting a chance to try out different things and to keep each one of us happy. He really did make the trip perfect in every respect and for that I'd like to thank him on behalf of my entire team. Of course, thanks to the Interop team as well for having us there and giving us the opportunity to interview. The experience we bring back from meeting all those great people will indeed carry us a long way.
There are quite a few things that I saw a lot of which, I wasn't allowed to take pictures of. If I was, I have uploaded them to my Picasa Web albums here.
Beware, the post is (4500 words) HUGE. Sorry about that. :P Without further adieu, let's begin!
Day 0 (Trip to Seattle):
We left on the 8th of June via AF134 to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris (again!). The trip there was fun as usual. We had a 3 odd hour break before hopping onto another Air France Airbus A330-200 this time over the Atlantic. Was I worried? Hell yes Of course not. I double checked the flight components myself I had full confidence in Air France's equipment :)
We landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport around 11AM. Took us a while to get past immigrations but eventually we were in America! We didn't have much trouble locating the Shuttle pickup thanks to the detailed information provided in the email. After a brief 10 minute wait that I spent looking at how they ran operations (which I must say, I liked :)) our ride had arrived! We were the only 4 people in the van and the guy driving us (Gabriel) explained a few concepts such as the HOV lane for the first timers in the group :) He dropped us off at the Redmond Inn, where we'd be staying for the week. On checking in, we were told that Jas, our Microsoft Point of Contact (I believe that's the right term) had left us a message which was basically to check our emails and be ready by 8.30 tomorrow since we had to reach the campus by 9.
We retired to our rooms and took some rest. Normally, we'd be tempted to sleep but we had been briefed on the evil that is Jet Lag by our Mark, Microsoft India ADE. Thanks a lot! We rested a bit until it was around 5 when we decided to go out and explore for a bit. We were told that the Redmond Inn provides complimentary shuttle service in a 5 mile radius (basically anywhere in Redmond) which is great news for people like us who had no other means of transportation ;) We took a drive to the Redmond Town Center where we spent a couple of hours exploring. Me and Sam went into a couple of stores such as the Mac Store (blasphemy, I know but someone wanted a gift back home.. don't look at me) and REI. We then went into Ruby's Diner for dinner and boy, was it some dinner. Only regret I have is that I went there on a day when I was already feeling half full :( We all ended up getting different kinds of burgers with fries and a shake. We could hardly finish our food.. the servings were HUGE! I barely managed to finish my burger, complete shake and 60% of my fries.. if I would have had another French fry, I'd have exploded. Anyway, it seemed like a nice place. My favourite part was the 2 train sets going round on the ceiling. I loved watching them while eating :) We called up our hotel and requested a pickup and before we knew it, we were back in our rooms ready to sleep.
Day 1 (First day on campus):
We got up early in the morning and got all ready. We had read the schedule and we hated the fact that we were going to start off with interviews on the first day itself. In fact, it was the 2nd thing we'd do, first being meeting the GM of the interop team. We took the hotel shuttle to building 24, our would be home outside the home we call home outside India for the week :P We got signed in and headed on in. We were greeted by Ms. Edelweiss who showed us around and into a room where we could crash while we're in the building for the week. We've all only heard of Jas but never actually seen him. We were told that he'd be coming in about an hour or so. At 9, we headed in to meet Jean Paoli. For those who don't know, he co-authored XML. Wow, meeting an Architect of XML on my first day on campus. Seems like a good way to start things off. He even showed us the original XML Document Specification v1.0 that he has lying around his office; a piece of history folks :) He went on to tell us about his work at Microsoft and Microsoft's Interop work in general.
Around 10 AM, we finally met Jas, the man behind the e-mails! We had a small chat with him and I was informed that I'd be one of the first two to go in for my interviews. There isn't much to say about the interview since it was all pretty general. I can say that I wasn't asked any of the typical "Microsoft Interview Riddles" which I must say, was a disappointment :( I was asked a couple of purely tech questions based on how I would make a solution to a given project and one where I was asked more about program and resource management like questions. There isn't any thing special that I could really share with you that you (assuming you're reading this hoping to gain info about how they interview) already know/prepare for an interview anyway. Everything is dependent on the place you're going to interview for and who is interviewing you :) You could be asked eccentric questions but I certainly wasn't. They say if you are still there past lunch, that's a good thing but for us, they had comitted to 3 interviews (as written in the schedule) so that saying doesn't really hold true.
We headed out for lunch with around 10 people to an Italian place for surprise surprise, pizzas! :P We had an interesting conversation over lunch about what technologies we used and why we used them. We also talked about our experiences with Microsoft technologies and what we felt they were doing right/wrong and where we feel things could be improved. After lunch, we headed back to b24 where our interviews continued. While most others had 2 on the day, I seemed to have all 3 of mine while Amith had just 1. So basically, I was swamped for the entire day. While heading out, I spent some time appreciating the campus. b24 is right in front of a couple of soccer fields, something people used extensively keeping in mind the great weather. For those who don't know, Seattle is overcast most of the time and has occassional showers but during our stay there, we were blessed with beautiful sunshine which I must agree, made it look like possibly one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I almost wished I could move there and Microsoft had nothing to do with it :P
After being done with our interviews, we headed up to the first floor which housed the Chan9 team among other famous people :P We met Laura Foy and even Jeff Sandquist iirc. We did pick up a few freebies (yes, I for one love freebies. Brand me if you want, if its cool, I'll use it :P). We got a black full sleeve tee which celebrated the 5 years of Chan9 and small Chan9 logo soft toys. We then did a couple of hallway drive bys. Don't worry, we didn't shoot any Microsoft Devs/Evangelists. We simply popped our heads in to see who's there before having a conversation. We met quite a few very interesting people each of whom gave us insight on everything from life at Microsoft to starting up.
We then took a small walk to building 20 and the "Studio". I always knew that my dreams of actually seeing something like Natal would go down the drain quicker than Blackholes could suck in matter but at least I got to fulfill my other wish. We hunted down a Surface table in the building and played on it for a while. We took a couple of pics and videos but I'm waiting to get them from Amith :)
Earlier in the day while we were driving back from lunch, Jas asked us if we wanted to meet anyone on Campus. Amith immediately asked for Scott Hanselman and what do you know, Jas happened to know him! :o He set up the dinner and asked us if there was anyone else we'd like to meet. Amith asked for Phill Haack but he seemed to be busy :( Next up was a unanimous call for Scott Guthrie but that wasn't going to happen seeing as he's a CVP now, one of the busy folk ;) Asking for Mark Russinovich yielded the same result, oh well!
We met Scott Hanselman for dinner at the Mediterranean Kitchen in Bellevue. The dinner was really fun. Scott is really hilarious. We totally loved him speaking in Hindi and even singing a couple of lines from a Bollywood flick :P We got a couple of pictures and some videos of Scott saying stuff in Hindi such as "Mai Creative Riot ka sabse bada fan hoon!" (I am Creative Riot's biggest fan). During dinner, Phill Haack happened to call Scott and he dropped by to join us. After dinner Scott showed us what I can only quantify as a huge boulder with Quad core processors, 16 gigs of RAM and a secondary monitor :P
Day 2 (MS Home and CIW day):
The day started off with us meeting the Interoperability and Standards Marketing team where we talked about Microsoft's Interop Strategy and their pursuit for standardization. Then we had to head over to building 115 to meet Jennifer Perret who is the MSP Program Lead and is a part of the Academic Team at Microsoft. This gave us a chance to appreciate just how big the campus really is. It took us nearly 20 minutes to find the building. We kept going round the 110-114 and 116-119 trying to figure out where exactly 115 is. Eventually we found the building and we went up to meet Jennifer who greeted us and took us out to coffee where we had a conversation about our experiences so far on campus, what we've done so far after the Imagine Cup and our future plans. Jennifer told us about her experiences at Microsoft in general, in the Imagine Cup and everywhere it took her.
Immediately after, we met Rogerio Panigassi for lunch where we talked about his work prior to and at Microsoft and how he became an integral part of the whole Imagine Cup experience. We also talked about India and Brazil in general and the similarities and dissimilarities in the two countries. Later we went to up to his office where we recieved more freebies, a 2 ton Microsoft coffee cup enough to drive your caffine levels way above the legal limit and a USB speaker, just want every travelling music/movie loving geek would want ;)
Next up on the itenary was the Executive Conference Center where we were to visit the Microsoft Home of the Future and the Center for Innovation Work. What people must know is that neither of these is a simple walk in. Most people who've worked at Microsoft for years haven't even seen these. Its meant for Executives and since we don't really fall under that category, Jas had to book slots for us 3 months in advance! I'm glad he did because it was totally worth it. The Microsoft Home has a strict no picture policy so if you want to have a look, you can always see virtual press pass gallery and some nice videos ;) The Microsoft Home experience was phenomenal but then we were taken over to the new Center for Innovation Work (CIW) of which Phase 1 is complete. Phases 2 and 3 are under construction and should be up in a couple of years. The CIW showed Microsoft's 2019 vision which is viewable on the OfficeLabs website. Here we viewed a variety of concepts showing how impressive Microsoft imagines the future to be. Hopefully, I'll be around to see the realization of such concepts.
We then took a walk around building 33 going to the Microsoft Walk of Fame! You can see quite a few classic products having their own tiles, some not so famous and some name seriously outrageously (like "Microsoft How The Leopard Got His Spots") :P After laughing out loud and taking in the campus, we walked over to Balmer's building in hopes of may be catching him in his office. It seemed he was in a very important meeting (we caught as much from the 2 limos outside even before the receptionist said so) so instead we went down to the game room and enjoyed some Fooseball :-D Me and Noel won both matches but are you really surprised? cough :P Soon after Jas took us on a drive around Seattle driving past the Museum of Flight (too late to go in anyway ;(), Safeco field, lakeside, Space Needle and quite a few neighbourhoods around Seattle. Then he took us to Queen Anne where he knew exactly where to snap the perfect shot from. We could see the lake, downtown Seattle and the Space Needle. The view was truly majestic. Seriously, what would we have done without Jas?
Earlier in the day, we had met Kumar, one of Noel's old friends. We had decided to meet up for dinner. After returning to our rooms at 10 PM, we left for dinner by about 10.30 PM. See the problem there? Most of Redmond is already closed by that time. We ended up going to Palmers (after a fair bit of searching) where we heard some Karaoke and had some grub. We returned home after having a nice chat with Kumar who told us about his earlier days in Mumbai and his life at Microsoft, Redmond. Once done, we headed straight home. We felt tired cause it had been a long day but little did we know, the next day would be the longest.
Day 3 (Shopping day!):
This was the day when we finally got to meet 4 Interns from IITs across India who were working with the Bing team. We headed over to the commons where we met them and had Thai food. For those who don't know, the Commons is like a HUGE mall on campus which has all kinds of cuisines and shops with alcoholic drinks in the evening with some live music. We were there during lunch time and it seemed pretty crowded. You could see how huge this thing really was just by walking through it. I think that Inorbit, Vashi (for those who have been there) would be dwarfed by the Commons and that's saying something! Lunch was interesting as each group asked the other questions about how they got to where they were and what they were working on. It was good to learn from people who were our age from more or less where we were and interning at Redmond. The experiences they shared with us were truly invaluable.
Following this, we headed over to meet Team Multipointweb who are the IC '09 SDI winners from the USA. They were visiting Redmond for tips on their project and presentation to prepare themselves for what Egypt had waiting for them ;) We were then interviewed for MSW, Microsoft's Internal newschan. Immediately after this, we spoke to the fine people at Unlimited Potential who talked to us about our projects. Following this we left for the new Visitors Center (which is now in building 99). While waiting for team Multipointweb, we walked into Microsoft's library and took some snaps. Also, we had a look at 2 interesting things. One was a display showing what you get when you complete 5, 10, 15 and 20 years at Microsoft (at 25 years, your name gets embedded on crystal and put on a wall; one we saw the day earlier at the Visitor's Center). The other was a 30 some inch display which had a UI which worked without touching. It had a camera on either side which detected the movement of hands and caused the system to reach appropriately. I have a video that I might re-encode one of these days and put up online :)
Once team Multipointweb arrived, we went into the visitors center to see the globe showing live search results as a mashup on the globe. The Microsoft Museum was right next to it with pictures of all the founders and some of their new technologies on display (World Wide Telescope, a couple of XBox 360s and one XBox 360 hooked up to a 100+ inch wall projector, Surface and Zune). After snapping a few pics, not only for ourselves but a couple for Microsoft for their internal publications, we went on over to the Company Store! The one thing that I picked up that's worth mentioning is the Microsoft Sidewinder X8 at company discount ;) Anything other than hardware/software can be picked up by us with no issues but anything that's either hardware or software needs a Microsoft employee to check out so thanks Jas! ;)
Next we headed over to Fry's electronics (which I must say was waaaay out of town) for picking up a new laptop for Sam. His 4 year old Dell didn't cut it no more :P Now, this was my first time in the states so I must say, these Megamarts seem like a Geek's dream! I mean, they have a whole section larger than the size of my room just for hard disks. Same for any other computer hardware. We spent nearly 2 hours there and Sam ended up picking a Toshiba for around $530ish. On the way out, I picked up some candy, gum, Oreos and other such typically American stuff to eat on the way home :P
It was already past 10 by the time we reached Bellevue so we couldn't find a place to eat. Jas worked his magic again and found a place which not only had food but had live music too! That's two things off my list in one shot! The band was great and we were lucky enough to get the second booth from the stage. We ordered some mini burgers and fries with coke but most of us were more interested in the music at the point than the food. The lead singer actually walked up to our booth twice, for no apparent reason once during a 15 minute break to ask us how they were and once after the show had ended. Anyway, it was great. Definitely, a night to remember :) Good food and great music always make a good combo.
By the time we headed back home, it was way past midnight. We were informed that tomorrow, being the last on campus day, was going to be an early start. We had to be on campus by 8. Shit.
Day 4 (Final day on campus and meeting Todd Bishop):
The final day began early and we didn't really seem to mind. The guys had their left over interviews while others waited in the designated office surfing the internet. 802.11n is totally win! I'm sorry but its something I just had to check. Of course, we weren't downloading anything but checking the speed was something I just had to do :P
After a couple of hours of waiting for interviews to be done, we said our final good byes and took snaps with the DP&E team around b24. We then moved on to see Microsoft's servers on campus where they test products. In particular, we went to the Microsoft-Sun Interoperability lab and checked out the set up. Of course, no pics of that :P
After this we moved on to meet the Senior PR manager of Interop, Microsoft Corporate Communications. After the talk over at building 8 and then lunch, we moved on to the MSR building for being interviewed by Todd Bishop. We had team Multipoint web along with us and the interview went on for a while after which some pictures/videos were taken. You can read the article here. We then returned to b24 to say goodbye to Jean and take some pictures with him. Soon after, Jas dropped us off over at Redmond Inn because he had an early flight out of Seattle. We said our goodbyes and thanked him for all he had done.
We rested in our rooms until one of Sam's and Noel's friends came over in the evening for a chat. We went to a South Asian place over at the Redmond Town Center and had interesting conversations over dinner. That was basically it for the day.
Day 5 (Exploring Seattle):
We had a late start to the day (bad idea, I know). We decided to wait for Noel to leave for Houston where he was going to visit his brother. His pickup was scheduled for 11 soon after we made a move. We walked till Redmond Town Center and after a bit of searching, managed to figure out where the bus stop for the 545 to Seattle was. I believe we got down at Jackson street (a bit too early if you ask me) and walked to a Nike store in search for a RF cap that one of Amith's friends had requested. After disappointment there, we headed over to Pike's place where we watched the fish being thrown around from side to side. :P After walking through Pike's place and enjoying the stuff to see on display. 3 foot Salmon for $10 in my opinion a steal, sadly we didn't have the resources to cook it. :( We then headed over to the first ever starbucks and ordered some drinks. I got some Caramel drink, supposedly their most famous and it didn't disappoint. I'm still craving one now and I wish I knew of a good alternative here. We then walked over to the Space Needle stopping on the way in a park with a Lake Side view. We took in the rather relaxing view and got some good snaps out of it. Continuing on the path to the Space Needle, we realized that it was at least 5 odd miles away and by this time we decided that we need to figure out a way to get back that didn't involve walking!
We walked through the Space Needle (not going up because my friends didn't like the Eiffel Tower as much ;() and went on to the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum. As we went up to take tickets, we were alerted that we just had 50 minutes to see the entire thing while they recommend 2 hours to walk through. Disappointed, we instead roamed the free sections hitting the souvenir shops where I picked up a gift from my music hungry cousin :) Now it was hardly 6pm when we were kicked out of the EMP/SFM with nothing to do. Well, there was a theme park in the back with a decently good roller coaster in the back. I haven't been in a roller coaster in years but I must say, I found most roller coasters in India boring due to their old design. The ones here seemed to provide a lot more G-Force (read: a lot more fun ;)). We ended up going on the thing 3 times, second being shot by Sam while watching me and Amith ride the roller coaster and the third with me riding front row with a camera in hand. Thank god for Camera Safety straps, not that I needed it ;)
On our way back, we took the monorail from the Space Needle to the Bus Station. The so called bus station seemed more like a mall and we finally managed to grab a bite. We then walked a couple of blocks to a bus stop which was basically a pole with the route numbers on it. We had the bus schedule with us and it said that on Saturdays in the evenings, there was only one bus every hour! We stood there, out in the cold waiting for the bus for over 50 minutes. Now here's the funny part, we didn't see any other busses on the street so at points, we were actually worried if the schedule was wrong or something. So you have 3 guys, clearly not locals sitting on a bench on the side walk next to a high end restaurant waiting for a bus which doesn't seem to want to come. So what do we do? Did we panic? Not really. We made jokes about it :P After about 35 minutes a lady came and sat on a bench 20 feet away. I walked up to her and asked her if the busses were still working. After recovering from the shock of seeing me (it was either my black jacket or her thinking of something in her own head) she told me that she was waiting for a 545 as well so it was indeed working. An hour later, we were home!
Day 6 (Trip back home):
Why am I writing about this? Its just 2 flights back home right? Well, yes. But I'd like to make a plea to the guys who booked our tickets. If it is possible, please avoid giving anyone a ticket to a 8-10 hour flight on a Boeing 767 which has no on demand in flight entertainment :( The flight from Seattle to Amsterdam had the best set of movies and tv shows I had ever seen but the Amsterdam to Mumbai flight was the worst I've ever had, including the Bangaluru to Mumbai flight last year where I couldn't sit on my seat comfortably because of lack of leg room. So please, if options are available, could you try not to send people on such flights?
I'd like to remind you that the photos are available on my Picasa Web albums.
Once again I'd like to thank you for skimming through the post (if no skipping to the absolute end :P). I know it was long but leaving out any more would mean not telling people about the other experiences we had. I'll add another post soon with a picture gallery and some videos ;)
Have a nice day :)