One year at Microsoft

I used to think time passed by pretty fast at The New Paper, where I started work as an intern in 1998 and left in 2007 as a special projects editor. Before you knew it, it was another year of endless deadlines, crazy projects and working with a creative team that never seemed to age as fast as I did.

Or lose hair the way I did.

Man, time at Microsoft seems even more zipped up. (Forgive the technical term, it’s part of the job ;D)

As usual, a major milestone – my first anniversary at MS – came and passed without much fanfare like my other major working milestones (ie. the day I finished the SPH scholarship bond).

Well, to cut to the chase, I’m really happy where I am now. Obviously this means that I wasn’t as happy in SPH and I won’t deny that. However, I did have my good times, great mentors and incredible opportunities at TNP, and I’m not saying this just to ensure I’m politically correct.

(You guys all know I’m anti-politically correctness, but I’m definitely pro-personal computer. Yo Vista: I’m a PC too!)

Goy also says I’m less angsty these days, even though the workload can get ridiculous and there’s one too many overseas trips.

So what do I like about my current job (no comparisons to SPH please hor, I’ll tell you offline another time)…in no particular order

1. The products.

Come on, it’s not hard to like the Xbox 360. No matter what you think of the console’s predecessor, or the challenges that the 360 has faced, it’s still one of the best things ever made for gamers. Back in 2006, I even bought our first Samsung HDTV mainly to enjoy the HD gaming graphics. I was a big fan even before I did PR for it. I like the fact that we’re still relatively new in the game (compared to PS and Nintendo), so there’s plenty of room to grow the brand and product.

But what most people don’t know, is that I’m also a long-time user of Microsoft Hardware gear. Man, I started using their Natural Keyboards way back in the mid-90s and never looked back. Of course, my current fave is the SideWinder X6 gaming keyboard which I just helped to launch, and trust me, this keyboard will redefine the way you type. I went through many brands of mice before I settled on the robust build of MS mice, and you know the rest.

Now a surprise product was Office For Mac. I never imagined I’d be working in a dept where it was okay for an MS guy to use a Mac ;D. If you didn’t know, Office For Mac is one of the big sellers for Apple Macs and helps bridge the PC-Mac world a great deal by offering great document compatibility.

2. The people

I grew up in a highly competitive environment at ACS. Always in the top class, but always never the smartest in class lah. But the competition was friendly (duh, we were friends what) and nobody sought to be political.

It’s pretty much the same in my team, where there are more capable people stuffed into one office floor than I’ve ever encountered at one go in my previous jobs. (Of course, working in SAF does drag down the average quite a far bit, but I’ll talk about those hopeless army regular officers another day).

What I’m most impressed with is what I keep hearing from my current boss, Ben Tan: “How can we help you be more successful?”

Okay, maybe I’m suaku, this being my first MNC, but these guys really created a formal structure to track that question. In SPH, my editors like Ooi Boon, Raj and others really looked after my career path but there was no formalised system (ie software system) of internal feedback to create a database of performance as a matter of record.

Of course, if people tell you that Journalist A is a great journalist, it’s usually true, but how do you define that? Then again, perhaps journalism cannot be measured like other industries, but I personally never got used to it. Within a few weeks of joining Microsoft, I felt very much at ease.

3. Rhythm and structure

I’ve always planned my life in a rather haphazard way. It’s a natural side-effect of journalism or being an arty farty guy where the unpredictable is the predictable.

What a culture shock it was to join MS, open up my Outlook and see that my calendar was starting to fill up with appointments at shocking speed. Without my intervention either.

As I later learnt, the huge emphasis on fixing appointments and blocking time early was to achieve a better work-life balance for the team. And though it was hard to have to plan so far in advance (for eg. we never planned editorial meetings three months ahead), it actually made my family life better. I believe I actually put in more hours than I did as an editor, but the structure allows me more rest and time to evaluate the important things in life. In other words, I’m far more efficient than I ever thought I’d be.

It might all sound so rosy and perfect here, but of course, there are the negative bits which I’ll not ponder upon.

The pros far outweigh the cons by a great deal, and despite being utterly stressed out, especially in the year-end holiday crunch and with endless number of fires to put out, I’ve never enjoyed myself better.

Will I stay at MS for a long time? The safest answer, as any journalist knows how to write when they run out of kickers, is “only time will tell”.

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