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Scott, a Program Manager at Microsoft, shares his career journey and positive life philosophy.
During the day, Scott Hanselman works as a program manager at Microsoft where he manages the community of the developer division. On his off time, Scott is a person of the internet. For the past 20 years, he’s shared his expert knowledge in software engineering and life experiences on his blog or podcast. Before Microsoft, Scott was an adjunct professor at the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT), which is also where he was issued a Professional Achievement Award.
Scott tries to make everyone feel included.
Q: What are some of your daily tasks as a Program Manager at Microsoft?
A: I work with a team of folks to ensure that any community members, who are writing code, have good experiences. That can be from the moment they search the web for help, go to conferences, find documentation; either way, we want them to feel like a member of a larger community. Our goal is to help developers feel like they can “win” or succeed.
The world is very competitive and sometimes people can feel alone during their work, because they feel like they must work harder to have a good career, a happy life. I want them to do the opposite. I want our members to feel included and have open conversations with others who may be in the same boat as them. My goal is to provide physical and mental support to all developers because I want them to feel encouraged so that they can succeed.
Q: Do you find this kind of community management interesting?
A: Yeah, I think it is. I like to make new friends and meet community members. For a long time, I was doing this by myself as a “Developer Advocate”, where I advocated for the developers making sure their hopes, dreams, and wishes are heard. Developers would tell me what features need to be improved, and I can promise them as their colleagues that the right person will hear that information.
Q: What is the reason that you chose Microsoft and what keeps you there for such a long time?
A: Really, it’s the people and products that keep me at Microsoft. Initially, I chose the company because the healthcare plan was very good. I have type 1 diabetes, so I must take insulin and implants to check my sugar levels, which can be quite expensive without healthcare. But after being here for 15 years, I feel valued at Microsoft and have been provided the opportunities to help. They listen to my opinions and believe I can make things better.
Scott is also a great speaker.
Q: What inspired you to be an engineer?
A: When I was young, there was only one computer at my school, so the teacher would let us take turns playing with it. She noticed I was naturally good at it, and she could’ve ignored that, but she let me come in after school to give me more time to work on a computer. I think if I didn’t have that access, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.
Q: Is there anything about programming or product management that is more complex than what people think?
A: Program managers and programmers need to think about the larger system, know their customers, and ask if the product serves their needs. The concept of “system thinking” is where we think about the systems our product lives in, essentially seeing the big picture of the products we’re developing. For example, if you design a light that exists on your monitors, you have to consider the desks and keyboards since it all plays a factor in the desk setup. Same thing with programming, we have to think about the context of where our product lives and ask if it serves a purpose to our customers.
Q: You were a former professor and now you are teaching people through podcasts, YouTube videos, speeches, etc. What makes you love teaching so much?
A: I think when you hear students from ten years ago say “Oh, you were my favorite teacher”. I’ve taught so many students and there would be moments where I would teach a lesson that probably didn’t hold any meaning for me, but for my students, it meant a lot. Being a teacher, you get this constant reinforcement as you watch your students succeed. It’s always great to run into your students from years ago and see them winning at life.
When I say winning, I mean happy, healthy, and doing what they want to do. I don’t think having a fancy title defines success. Are you having fun? Do you wake up in the morning sad, or do you wake up in the morning excited to do the thing that you do? To me, success means doing what you love with a healthy attitude.
Q: What activity do you like to do in your leisure time?
A: I’m always doing techy things, like building an Apple computer from chips or building a lightsaber in my home office. My home office is just a spare room, but it looks expensive because of the good lighting. I get a little bit light and it makes the room looks like a million bucks. We call that building a nest. You make a place for yourself and you put things that inspire you to be creative. I have all the things that make me happy on my desk. Like this little LEGO man. He is Batman, but he’s also a ballerina. He’s pink, and he has fairy wings, and he’s a ninja. What I think is important is it tells you to be who you want to be. You don’t have to just be Batman; you can also be a Ninja Fairy if you want to be. This kind of stuff I put in my desk reminds me what I want to be.
The little LEGO man on Scott’s desk.
Q: Can you share 3 things that you think are the key to winning?
A: Empathy, patience, and perseverance. Empathy is trying to put your feet in the other person’s shoes. We can only imagine what others may feel like, but at least we’re trying. And if I’m making a product for another region’s market, I want to build a diverse team with people from all over, and together, we will try to enter that market with empathy. Patience. Everyone wants things immediately, but life was never meant to be that fast, so you must slow down and be patient. Lastly, perseverance is a flavor of patience where hard work takes time. You must wake up and do the grind, but also find balance. It doesn’t mean more hours. It means focused, intentional work.
Q: What are the details that you never compromise during your work?
A: There’s a saying amongst engineers, “Done means done”, which means the project or assignment meets every criterion and shows attention to detail. I try not to compromise my definition of “done” because I don’t like to turn in half-complete work. Often, people in their lives are running and running. I see a lot of motion and frantic busy bees, but what’s the plan? Sometimes you have to go home and ask yourself, “Am I doing the right thing”?
One important thing for people to learn is to forgive themselves if their week doesn’t go well. Because you can start over again without stress next week. People need to give themselves a little more grace.
Q: Do you have any tips on managing your tasks to have them done on time and perfectly?
A: When I get really stressed out, I get a piece of paper and make a list. There’s a lot of satisfaction when you cross things off your list. I call it “synchronizing to paper”.
Scott is a big fan of making a to-do list.
Q: How do you deal with failure at work?
A: I had a great conversation with someone new on our team about the importance of having a safe place to fail. When you are early in your career, you feel like if you fail once, then you are going to be fired, and that’s the end of your career. But if we set up systems that are welcoming early in-career programmers and they can fail fast and often in small ways, then they’ll realize that you are the sum of all of your mistakes. I am 30 years of tiny failures and a couple of big wins.
Scott’s home office. “If this doesn’t feel right, you light it up.”
Q: What are some common injuries you think an engineer may have, or you are having actually?
A: I have had a frozen shoulder and was legally blind before Lasik. This is why I invest in good lighting, reading glasses with blue light filters and computer glasses. All my LEDs and light bulbs feature different color settings, which I think is important to reduce eye strain.
Q: Have you done anything to minimize or prevent the injuries?
A: I’ve written a blog post “Brain, Byte, Back, Buns – The Programmer’s Priorities” that explains why you need to invest in good-quality equipment in order to have a good output. If you have an expensive computer and a cheap chair, then you’re going to feel soreness in your body. Another example is to spend money on a good bed to protect your back. Invest in your brain because you can lose all of your things, but no one can take away your education.
Scott’s home office setup with ScreenBar Halo
Q: How long have you been using ScreenBar Halo and what are your thoughts?
A: I’ve been using ScreenBar Halo for eight weeks, and I think it’s great. My webcam perfectly sits on top of the ScreenBar Halo. The illumination that the Halo provides is wide enough to cover my whole desk, and it fits on my curved screen.
Q: How does our ScreenBar Halo help you during your work?
A: I didn’t realize I needed a monitor light because I didn’t know how dark my workspace was. But there are two things Halo does that I think are really cool: One, it has a backlight, so you can light up the wall. Two, I can twist Halo to change the area it illuminates, which helps with hands-on stuff. Your desk is multi-purpose, so your light should be multi-purpose as well.
Q: How do you think ScreenBar Halo can help engineers?
A: I don’t think people, not just engineers, think about good lighting. Having a light that provides different color temperatures, can be twisted, and moved in multiple directions offers many options I didn’t even know I needed. Most people working from probably experience horrible overhead light with the monitor they are using.
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“Work hard and be nice” – the motto of Scott
Q: On a scale of 1 to 100, how would you rate your life so far?
A: This is a tough question because I don’t like to make comparisons, so I don’t really have anything to complain about. But if I had to compare, I’m getting better each day. As long as I know where my next meal comes from, then I’m fine.
Q: What are your future goals, aside from being an expert in engineering and program management?
A: My future goal is to live as long as I can live, maybe 100 years, so I’m halfway there. I also hope my kids will be happy when they graduate from high school.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for anyone who wants to work as an engineer?
A: I think you should go outside and find your people instead of trying to figure things out by yourself. Go find those people who share the same dream as you and hang out with them.
Born in Taiwan, Erh-Hsiung Chow went to the United States to pursue a master's degree in electrical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. After graduation, he went straight to San Jose to look for a job and stayed there for about 40 years now. For the past 15 years, Erh-Hsiung works at Apple as a senior hardware engineer. During his time at Apple, he’s been a part of the iMac® system and iPhone® hardware team to help create the next generation products.
Robin Moffatt, a British developer with a bachelor’s degree in music, has been working with data for over twenty years. He mainly works in the field of developer relations (also known as DevRel, which covers different teams whose responsibility is to create and foster communities of developers). As part of this role creates YouTube videos, speaking at conferences, writing, and publishes blog articles. Now, he is a Principal Developer Experience Engineer at Treeverse. Continue reading as Robin goes in depth of his career journey, work-life balance, and his life philosophy.
Salman Chishti currently works as a Product Manager 2 at Microsoft. He is also currently a Microsoft Certified Trainer Regional Lead and previously was a Windows Insider MVP and Microsoft Azure MVP. Continue reading as Salman shares his career as a program manager and philosophy of life.
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