Role Insight: User Experience Developer – by Hemi Trenholm
Forgive me, for this bit sounds like an introduction on the first day of school but it must be written – my name is Hemi and my role as a Microsoft intern is a User Experience (UX) Developer within Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS). I study Computer Science at the University of Kent but am probably one of the least techy people on my course. Oh and yes, I’m a girl in a developer role (there are a few of us)!
Now that’s out of the way let’s talk more about what I actually do here at the Microsoft UK headquarters in Reading – other than my daily trips to Starbucks for hot chocolate with cream.
So I’m sitting here at my desk in an open plan office, traumatised by the Bing Desktop of a moth staring at me from my three screens whilst attempting to figure out how best to describe my role. It’s tricky because as a UX Developer I wear two hats – sometimes even three – and have to swap between them in an instant (talk about hat hair!).
Hat one is my Designer hat – this is a total hobby of mine that started out with doodling in school and grew into its own at a previous placement with IBM where I was a UX Designer. I love this hat because I’m ridiculously passionate about making sure users have the best possible experience with every interface they interact with whether it be their familiar phone operating system or mums baffling washing machine (why do they have so many buttons and confusing symbols?). In MCS there are lots of opportunities for me to get my design on, from creative brainstorms (where hat two helps to rein the crazy ideas in) to taking visuals from paper and turning them into something real.
Hat two is my Technical hat – this is where my degree helps because I was taught some Object Orientated Programming and HTML there, which meant that when I got here and had to use XAML and C# I had some vague idea of how to code. At first it was really daunting coding in new languages and I thought I wasn’t technical enough to do C#, but the guys here are really supportive (you’re surrounded by some of the best developers who have been coding for years) and gradually introduced me to more and more C# as my confidence grew – now I’m excited to dive a little deeper! A simple difference between a UX Developer and just a standard Developer? We have an appreciation for the design and always make sure to pay attention to detail (every pixel counts!).
Hat three is the Consultant hat – working in retail taught me a lot about dealing with customers and it will come in handy here. Your title may have the word ‘intern’ in but on projects you are treated like any other member so you get to meet customers and work with them. You need to be able to find out their real requirements (what they originally tell you 9 times out of 10 isn’t what they really want) and be prepared for them changing their minds all the time!
So that’s the hats; I realised that I haven’t specifically stated what I work on so let’s paint you a picture of my department MCS. We are located in building one (arguably the best since we have Xbox’s, pool and foosball tables) and sit in project teams. This means that every time you change project you move desk (you get pretty good at moving after the second or third time but your friends can never find you) and sit with your current team. It’s great because you get to work with different people and each team has their own dynamic (you need to be able to adapt to any team and seamlessly fit in).
The projects, I hear you ask, are typically Windows 8 or Windows Phone apps – which I’m sure made your ears prick up. What’s even better is that the UK team get to work with customers such as Facebook and Spotify to develop apps and you’ll get the chance to be involved in real projects like these! We also have more explorative projects which look at technology in the future such as Guide Dogs (check it out on YouTube) and these are great for the creative flair.
Outside of my role there are lots of opportunities for you to get your teeth into. I joined the Get On Schools team where I go to local schools (and schools in my home town) to get the kids excited about careers in technology. I also got to present to the Duke of York on his recent visit here, and taught 160 girls about branding and designing of apps as part of the annual DigiGirlz event. If you have a passion for something, be it a hobby or a desire to improve a skill (We have ‘toastmasters’ to help you with presenting) there is probably a club or activity you can get involved in (think of it as a bit like university societies but without the initiations).
In terms of advice for your application – be yourself, be honest, don’t let the other candidates intimidate you (hold your own and you will shine) and don’t be afraid to challenge. In my interview, I wasn’t afraid to be honest and think this was really appreciated – I even offered constructive criticism on a few products and suggested ways to improve them. Microsoft wants future thinkers and young minds, that’s why they run the intern scheme!
I wish you all the best of luck and hopefully will see you in the FY15 intern take!