Spoiler Alert: I am changing role!
My Past Life as a Public Servant
Five years ago almost to the day, I took one of the most important decision of my life. Quit a job I’ve had for almost 13 years as a public servant in the Canadian Federal Government and which almost ensured me job security until retirement to join Microsoft. Where I live (Gatineau, Quebec), working for the Government is a real safety net. It provides you with a good salary and an amazing pension plan. I once heard that 1 family out of 4 in my region has someone working as a Federal Public Servant. I have yet to validate those stats, but they seem accurate to me. I started my career in the Government back in 2003 at 17 during my second year of University. I remember that my mom had to co-sign my letter of offer at the time because I wasn’t 18 yet. During my 12+ years, I worked for several departments (here comes the acronyms list): Human Resources & Development Canada (HRDC), Human Resources & Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), Service Canada (SC), Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) and finally Library & Archives Canada (LAC). In 2015 when I took the decision to leave for Microsoft I was an acting manager in Information Technology, responsible for the internal SharePoint platform and corporate applications at Library and Archives Canada.
In 2014, I was awarded the PowerShell MVP title by Microsoft while working as a manager at LAC. For almost two years I would go in and do my daily job just to come back at the end of the day to work on writing PowerShell blog articles and answering forums posts late into the evenings. While I am sure that folks who were on my team at the time would say I was still having my hands too much into the technical stuff for a manager, it was becoming hard to reconcile both the day job and the deep technical work I was doing as an MVP and which was where my true passion lied. I then decided to take a leap of faith and accept a job at Microsoft as a Premier Field Engineer (PFE) to allow me to make my daily job be the deep technical stuff I enjoyed so much.
A Kid’s Dream Come True
For as far as I can remember, I’ve always been obsessed by Microsoft. The software they built and the scenarios they would unlock fascinated me since I first interacted with Windows 3.1 at school. They are the reason why I studied to become a Software Engineer in University and why I took computing in high school. I wanted to be able to build software like what they created and make it become so successful that people around the Globe would use it. All I knew of the company behind the amazing softwares however was that they hired some of the best people in the world and that they were based in a land far far away named Redmond. I was shocked in 2008 when I met someone in person who claimed to be working for Microsoft and above all, working in a local office close to my place. The fact that they hired people locally without me having to physically move to Redmond was a real revelation. I knew that someday I would have to try to get in.
Another advantage of working for the Federal Government is that you can take up to two years of Leave without Pay to go and try the private sector. If after that period you wish to come back, they will bring you back at the same pay level (maybe in a different role). In December of 2015 I took the decision to accept a job at Microsoft in Ottawa as a SharePoint developer PFE. My “trial” period was set to 18 months, meaning that at any point during that time, I could decide to go back. After only six months in the job, it was clear to me that I wasn’t going back to working for the Government and I took the decision to officially cut the ties with my previous employer. I was living the dream, working for what I considered (and still consider) to be the best company out there, doing really deep technical stuff as my day job, speaking at conferences, meeting a different client every week which meant different challenges all the time and best off all allowing me to stay in my hometown to do so.
When my wife and I took the decision that I was to quit my job in the Government, we knew we were putting everything at risk. She also works in the private sector (occupational therapist in the Health care industry), and didn’t have the job security I had in the Government. By changing job, I was potentially putting our family at risk, but she understood it was what I loved doing and knew I would get bored if I didn’t take it. I made her one promise however: that I would never under any circumstances make our family move anywhere for my work. All of our relatives and friends are here in our hometown, and my kids (my son was 5 and daughter 3 at the time) had all their activities and school here as well. If there is one thing, it is that no matter how interesting a job offer might be, I will never move my family anywhere else in the world. Off course there was a lot of traveling involved in being a PFE, but at least they got to stay here, home.
Over the first few months in the role I started realizing that while PFE was a an awesome and very technical job, that the opportunities to really influence product development were limited and felt that for me to really reach my full potential I would have to move into a Program Manager position within a product team somewhere. I am a developer at heart. I consider myself to be a very smart, but lazy developer (if that makes any sense). I understand the logic, I can write code to do pretty much anything I want, but it probably will never be using the latest trendy patterns or libraries out there. What I am good at is envisioning products and solving customers issues by proposing solutions that will unlock new scenarios for them. I still wanted to be able to do coding to some extent just to understand how things work under the cover or to create quick proof of concepts, but that is not all I wanted to do. I did a few career counseling sessions with people in the organization and it confirmed that a PM role is what I should strive for. There was one challenge however, I made a promise.
I was approached by several folks over the years for PM roles in teams where there were openings, but every time they required me to re-locate to the Seattle area and that was a show stopper for me. It still amazes me to this day how teams who work on software that is supposed to enable remote work still require people to be physically on-premises for the job, but that’s a conversation for another day. It was a hard reality for me to swallow knowing that a job I would excel at and which could easily be done remotely would never be accessible because of something that is part of my core values not to ever relocate my family for work.
2020 was an interesting year and while it brought its lot of tragedies and challenges, it also forced companies to re-assess how they were conducting business. Why should they require people to be in the same city, when even if they were they wouldn’t be able to physically be in the office together and had to do their meetings over Teams anyway. When doing a Teams meeting, it doesn’t matter if everyone is sitting at home in Seattle or if they are miles apart, the technology is bringing them together. Inside of Microsoft a lot of teams started being more opened to having remote members and so I saw a window of opportunity for me to finally move into a role where I could have an influence on how we build products within the company.
My New Role at Microsoft
We are only two months into 2021, but the new year has already brought its share of good news for me. I am please to announced that as of February 22nd, I will be joining the Graph Product Group as a Senior Program Manager on the Client and Partner Experience team. I will be joining old friends and colleagues such as Jeremy Thake, Brian Jackett, Fabian Williams & Sebastien Levert in making sure the Microsoft Graph becomes the best experience for our partners and customers to build on. As part of my role, I will be focusing on leading the efforts for the Exchange related APIs, which are currently all being migrated to the Graph. I will have more details to share as I settle into my new role!