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James Serra's Blog

James is currently a Senior Business Intelligence Architect/Developer and has over 20 years of IT experience. James started his career as a software developer, then became a DBA 12 years ago, and for the last five years he has been working extensively with Business Intelligence using the SQL Server BI stack (SSAS, SSRS, and SSIS). James has been at times a permanent employee, consultant, contractor, and owner of his own business. All these experiences along with continuous learning has helped James to develop many successful data warehouse and BI projects. James has earned the MCITP Business Developer 2008, MCITP Database Administrator 2008, and MCITP Database Developer 2008, and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering. His blog is at .

Why I just became a Microsoft Employee

I have been an independent consultant (IC) for quite a while now.  In an amazing number of coincidences, or just plain fate, in a matter of 17 days I went from hearing about a job opening at Microsoft to accepting their offer.  It all started when a friend of mine at Microsoft called and said “We have a job opening at Microsoft I think you would be good for, but it would require a move to NYC.  I know it’s unlikely but any chance you would consider?”.

Well, it turns out my wife and I have been thinking of moving back east for a while, as our youngest child will be graduating high school in a few months, leaving us free to move anywhere.  Since I was born in NY, have two sisters who live in NYC, have many relatives there, and had a desire for a place that had a true change of seasons, NY made a lot of sense.  Then add the fact that during my talks with Microsoft about the job, my son was accepted to SUNY New Paltz where he will play college soccer and study computer science (New Paltz is about an hour-and-a-half bus ride to Manhattan), which made it even more desirable for us to move to NY.

The job is for a PDW TSP for the North East region.  Microsoft has lots of TLA (Three Letter Acronyms): PDW stands for Parallel Data Warehouse, and TSP stands for Technology Solution Professional or just Technology Specialist.  Basically, the job entails presenting, demoing, and educating companies about PDW and its benefits, and making sure it is a good fit for the client.  Further along will be architecting, designing and modeling, and doing POC’s (proof-of-concept) which will involve working with a PDW Center of Excellence (CoE) Architect.  I will work closely with a Solution Sales Professional (SSP), also called a Solution Specialist, who finds opportunities with customers.  A TSP is about 75% technical and 25% sales.  Although it’s for the North East region, most of my time will be spent in NYC, with a few trips outside of NY to places like Boston.

Once I heard about the job I started writing a list of the pros and cons of taking the job:

Pros:

  1. Work for Microsoft.  I have wanted to work for Microsoft since I was 17 years old and right out of high school.  Almost 30 years later it finally happened :-)
  2. Work in NYC.  NYC is a great city and I have visited many times.  I have always wanted to work there and my office will be in a great location: at the Microsoft Technology Center (MTC) at 6th avenue and 52nd street, right next to the Radio City Music Hall
  3. Work on PDW.  I worked on PDW 1.0, and have been anxious to work on version 2.0
  4. Work for a company with career paths.  With most companies I had worked for, I had no opportunity for advancement unless I wanted a total management role.  There were usually no lateral moves either.  With Microsoft, there are endless opportunities that will allow me to stay technical if I wish
  5. Work with smart people.  There are lots of really sharp people working for Microsoft that I can learn from.  With a few exceptions, most places I have been at I was the “BI guy” and no one else had much knowledge of the subject
  6. Don’t work on project-based stuff.  As I have gotten older, I have been less-and-less interested in the daily minutia of doing project work (and the stress/worry about a project being “successful”).  With this new role, it will be very short engagements with many clients.  Another TSP called it sort of like “speed dating”
  7. Do presentations and engage with customers.  I will have lots of different experiences while I do a lot of presentations and demo’s and talk with clients.  That is what I love doing
  8. Meet lots of clients and potential customers.  I really enjoy meeting new people and new environments.  With this position I will be at 2-3 new companies a week
  9. Great benefits.  Microsoft is constantly ranked #1 in the USA for benefits.  The one big benefit is nearly free health care coverage.  The new health care law has tripled my cost
  10. Monetary incentive to go above-and-behind job requirements.  Part of my bonus is based on quota targets.  While there is a risk I won’t hit the target and the bonus could be less or even zero, I look at it as if I work hard and put in the extra effort I will exceed the quota and be rewarded
  11. Pay for move.  Moving from Houston to New York can be quite expensive, not to mention not having to do the packing
  12. Close to two kids in college.  My son will be about an hour-and-a-half from the city and another daughter is in Charleston, SC.  My 3rd child will also likely move to the east coast
  13. Make lots of contacts.  Due to all the companies I will present at my Rolodex will get quite big!
  14. No independent consulting hassles: worrying about the next contract (job stability), invoices, filing taxes, late payments from clients, travel reimbursement, time dedicated to speaking with recruiters and interviewing, lower rates and difficulty finding work during a down-turn in the economy, etc.  I did not mind these things that much, but they did take up a lot of time and can get old after a while
  15. Get paid to go to conferences/blog/learn/training/research.  As an IC if I’m not working I’m not getting paid.  So going to major conferences means I will have 3-4 weeks per year of not being paid, plus I have to pay for the conference and all the expenses.  That really adds up.  In my Microsoft role going to conferences is part of the job.  Also, I spend a lot of time off-the-clock learning and researching new technology.  While I will still do a lot of that, some will be done as part of my Microsoft position
  16. Have a mentor.  Every TSP gets 1-2 mentor’s within Microsoft who will help them with their career goals and how to achieve them
  17. Paid vacation/sick/holidays.  As I mentioned, as an IC if I don’t work I don’t get paid.  It will be nice to have a paid vacation and holidays
  18. Work from home on occasion.  I don’t have to be in the office every day, so I can work from home to prepare presentations and demo’s, among other things.  But I love NYC so will be there as much as possible
  19. Tuition reimbursement if I want to go for MBA.  I can’t see myself every going back to college, but it’s nice to have that option
  20. Step out of my comfort zone.  Part of my job is sales, something I don’t have a lot of experience with.  I am looking forward to the challenge and enjoy learning and hopefully excelling at something new to me
  21. Tons of resources.  I will have all of the Microsoft employees as resources if I have any questions, need someone to bounce ideas off of, need help solving a problem, want someone to review my architect solution, etc.
  22. Insider product knowledge.  I get a lot of insider stuff as an MVP, but I might hear and see more of that as a Microsoft employee
  23. No hourly billing and tracking (labor logging).  It’s not so much of a pain entering the logging, but more having to track my working hours.  If I spend two hours at the dentist one day, I’m only billing 6 hours that day.  If the client tells me I need to wait a week before I get my next task, that is a week I don’t get paid
  24. Flexible work schedule. I won’t have set hours.  I will have tasks to finish and clients to visit, but it does not matter when I put the hours in, just that I get the tasks done in time.  I sometimes get my best work done really late at night :-)
  25. Supportive management.  All the managers I have met seem very willing to make sure I have everything I need and that I remain happy at Microsoft
  26. Getting a behind-the-scenes look at how a big and successful technology company works
  27. The ability to further ones own knowledge via learning opportunities, such as TechReady, which is a semi-annual internal technical conference for Microsoft employees.  There are also elective web and class room training such as negotiation, presentation, business and technical skills

Cons:

  1. Corporate politics.  Every company has it, but I’m glad they got rid of the stack ranking system
  2. With a TSP, it involves sales, and I am new to sales (but this could be positive due to the challenge)
  3. I will lose my SQL Server MVP status.  I have only been an MVP four months.  If you are a Microsoft employee you are not allowed to be a MVP.  But I look at the positive side: at least I became an MVP beforehand
  4. No OT pay.  Not that I worked much OT, but now it won’t be paid.  But with Microsoft, putting in the extra hours can pay off in other ways
  5. I will need to work to stay on top of my technical skills.  This is because I never get to do implementations (other than maybe help a bit with a POC).  However, I currently spend a good deal of time at night learning new technology anyway

As you can see the pros far outweighed the cons, so the decision became easy, especially with our desire to move to NY.

In the end I am extremely excited about the position and looking forward to getting started on Feb 18th.  I will be traveling every other week to NYC until we move their permanently around June.  I will continue my normal blogging of two posts a week, and will continue to attend the major conferences (hopefully attending even more conferences than normal).

And if your company if interested in finding out more about PDW, email me and I’d be happy to do a presentation for you!

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