Microsoft Summer Interns Party at Bills

Casual lunches with top execs; a company eager to invest in the ideas of beginners; summer barbeques at Bill Gates' mansion…This doesn't sound like your job?

Whats it like to have a job where you have regular roundtable discussions with executives and have a barbeque in the backyard of the richest man in the world?

Is it possible to work with a company that is so eager to invest in your ideas you feel that as big as you can dream they will back you up, and where your only grievance is that you are having such a great time, you almost forget that its real work?

Just ask Nina Sundberg, who interned in the server and tools division of the systems management group at Microsoft.

"Even though I was just there for a short period of time, I felt like I had the opportunity to be as successful as I could be," Sundberg gushed of her summer 2003 experience.

After a half-year stint at Dell and three years at Amazon, Sundberg knew she was ready for something different. While completing her MBA, she interned at Microsoft for one summer before accepting a job with the same team for the fall. Shes been there for three years since.

"I ended up with two opportunities to go to MSN [because of my Amazon experience] and one to stay in systems management. The reason I decided to stay in systems management was that it was emerging for Microsoft, but it was at enough of a critical mass that we werent just a startup. I wanted to gain new experiences," Sundberg said.

Working in a more established startup environment proved ideal for Sundberg, who was brimming with ideas. As a newbie, most workplaces werent chomping at the bit to hear her out.

"One of my favorite parts about the work I did, and do now, is Microsofts willingness to invest," said Sundberg. "I feel like Ive come up with some crazy ideas, but they always are willing to listen and invest in things, some which have been successful and others that were not. I feel totally empowered to look at something completely different, and even when some of my suggestions fail, its very much a lets go for it! culture."

At Dell and Amazon, Sundberg felt more of a hesitancy about trying out new ideas. "At Microsoft, I feel like anything I can come up with is something we can go after," she said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read why many bosses are skeptical about telecommuting.

This lets go for it! culture was not the only perk of interning at Microsoft. Every single intern has the opportunity to attend a barbeque at Bill Gates house over the summer, divided over three or four evenings to ensure that it will not be too crowded for face-to-face interaction. Furthermore, executives would often take small groups of interns out for lunch to discuss ideas for future projects.

"Wed have lunch with various executives in groups of 20 or 30 and they would talk to us about how they were strategizing and thinking about their worlds," Sundberg said. "It really gave us a this is a single company and were all working together feeling, as what we are doing makes more sense in the context of each other. Its easy to get the sense that the vertical where you work is the whole world."

If there is any single thing that interns at Microsoft are not doing, its making photocopies.

"They get to know the projects that will impact the users. Theyre not making photocopies or fetching coffee," Caroline Bulmer, coordinator of Microsofts intern program, told eWEEK. "We give them work wed really give an entry-level employee out of college. Theres a whole lot of technology that they can work on."

The projects that interns work on over their 12 weeks at the company are not pushed aside at the end of the summer, as if they were just practice rounds for the real thing.

"We had an intern that was here for a first internship who got together with two other interns and suggested that they create a game for our online gaming community. All three were invited back to work on it, and the game, Aegis Wing, launched in early May," Bulmer said.

In fact, when pressed, the only grievance a former intern could come up with about the program was that it was almost too good. Real work, in comparison, was almost a drag.

"We were almost too sheltered. The program is phenomenal, and I feel like my project team did a really good job of sheltering me from the mundane, day-to-day stuff. It was a little detached from reality. We got to eat dinner at Bill Gates house and hang out with executives all summer," said Sundberg.

"In hindsight, I think its good to balance that with what the grind is, because every job has a grind."

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