My dream job, or how I got hired by Xbox

Maybe not my dream job, but definitely my dream organization. On Monday I start a new role with the Xbox organization (still as a Program Manager) working in Xbox Live. I enjoyed my 21 months in search, accomplished a lot, was rewarded fairly, but now its time to look to bigger and better things.

Xbox Live is the piece that takes gaming to the next level. Multi-player gaming. Downloadable games and movies. Online game shows. And who knows what is in store for the future. It's the piece that excites me about Xbox as an entertainment vehicle, and now I get to play a large part in shaping its future (of which much has yet to be written, with decades in front of us). Way kewl.

But my biggest learning from Xbox Live might have already occurred: don't be afraid to take a chance.

Jobs in the Xbox org are highly competitive. Internally, with the geek culture that is Microsoft, working in the gaming division is the most sought after work in the company. Externally, people in the gaming indusry (ok, some, not all of them) love the idea of working for a company with best-in-the-world perks and benefits. As such Xbox is real, real picky about who they hire.

I have a friend that I've worked with in the past that works in Xbox, and he put me in touch with a hiring manager with an opening. Unfortunately, the position was filled before I got to talk to the manager. So I took a look at the internal job site, saw a position that looked like a fit, and reached out to the hiring manager for an informational.

My thinking was to make some contacts and learn what Xbox was looking for outside the obvious "industry experience" and "real smart folks." Then, use that knowledge to develop my skills while in bing, eventually getting in a position where I could realistically compete for those coveted Xbox positions.

To my surprise, the first informational I requested, I was granted. Then, to my surprise, I was scheduled for an interview loop. Again, my expectations were still low. Great, a loop, a nice opportunity to learn what they are looking for.

At Microsoft, the "last interview" in a loop is never executed unless all the previous interviewers give a thumbs up. The last interviewer (usually a higher up but not necessarily) not only looks at the fit to the position but also to the organization (and for external candidates, to the company). As guardians of talent they also have veto power. Once again, I was surprised when I was told indeed I would be meeting with the last interviewer - I had passed the bar with everyone.

At the end of the interview loop, I was content that I had given it my best shot. It's the first time I've interviewed that I didn't feel I made a mistake, or wish I hadn't said something, or wish I would have added something. Instead, I knew I gave it my all and they had an accurate picture of who I was. Still, even if they were impressed, these are highly competitive positions and they were interviewing many candidates.

As such, when I got the email two days later with an offer to join Xbox, I was a little surprised. It wasn't supposed to be this easy. Well, not easy, but this short. It took a whopping 10 seconds for me to reply back with acceptance and start thinking about my transition plan.

So, why do I think I got in? A few reasons:

  • I'm a gamer. First and foremost, they want people who love video games. In fact, as an almost-40-year old I've been played video games for 30+ years. Not many people on this earth with more experience than that! And three of them I interviewed with :) With most people, I'm embarassed to admit how much time I spend on video games (and have since I was a kid). With this org, I was embarassed at how little I played.
  • I have a track record of being decisive. I sensed that a real challenge they have in Xbox is making tough calls on where to apply precious resources in such a large ecosystem. Everyone (game developers, publishers, retailers, etc) wants to partner with Xbox, but there aren't enough resources to go around. How do you make feature calls? Partnership calls? Can you live with saying no? That's what they look for in PMs.
  • I can deal with ambiguity. My interview question from the Principal SDE was "how do we go about adding (insert big feature here) to Xbox?" From there I had to break it down, know what questions to ask, what the big issues would be, and describes ways of addressing said issues. Which is all about understanding the process of resolving big problems rather than specific solutions.
  • I knew exactly why I wanted the job. No, really, I mean it, this is what got me passed the last interviewer. He told me the previous candidate answered that question by saying they just wanted out of their current job. Bzzt. Wrong answer. I had done my homework and new I would be a great culture fit, I had a passion for gaming, and the area (development) was up my alley (as opposed to operations or product management or marketing). Touchdown.

Xbox is going to be a great culture fit for me. Just enough process and documentation, job descriptions are not set in stone, they do not create nice and neat little boxes for people, etc. 180 degrees from where I was, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I am so ready to "Jump in." Now, upstairs to my Xbox. I have work to do :)