by Mona Im
Name of Employer/Company: Microsoft
Location of Headquarters: Redmond, WA
Name of Employee for Interview: Bennett Hornbostel
Location: Redmond, WA
Title/Position of Employee: User Experience Researcher
Can you give us a brief description about position?
Our UX researchers partner closely with multiple other disciplines to plan and execute research specific to our product areas. We employ a huge range of research methods over the full length of the product lifecycle. As an integral part of the engineering process, our applied research helps to drive outstanding product development through better understanding or users.
Can you describe a typical day for you at Microsoft?
Depending on where we are in the product lifecycle a typical day for me may involve meetings to discuss research results and collaborate on solutions. It is also typical for me to be deeply involved in a research project either planning, conducting, or analyzing results. I work typical business hours, although I am not bound to anything specific. My days involve a lot of meetings because the work I do takes a significant amount of communication and collaboration. Some of the groups I work with are not in my building, state, or country so there is a significant amount of emails I send every day that must clearly communicate my positions on key issues. Outside of that it is hard to describe a typical day because it can be completely different depending on where we are in the product lifecycle (in my case it is about a 3-4 year cycle). In the beginning I may be involved in a lot of planning, brainstorming, and research on prototypes. Another time I might be working with a small team to determine the best course of action we can take regarding a difficult technical limitation. Generally speaking I work on the same area of a product for the majority of the development cycle so I work in a close group of people for the span of the product’s development.
What three words would you use to describe the culture at Microsoft?
Collaborative, dedication, pride.
What is the most memorable experience or accomplishment you have had as an employee at Microsoft? ,(ie- a project you worked on, deadline met , group initiative, etc)
The most memorable experience I have had at Microsoft was the day Windows 7 released to the public. I have never before been a part of such a large project involving so many people over multiple years. The amount of effort it takes to make an operating system is staggering. The number of amazing people I work with really makes it a joy to come to work every day. The work we put in leading to the final product really came through in public response, blogger comments, media reviews, and the product itself. When I walk into friends’ houses and see Windows 7 on their computers it is a small reminder that my work has touched millions of people around the world. It was certainly a day where I felt an amazing amount of pride in my work.
What would you describe as the best part about working for Microsoft?
The people I get to work with are amazingly intelligent and dedicated to doing the right thing for our customers. It gets complicated when you realize how wide of a range our customer base actually is, but that is where the intelligent people help. On a daily basis I work with program managers and UX designers to work towards outstanding user experiences which I don’t think would be possible without exceptional people.
Any advice for current students looking to enter your field?
Job specific skills are good, but there is usually formal or on-the-job training available. People skills are extremely important in the field of UX research as we interact with all types of users on a daily basis. These ‘soft’ skills come more with experience than traditional training, so take advantage when that sort of learning opportunity comes along. It can be very valuable when it comes to getting a job and interacting with others in a highly collaborate professional environment such as research. Also, take pride in your work! Hopefully you are passionate about the field of UX research so be sure that shows up in how you talk about the professional experiences you want to have.
Since you are a UW iSchool Alum:
While a student at UW, was there a particular class or experience that led you to explore opportunities at Microsoft or the overall field that Microsoft is in?
It had to have been the research methods class. UX research takes an extremely holistic view of product development starting including areas like market needs, usability, hardware ecosystem, user mental models, and technical limitations. This extremely wide range of things plays into the design and development of a product which the iSchool certainly covers in their curriculum. But what makes all of this so interesting to me is the actual research and interactions I have with typical everyday users. They come to us just wanting something to work, or not understanding why a piece of software can’t complete their task. Hearing their feedback first hand is extremely interesting which I was first exposed to in the research methods class. Of course, this played out to a greater extent in my senior capstone but this was a great introduction.
What is your favorite memory of the UW iSchool?
It may be the obvious choice for many, but the senior capstone project was absolutely my favorite memory of the iSchool. The amount of effort and pride my group of three (shout out to Eric and Kyle!) put into our project was enormous. In the end, I was extremely happy with how the project had progressed and how successful we felt we had been against our original goals. When we showed up at the capstone presentations it was great to be able to share and present our work to the public, classmates, and faculty. Certainly a rewarding experience that helped prepare me for the position I have now.