‘Softie in question: KC Lemson
Job title: Lead Program Manager – Windows Phone 7 (Photos & Camera)
Congratulations on the Windows Phone 7 launch. Let’s go back to the beginning. Tell me about your first experience with technology and communications.
That’d be 1988 – when I got into BBSing. The technology was just a means to an end. As a twelve-year-old, I was simply into meeting new people and keeping in touch with friends.
But, as I got more and more into BBSing, I started playing around with the technology to see how it all worked. I was still just having fun, but I was definitely on the forefront of something new. I mean, I met my first boyfriend on-line and let me just say that in 1992 on-line dating wasn’t exactly mainstream.
Did you go on to study computer science or communications?
I realized that I liked tech, but also realized that I didn’t want to completely geek out on it. When I went to college, I specifically looked for a degree that was half-business, half-technology and settled on Management of Information Systems at University of Illinois.
But, once I got there, the MIS program was not tech-heavy enough for me. I remember that there was a full page in a textbook for one of my classes on proper mouse/hand ergonomics. And they spelled GUI as “Gooey.” I thought to myself, “OK, I think that I’m gonna need a little more tech.”
I transferred to Computer Science, but once I got there, I realized that while I liked technology, I didn’t love sitting at my desk all day and coding by myself.
Is it fair to say that it wasn’t a clear career path from Point A to Point B for you?
Well, I was unclear about what my career options were and left school after Junior year. I moved out to Redmond and applied to MS. They told me that there had two openings I could apply for: one in Windows and one in Outlook.
I thought that Windows sounded too big for me, but wanted to know what Outlook was all about. They said, “email,” and I was like, “OK, I love email. I love communications. Sign me up.”
I interviewed for the job and got it. It was a tester role and I discovered that I loved working in test. It was all of the fun stuff of IT like narrowing down a problem, but without the responsibility to fix it.
You’d finally found the right fit for you?
That’s been the thing at Microsoft – there are so many opportunities, if you decide one type of job isn’t right for you, you can move to another. Since I’ve been here, I’ve have always been able to follow my passions and always find roles that are right for me. I started out in test, moved to program management and have done a variety of PM roles including release management, managing customer programs, feature PM, etc.
And Microsoft has had a broad enough variety of opportunities to always keep you engaged?
There’s a reason that I’ve been here for 13 years. As my passions have evolved, so has my work at Microsoft. And I’ve been able to achieve the level of career success that I have, because I’ve always been able to work on stuff that I care about and that plays to my strengths.
What was your path to Windows Phone 7?
Ten years ago, I became a PM at Exchange and absolutely loved it. It was like a family. But when I started getting more dependent on my own smartphone, I saw a whole new potential for mobile.
People in the mobile group knew my passion around photography (I do portrait photography for new parents, have four SLR cameras at home and have long been fascinated by the integration of cameras and mobile phones) and they mentioned my name to the right person. Soon after, I got an email titled “Photos and Camera?” I took one look at the email, closed my laptop and decided, “That’s the next step for me.”
What do you see as some of the big innovations you’ve been able to make over Windows Phone 6.5?
We strive to be better at image quality and ease-of-use – for both capturing the image and whatever you may want to do with the image after it is recorded. We have an amazing, clean UI with no clutter. We call it “content without the chrome.” Viewing and sharing photos is integrated right into the camera experience, so you don’t need to switch apps, and you can also see your online photos from Facebook and Skydrive right next to your locally stored photos. Third parties can also plug in their apps to the photo hub. We’re putting all of the pieces together.
Probably the most high profile thing we’ve done is Pocket-to-picture. You can take a picture without turning on the screen, entering your PIN, finding your camera app, etc. You’ll never miss a moment.
It’s great that you were able to find your dream job even if you were originally unsure of the path.
I’ve found a few dream jobs here. And beyond that, the company has been really supportive. I have two kids and Microsoft has been very flexible so that I can live the life I want outside of work too.