Startup culture emerging at Microsoft

Collaboration and decision-making foster startup success


You may be weighing the pros and cons of working for a startup vs. Microsoft. In our view, it’s not the either-or decision it may seem. At today’s Microsoft, you can do both.

Sally Huang is one of the Microsoft employees recently interviewed by Seattle Times technology reporter Janet Tu. The story explores a new startup culture brewing at Microsoft.

Take a look at Sally’s story, and consider whether Microsoft might be a match for you too.

Sally’s background

Sally Huang might not fit the mental picture of the person you think would find her niche at Microsoft. As an undergrad, she studied Film and held three esteemed internships at companies across the United States – Sony Image Works, Electronic Arts (EA) and Bethesda Softworks.  She wanted a variety of experiences, which she got. After earning her Bachelors from Cornell, she received an offer from EA for a position as an artist and spent a year there.

She then returned to Cornell for her Masters in Engineering. With her choice of offers after earning her Masters, from Bungie, EA and the startup, Epicenter Games – Sally chose Microsoft.

A game-changing job at an in-house startup

During her Microsoft interviews, Sally’s would-be position was a mystery. She quickly learned her role would be on a startup game team to produce the next Halo.

Sally evaluated her offers. For her, there were only two non-negotiable considerations:

  •  “First, I wanted to work on a project that would be amazing and industry-defining.”
  • “Second, I was looking for growth within the company.”

With this decision, she found both. At the time, her organization, 343 Industries, had only about 20 people, But Sally saw a strong team with a charter to build a brand new world-class game studio within Microsoft.

Sally says, “Here, there was a vision to build something, and that was exciting.”

Now, almost five years later, Sally is still part of 343 Industries, an organization that’s now more than 300 people.

The perfect position for her skill set

Her role as a Producer is very similar to a Project or Program Manager; and she leverages all the tools in her skill set.

“I work with professionals in a wide range of disciplines including art, animation, design, development and writing,” she says. “I use my art and tech background to make sure teams are executing to the same vision.”

Here are two ways Sally’s team functions like a startup:

  • Collaboration: “We have a lot of disciplines; everyone has their own specialty. It’s more than most engineering teams – we have artists, engineers, producers and more. We need everyone to work well to achieve success. When we started, each of us had an office, but over time, we’ve moved to spaces that are more open. Today we have no walls, we just have desks. We sit near the people we work with on a daily basis. This gives us the ability to talk to each other and quickly adjust to each other’s ideas.
  • Decision-making: “In the spring last year, we realized we weren’t as efficient as we were at the beginning, so our creative leadership, decided to encourage people at all levels to make decisions. You used to have to go all the way up to get approval. But now, if everyone in the group agrees, we are empowered to start something new.”

To learn about more employees’ startup experiences at Microsoft, I recommend you read Guy’s story about how he initially hesitated to join Microsoft and another post about how Kurt left Microsoft for a startup – and why he came back.

To find the right fit for you, we encourage you to sign up for the Talent Newsletter.

If you missed it, read the Seattle Times story: Startup culture stirring at Microsoft.”

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