Hello Microsoft

Tonight marks the beginning of my second week at Microsoft, and the end of the second week since relocating from Australia to the USA. The journey to get here has been long - with lots of paperwork.

Having reached this point I thought I would post a brief look back on the recruitment and relocation experience. My recruitment process started when I had an e-mail exchange with a contact at Microsoft suggesting that I might be interested in pursuing a role within the company.

It took a little while, but eventually a role came up and plans were set in motion for me to have a few conversations with various members from the Visual Studio Team Services team. Those conversations proved to be fruitful and I was offered a role within the VSTS team which sits within the Cloud and Enterprise organization.

Service Providers

One of the things that really struck me was from the moment I accepted the offer were the number of people that leapt into action to streamline the process of relocating our family from Melbourne to Redmond. The rough list includes:

  • Microsoft's own internal recruitment/onboarding department.
  • An international relocation provider to coordinate the move.
  • An Australian removals company for uplift.
  • US-based transport/shipping company.
  • US-based removals company for delivery.
  • Immigration attorney in the USA to assist with the Visa application.
  • US-based university to assess my work experience.
  • A top-tier global accounting firm for both Australian and US tax advice.
  • US-based corporate housing provider.
  • Local relocation settlement provider.
  • US-based financial services providers.
  • Australian and US-based rental car providers.

Its a long list, and when you are in the middle of the process sometimes its hard to know exactly who you should be talking to about what specific issue, but in the end it all worked out and we find ourselves in temporary accommodation not too far away from the main Microsoft campus in Redmond.

Visas

We've relocated on an E-3 visa which is the result of the free-trade agreement between Australia and the United States. The Visa is only available to citizens of Australia, and is designed to allow US companies to hire individuals into specialty occupations for which they are qualified. The minimum requirement is the equivalent of the 4-year degree.

I didn't have a degree (surprised?), and so Microsoft worked with a university to assess my career experience for which I had to provide some detail to pull together the necessary documentation that would satisfy the US government that I qualify for the E-3 Visa. Whilst I have more than enough experience to meet the requirement, the wait for this process to take its course is excruciating. I feel for immigrants coming to Australia that are put under similar scrutiny.

Lift and Shift

Microsoft often offers relocation packages which is customized to meet your particular needs. In our case there were three of us relocating and we were moving from a comfortably sized 4-bedroom house. Microsoft through the relocation provider offered two different shipments. The first was an air shipment that is scheduled to arrive shortly after we do, and a much larger (and slow) sea shipment which still hasn't arrived (we are expecting it in mid-April).

We also sold both of our cars, and during the pack of the house it isn't really habitable so Microsoft provided a hire car and hotel accommodation for five days. Our departure was delayed by a week so we ended up staying with family for an extra week before jumping on the plane to the US.

Touchdown

We landed in the US on the 14th of March and cleared US immigration in Los Angeles and then took the short flight up to the Seattle. The key to making immigration a painless process is good preparation. We carried all the possible documents that the US government might ask to see. In the end the only documents that they cared about in our case was our Passports, our E-3 Visa stamps and the Labor Condition Application which is a prerequisite for the Visa itself.

Getting Setup

The great thing about relocating with a major company like Microsoft is that they make it easy to settle in. We don't need to worry about accommodation or transport in our first two months. The day after we arrived we met with a local relocation specialist who took us on a drive to open up bank accounts and get cell-phones connected.

As an aside, I think it is worth planning how you are going to deal with your mobile numbers before you depart. In our case we've retained both of our Australian mobile numbers. We've redirected all calls to a Skype number which then redirects across the Internet and calls our cell-phones. The net result is that people in Australia can still reach us on our old mobiles. The only issue we need to work out is how we want to handle SMS messaging. Ideally we would have dual-sim phones, but we don't and so we need to work out an elegant solution for SMS forwarding (its on my TODO list).

One of the key documents that you need to acquire after you land in the US is a Social Security Number (SSN). That means a visit to your local Social Security Administration office where you can plan on spending anything from a few hours to half a day in a waiting room until your number is called. Getting the SSN itself is pretty straight forward and once you have the paperwork submitted it takes about a week for the card to arrive.

You need a SSN for all kinds of things in the US, from correctly completing employment documents, registering for employee benefits, getting credit cards, and car finance.

After about two weeks we are mostly setup and waiting for our sea shipment to arrive so we can move into our new apartment. Speaking of apartments...

Accommodation

We are going to be leasing an apartment in Redmond. I've found the way rentals work in the US (well, Washington at least) to be quite different to what I've experienced in Australia. From my initial observations, a big percentage of the rental accommodation in the Redmond area is in apartment complexes. In Australia, if I wanted to rent an apartment I would go to an off-site real-estate agent that manages specific apartments within a larger complex.

Here we've found that each complex has its own leasing office on-site which is staffed from morning to evening where you can walk in an inspect an apartment. Availability is pretty tight, especially if you are after a 3-bedroom apartment with a reasonable floor plan at a reasonable price.

We eventually found what we were looking for not too far outside of the Redmond Town Centre itself.

Commute

We had a week to settle in before I started work in Building 18. At the moment Shell is dropping me off in the morning and picking me up in the afternoon but the ultimate plan is to make use of the awesome commute options that Microsoft provides. So far I've used the shuttle once to get to Redmond Town Centre and then used one of the local King-county metro buses to get to our corporate housing.

Starting Work

On your first day at Microsoft you attend New Employee Orientation (or NEO for short). NEO is a half day information sharing session where various folks from aross the company walk you through some of the benefits package, as well as provide some guidelines for surviving your first six months in the company. It was fairly interesting and I think it gave me a good foundation for my first week at least.

In my case, it took a little bit longer than expected for my network access to come through but slowly but surely the various systems that Microsoft employees rely on each day to get their work done started to light up for me. There is only one system that I still need to get access to which was just waiting on my SSN to be provided.

After NEO, I met with Brian Keller (my boss) in the 1ES Onboarding team. He laid out some initial objectives for me and along with the rest of the team has helped me find my way around the various internal resources that are specific to my role as a Program Manager.

Learning Curve and the Future

One of the things that struck me during my first week is just how much work goes into running a service like Visual Studio Team Services. There are lots of moving parts, lots of complexity and an interesting blend of strategic thinking on product direction and reactionary firefighting.

At the moment I feel challenged with what I'm being asked to achieve within my abilities, but also complicated by trying to achieve it in a new organization. I'm looking forward to learning more about what it means to work for Microsoft, and to live in the US.

Along the way I hope to get plenty of opportunities to post about some of the things that I am working on whether it is the challenges of doing ALM & DevOps at scale, or features that I design when its time for them to see sunlight.