Lucas Forschler – Software Engineer

June 18, 2006
Posted in interviews
June 18, 2006 brett

Lucas went to school at the University of Missouri and obtained a bachelor of computer science degree. Microsoft was his first interview out of college. When he visited Redmond that February, it was cold and rainy. To anyone else it might have been unattractive, but seeing as he was from Missouri, the fresh, new Microsoft campus environment appealed to Lucas. He accepted the job in June of 1999 and has not looked back since.

He is the Software Design Engineer and Test (SDET), or in lamens’ terms, is part of the quality assurance department. The office is no doubt talented, given both Microsoft’s and the software industry’s high standards for quality. All employees here are able to write code and automation and are extremely technically savvy.

Seeing as Lucas also does some campus recruiting and interviews, we asked him what Microsoft looks for in candidates:

“People who are motivated, passionate, but passion is one of the hardest things to judge. So when we are on campus interviewing, we really just looking for pure technical prowess. People who have the ability to write code, who can make design decisions. Whatever pilot we are working on we give sample questions to test their mental acuity to see if they could do the job. But passion is the single biggest factor to get hired, having a true interest in the product that you are working on.”

When asked of career advice for students:

“Some advice that I received from my uncle who is a real technical savvy business guy is to find something you love doing, and do it. The money will follow, and if you love what you’re doing then you’ll never be unhappy. So when it comes to career choices, find something you’d do for free and then find some way to make money out of it.”

We had to ask Lucas about Bill Gates and, of course, he had a story. He told us that one time he was riding his motorcycle around a blind corner and nearly hit the billionaire and his father as they were crossing the street! Bill waved Lucas to go ahead, but Lucas explained that there was no way that he was going to go ahead of “the man of Microsoft.” Lucas took his hands off of the accelerator and eventually the Gates family finished their trip across the street in front of him.

Interview

It’s very similar to a college campus.  We have so many buildings with all the different groups of people.  It’s like each building is a different school.  Windows, Office, MSN, all the different groups like that.  We still have courtyard areas with the basketball goals and soccer fields and softball diamonds.  It’s pretty much like being in school.  It’s pretty fun.

In June will be my seven year anniversary.  Microsoft was my first interview out of college. 

My official title is software engineer design and test.  Basically, a lot of companies call that quality assurance.  The biggest difference is that Microsoft puts a lot of investment in quality assurance.  All of us know how to write code, they expect us to know how to write code, so it’s more of a technical position rather than a typical Q&A person.  They really invest heavily in the test discipline. 


And also, on pay scales and salaries, it’s on the same scale as all the other jobs at Microsoft.  So it’s fun because I get to break stuff, but at the same time I don’t have to be responsible to chipping in code into the product and screwing up everything. 

The most difficult part about my job is that it’s never done.  Like with any product, you can spend a countless amount of time on it and there will always be some configuration or scenario that it breaks.  At some point, you have to decide what quality customers are going to use.  It would be an appropriate level where we feel comfortable shipping it, even though you know that things may not work.  You have to make money, and you have to sell a product.  It’s just finding that area of where the bar is of what has to be fixed, what needs to be fixed so you can move on to the next release. 

That’s definitely one of the challenges.  Also, the people around here are amazing.  The people around here are so smart, that’s it a little bit competitive.  In one way, you’re almost competing against your co-workers.  Which can be really good, but at the same time everyone is so good that you can trust them to do the right thing.

So if I have work that needs to be done, or someone needs to shuffle some things around, I don’t have to worry about someone taking it because they’re probably smarter than I am.  It’s really comforting to know that you can count on your co-workers in that way. 

I have a bachelors in computer science from Missouri.

I have no complaints about the work environment here. 

I’m kind of a gadget freak.  I’m always playing with them.  I love working for a company that helps create them.  It does keep things interesting and everything new and exciting as well. 

Microsoft is very diverse, and not just in terms of culture.  I work with people from all over the world. Working with them, I get to hear about the places they’ve been.  People all over have the same interests and you would never expect it.

I think the people makes the workplace enjoyable. Even though the work is something that I really enjoy, working with great people helps a lot.  If you don’t get along with your co-workers, you’re probably going to hate your job a lot.  That’s the exact opposite of what goes on here.  The people are what helps me stay where I’m at. 

Passion is one of the hardest things to judge because people portray passion very differently.  Some people are very excitable and show it.  Other people can be really excited inside and don’t show it externally. 

Experience helps a lot, but not everyone has experience comes out of school.  It’s all about what you do outside of school.  It’s what you do for fun on your own time. 

Passion is probably the single biggest factor in getting hired somewhere because it shows a true interest in the product that you’re working on.

We have a two year product cycle.  With something that lasts that long, there’s a lot of different steps along the way.  Planning it, budgeting it, resourcing it is much different than a three month school project.  Just how to schedule tasks.  Looking a year down the road instead of three months.  Setting deadlines and keeping priorities becomes a little more important because if you slip, that has bigger consequences down the road.  Especially when you have people expecting you to have code for them. 

You have to flexible no matter what.  Whenever a problem comes along, you have to say, ‘What do I have to do to fix it?’  Because everyone fails at some point.  When you come across goals and you miss them, you get disappointed and wonder what to do.  You just have to be willing to get back up from it, reschedule, work it out with your manager.  Things like that to make sure you get back on track. 

If you fail, fail gracefully.  That sounds negative, but failure is sometimes inevitable.  Sometimes you get fired and get a new job, sometimes you learn from your mistakes and keep your job.  I feel fortunate to be working in a cooperative environment where things are mostly within my control.  Within that respect, it works out alright.

Microsoft is undergoing a huge, huge change right now.  I don’t really know how to state this, but people at Microsoft work really, really hard.  They work long hours.  People will work with their heads down for sixty hours a week, eighty hours a week, maybe more.  I’ve been there.  When it comes time to take a break, you take 2 or 3 days and relax.  After you ship a product, a lot of people take exotic vacations.


Finding the everyday work life balance is difficult because everyone here is a Type A personality who go gets it and doesn’t leave until the work gets done.  That doesn’t leave a lot of time with outside things.  But Microsoft is very flexible.  They have a gym membership so I can go work out after work. 

You gain confidence by doing something and succeeding.  For example, if you look at my white board right now, these are things I’m working on that mean absolutely nothing to you.  But as they get done, I go through and I check them off.  That builds confidence.  Right now I’m only about a third of the way done, but as I get to the middle, that builds confidence.  As you build confidence in areas, your influence grows in scope. 

I love working with the product.  I love being into the details and seeing how everything works. 

A lot of my managers have become managers because they were first awesome technical people.  So I have faith in them and their decisions because they’ve been where I’ve been.  So that helps a lot.

A lot of companies you see people who are technical and people who are managerial.  And the managerial people have no idea how to do the jobs of the people that they’re managing.  I think that works in many industries, but it would not work in our industry.  Just because without that respect that the manager has the ability to make a sound decision, you’d never get anything done.  You’d always have people fighting. 

I’ve actually almost run into Bill Gates twice.  Physically.  Last spring I just got a new motorcycle and it was a nice day so I decided to go a ride.  So I come out of the parking garage and kind of was flying around the corner.  It’s kind of a blind corner and you can’t really see what’s around it, and as I came up to the side walk I saw a person stepping off the sidewalk.  I put on the brakes and I looked over as I stopped and it was Bill and his dad.  They were walking across campus, and here I was halfway into the intersection as they step out. Bill looked over and waved at me to go first, and I was like, ‘No way.  You go first.’  Finally I just took my hands off the steering wheel and made him walk across.  I wasn’t going to run into him or intersect him.

It’s cool to see him around.

The way Microsoft pays is off of this sliding scale.  You’re either not meeting expectations, you’re meeting expectations, or you’re exceeding them.  Depending on which bucket you fall into, they pay the high performers the most money.  When your review comes around, you get rated. Those people who are putting in the extra effort, they’re getting higher raises and bonuses.  That’s definitely a motivating factor right there.  Just to know that if you work really hard, you will get rewarded.  That makes it kind of nice.

But on the other side of that, there are people with kids at home and maybe this isn’t the job for them.  So they put in what they can, but they don’t put in that extra effort.  I’m not saying those people aren’t needed, because they definitely are.  But they’re probably not going to see the same kind of bonus or paycheck as everyone else.

I work on Office.  The project I’m working on is Smart Art.  It’s pretty sweet.  We just sent out our beta to three million people.  It will be the largest beta that Microsoft Office has ever done.  It’s a pretty substantial amount of people to get feedback from.  Especially because we have six more months to work on it.  I’m looking forward to that, especially because we’re in version 1.0.  This is the first time I’ve worked on a version 1.0 product that has gone out to so many customers.  Before I worked on products that already existed, so it was on to the next iteration and deciding what we could do to make it better, perform faster.  This one is from the ground up.  We would have different people from the office come in and use it and have them tell us what they thought.  Watching it evolve is cool.  It’s a completely different product now than I thought it would be at the start.  But it’s amazing. 

I have several computers at home and I just want to take a baseball bat to it.  When you’re screaming ‘I hate computers!  I hate Windows!  I hate Office!  I hate Dell!’  At some point, things just go bad.  I work on computers all day, and the last thing I want to do when I go home is work on a computer.  I have a laptop to check my email.  I have a server with all of my music.  I definitely use computers less in my spare time.  That’s probably part of that work life balance thing.  It’s also opening up to new ideas.  I took up flying and wakeboarding and snowboarding.  But there’s definitely those days when I want to quit this altogether.  And I think that’s expected with any industry.  You just put in so much effort into something only to get frustrated.  You just have to step back for a minute and come back to the problem with fresh eyes.