Disciplines in Microsoft Engineering Team


I really want this blog to be a place to express my own
ideas and thoughts, but I don't refuse reference other people's great
ideas, especially when they are really helpful for me or potential
readers.

The following content is copied from a MSDN blog post named- Product Development Disciplines at Microsoft, I just highlighted some lines.

"Over
the last several months in my role here in China, I have given talks
at several leading universities and met with many of the leading
faculty and students working on technologies related to the Data
Platform. I’ve also spoken at several industry conferences, meeting
with customers, partners, analysts and other industry folks. There are
many topics that come up at these meetings – changing technology
trends, distributed development, the tremendous growth of Asia etc. But
one topic that seems to come up more than almost any other is the
question of how we organize and conduct our product development in
Microsoft. I suppose this is only natural – Microsoft is one of the
most successful software companies in the world, and the software
industry here in this region is poised for tremendous growth, so it
makes sense that people in the industry are eager to learn from the our
experience over the last quarter century.

This is actually a very big topic and within
Microsoft we have an Engineering Excellence group that actually runs
courses that can span several days and provide an overview of
Microsoft’s software development methodology, our engineering system,
organizational structures, best practices, tools and technologies we
use internally ensure quality, reliability, security etc and a variety
of related topic.
By no means would we claim that we have all
this figured out perfectly and have a perfect system, but there is
indeed a lot of accumulated knowledge and experience that we can share.
And we do actually share this information, in appropriate form, with
others in our industry, worldwide and also in this region.

As
this is indeed a large topic, I don’t want to get too deep into this
here, but I do want to address one aspect of our engineering system –
the core disciplines that we organize our R&D teams around and the
particular roles that each of these disciplines plays. I want to discuss
this because I believe Microsoft does this a little bit differently
from the rest of the industry even in the US, and especially here in
China there is not a good understanding of these core disciplines and
what role each of them plays.

Traditionally,
the Microsoft engineering system has consisted of 3 “core” disciplines:
“Development”, “Test”, and “Program Management”, also known as
Dev/Test/PM for short.
I’m going to touch on each of these briefly here, but I like to introduce them in a different order:

PM: When we think of engineering disciplines, most people start with “Dev”. For
me however, things really start with the Program Management
discipline. At Microsoft, “PM” means many different things, but for me
the core essence of the PM role is two things:

1. The first part of the PM’s job is to understand the customer’s requirements and translate that into a functional specification of what we should build.
This is where it all begins. If we don’t understand the customer, it
is not very likely that we’ll end up building the right thing.

2. The second part of the PM’s job is to work with Dev and Test to translate the initial specification into a living, breathing product.

I
find that many people, especially here in China, think “Project
Management” when they hear PM. Indeed, Project Management is part of a
PM’s job (under #2 above), but it is only a part of the PM’s job. The
real skill that a PM brings is the expertise to listen to customers,
understand the world from their point of view, and then to design a
solution for their problem. This does not just mean giving customers
what they ask for literally, but to truly understand them and design a
solution that solves their problems even if the customers could never
imagine the solution – as the famous saying goes, if we had only
listened to customers, we would have looked for a faster horse, not come
up with the automobile.

Dev: Of
all the engineering disciplines, this one is probably the one people
think about the most commonly. Dev is short-hand for “Development”, the
folks who responsibility it is to actually design and build the
software that we ship. The essential job of Dev is to take the functional specification produced by PM and translate that into an actual implementation.
In the world of mission-critical system-level software, this
implementation better be extremely reliable, secure, manageable,
scalable and high-performance. And the designs and implementations Dev produces better stand the test of time and last for several versions and years to come.

Test: The test discipline
in Microsoft is much misunderstood, certainly externally, but
sometimes internally as well. When I first came to Microsoft many years
ago, I was (pleasantly) surprised to find that Microsoft had almost as many, if not more, testers as developers.
Coming from a company that had a much less developed testing
discipline (and where as a result, quality assurance was considerably
weak), it took a little while to get used to what the essence of the
Test discipline really is. The reality is that,
in Microsoft, how fast we can ship software depends on not how quickly
we can design and implement it but rather on how quickly we can test
it.
This is because every piece of software we ship, especially
on the systems-software side, has to pass an extremely high quality
bar. The Test discipline is really an complex area, and one where have
learned a lot over the years in terms of different types of testing
that we employ – unit tests,
functional test, integration tests, stress and long-haul tests,
performance tests, security tests, localization tests, etc.
The
set of tools and techniques we employ in test is truly some of the most
impressive and complex – automated test harnesses, automated test
generators, automated test failure analyzers, automated security
“fuzzers”, fail-point and state-machine based testing.

The
three “core” engineering disciplines described above are like the 3
legs of a chair – you need all three of them, and in a balance, to have a
proper engineering organization. No one leg can dominate the other –
otherwise, you get an organization that may not be in touch with
customers needs or one that does not pay enough attention to quality.
Indeed, the three disciplines are a little bit like the branches of
government – they form a system of checks and balances that ensures we
understand what customers want, we design and build that with high
quality, and we ensure that we deliver a product that meets customer
expectations in every regard.

It
is also important to emphasize that we aim to attract the best talent
to all three core disciplines – the bar is equally high for all the
disciplines, it just happens to be that the passion and skill-set for
each is a little different:

-
PMs usually have a passion for working with customers, conceptualizing
what the product should do, and then working with their Dev and Test
peers to coordinate all the work to make sure we deliver exactly that.

-
Developers have a passion for building top-quality software – software
that is innovative, simple, reliable, secure, scalable,
high-performance and stands the test of time.

- Testers
are passionate about finding all kinds of ways to break software and
making sure making sure we find all the issues and bugs
before we ship it to customers.

When
we interview candidates, a very important part of what we do is find
out which discipline the person’s talent and passion really lie in and
directs them accordingly. Of course, over the course of one’s career,
one’s passion and talent may change, and the person may change
disciplines as a result – I myself started in the Dev discipline before
switching to PM. This is only natural and we actually encourage that as
a way to build better teams.

Other disciplines

It
is also important to point out that although the three disciplines
mentioned above are what have traditionally been considered the “core”
disciplines at Microsoft, there are several other disciplines that are
also becoming increasingly important. For example, User Experience (UX)
professionals are essential to ensuring that products are intuitive
and natural for users to use. A great user experience can make the
difference a product that customers love versus one they merely
tolerate. UX is certainly very important for products aimed at end
consumers, but it is also important for all our audiences – Developers,
IT Professionals, Information Workers.

As
we move into the Software+Services era, a variety of disciplines
related to architecting, building and running extremely large-scale
infrastructure becomes increasingly important. Again, while this has
been true for some time for our consumer facing web properties such as
MSN and Live, it is now becoming increasingly important for all our product groups as more and more of them take steps to evolve their products along the Software+Services model.

Many
candidates I talk to often want to discuss what role at Microsoft
would be the best fit for them and how they can grow their careers. The
best advice I can think of is to work on a technology and a role that they are really passionate about.

As
I mentioned above, we value all the disciplines equally and a
well-balanced organization needs great people in all the different
roles. While different disciplines appeal to people with different
passions and skill-sets, all the disciplines offer opportunities
for innovation and great work. And all of them offer opportunities for
advancement and leadership. Indeed if you look across the senior
levels of Microsoft, there are leaders who emerged from various
disciplines – what they shared was a passion for what the work they
were doing.

I
hope this discussion of the different engineering disciplines at
Microsoft and the approach we take to them shall be useful for the many
people who seem to be interested in this topic. If you have any
questions or comments, feel free to post a reply to his entry."

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