Janet Galore is a Senior Program Manager on the Strategic Prototyping team at Microsoft. This is a small team of 11 people that support Craig Mundie in his vision as Chief Research and Strategy Officer by developing prototypes and demos to tell credible stories about the future. The team grapples with the world’s big problems and how technology can help solve those problems. Craig identifies major themes that Microsoft is exploring, such as the Future of Computing, Healthcare, or Education. Then the team generates ideas based on relevant trends, raw technology, and the incredible work that is being done inside Microsoft, and comes up with scenarios to pitch to Craig and his staff. Some of these ideas become demos that support Craig’s presentations at large-scale events worldwide.
To be successful in this role, Janet is an expert in storytelling and synthesizing ideas. She keeps track of current trends in technology and culture. She also does a lot of cross-group work. “My team has a broad vantage point across many product groups and Microsoft Research.” However, the vision that her team portrays is not intended to become Microsoft products; their charter is to explore possibilities, not dictate work.
Janet’s team also runs the Microsoft Home. The Microsoft Home is a concept facility that brings to life a vision of consumer scenarios five to ten years in the future. “For instance, a teenager’s bedroom in the facility portrays what it would be like to have addressable wallpaper that employs organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology to display a variety of content such as artwork, video clips, and immersive environments.” The Microsoft Home is physically located within Microsoft’s Executive Briefing Center on their main campus in Redmond, WA.
“My personal favorite part of the job is getting to explore ideas with the incredibly brilliant researchers and thinkers across the company.” Janet is a very curious person and enjoys learning new things. “I get to think about so many different areas of research, everything from quantum computing to natural user interfaces.”
Janet is inspired by the possibility of telling a story to someone that completely changes the way that they think about the world, permanently. Her hope is to “show something that is so new, and so obviously right, that they get on fire about it”. Janet is an artist specializing in illustration and animation, and in her art, she also strives to get people see the world in a new way.
With a demanding job developing a vision for the future to support a Microsoft executive, how does Janet manage to have a life outside of work? She had some great tips to share:
- Listen to your friends and family. “I’m married to someone who is really balanced, and he helps to keep my workaholic personality in check.”
- Try not to work from home. Rather, Janet prefers to stay late and keep her work at work. But she recognizes that not everyone has that option; people with children may want to go home, see their kids before bed, and work from home later in the evening. “If you have to work from home, give yourself a time limit.”
- Actively watch for signs of stress, and give yourself a break – go for a walk or turn off the email and lay down for a bit. What are the “signs of stress” that she watches for? “Suddenly, everything on your TODO list is priority 0 – it needs to be done immediately. That’s usually not true. You can always negotiate for more time or delegate.”
- Take a “well day” if needed. A well day is a day off from work (much like a sick day), but its purpose is to save your mental sanity and refresh you before you get sick.
- Take control. You become stressed when you feel like you’re out of control, so do something that gives you the feeling that you’re in control. “For example, if you’re running late in the morning and stressing about it, take control and actively decide that you’re going to come in late today, rather than stressing about it.”
Being strong with both her left brain and right brain, Janet’s career path meandered between technology and art. As a little girl, she wanted to be an “everything scientist”. She wrote papers on the future that included flying cars. She’s also always been attracted to technology.
She received a BS degree in pure mathematics from the University of Washington and also completed three years of graduate school in pure and applied mathematics. Janet enjoyed the theory of math more than the actual numbers. One day, one of her favorite teachers wrote the equation “e^(i * pi) = -1” on the board. “It blew my mind. Infinite series, logarithms, trig, complex and transcendental numbers all came crashing together in this really beautiful equation.” She’s considering getting the equation tattooed. “That, or the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.” Janet is one cool cyberpunk.
After college, Janet worked for art organizations, but became interested in virtual reality as a hobby. That’s where she met the people who got her into the video game industry, where she worked for 7 years. “I did stuff that I enjoyed and took risks. For a fulfilling career, you have to follow your heart.”
Janet has now been with Microsoft for 5.5 years. She joined the company as a manager in Content Publishing for Office Online, and she started her current role in August 2007.
Janet’s advice to other women in technology: “Think of yourself as a person first and a female second. Focus on what you believe to be true and don’t take things personally. Even if someone acts sexist, if you act professionally and hold your own, they can develop respect for you. Just be yourself and don’t be afraid to point out when someone is out of line.”