Making a Difference - On and Off the Job

Rebecca Patterson '18

Last summer, we interviewed Nikki Lee ‘10 and some other women for a 3-part series on life at  Microsoft and heard their perspectives on Women in Technology.  Feel free to look back on Part 1, Part II and Part III of that series.  

We caught up with Nikki again recently to talk more about her choice to attend grad school at University of Washington, where she received a Master of Science in Human Centered Design and Engineering.   She also gave us a closer look at her job at Microsoft and how she feels she’s ‘making a difference...’


Do you have any advice for Oliners who think they want to attend grad school?

Know why you're going to grad school. Don't go into a PhD because you need to buy time to figure things out - it pretty universally ends in being miserable and dropping out. You can do that with a Master's, because it's much shorter and more structured.

Tell us more about your job at Microsoft.  What is a typical day of work like?

I'm a PM (Program Manager) on the Windows Shell team at Microsoft. I help define and build digital pen experiences for Windows and Windows Phone users. Each day, I’m in lots and lots of meetings! Some scheduled, many ad hoc. My particular job is incredibly collaborative, so there are very few tasks that I genuinely complete alone. I know a lot of people hate meetings, but they're the main way that I move my features forward!

What do you feel you are doing that's innovative?

I'm working with an underdeveloped, largely ignored input technology. We're just now hitting the point where our hardware is good enough to support really fluid, natural software experiences. Almost everything we do is new work that hasn't been shipped before on any platform, which is really exciting.

How have you made a difference in the world since leaving Olin?

  • Taught >100 UW students (and some Korean professors) the basics of design/human-computer interaction.
  • Influenced future curriculum design of the classes I helped teach.
  • Published 3 papers in the field of Human-Computer Interaction.  
  • Gave a bunch of grants through Awesome Seattle.  See blog post from March ‘13
  • Gave $1000/month to charity for more than a year straight.
  • Wrote two essays that went semi-viral on Medium.  
  • Built some awesome stuff at Microsoft (hasn't shipped yet, though)

What's it like working with Oliners in the real world?

Awesome! There's an immediate connection and level of trust that is very helpful. When I meet with other Oliners, I just have to explain what I'm trying to do and they trust that I'm doing it for a good reason (and vice-versa).

How has Olin help you get to where you are today?

1. Confidence. I'm way more confident and self-assured than I might have otherwise been, and it really helps.

2. Collaboration. I've got tons of experience working with others, and it means that I'm that much better at reading and reacting to team situations.

3. Independence. I play by the rules, but I also know how to push for what I believe in. Working in leadership roles at Olin taught me a lot about working within the system to get things done.

4. Interdisciplinary skills. I can bounce between design and engineering tasks quickly, partially because I have degrees in both areas, but more because I'm really comfortable learning new things on the fly and adapting to fill gaps. This is basically half of what my job is (the other half is maneuvering people and politics).

5. Technical foundation. I am comfortable breaking big problems into bite-sized chunks, which is exactly what I have to do when I write specs. As a bonus, knowing basic electrical engineering is incredibly helpful in my specific feature area (for example, I regularly finding myself explaining the basics of how active stylus digitizers work).

Do you have time for fun? What do you like to do? 

I have lots of time for fun!   I watch dumb internet videos, ride my bike, eat food with friends, play video games, go on short trips...Also, I work on small side projects and am part of an HCI research group. (It's fun to me!)

Advice for current students?

You got where you are through a combination of your own merits and help from others, and that's what will keep you moving towards bigger and better things.




Posted in: Alumni Speak, Making a Difference