Interview with BTUAlumnus Fabian Uhse (Informations- und Medientechnik)

"I grew up in Cottbus and thought it was great for a long time to have a first-class university right on my doorstep."

Fabian Uhse studied information and media technology at the BTU and has specialized in IT and software. He now works for Microsoft as a Senior Product Manager in the USA, where he has lived and worked for several years.

Hello Fabian, how did you come to study at the BTU?
I grew up in Cottbus and thought it was great for a long time to have a first-class university right on my doorstep. Because of the range of degree programs and modern facilities, it was actually clear to me even before I graduated from high school that I would choose the BTU. At the beginning, I didn't realize that the size of the BTU offered a decisive advantage. Not so big that as a student you don't have access to professors or staff, and not too small that offerings and innovation suffer. That's why I particularly liked the fact that you can already build up contacts during your bachelor's degree and especially during your master's degree if you are committed to a particular field.

How did your interest and specialization in IT come about?
The field interested me early on. I went to elementary school in the 90s and back then owning computers was not the norm for kids. I was lucky that my family gave it to me early on and I was able to grow up and learn with it. The fascination was not so much using it, but figuring out how to create something useful on my own almost from day one. During my Abi time I built a few websites for small companies and taught myself a new programming language every now and then. What I was missing was a structured approach to learning. Basic concepts I mostly only noticed afterwards and quite a few not at all. This was very time-consuming and I knew that I wanted to specialize in the IT field during my studies.

You work as a Senior Product Manager for Microsoft. What are your tasks and what is your day-to-day work like?
As a product manager at Microsoft, you work in a product group, in my case Azure Storage. The product group itself is divided into software developers and product managers, often 8 to 10 times more developers than product managers. As a Product Manager, you are the "business owner" and "customer advocate." In an existing product or cloud service, you design and support new and existing service features. As everywhere, the area of responsibility grows with experience. As a product manager, you look for what you need to focus on at any given time. Self-responsible work, constant learning and always finding and expanding your motivation are very important. Over the past 19 months, I have designed a new hybrid cloud service. This is something you normally do with a team of product managers, but in my case I was trusted to do it alone. It starts with a description of the vision and business model. Nothing happens in a vacuum. As a product manager, you bring your own experience to the table, but it's much more important to constantly learn from others. From colleagues, from other services, especially from customers, to deeply understand their needs. You keep an eye on competitors and ultimately you watch the back of the development team. Decisions about function, technology and interaction with partner teams on whose technology your own product is based are part of my daily work. I therefore see my new service through from the initial idea, through the beta phases to full release and beyond. I think my job is very well described by a quote from Don Norman: "No product is an island. A product is more than the product. It is a cohesive, integrated set of experiences. Think through all of the stages of a product or service - from initial intentions through final reflections, from the first usage, to help, service, and maintenance. Make them all work together seamlessly." The quote comes from the user experience area, but if you expand it to include technical and business areas, it applies very well to the product manager role at Microsoft.

Many students dream of a job at Microsoft. How did you get there and what tips do you have for students who want to follow your example?
Microsoft has offices all over the world. However, our product development headquarters is clearly in Redmond, Washington. So you can either apply at a branch office, for example at Microsoft Germany, or directly in Redmond. It depends very much on whether you want to invent or build products and services or help customers use them. If you end up in the U.S., Microsoft will also take care of U.S. visas or green cards for you and your spouse. I started my career at Microsoft Germany as a Student Partner. I came to the USA through an internship. In my opinion, an internship is the ideal way to get to Microsoft in the USA. The only requirement is that you are still studying. Basically, internships towards the end of your bachelor's degree or during your master's degree are ideal. Which team you join as an intern depends on many factors. Partly, experience and specialization in your studies play a role, but also where internships are available. There is generally an "internship season" here in the summer, so don't miss the application deadline! Graduate students can no longer apply for internships, but for specific positions. Those are a little harder to come by internationally. You'll also notice that Microsoft doesn't specify a specific degree as a requirement for quite a few positions. A Bachelor's degree, of almost any orientation, is widely accepted as the minimum requirement for a Product Manager position. Over the past few years, we've learned to look for diverse prospects in other fields as well. However, my advice is to apply for technical positions even with an appropriate degree. The expectations on you and your learning curve can be quite high otherwise. However, there are quite a few jobs that don't necessarily require a technical degree. You can find jobs here: Microsoft Jobs for Students and Graduates.

You've lived in the U.S. for a while. Do you have any tips for intercultural competence and how best to settle into a new country?
Openness and curiosity. The easiest way I have found is to be genuinely interested in other cultures and their customs. If you show interest to your colleagues, it's easy to start a conversation, you like to compare the different cultures, find similarities and differences, and everyone gets something out of it. This is how friendships are formed. As I'm sure many are aware, the U.S. has always been and, in my view, is increasingly: polarizing. Microsoft's corporate culture and values, the way we view our customers' privacy, what values and democratic aspirations we support in the world - all of that is unique, in my view, for such a large company. That's a key contributor to the open and inclusive company culture. And everyone contributes to this corporate culture. I don't know this from other tech companies, especially from Germany. You should also be aware that in the U.S. you don't represent the social norm. Those who work at Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook or Google along the U.S. West Coast are in an income bubble that does not reflect non-tech jobs and their average salaries. This leads to sometimes unconscious segregation and grouping outside the company. It starts with where you live, which leads to where you shop and who your neighbors usually are. In my neighborhood, the annual property tax alone is the equivalent of a small car. The USA works differently than you might be used to. Incredibly progressive in certain areas and far behind the European norm in others. My advice is to become aware of these differences, and make it your goal to work against your own automatic social disconnect. Then you can get to know the "real" America.


Daniel Ebert
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