Before landing what he considers his ideal job at Microsoft, Daniel Chian was unaware of a couple of facts that turned out to be kind of important. First, he didn't know that Microsoft had a building in Mountain View. And second, even though he'd been working in the Silicon Valley for years, he had no idea that there were hardware positions at Microsoft.
"I put my resume in and then found out that there was a hardware team, and now I'm in the perfect role for me," he says.
When Chian was hired in 2003, staffing was underway for the next-generation Xbox console. He was hired to design circuits for it, and it's something he's been doing ever since. "I was really into Xbox even before I came to work at Microsoft," he says. "So helping design the product as an electrical engineer is an exciting job for me."
Chian, who grew up near Washington, D.C., earned his undergraduate engineering degree from the University of Virginia and then went on to Harvard for graduate school. Before arriving at Microsoft he worked for Silicon Graphics and then spent five years at a networking startup.
As an engineer on the console systems development team, Chian says that while there are always new challenges that keep him motivated, there is one in particular that drives him. "Part of our ongoing challenge is making and delivering a high quality product but at a minimum cost," he says. "We need to keep our customers happy while also maximizing the margins."
One of the aspects of his job that he likes most is being able to make meaningful contributions to addressing that challenge. "All of us engineers have to be conscious about that all the time," he says. "When you save a penny on each unit of something that sells 10 million units a year, that's a lot. At the same time, when we take a penny away we need to make sure that we're still hitting a high bar in terms of quality."
Also high on his list of on-the-job favorites is his team. "We've created a pretty collaborative environment," he says. "In addition to being collaborative, people on our team are sensitive to others and open to other people's viewpoints. I'd say we're like a little family - we even make fun of each other a lot. We do some social things together outside of work, but we also make sure to have fun while we're at work as well."
In terms of working as a hardware engineer at a company known for software, Chian says that Microsoft has made enormous strides since he joined the company.
"For a while we were like a little startup within Microsoft," he says. "When I started there wasn't even a defined career path for hardware. It was all software."
That, he says, is no longer the case. "They have really turned that around, and there is now a path for hardware," he says. He believes that's part of the company's overall focus on career growth, which he says he finds refreshing. "You don't see that level of employee engagement at a lot of companies," he says.
When Chian is called upon to spread the word to other hardware engineers - he is currently offering the intern he managed over the summer a permanent position - his message is simple. "I don't think there's a downside to being a hardware engineer at Microsoft," he says. "The first thing I do is tell them about working on Xbox. I don't think you have to say too much more than that."