A Microsoft Summer, Part 1: Seattle Fun

As suggested by this post’s title, I spent this past summer as an intern with Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. The experience was highly educational for me–as my first (and last!) “real” internship, I learned a lot about software development and the importance of corporate culture, as well as discovering a lot about myself. Overall, the experience was a positive one, though, and I had an enormous amount of fun!

This is the first of a three-part series on my time at Microsoft. This post focuses on fun recreational activities for interns in the Seattle area.

Outdoors

Hiking in the North Cascades

The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. Seattle is conveniently located close to the beach, the mountains, Puget Sound, rainforests, and many hiking trails and campsites. Exploring the outdoors also has the advantage of being very inexpensive, which is great if you’re saving your internship money for college expenses. If you visit National Parks, consider the National Park Passport Program–if you’re going to once-in-a-lifetime parks, it’s a good idea to get your passbook stamped!

Olympic National Park (1+ days, $5 parking permit): Olympic is a gigantic national park just a few hours away from Seattle. It has beaches, mountains, and rainforests–whatever you enjoy seeing in nature, you’ll probably find it here. The Microsoft Internz mailing list organizes some hikes in this park.

North Cascades National Park (1+ days, $5 parking permit): Less-frequented and a bit further away than Olympic, the North Cascades is a bit less developed/road-accessible, but totally worth it. I hiked the Maple Loop Trail one afternoon–it’s around 8 miles with ~2000ft of elevation gain–the view was amazing. If you’re looking for a good trail to do in around 5 hours, I recommend that one. There’s no cell reception anywhere in the park, so be sure to bring an actual map or print directions.

Kayaking the sound (2-3 hours, $18/hour): Kayaking in the sound is an awesome way to spend a few hours on an afternoon. Be sure to wear sunscreen! Agua Verde is a popular place to rent kayaks.

Camping (2+ days): I didn’t bring my camping gear, but I sure wish I did! Camping in national or state parks (especially the Cascades or Olympic) would be amazing.

Climbing (~\$60/mo or ~\$20/day): Seattle is home to some awesome climbing gyms! Stone Gardens has locations in both Seattle and Redmond, and it had roped climbing and bouldering, so I joined that gym. A Stone Gardens membership costs around $60/month (bring your student ID!), but you can go for free on your first visit if a member brings you–reach out on Facebook or Slack for other interns to invite you. Going on outdoors climbs and/or mountaineering events was something some of my friends did, which they seemed to really enjoy.

Museums, Landmarks, etc

Boeing Museum of Flight

There’s a lot to do in Seattle, and one of your best tools for experiencing as much as you can while still being under budget is the Microsoft Prime Card. With discounts on everything from haircuts and food to zoos and museums, it’s a really awesome perk for interns who want to see everything. I’ve listed the Prime Card cost and the “normal” cost for as many of the activities below as I could find.

Boeing Museum of Flight (3hrs, $5 with Prime Card, $21 without): The Museum of Flight is simply amazing. I’ve been to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC, the Udvar-Hazy Center in Dulles, and the National Museum of the USAF, but and this is certainly in their tier. In fact, I’d contend some of the exhibit design far exceeds that of the Smithsonian, even though the collection seems to be smaller. Some of my favorite parts were the one-of-a-kind M-21 Blackbird (instead of the more common SR 71), being able to walk through a Concorde jet, and seeing my third B-29 Superfortress.

Ada’s Technical Books (1-2hrs, prices reasonable): This is the dream bookstore for any techie. I’ve already written about it, so I’m not going to duplicate my summary here. Suffice it to say that you can find books here on nearly any technical subject you’d ever be interested.

Woodland Park Zoo (3-4hrs, \$8.50 with Prime Card, \$19.95 without): This zoo is well designed, and balances providing quality animal habitats while allowing guests to quickly move through exhibits and see many animals. It’s certainly worth a weekend afternoon for a visit; I only wish the Komodo Dragon exhibit had been operational when I went. My favorite section was the Northern Trail–they have really nice bear and wolf exhibits.

Seattle Aquarium (2hrs, \$10.25 with Prime Card, \$24.95 without): The aquarium is really nice, but I’m afraid I was spoiled by growing up next to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. For the $10.25 it costs with the Microsoft Prime Card, I’d certainly recommend going (it’s also right next to the Ferris Wheel and the National Historic Site Klondike Museum, so perhaps it could be part of a larger trip downtown), though. The octopus exhibit is really cool, and they do public feedings, so try to be there when one is scheduled.

Space Needle (2hrs, \$17 with Prime Card, \$22 without): Ok, sure, the Space Needle is expensive and really touristy, but you must go up to the top if you haven’t already. The view is spectacular, and there’s so much history tied up in this building about the World’s Fair (there are really nice exhibits on your way up).

EMP Museum (2-3hrs, $8 with Prime Card): While “EMP” stands for the “Experience Music Project,” there is a lot more here than just music. Ever wonder where many of the costumes for The Wizard of Oz ended up? What about the costumes from The Princess Bride or Susan’s horn from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe? Yep, they’re all here. They even have a sci-fi exhibit with props from Doctor Who, Star Trek, 2001, and many other famous movies and TV series. I highly recommend going.

Chihuly Glass Museum (1hr, \$17 with Prime Card, \$22 without): If you’re into glass art, this is a nice place. Chihuly really has a talent for making spectacular works from simple materials, and it’s all lit up in an amazing way. This, the EMP Museum, and the Space Needle are all within walking distance from each other, so the trio could make for a full day of fun.

Pike Place Market & Starbucks (1-2hrs): The Pike Place Market is a pretty famous part of Seattle for many reasons, not the least of which being that the first Starbucks is here. You must eat the Salmon or Halibut sandwich at the Market Grill. It would be worth a trip from Redmond to Seattle in rush hour just to eat this delicious meal.

Ellie Goulding in Concert<br />at the Microsoft Intern Signature Event

Microsoft itself hosts some pretty awesome events for interns. I didn’t do as many as were offered (and some of the ones I missed sounded pretty cool, like NERF Battles and Amazon vs. Microsoft Paintball), but I’ve listed below ones I participated in and enjoyed.

Microsoft Intern Puzzle Day: Consistently reported by interns who participated as one of the best parts of the internship. If you’re interested in puzzles, codes, and problem-solving (and, let’s face it–if you’re in CS, the answer is probably “yes”), this is the event for you! Also, you can get a free t-shirt.

Hunger Games: What could be more fun than running around Microsoft campus in the dark with NERF guns? Not much! This event is a great way to meet new friends and unwind after a hard day’s work.

Assassin: Can you track down and tag your target before your deadline expires? This is the ultimate in workplace sneakery as, for approximately 3 weeks, interns will be hunting each other down and tagging each other with namebadges. Kill or be killed–it’s a lot of fun either way.

Internz Hikes: Sign up for the Internz mailing list, and go on at least one hike. These range from simple hikes that anyone could do to 14 milers that might benefit from some preparation. Like I’ve mentioned before, there’s a lot of great hiking in the area–don’t finish out the summer without at least trying one hike.

Intern Signature Event: This is the best event for interns that Microsoft hosts, hands down. They typically rent out a large venue (past events have been held at the Boeing factory, Gasworks, and–most recently–the Space Needle and surrounding areas), host a private concert (e.g. Maroon 5, Ellie Goulding, etc), and give away a really nice gift to all their interns (this past year, we all got Surface Books). Definitely go–it’s a blast and you’ll have a lot of fun.