Life at eBay

Sabbatical Stories: All That Jazz

Francesca Hellebrandt, eBay News Team

A Shipping Product Manager from Bellevue spent his sabbatical honing his musical talent and sharing his passion with others.

As Product Owner of Shipping Data Science and all the delivery estimates across eBay, Joe Michiels strives to find new ways to improve user experiences with eBay’s vast amounts of shipping data. But it’s what he does in his free time that makes Joe unique from the other Product Managers in his space.

Joe’s band performing at French Fest.

For many years, Joe has taken his love for jazz guitar and played in bands for various fundraisers and charity events around the country. To him, music humanizes and connects people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. So when he started to consider what he wanted to do for his sabbatical, the decision was simple. Joe decided he wanted to dive deep into learning more about music and help bring music education to others.

Joe kicked off his sabbatical by attending a week-long music camp studying gypsy jazz guitar with master musicians from around the world.

Joe (second from left) playing guitar with Angelo DeBarre, a French Romani (“gypsy”) guitar legend.

As a board member of Seattle’s Jazz Night School, Joe also volunteered to help build out a marketing plan for its jazz education program, aimed to foster growth and musicianship among musicians of all levels. He also helped to interview their customers and understand what they needed to do to grow their student enrollment. By playing in ensembles and combos, Joe explained that students of the program receive valuable, practical experience in both theory and improvisation. 

The Seattle-based Jazz Night School installs a new sign over its door.

“I am very passionate about arts and music education,” said Joe. “Being on the Jazz Night School board allows me to share my professional expertise with a non-profit that teaches hundreds of students jazz and world music. Music education enriches lives and brings communities together.”

If that wasn’t already a testament of his love and dedication to the practice, Joe also performed with his own swing jazz band at the annual Northwest Folklife festival, the nation’s largest community folk arts & music celebration.

The most memorable part of his time away from office, however, was introducing his two young children to new cultures. Starting in France, Joe and family traveled through the European countryside and finished their expedition at a family reunion at his aunt’s 300-year-old cottage outside of Chelmsford, England. For his young kids, it was their first time meeting their extended English relatives.

“It’s important to us that our kids travel and learn about the world and different cultures,” said Joe. “By the end of the trip, the kids were rooting for England in the world cup!”

Joe with his family under the Eiffel tower.

At the end of his sabbatical, Joe concluded that “cultural exchange through arts and music is an opportunity to dissolve misunderstandings, break down stereotypes and increase respect for one another.”

“I’ve met musicians where we didn’t speak the same language, but could play the same music and share a common bond,” he said. “There are parts of different cultures you cannot learn from a book or a video, you have to meet the people and experience the culture first hand.”

After five years of service with eBay, employees are eligible for four weeks of time off with pay. This sabbatical is intended to provide a break from the pace and intensity of work and allow employees the opportunity to recharge and pursue areas of interest.