This summer, many of our Duke I&E students are across the globe exploring the concepts of innovation & entrepreneurship. Some of them will be guest blogging for us during their experiences.
If you had told me a year ago that after 21 years of living on the East Coast I would move by myself to the West Coast for the summer, I would have told you that you are crazy. But here I am, one month into my life in the Northwestern corner of the United States, and I could not be happier.
This summer, I am interning at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington. I am a Product Marketing Manager Intern in the ACE Marketing Program. Specifically, I am working in Microsoft’s Cloud + Enterprise division on marketing efforts to promote Open Source on Azure. If you have no idea what any of that means, have no fear, neither did I until a few weeks ago.
The first month of my internship has been a whirlwind: from meetings, to events, to time spent searching acronyms in Microsoft’s glossary, there has hardly been a moment for me to catch my breath. Luckily for me, that’s just the way I like it, and my days at Microsoft never cease to keep me on my toes.
Instead of walking you through all the nitty-gritty details of my projects, I thought I would share some of my favorite things about Microsoft, and some of the most important things I have learned during my short time here.
Diversity in the Workplace
From my first day in the office, I knew Microsoft was going to be different from my other internship experiences for one key reason: diversity. The past two summers I have interned at smaller tech companies, both of which I loved and enjoyed for many reasons. However, my biggest complaint at each of these companies was the lack of diversity, especially in leadership positions.
As a young woman interested in business and technology, nothing is more disheartening than looking up the management ladder and only seeing white men. This problem is not unique to these companies in any way, and in my opinion, the lack of diversity in leadership is one of the biggest issues facing the business and technology industries. If only a few voices are included in the conversation, companies cannot empower people of all backgrounds.
I recognize that I have a lot of privileges as a white woman from a family of high socioeconomic status. Nonetheless, I am hyper aware of my gender when I enter male dominated spaces. Even though I am a leader that rises to challenges, it can still feel hard to thrive in an environment where I am an outlier. Someday I hope to run my own tech company, but there are times when it is hard to picture that dream, especially when I don’t see many women role models in leadership positions at tech companies.
When I went through the tech recruiting process this past fall, I wasn’t sure I was going to find a company that was the right fit for me. It was difficult to envision myself working at some companies when the only person who looked like me at the information session on campus was the HR recruiter. Then, when it came time to interview, I met with more than a half dozen companies before I was interviewed by a woman. Microsoft was the first company where I looked around the room at other candidates and saw people of all genders, races, and backgrounds. Immediately, I knew it was a place where I wanted to be.
While Microsoft isn’t perfect yet, the company makes many efforts to hire diversely and create a company culture of inclusion. In my first few days on the job I was amazed to see significantly more balanced gender and race representation around the table at meetings. For the first time, I saw women and people of color in management roles, and I was so impressed by how they lead their teams. I believe strongly that the quality of the decisions being made benefited from this diversity.
Microsoft is building products and tools to empower people of all backgrounds, and in order to do so most effectively, the company has recognized it needs to represent all of its customers on its teams. To all the badass women, people of color, LGBTQ+, international, and otherwise diverse Microsoft employees: thank you for serving as a role model to the intern class.
A Global Corporation
Similar to diversity, another one of my favorite things about Microsoft is the global reach of the company and the global representation in its workplace. Microsoft’s work doesn’t happen in a bubble, and many of our projects have a global impact that is incredibly empowering. Microsoft creates products that are used around the world and, frankly, that’s pretty cool.
One of my worries about moving from smaller companies to a very large company was whether I would feel that I could have an impact with my work. After all, what can one employee do at a company of over 100k employees? Turns out, Microsoft has the opposite mentality. Every employee — from intern to “lifer” — is encouraged to move the needle with their work.
This September, after my internship, the project that I’m working on will be launching in more than 30 countries across the world. I’ve coordinated with people from countries I never dreamed I would be able to travel to. With this comes a set of new challenges figuring out how to manage such a large program, but it’s incredibly interesting work.
Beyond the global scope of my project, one of the coolest things is the international background of so many Microsoft employees. On my small team alone, we have people from Venezuela, India, Canada, Italy, and more. So many of the people I interact with in my work are from a country outside of the US, and they have broadened my understanding of the technology world beyond our borders. Once again, Microsoft realizes we need employees from many different countries to successfully bring our technologies to people around the world.
Ask Questions…then Ask More Questions
One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my first month here is the importance of asking questions. It is often our nature to project that we know everything and are the most capable person around, but in order to effectively accomplish my work I know I need to ask questions — and a lot of them. This doesn’t mean I run to my manager with every small question, but I figure out the key information I need and ask people until I find the answer.
Questions enable me to connect the dots on projects, to better understand how to create impact, and to navigate complex work problems that may be hard to solve. I have realized that I’m not expected to know everything on the first day, so I take the time to ask the people around me about their projects and how they find success. I use their collective knowledge as a starting point for my work, and refer back to people when they may have the answer I am looking for. So for all of you who have answered my many questions, thank you for your time and expertise.
Beyond asking questions, I learned how important it is to take the time and initiative to read work that will get me up to speed on my projects and areas of focus. I spent my first week flipping through slideshows, reading whitepapers, and skimming articles relevant to my projects. I didn’t let my lack of knowledge on the subject matter scare me away, but instead I viewed it as a challenge to get myself up to speed. While I’m by no means an expert, I have come a long way. I know I need to use the materials that already exist as a way to fill in knowledge gaps and to empower me to be successful on my projects.
But asking questions and reading are only half the battle; I’ve learned it’s important to have a way to record what I am learning. This works differently for everyone, but I like to take notes when possible, and I refer back to them when I need to remind myself about a topic. Then, at the end of the week I create a document on my key takeaways and learnings from the week. This document enables me to be more productive in the upcoming week, and spend less time tracking down information from the previous week.
Overall, I have learned it’s important to be a sponge, especially as an intern. Microsoft encourages learning and growth for all of its employees and interns, but it’s on the individual to fuel their own growth process. I have learned to take ownership of my learning, and to use all the resources available to me when I can. Ask questions, read, record what I’ve learned, repeat.
Immersing Myself in Microsoft Life
While reading and asking questions are important, one of the other important things I have learned in my first month is to immerse myself in as many opportunities and work as possible. It can be tempting to spend a lot of time in the research phase of my projects, but at some point I have to get my hands dirty and dive in. Whether it’s preparing for my first 1-on-1 with my manager, or putting together my first slideshow to show my team, or going to a new event, the best way to learn is to do.
One aspect of this “doing” is going to as many meetings and events as possible in my time here. It’s tempting for me to stay put at my desk all day, but I know this is not the best way for me to have impact with my summer. As a result, I go to as many meetings and Skype calls as I can, and I actively listen and participate in all of them. These meetings have enabled me to better understand the broader work environment around me, and have given me key insights to apply in my projects.
In addition to meetings, Microsoft has a variety of events happening at any given moment. From team lunches, to networking events, to Q+A sessions with executives, there is always something going on. At first, I wasn’t sure how important it was that I attend these sessions, but after going to a couple I realized how valuable they are. Personally, these events allow me to grow, learn, meet new people at the company, and gain perspective I may not have otherwise. But professionally, they also serve as great ways to get insight into my projects by learning from others across the company.
With the act of immersing myself into as many projects, meetings, and opportunities as possible came the need for time and task management. I quickly realized that it is easy to be pulled in a million directions at once, and I had a lot to juggle in a short period of time. To counter this issue, I developed ways to track my different projects, to do lists associated with each of them, and the timeline I need to keep in order to accomplish my goals. By keeping track of everything, it has allowed me to take advantage of more opportunities that come my way.
Onward and Upward
My first month at Microsoft and in Seattle has been incredible. I am grateful to be doing a job I love at such a diverse and global company. I am thankful for supervisors and mentors who allow me to ask countless questions, and who trust me to follow my gut and learn on the job. I look forward to the rest of the summer, and I can’t wait to see what else the future holds.
Whitney Hazard is a senior at Duke studying Public Policy, Information Science, and Entrepreneurship. She is a Product Marketing Intern at Microsoft this summer.