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Guest Post: An Inside Look at My First Month as an Intern at Microsoft

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.

Guest Post: DukeEngage Detroit – The Power of Social Entrepreneurship

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.

I have always felt like kind of a fake when I found myself talking about social entrepreneurship. In all honesty, “social entrepreneurship” just sounds like a couple of buzz words put together in an effort to make business sound more humane– more stomach-able. In fact, the language surrounding social entrepreneurship is rife with these buzz words: “innovation” and “networking” and “pragmatic visionary.” I never admitted my views on the vagueness of the field to anyone, unable to confess to the awkward fact that I was enrolled in the “Innovation & Entrepreneurship” certificate without even knowing what it meant. I knew the term was something I could leverage for the public good, but it seemed to evade the simple definitions that could be ascribed to terms and concepts in my other classes.

Coming to Detroit, I did not expect to have an epiphany on the matter, but I was hoping the idea of “social entrepreneurship” would start to clarify itself. After two weeks at TechTown, I certainly do not have a clear-cut definition of what it means to be a social entrepreneur, but I have begun to find answers in the unlikeliest of places. Though I have been exposed to the incredible strides being made by social ventures at TechTown in the fields of medicine, technology, and even retail, I have learned most about what social entrepreneurship means to me from three politicians and the Motown Museum.

This past week, TechTown received a visit from Senators Debbie Stabenow, Gary Peters, and Cory Booker. The three Senators, along with a panel of Detroit entrepreneurs, addressed the changing American economic climate and how best to meet the concerns of small-business owners. Throughout the course of the event, the group discussed apprentice-based learning, automated manufacturing, loan acquisition, and caribbean food. The three Senators listened attentively to the issues facing the business-owners, actively articulating potential legislative solutions and aids. The exchange between the public and private sector was alive before my eyes on the first floor of TechTown, and I began to understand social entrepreneurship as an ecosystem of actions, all of which could be, if handled properly, maintained to promote broad and equitable economic growth in a city like Detroit, or Durham. Ventures could have clearly-stated social missions, but they could also serve the simple mission of community empowerment and ownership.


In this sense, many projects fall under the umbrella of social entrepreneurship. In Detroit, nearly everything is touched by a pervasive spirit of this sort of entrepreneurialism meant to uplift and embody a community. Even while walking through the Motown Museum, I could not help but think of Berry Gordy’s brainchild as the ultimate testament to Detroit innovation. Here was a businessman, driven by a creative and lucrative concept, who ingeniously swept the globe with chart-topping hits. And yet, while Motown was a profit-driven machine, it used its platform to promote the values of peace, love, hope, optimism, and equality, giving a little piece of Detroit to ears everywhere. Its sounds serve a purpose larger than money, even if money was its original motive.

Social entrepreneurship is taking shape for me as a private sector translation of grassroots democracy. Through socially motivated private action, thoughtfully coordinated with creative public policy, citizens can reach sustainable economic independence on their own terms, and demand that their economy fit with their moral conceptions of themselves. I am not sure if my definition matches up with those of textbooks or professors, but even if it is peculiar, it is definitely helping to stabilize the buzz words.

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Leah Abrams is a Trinity Sophomore majoring in Public Policy and Political Science. She eats pizza for at least two meals a week, so please contact her with pizza-related inquiries. If interested in her non-pizza-related work, you can find her rantings in the Opinion section of the Duke Chronicle and her contributions as a columnist for the Duke Political Review.

Guest Post: Dream, Girl!

Being an entrepreneur is no easy journey — but it’s even more so for women. It’s no secret that the field of entrepreneurship is largely male-dominated, especially in tech-related startups. However, the future for female entrepreneurs are promising. While not nearly as much as their male counterparts, female entrepreneurs are starting over 1200 businesses a day. If you happen to be one of them, here are some tips that might help in starting and thriving in your entrepreneurial journey:

1. Be brave not perfect: “It’s important to be willing to make mistakes. The worst thing that can happen is you become memorable” — Sara Blakely. Girls are traditionally taught to avoid risk and failure, smile and get straight As, whereas boys are taught to play rough and are habituated to take risks. Additionally, women only apply for a job where they have 100% of the qualifications, whereas the number is much lower for men with only 60%. The best way to practice bravery is to familiarize yourself with rejections and failures. You can try this by: learning something new, asking someone out and constantly putting yourself outside your comfort zone. Be gritty, and think growth mindset instead of fixed minset.

2. Strengthen your vision: “You can’t be what you can’t see” — Marian Wright Edelman. Find a role model, know what you want and do everything you can to get there. Once you know what you want, it gets a lot easier to know who to surround yourself with, and what to learn and do. Action leads to clarity.

3. Don’t let genetics define your narrative: You don’t have to follow societal expectations, especially if they don’t work well in your favor. Your background, race, gender, or sexuality might get people to perceive you in a certain way, but don’t let that stop you! Be conscious of stereotypes and generalizations, but don’t let it discourage you in any way.

4. Surround yourself with the right people: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” — Jim Rohn. With that, don’t spend your time with negative and unsupportive people, rather be around people who challenge you and support you to be your best possible self. Nowadays you can find communities and support groups everywhere — online, in person, through mutual friends, and more. With that said, get help from people and help people as well. There’s no better feeling that being in a supportive community who helps each other succeed.

5. Own who you are: Be unapologetically confident. What may be categorized as feminine traits, such as being graceful and loving, are not drawbacks — they are advantageous in their own ways. Know what your strengths and weaknesses are, but don’t doubt yourself, or judge yourself too harshly.

6. Actually do the work: At the end of the day, being an entrepreneur is getting your business off the ground, creating something viable and making sales. There’s really no substitute for hardwork, so there’s really no better advice than to be a lifelong learner and to work hard and smart. Know how to manage your time and energy.

This blogpost was inspired by the “Dream, Girl!” event on the 14th of April. The incubator where I work in, DUHatch, worked together with the Pratt Masters Program to host a screening of a new documentary, “Dream, Girl!,” which follows the journeys of several women entrepreneurs of all ages, colors, backgrounds and ventures. We invited Tatiana Birgisson, the founder of MATI Energy and Cecilia Polanco, the founder of So Good Pupusas, to be our panelists. Both shared their stories on the challenges of being female entrepreneurs and gave advice on how to tackle these obstacles.

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Elena Lie is a sophomore from Indonesia studying Political Science and Economics. She started social enterprises, interned in a tech start-up and worked as a freelance graphic designer. At Duke’s entrepreneurship scene, she’s in the executive board of DUHatch incubator and The Cube selective living group. She is interested in toilet designs and the food and beverages industry. 

Get Noticed! Social Media Tips & Tricks

People everywhere tell you that you should be on social media. To connect, to share, etc. – but how? Why? How can you get noticed by the right people? Read on for some tips.

Having a variety of social media accounts is pretty normal these days. But sharing quality content isn’t. What can you gain from sharing your internships, course projects, ventures, etc. on social media? A lot, it turns out. You can develop a strong personal brand – one that people know before even knowing you. You can get connected to industries and people of interest. Perhaps it can give you a leg up on future opportunities – because you may see them faster, or engage with people via social media who tell you about them. Moving to a new city for an internship or job? Social media can help you build relationships in places you may know no one.

In short, social media – and quality use of social media – helps you get noticed. Noticed by alumni, by industry experts, and by whoever else you want to get noticed by. So when thinking about your summer experiences, whether they be research, internships, DukeEngage, or other opportunities – consider the following tips for making you stand out.

  1. Know Yourself & Your Goals. Before even trying to develop a presence on social media, consider what matters to you. What do you want people to know about you? Who do you want to know you? Spend time brainstorming answers to these questions. Then, take a look at your last 10 posts on your different social media channels. Would people know these things about you based on your current profiles? If not, it’s time to get to work.
  2. Create a Plan. The biggest challenge people face when trying to be more intentional on social media is figuring out what to post. So, build a calendar! Write it wherever you will remember it – in your Outlook calendar, in your paper agenda, on your bathroom mirror – and then stick to it. Perhaps every Monday, you’re sharing an article from an industry-leading news source. On Fridays, you’re sharing something you’re doing over the weekend to expand your knowledge/skills. The biggest piece is to make sure that your calendar is aligned with the goals & values you brainstormed.
  3. Different Platforms Require Different Content. While Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn all have the ability to sync your posts, avoid it. The languages of these platforms are different – and so are your audiences.You may share the same photo, but the caption may be different – perhaps your LinkedIn post, knowing that your followers are more technical, explains your Mechanical Engineering project in engineering terms; whereas the Facebook post, knowing that your followers are your friends & family, explains the project in terms that anyone could understand. This requires a little more work, but is worth it.
  4. Engage with Others. Being a lurker on social media is creepy. In your brainstorm, you should have identified people and companies that you want to know you. Be sure to follow them on their various channels, and then engage with them through those channels. If they share articles, repost ones that are particularly interesting to you, with commentary. Show that you have opinions. Ask people for feedback in your own posts. For instance, maybe on Wednesdays, your calendar has you showing a brief video of a project you’ve been working on. When you post it, end it with a question for your followers: “What is a project you’ve been working on recently? How does it change the world?”
  5. Photos & Videos are a Must. This is the best way to tell your story. And the best way to combine your personal and professional interests. Be sure that the photos and videos you share are action shots – people should actually be working/doing something, not just standing around with their arms around each other. If you hope that your quick Boomerang from your tour of Apple gets picked up by other accounts, consider lighting – film from places that show a clear view of your activity. Sometimes, taking photos can require some thinking ahead – can you do a before & after series for a summer project you’re doing? Don’t just think about it at the end of an experience – start documenting from the beginning.
  6. Create & Use Hashtags. This is one way that people may find you – especially in the Duke world. Investigate hashtags on Twitter and Instagram that people in your industries of interest are already using, and start to use them. Connect with others who are. If you are really trying to build your own brand, create your own hashtag. Just be sure that it isn’t being used somewhere else, and that it isn’t terribly long – especially for Twitter characters. Interested in being noticed by Duke I&E? Consider hashtags like #dukeinnovation, #innovationstartshere, #dukeiseverywhere, #dukesummer, and #pictureduke.
  7. Be Public. None of this matters if people can’t find you. You can use discretion if you don’t want all your accounts open to the public. But keep in mind – the more people can see about you before connecting, the easier & more often people will actually connect. For example, be sure your accounts have quality profile photos of you. Keep your information up to date with regard to jobs and universities in your networks. Use your actual name. That way, when someone you meet at a networking event tries to become your Facebook friend, they know they have the right person.

Now – go out and update your LinkedIn. And maybe remove that strange photo from LDOC on your Instagram page.

Guest Post: Making the Most Out of the I&E Certificate Program

Innovation is a trending topic across the globe including fueling entrepreneurship, strategic corporate growth, development, and investing. At its core, innovation means creating more effective processes, products, and ideas to help solve an unmet need or appeal to a specific customer segment. As broad as the term innovation seems, the I&E Certificate Program at Duke combines classes, lectures, and events to help students immerse themselves in the study of entrepreneurship while at Duke and outside the classroom in real world experiences.

Being a Duke I&E student has introduced me to classes, professors, entrepreneurs, and students who have collectively shaped my Duke experience. The combination of experiences and courses separates the I&E Certificate from others at Duke. It provides the opportunity to apply classroom concepts to internships and jobs and vice versa. The I&E Initiative offers tailored innovation and entrepreneurship assets to guide students through the certificate. Prospective and current innovation and entrepreneurship students should take advantage of five benefits the I&E Certificate offers for students to tailor their experiences at Duke.

Keystone Mini-Series

Keystone Mini-Series consists of thirty minute lessons that occur a few times throughout the semester after the I&E Keystone class in Fuqua. The Keystone Mini-Series presents students with advice for interviewing, interning, and entering the business world. The last session helped students navigate informational interviews including what to ask and how to approach potential interviewers.

I&E Academy

I&E Academy provides lectures and demonstrations to help expand skill sets vital to innovation and entrepreneurship including design thinking, developing solutions, venture funding, protecting intellectual property, and writing business plans. Examples of Academy sessions include advice from lawyers, pitch tutorials, and risk-taking lessons.

The Bullpen

The Bullpen is home to Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative providing a hub for Duke students to collaborate as well as facilities for events, meetings, and classes. While the Bullpen is not immediately on Duke’s Campus, it is a nearby space offering various activities and opportunities to study and work, creating a sense of community for Duke students away from the immediate distractions on campus. Having this type of space fosters conversation and collaboration between students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Office Hours

Office Hours, similar to a professor’s office hours, allows prospective and current I&E students to ask questions, work on assignments, and receive guidance on crafting e-portfolios. Throughout the course of the semester, the I&E Education Team will hold Office Hours in West Union or other locations on campus easily accessible to students.

Published E-portfolios

Every student in the I&E Certificate needs to create an e-portfolio capturing their individual experiences and courses in the program. Published e-portfolios by students who have recently graduated or other students currently in the program provide helpful guidance as to how to present.

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Ariel Burde is an Innovation & Entrepreneurship Certificate Ambassador and a sophomore pursuing a History major with a concentration in business and economic cultures and Neuroscience minor. She is also a classically trained ballet dancer, performing on stage at Duke and at basketball games on the Dancing Devils. Ariel currently writes social media content for Qnary and interned with the startup, Ussie, last summer.

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