What happens when you start your job with your dream company just as a global pandemic hits?
When you start with Microsoft in April 2020, you have to use a Microsoft campus selfie from Nov 2019 instead
Today I complete one year since my first day at Microsoft. This all started when a Microsoft recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn. One thing led to another and after 15 rounds of whiteboard coding interview (just kidding, more on the interview process later), badabing badaboom I was on-boarding at Microsoft and lo and behold, here we are after one year.
Here are some (completely random) lessons learned about life, career, big tech co, consultancy and technology in my first full year as a consultant at Microsoft starting from the recruitment.
Lesson 1: Regardless of your employment status, be open to compelling opportunities
Yes, this means even listening to recruiters on LinkedIn. This also means keeping your LinkedIn profile somewhat updated. The funniest part about this recruitment process was that I had not updated my resume in over a decade. Note to self: keep resume updated. I’m not saying you should be interviewing every week but listen to compelling opportunities.
Microsoft recruiter reached out on LinkedIn right before the pandemic hit.
Lesson 2: RelaxTF during interviews
Not every interview at Microsoft is a whiteboard coding interview. Since I was interviewing with Microsoft Consulting, a different org within Microsoft, my interview experience reflected that. My interviews were a mix of technical and consulting discussions related to the projects I was working on. Since I was not really in a desperate employment position, the lack of outcome dependency allowed me to relax during the interviews
Lesson 3: Microsoft is unimaginably huge
Having worked at mostly non-big tech companies, it was jarring to walk into a true big tech company. The company is huge, has a well defined hierarchy. There is plenty of room to grow, or, even disappear. I’m a Senior Consultant but so low down on the org chart that in web 2.0 terminology I’m “below the fold”. As an IC (individual contributor), I’m quite ok with this. Maybe some day this will bother my fragile ego but for now I’m relishing focusing on the technical aspects of my job.
Also, since I work in the consulting org, this is different than the product team people who have the sexy jobs building Azure and .NET products. Basically, people like myself are consider SMEs (subject matter experts) at various technologies. We go in and help implement solutions focusing on our area of expertise following Microsoft standards.
Lesson 4: Starting a new job during a pandemic is really tough
I started in April 2020 when the world, America in particular, was reeling from the first wave of COVID-19. I started remote, onboarded remote and have never met a single colleague or team member since I started. All my previous jobs required intense face-to-face time and I made some great lifelong friends with colleagues and even customers in these jobs. 100% remote is pretty much opposite of my past experience. I adapted and even thrived but that does not mean I don’t miss the face to face aspect of it.
Lesson 5: Let the minimum guide you but not constrain you
One of the advantages of working at a big tech co is that your job function is very well defined, you get monthly/quarterly/annual goals and get rewarded for achieving those. This can lead to tunnel vision and sole focus on those goals. Sometimes, I even find myself doing just the bare minimum and coasting. While doing your job and meeting your goals are great, solely focusing on those or doing the bare minimum could lead to neglect of overall growth. How do you grow? Talk to other people, talk to your manager, shadow people with different job functions, contribute to internal projects, mentor, be mentored, etc.
Lesson 6: Learn and speak their lingo
To put in relevant terms, learn the customer’s “language”. Dig through their wiki/confluence sites. Read as many operational and tribal knowledge document as you can get your hands on. Learn all about their internal processes, standards, history, etc. You would be surprised how disconnected various departments and teams are. Bolster your technical strengths with an understanding of why the customers do the things they do.
Lesson 7: Say “no” to magic
Picture this: you’re working on a project, suddenly your deployment pipeline stops working. You go talk to someone in Ops and they direct you to Brent. You explain the problem to Brent. Brent emails you a few minutes later saying it’s fixed. This is magic. Something that works mysteriously at the command of one or a few. Same problem happens next Friday. Brent is out so you’re SOL until Monday. But what if you had asked Brent what the problem was and how he fixed it. Say “no” to magic and demand an explanation for mysterious phenomenon.
Lesson 8: Learn when to say no
In the age of endless virtual meetings, saying “no” should actually be the default. It’s easy to say “yes” early on because you have FOMO and then have regrets for agreeing to something closer to time. Do not write time checks your calendar cannot cash.
Lesson 9: Don’t be afraid of saying I don’t know
We’re living in the times of the full stack professional aka one person is expected to know everything. As a generalist, I love to learn new tech and understand the bigger picture. But there are (many) occasions where I have to be honest about myself that this is not something I can add any value to and bring in someone with expertise in this area instead. This always turns out to be more educational, enlightening and liberating instead of having to live a lie pretending to know everything.
Lesson 10: Build for the future
The pandemic clarified a lot of things in the tech sector – one of them being, companies who built for the future relentlessly got to reap the benefits when the future showed up. Take Microsoft Teams, for instance. If couple of years back, you told people Teams would be the hottest growing Microsoft product, chances are you would have met with some healthy debate on that topic. Teams, while not perfect, envisioned the future of work by proving video calls, chat and document management in a single app. When the pandemic hit, perfect was not needed, good enough was good enough. As a result, it became one of (if not) the fastest growing product for Microsoft.
This brings up another question: how do you build for the future? Let’s take Teams as an example. No one in that product group probably foresaw a global pandemic. Instead, they focused on making the remote experience great for teams that could not be together for various reason including geography, health reasons, physical ability, economics and so on. The pandemic was simply a convergence of more than one of these factors. You can build for today by focusing on the masses or you can build for tomorrow by focusing on and delighting those who face significant obstacles.
A little bit about my journey to Microsoft – I got here after 20 years of trying and being an utter disaster in whiteboard coding interviews. Not everyone will be interested in this takeaway but if your current approach in attaining a goal is not working, try changing the approach instead of giving up.
Onward to year 2!