This week marked the completion of my first six months at Microsoft as a full-time software engineer working on Cortana for Windows. It feels like it was just yesterday that I walked into Microsoft’s Lift London office and crossed off day one of my career. This early-in-career checkpoint left me feeling reflective about the growth I have experienced and the lessons I have learnt.
Team Fit is Irreplaceable
Let’s take a step back first. My real first six months at Microsoft I finished back in January 2017 when I was a placement student at Lift working on Paint 3D. I had an amazing team who taught me more about the technology industry, the world of business, and technical expertise in the year that I spent with them than any lecture or online class could. I finished my placement year and subsequent internship on the Xbox team feeling confident in my abilities and ready to start my full-time career.
My 15 months as an intern meant my transition to re-join Microsoft after completing my computing undergrad was seamless. I instantly had a connection with the team, was comfortable asking questions, and felt like I belonged. A major reason I wanted to work with the Lift team again post-university was because of the team fit. Our team is wildly clever, places critical importance on quality, and strives for impactful innovation — traits I hold in very high esteem.
Surrounding yourself by people who you can learn from is of the utmost importance, particularly for a new engineer. The classic phrase “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room” is so true, because otherwise you’ll begin to stagnate.
Beyond working traits, my team feels like family. I look forward to seeing them every day, sharing stories, hearing their perspectives, and laughing at the most absurdly random topics. Our team fit, driven by meaningful relationships, makes me an enthusiastic employee who wants to tackle challenging, unanswered questions in the emerging virtual assistant space.
Team fit is created on both sides of the hiring table and discovering what kind of team fit suits your unique needs and wants is a personal journey. You produce the best work if you are surrounded by people who complement, motivate, and inspire you.
Discover your (Evolving) Motivations
True, long-lasting motivation comes from within. It is created by your passions, values, and dreams. When I first started pursuing technology, working in the video games industry was my goal. I grew up playing games and wanted to create the games that shaped me.
Over the years, as I was learning about other technologies and was gaining experience, my motivations evolved — as they should! Working on Paint 3D and Xbox taught me that I love working on user-facing products that bring fun and creativity to others.
Building on those revelations, the combination of working on Paint 3D and Cortana helped me tune into the joy and adventure of working on cutting-edge technologies that introduce additional challenges of solving unanswered questions like “How can we make 3D creation easy for anyone between the ages of 4 and 104?” and “How can we provide the best experience and most value in the new voice-enabled world?”.
Experience across three very different global products taught me what made my heart sing; pursuing innovation, pushing boundaries in new human-computer interaction spaces, the ability to enhance the lives of others around the world.
This discovery freed me from the small box that I put myself in where I thought I would only be happy or find success working in the games industry.
Seek Communities Outside Your Day Job
The women in STEM community brings me a sense of fulfilment that I cannot find solely in programming. Crucially, it combines my engineering skills, life experience, and my desire to make the world a better place.
During my placement year, I was fortunate to have a mentor, Linden, who fuelled my fire to bring equality and gender balance to the technology industry. Since then, female empowerment and activism has been at my core.
Once I went back to university to finish my undergrad, I was elected the VP of the Computing Society to use it as a platform for change. My efforts focused on increasing industry connections for all Surrey students and providing female students strong role-models, a powerful network, and career advice on how to succeed in male-dominated industries.
My work continues at Microsoft. Coincidentally, this week also marks International Women’s Day and the culmination of weeks of work organizing an inspiring technology showcase developed by the engineering teams in London incl. HoloLens, Paint 3D, and SwiftKey to show to 50 year eight girls during a DigiGirlz day.
DigiGirlz, a Microsoft organization, aims to inspire future female technologists by introducing them to Microsoft employees and workspaces, getting them hands-on with the latest technology, and challenging them to #CreateWhatsNext during a hackathon centered around making the world a more accessible place. Throughout the day I wore many hats — hackathon helper, mentor, judge, and co-organizer.
I was exhausted by the end, but absolutely thrilled with the results. The girls left feeling empowered to pursue technology with a greater understanding of how they can integrate programming skills into their individual passions.
These additional communities introduce you to people that otherwise may be out of reach.
External communities unlock a network united by shared interests that can be tapped into to accelerate your career and altruistic goals.
I have met so many incredible female leaders and have had countless career opportunities stem from my advocacy work.
Satya Nadella wrote in his book Hit Refresh — Employee Edition that we should use Microsoft as a platform to change the world and create impact. We are all dynamic people with interests beyond our day jobs. Find a way to combine your skills, create positive change, and live a more fulfilled life.
Lock into Your USP
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given is to find gaps in your team’s skills and fill it. Make it your USP. Not only does it push you to learn new skills, but it also makes you an invaluable member of the team.
For me, this comes in the form of Windows UI development done in XAML. For those who have written in XAML before, you know that it can be a bit of a beast. There is a lot to learn with different quirks and “magic” that can make it hard to fully understand.
There are other amazing XAML developers team members, but as their careers have progressed, they no longer have the time to develop as much. Others find it too complicated or just outside their realm of interest. Conversely, I enjoy the challenge of XAML and developing front-facing code, so this skill appeals to my technology sub-interests.
It is a perfect opportunity to seize a skill gap and fill it whilst using the other XAML developer’s experience to enhance and increase the pace of my learnings. Note that this does not mean limiting yourself to just this skill. The intention is to grow your skills into these needed areas.
Expertise brings respect and career growth opportunities. Identify a cross-section between the technologies you love and the skills your team needs.
Taking a moment to self-reflect helped me appreciate my growth in the last six months. I look forward to the next six months of learnings leading up to my 1-year anniversary at Microsoft.