What I learned during my first year working at Microsoft
A fresh eyes’ perspective on what it takes to be successful at a top tech company
One year ago, I started working as a Software Engineer at Microsoft — which is pretty much my dream job. I discovered so many new things, and enjoyed myself so much, that time flew by and I can’t believe it’s already been a whole year. I learned about new technologies, traveled to a dozen new places, embraced a new culture and met brilliant people.
I could go on like this for a while but enough about me — I’m writing this post to share a few of my learnings during my time at this amazing company. I don’t know how it is in other top tech companies, but I’m pretty sure these pieces of advice can apply to them as well.
1. Be willing to help
One thing that struck me from the beginning was how everyone was always ready to help me whenever I needed something. Whether it was figuring out how to use the office printer or understanding why some piece of code wouldn’t work, my colleagues invested their time in landing me a hand.
Later on, I found myself in positions where I would help others too. I did it because I guess I like to be nice, but it also turned out to be beneficial for me.
When people asked me to explain some things, I realized afterwards that explaining stuff helped me get a better understanding of it. When I was invited to present Microsoft at a student event, I found it helped me on my path to be more comfortable speaking in public. And sometimes, helping random people with random things can just turn into an occasion to connect with someone new.
Don’t help people just because you think you can get something in return. Instead, learn to appreciate giving some of your time (not all of it, of course) to improve other people’s lives just a little bit — only good can come out of it.
2. Don’t expect others to tell you what to do
It might not be like this everywhere, but at Microsoft, you manage your own time. There is no micromanagement, and your colleagues and managers trust you to do your work. This is great, and I personally love it, but I know it comes with a few challenges.
Since there is no one to tell you what to do, you have to push yourself to work the best you can even if you sometimes feel like you don’t have to. You can probably get by for a while doing just the strict minimum, but if you want to be on the path to success, you have to set your own goals and be proactive.
I know some people struggle with that, but being independent is a must. You can ask for help, obviously, but managing your time and the work you produce is something you cannot expect anyone but yourself to take care of.
It’s actually harder than it sounds and requires self-discipline, but in my opinion it is so much better than having your boss watch your every move and preventing you from doing things your own way.
3. Know how to learn
Probably the most important skill to have in a company like this, or anywhere else for that matter, is the ability to learn efficiently. The world is changing constantly, and tech companies even more rapidly.
There is no technology that I work with today (well, except for the programming languages I use) that I knew prior to working at Microsoft. And some of the cloud services I work with are just a few months old. I learned on the job, and that’s probably what everyone does. Except that in this industry, there’s always something new that comes up: new frameworks, new versions, new tools…
I guess that having developed stuff on my computer for quite a while now, I’ve learned that being a good developer isn’t about knowing everything, but knowing how to search for what you’re looking for. Most of the time I don’t even know how to do something until I try and see that it doesn’t work, then google the error I get back and fix it. The same goes for other jobs: if you don’t know how to do something, just search how to do it.
When I hear that a certain project requires a certain knowledge of a certain language/framework/tool/you-name-it, I’m not scared or I don’t think that I can’t do it, because I know I can just learn about it. Well, it’s not entirely true because some technical challenges require a deep knowledge that only comes with a lot of experience that I don’t have yet, but my point is: be ready to learn new stuff all the time. You can’t possibly know everything you’ll ever need to know anyway.
Don’t get too emotionally attached to the knowledge you have now, as almost everything you know now will be irrelevant in a few years. Don’t see things you don’t know as an obstacle — roll up your sleeves and start learning.
4. Adapt quickly
During my short time at Microsoft, I’ve been through 3 reorgs and witnessed many changes — in my team and elsewhere. Sure, things moved around me, but I didn’t focus on the changes — just on the new way of doing things.
Change will inevitably happen. As long as you don’t dwell on it, and move forward, you’ll be fine. I imagine that sometimes change can be painful, but no good will come from you living in the past and exploring all the reasons why things were better before. The best thing you can do is adapt to your new situation the best you can, and embrace the changes. I guess if the new situation is really crappy then you should try and find something better for you — but I can’t give advice on that part as I’ve never been there.
Try and stay open-minded, welcome changes as an opportunity to learn new things. If you’re not flexible, just like a stick, at some point you will snap.
I feel like it’s not really my place to give workplace advice just one year after entering the working world, but at the same time I’ve learned so much during this year, and I haven’t had time to forget about it yet. These are the things that really stood out to me, and I’m sharing them with you before they become so normal that I don’t even notice them anymore.
Being independent, willing to learn and help others, and able to adapt quickly are, in my opinion, the most important things to think about if you want to be successful in a company such as this one. I do not yet have enough hindsight to know that for sure, but it seems like common sense to me.