Okay, it’s actually two months ago that I started working at Microsoft. I’m blaming the delay on getting this out on the overall excitement for working at big-M. Regardless, it’s been a strange COVID laden process that’s meant that all the regular pleasantries and things that normally happen all got jumbled up and re-worked to fit the new narrative of a post COVID world.
After writing 1500+ words I dedicated to re-write this blog. The intention was to re-focus the outcome to something that may provide better value. Having looked from the outside in for many years, I always aspired to work at a tech giant, particularly Microsoft. If I rewind back a few months, I had only assumptions on what the other side of the fence was like, i.e. working at Microsoft. So I wanted to share some feedback as to what it’s actually like from my perspective. On what it is like to work as a Cloud Solution Architect, and briefly what it’s like to interview and start a job during a pandemic.
So to do the curious minded justice, to get a glimse of life in the ivory tower, here’s an updated 2000+ word blog of the first chapter (of hopefully many) of said life at Microsoft.
Yes, I did interview during a remote only pandemic. Interviewing is a skill and something not enough people put quality time in perfecting. So as someone that finds it difficult to talk about myself without thinking I sound, for lack of a better description off the top of my head douchey, I think Microsoft Teams based interviewing helped me in that regard. The main benefit was the comfort of being at home and being afforded more time to do my big day ritual in preparation for something like the interviews themselves.
The interviews were the same as they would have been in person. There is a specific format of the number of interviews and what questions are asked. In my case, that was 5 rounds, across different disciplines, with different interviewers and with a wealth of questions from technical to non-technical.
I prepared as much as I could and pro-tip there is no such thing as over preparing! I found resources online that references the types of questions that Microsoft and other big tech companies like to ask. Just Bing or Google that and you will come across those pretty easily. Microsoft even publish resources on YouTube that outline “How to prepare for Microsoft technical interviews”. So, a pro-tip is getting familiar with the ‘STAR’ method to answer questions. Thats ‘Situation, Task, Action, Result’. That certainly helped get my mind right into thinking of possible example answers, putting them into OneNote, rehearsing and getting as comfortable as I can in answering those types of questions.
From my manager to my team, the Australia business unit, the Asia Pacific region and even Senior Vice Presidents responsible for the division, I’ve been welcomed during the onboarding process from the breadth of Microsoft. That was unexpected and special, given time differences and everyone’s commitments.
You’re certainly made to feel welcome. You’re made to feel like you’ve joined an organisation that wants you to bring your true and authentic self to work everyday, and contribute to the greater good- collectively, as well as individually.
There is a wealth of systems and tools to get though and accustomed to, I’ll get to this in more detail further down, but it was actually a breeze with lots of automation. Things just worked!
Overall, not as crash hot as pre-pandemic days where trips to Redmond would be the norm, but even without that, you’re not ever in a position where you’re an island and your isolated.
Since sometime in 2009 my daily work laptop has been a Macbook. I went down that path as at the time there was some apps I wanted to use that were exclusive to OS X. That turned into using a Mac for well over a decade for anywhere between 8 and 12 hours a day.
I’ve flirted with Surface Pro’s a bit, but never committed long enough as the most killer OS X/MacOS feature is “Mission Control” and Spaces kept brining me back. Yes, Windows has Virtual Desktops, but Windows does not allow you to force an app to open on a particular desktop. Something that is the biggest unknown productivity hack you could do! (other than say increasing you mouse movement speed, which is so simply, but when you do it you realise how much less movement your hand needs to make to get shit done!)
Up until the day I started at Microsoft I was still using a Macbook. However, I don’t like the performance degradation of running a Windows VM on a Mac with say Parallels, or Bootcamp and not having correct working biometrics. So with the provided (yes, that was a surprise) Surface Laptop 3 (top spec as well), I went back to using Windows daily. Thus far, apart from the odd CPU fan noise and Windows Defender doing some intensive scans during business hours, there are really no complaints.
I was taken aback by how much Microsoft, from the top down, drives 1) a growth mindset, 2) collaboration and 3) inclusion. Theres a massive push to shift away from just individual contributions to contribution that impacts your peers in positive ways so that overall, everyone is moving in the right direction together. Sure, every organisation has open plan offices, drive collaboration within and between teams, but at Microsoft there’s individual performance metrics that reinforce these methodologies, so they don’t fall by the wayside.
I also noticed that there are a lot of my peers, those at senior level and even at executive level that have quite a few years under thier belts at Microsoft. Yes, it’s amazing working for a company like Microsoft. But, I’ve found that you’re really looked after and encouraged to be empowered to kick goals. For me, seeing that level of retention says a lot about an organisation. If you’re bleeding staff and have high turnover rates, the organisation is doing something wrong, probably at multiple levels. When I said earlier, I hope theres many more months/years/chapters at Microsoft in store for me; I meant it!
Building on the culture around a growth mindset: yes, there is always something to learn. I look at having a growth mindset as also being a lifelong learner. A career is a journey, especially when working at Microsoft. Technology changes and evolves so much over the years that if you’re not learning weekly or daily new perspectives, new technical knowledge, then youre standing still on the side of a highway when the the world is zooming past you.
In terms of processes, systems and methodologies– in that regard there is a bit to adjust to. Having been on the partner side of the fence for 15 years, pivoting to the internal Microsoft / vendor side has been something to learn and adjust to. My metrics for success are no longer tied to end-to-end delivery of projects. Rather, they are tied to solving customers' technical problems, removing those blockers and helping with individual milestones. The great thing is theres a ridiculous number of resources available to help individuals succeed.
This was an interesting mind shift coming from a by the hour, metric based consulting background that for the most part needed me out there with customers ASAP and ultimately doing what I’m there to do: generate revenue. It has been a complete 180 there thus far. Yes, I’m hired to do a role and theres KPI’s around that. However, there has not been preasure to kick a winning goal in the first couple of days or weeks. Everyone understands there is a process and in no time at all I’ll be like Zlatan (Do you know Zlatan?) and banging them in left, right and centre.
I’ve heard it a couple of times now- slow down, think. This emphasis is placed on various situations, as exampled via internal training videos. That afforded time to make sure correct actions are taken is important. Laying that foundation from the outset tells me that the organisation as a whole values doing things correctly over doing things fast. Pressure will come, no doubt. Juggling timeframes and projects and customers- it’s inevitable. This early-stage lack of pressure feels comforting.
One big change for me around daily workflow that makes a CSA role enjoyable, not any less easy, is not having to do timesheets! After 15 years of tracking every hour of my week and making sure I account for EVERY BILLABLE HOUR!?!?!…. not having to worry about that and focussing on delivering value to customer has been a breath of fresh air.
Microsoft loves acronyms. It’s almost as if acronyms are the real reason the company exits and empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more is a close second. Only joking, but acronyms are so prevalent that a handy Glossary is available (and needed) to double check those from time to time.
There are also the same acronyms for totally different things as well. Thats fun?! So learning these is a little tricky, but not super difficult. It’s only when they overlap that you need to know the context, for example, to know a CSA is either a Cloud Solution Architect or a Conditional Sales Agreement.
Not sure I should have answered this question right after explaining acronyms. However, if you enjoy what you’re doing, then no. Deeply learn Azure, use that knowledge to help customers. Easy.
If you’re wanting to do the role as a means to get in the door at Microsoft and you’re ill prepared, than it’s likly yes, it’s going to be hard. Or possible if you’re not committed to deeply learning Azure, again, you’ll find it hard.
I classify myself in the first category there. I enjoy learning and using that knowledge to solve customers' problems. Is this my dream job? No. If I could have a dream job it would be a Formula 1 driver, or a pizzaiolo in Naples, or manager of Chelsea Football Club. Dream jobs are wild, other worldly things that those lucky enough to do it probably don’t call it a job at all.
However, the line “Do what you love” comes to mind. Life pulls you in different directions and the path of said love isn’t always available. I tend to think instead of “Love what you do”. Its a subtle shift in wording, but a big shift in mindset. The latter, and what I apply, is taking opportunities and giving everything to it. Loving it for as long as possible and pivot, iterate, improve, or change so the spark is maintained. The amazing think about Microsoft is that ability to move within the organisation. To that, it may not be a dream job, but it could very well be the dream company, a dream organisation.
After dreaming big all those years ago and wanting to work at Microsoft, the first part, the working at Microsoft, I can tick off as I’m living the dream as a CSA. The second part is actually succeeding. Thats going to take more than 2 months to do. So, in that regard, the role is challenging in a good way.
It’s a specialist generalist role that needs me to be an SME across various aspects of Azure. That keeps me on my toes and again goes back to a growth mindset and being a lifelong learner.
Honestly, I tried to look. How could you not? I didn’t get very far though. So pro-tip, unless you’re in the Windows development team, you’re not going to be privy to Windows code.
I wasn’t looking for any nefarious purposes, but rather just curious if that level of accessibility is there for all staff. Thankfully, there are controls!
While SharePoint Online is reasonably open and the search functionality can look at files that are confidential but accessible to a level that is available for me to view, there is no Windows code there! I would assume that all the good stuff is stored in private Azure DevOps Project Repos or GitHub Repos that’s invite only and far, far away from noob eyes like mine. Or better yet, somewhere that’s locked away in a secret building (“Building W” maybe) and the only way to get in is with the secret Microsoft handshake. Again, I don’t know what that is… yet!!! 👀
I hope this brain dump (and heart dump) is insightful for the journey so far. There’s room to go deeper, but I think I’ll save those thoughts for follow up blogs in the future. Cheers!?!