This is a long overdue post, considering that when I look out the window from where I am sitting now, the trees are just beginning to fleck with fiery reds and yellows, the tell-tale signs of approaching autumn days. Although it has only been three months since I’ve returned home from spending the summer in the Emerald City, it seems like ages ago. Amongst the whirlwind of fall semester and the realization that I am currently amidst my last year of undergrad (a whole nother jumble of thoughts all together), I somehow put writing this on the back burner. Part of it is procrastination, but the greater reason is that this summer was such a major growing period for me that I still find myself processing through everything that I’ve learned.
This summer, I spent 12 weeks at Microsoft HQ in Redmond interning as a service engineer.
It was so much fun!! Or at least those were the words I used to respond to the “Omg how was your summer?!” which dominated my first few weeks back at school. Thinking back, it was probably the best way to answer since in reality it is impossible to summarize three months of eye-opening experiences into those awkward verbal exchanges as both parties are scrambling in between classes, but luckily, this is what the blog is for!
Here are the lessons I learned during my internship at Microsoft:
Lesson #1: Do not underestimate yourself or your abilities
Oh boy, was this a biggie. I had heard of the term imposter syndrome before, but it wasn’t until coming to Microsoft where I, myself, became a victim to it.
Imposter syndrome as defined by the American Psychology Association:
First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, Ph.D., and Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.
Fraud was the perfect word. Coming into this internship, I knew that I would be one step behind my peers since I did not study computer science or computer engineering in college, did not have a strong background in coding, and heck, didn’t even know that much about the tech industry outside of being an everyday consumer. But it wasn’t until the first meeting with my team when I realized how behind I really was. I could not even start to understand 90% of the words being thrown around, the ones that I had initially thought I understood until I discovered that there was a lot more to the meaning behind everything. ISS logs, cloud computing, virtual machines, servers, what?! I remember physically feeling myself sinking deeper and deeper into my seat as the meeting dragged on and praying that the expression on my face was not a direct reflection of the utter confusion I felt inside.
So how did I find myself here as an intern at the largest software company in the world? The only logical explanation that I could come up with was that I got really freaking lucky.
However, I soon realized that the only luck that came into play was how fortunate I was to have a completely supportive manager, mentor, and team. When I was feeling at my all time low, they encouraged me to not focus on my lack of knowledge, because that was something that could be learned. My manager told me that I was hired because he saw my potential and believed in me. This was the boost I needed to start shifting my focus from what I couldn’t do onto what I could do, and from there was able to start tackling my intern project and seek out the necessary resources I would need to make sure that I would be successful. I understood that I was here for a reason and that I needed to stop comparing myself to others because that benefits no one (another lesson that I thought I had already learned in life, but clearly needed a refresher in). When I saw that my entire team believed in me, I realized how silly it was to not believe in myself.
I can now proudly say that in three months, I learned object-oriented programming from scratch and can now add C# to the list of languages I know, bringing that grand total up to three (C#, Python, and MATLAB).
Lesson #2: Find people who will support you
Piggybacking off of the amazing encouragement I received from my manager and mentor mentioned above, I realized how important it is to find people that will support you through whatever you want to do. This proved true to me, when halfway through the internship, I realized that I could not see myself returning back to my team for full-time after graduation. It was not anything against my team or the work I was doing, but rather I found that my personal interests and strengths lay elsewhere.
When I explained this to my manager, to my surprise (because I knew that the goal was to convert interns to full-time employees within the team), I was greeted with enthusiastic encouragement. He told me that nothing I said was surprising to him because he had noticed himself that the strengths he saw in me would fit better in a different role. He then told me that from now on I should finish my project, but mainly focus on reaching out to other teams within the company to see where I could find my fit. With his advice, and the support of my mentor and recruiter, I spent the remaining of the summer basically looking for a new job. I am happy to say that I was able to interview for a program manager position during the last week of my internship and **SPOILER ALERT** have recently accepted and will be returning full-time to Microsoft as a PM! And of course, none of this would had happened without the incredible support of everyone involved.
Great managers are ones who strive to help the people that they manage in accomplishing their goals, understand their strengths and weaknesses and how that translates into the way they work, and most importantly, care for you as an individual. Find the right people to surround yourself with, the ones who will support you and go out of their way to help even if it doesn’t advance their own agendas. This lesson is one that I know will prove true throughout the rest of my professional and personal life. So remember it.
Lesson #3: Do not be afraid to reach out to others
This one is pretty short and simple. During the time where I was reaching out to people (mostly program managers since I had an inkling that this was the position that would best fit my interests), I learned a very important lesson. Do not be afraid to reach out to people and ask for help, advice, guidance, or whatever it may be. This is probably the #1 piece of advice I have for any intern because there is always something to learn from someone. Especially when you are interning because you have so many resources at your disposable and so many amazing individuals to get to know.
Reaching out to people is scary, because no one likes to take no for an answer, but do it tactfully and I guarantee that more often that not, people will say yes. You never know what will come out of a conversation over lunch or coffee, so take the risk! This is something that I have been continuing to practice even since being back at school.
Lesson #4: Understand what your priorities are
This is the most important lesson that I learned this summer, and is hands down the one thing that I am the most grateful for. I think everyone has that “dream” company that they aspire to work for. At least at my school, so many students are career-driven and constantly aiming to work at name brand companies: Microsoft, Facebook, Google, you name it. When I was given this opportunity to intern at one of these “dream” companies that I never ever even considered (because not once did it cross my mind that I would be “good enough”), little did I know that it would set my life trajectory onto a different path.
After having spent a summer working at Microsoft, which I have nothing but amazing things to say (seriously, if given the opportunity, EVERYONE should intern here!), I have realized that perhaps working at a big company, making a lot of money, and having that lucrative name on my resume aren’t the most important things to me. This realization is something that could have only happened after having been there, done that. Interning at Microsoft granted me the freedom and courage to explore where my priorities and values truly lie, or at least push me in a direction that is one step closer to where I want to be and doing what I want to do. It is still something that I am figuring out, but I have been taking that next step by exploring new things these past couple of months during my last year in college.
I guess this is why it has taken me so long to actually sit down and write this post, because even now, I am still figuring it all out.
What does it mean to make an impact?
How can I live an impactful life?
How will my job at Microsoft help better prepare me to do the things that I’m passionate about?
I definitely do not know the answers to these questions just yet, and I don’t think I will for a long time… but that is all part of the fun in life, am I right?
Until next time!
Adios, amigos y amigas.