So I finished a full year of being a real adult, wore my big girl pants and worked at Microsoft. And holy wow- I have learnt so much! It’s been an *interesting* year to say the least. Moving to Seattle, paying ridiculous amounts of rent, just to stay inside my apartment listening to people say “can you see my screen?”, “you’re on mute” and “we’re in unprecedented times” over and over again was not what I had in mind.
I still have so much to celebrate, so much I’ve learnt and that usually calls for a nice long word ramble. I adopted a doggo, finally figured out what the heck a 401k was (you don’t get 401,000$ in case you were wondering), started a business Dasani Decoded, released a bunch of cool features, spoke at conferences and so much more. Reflecting back I can’t believe it’s only been a year!
Here you have it — lessons from my first year working at Microsoft (or more accurately adulting)!
You’re here for your perspective — share it
When I first started my job it was scary — I was pretty much the only early career product manager in my team and office location. I had never used Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management before or even heard of it. I don’t have a background in business so I didn’t understand the jargon or the business landscape.
I felt like I would never have anything to add to the conversation — so for a while I didn’t. The fact that I had a lot of people coming to me after meetings and on social media asking me “so how did you even get this job?” really did not help with imposter syndrome.
Eventually, after lots of conversation with mentors and co-workers, I realized I was specifically hired for my unique and fresh perspective, so I was doing myself and Microsoft a disservice if I stayed quite. If something didn’t make sense to me it’s pretty likely that our customers wouldn’t understand either, if I was struggling to onboard or use a tool, odds are other people were too. Keeping quiet about it would only cause problems in the future, so no matter how intimidating it felt I started speaking up.
Ask all the questions
People often think that asking questions is only important when you first start the job — I have to disagree. I think it’s vital to keep that learning spirit going.
I have almost as many questions when I go into a meeting now compared to when I first started. They are perhaps more meaningful and insight driven questions than my first week (I hope so at least), but I still encounter just as many strange acronyms, need to ask a ton of clarifying questions to understand where someone is coming from and what they’re trying to do.
I moved around my whole life, had 8 different jobs in college and the advantage of having so many first days is that you really get over the whole “what if I look stupid” phase. I’m willing to look stupid if it means I’ll learn something.
When you ask the “stupid” questions you generate clarity — which I consider essential in any job that requires working with people. So go out there, fall flat on your face and stand back up with pride!
Talking about your work isn’t bragging — its transparency
I grew up in a small town and went to a university with a pretty tight nit CS department. I was used to having my reputation precede me — I didn’t have to let people know what I did or what I was good at. People around me already knew, so when I awkwardly “humble bragged” or was selling myself short, the people around me actually knew what I was about and my value.
At a big company, when you work with people you need be honest about your strengths and progress that you made. Owning a win, and sharing the awesome things you do isn’t bragging — it’s transparency. Your reputation won’t always precede you and people will take your word for what you say unless you prove them otherwise. If you feel pretty confident about a certain area, say that you are because otherwise people will assume you aren’t.
Caveat — the same goes for when you don’t do something well. Providing visibility for what isn’t working is just as important as sharing what is. It’s a worse look if you know what the issues are and don’t share them than if you did.
Don’t wait for permission to act
I’m an ideas person — seriously I am always buzzing with ideas, tinkering around and trying out new things. It’s almost frustrating because I will often find myself walking up in the middle of the night to jot something down.
In university I got really comfortable with just doing. If I wanted to try something out I went ahead and did it. Similarly with Dasani Decoded — I didn’t have to seek permission, I just went ahead and made the changes I wanted to. However, when I started out at Microsoft I felt like I had to make sure everyone was onboard and okay with things before I got the ball moving. I was so terrified of making the wrong move that I would constantly wait for someone to give me the green light.
Especially as a product manager, I think it’s so important to just “do the thing”. Once you get started someone will tell you are duplicating effort, need to change your approach or switch gears. Doers are rare, never feel apologetic for actually trying out an idea. It’s what makes you unique and standout.
Don’t let waiting for validation hold you back from making real progress.
Be patient with yourself — good growth takes time
Sometimes I find myself in situations where I berate myself for not knowing enough, or not learning something fast enough. Growth takes time and patience. Instead of admonishing yourself for not knowing something early on, celebrate how far you’ve come and what you’ve learnt. I love this quote from Maya Angelou “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Have a little faith in yourself and trust that the seeds you are watering will bloom! Digging up the ground too early doesn’t help anyone.
Share your goals and ask for the support you need
If you have a professional goal like getting promoted or learning a certain skill, let your manager and leadership know. You won’t know if they can help you if you don’t ask. There are conversations happening in rooms without you, opportunities that are there that you might not know about. Your manager likely has a better lay of the land than you. So when the right opportunity comes about they will remember to consider you.
And if you need a little longer to finish a task or need some additional support to accomplish something let your team know as soon as possible. Transparency is a lot more valuable than foolishly attempting to do the whole thing yourself.
Your life is bigger than your job — set boundaries
Your job isn’t going to fulfill all your passions and at the end of the day. Even if you really love it — your job is just a job. Make sure you don’t let it consume your whole life.
Something that I’ve started doing is listing down all the things that I want to have in my life: art, writing, meaningful friendships, ice cream, quality conversations, etc. I make sure I’m finding ways to keep those things in my life. Your job should never cost you your quality of life it should be supporting it.
I found myself getting burnt out multiple times because I wasn’t able to put boundaries and kept working to accommodate everyone else's schedules. A job will ever give you your health back so it isn’t worth compromising it.
I was so used to burning that midnight oil in college. I’d pull late nights, sleep throughout the weekend, push myself till the end of the semester and hibernate for 2 weeks after finals got over.
That is obviously not sustainable long term. I keep reminding myself that I can no longer operate in sprints. I have to adjust my lifestyle for the long haul. I’m not going to get spring break or get to relax after “finals get over”.
Changing my lifestyle to be more sustainable has been really challenging. I’m used to operating at “all or nothing”. It’s either total beast mode or hibernation and I’m not used to operating in between. So when I’m not working for 12 hours straight I feel unproductive.
Rewriting that narrative is challenging, and realizing this is possibly the most important lesson I’ve had this year.
People are amazing — get to know them
Working at Microsoft, I really have to say I have the most amazing co-workers. Everyone I meet has such an interesting story just waiting to be pulled out. Especially when we’re working from home it’s easy for all the meetings to be really transnational — lets meet to discuss the progress on X, or can you help me do Y and the small talk is pretty low.
I’ve never regretted taking extra time to just talk to someone 1:1 and really get to know their journey and learn from them. I am constantly surprised by someone else’s really cool hobby or how they dealt with a career transition. I’ve never regretted spending more time to really learn someone’s journey. It’s easy to get caught up in deliverables and requirements, but the moments I’ve spent to get to know the people around me have been the most valuable and memorable. At the end of the day we’re not “resources” we’re people.
Welp — there’s the gist. That was a summary of a whole 365 days of being a real adult. My outlook on life isn’t usually filled with butterflies and sparkles, but I have to say that today I am excited to see what else life will give me to uncover — the adventures to be had, the things to learn, the places to see!