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Lessons learned after being at Microsoft for 1 year

Lessons learned after being at Microsoft for 1 year

Today marks my 1st anniversary of working as a Cloud Solution Architect at Microsoft, and wow what an exciting time it has been! But before I go deeper into my experiences and lessons learned, I first would like to start by thanking some people without whom all of this would never have been possible.

My first thanks goes to Ron Pooters, who was my mentor since the beginning, guiding me through all the tips, tricks and steps of working at a company as large as this one, without whom I would've never been able to ramp up in a role as exciting as this one. Even though he has become a manager now (in fact he has become my manager!) he still appears as the first time I met him, an awesome guy striving and fighting to bring up the best in everyone and help them achieve a greater purpose.

Secondly I would like to thank my first Manager and lead of the Customer Success Unit - Thomas Kessler. He was the one that believed in me before I even started, giving me the chance to start in this awesome architect role where I was able to grow and prove my worth. My second fiscal in - even though I had a struggling year, this believe is still there and I was allowed to continue in this fascinating role. Next to all of this he guided me through the different procedures and growth process a young graduate as me needed, to be able to show my worth to the company.

Through the year I had much more support from the different colleagues around me (to call a few: Wesley, Nathan, Karim, Tine, Gitte, Nills, …), who I am also eternal grateful towards, since without the support of these awesome people, I would've never been able to go from being seen as a "rookie" who came straight out of University in this field to the more "evolved" kind of person (the road is still long) where I am right now. My colleagues allowed me to feel part of the team, motivating me and giving me the chance to prove myself.

A good practice that is being done within Microsoft is reflection. What did we do last year, and how can we improve on this? and what I would like to do with this post is share my most important lessons of my first year, with the fresh and naive mind a student has (or had).

1. Planning

Every job you start takes time to master, do not just expect everything to become clear from your first week. You can however accelerate things, by taking the time to understand your role description inside-out and creating a battle plan, know what is expected from you and make a mapping from it so that you know where your focus points are and what you will be challenged on. Just think of this as creating your own personal Go-To-Market strategy, without one you are like a fish on dry land, hopping around to find water, your source of life.

One way that I have learned to accomplish this throughout the year, is to create Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for myself. Allowing me to measure what I do, and react on things when I lose focus. In a customer facing role for example, a KPI could be the number of engagements you spotted in that week? or even the number of weekly customer meetings you had? but other KPIs could just as well be the time you spent on training yourself. Because in the world of today, everything is moving at the speed of light and we have to try and stay up to date with everything happening around us.

2. Execution

Now you have your Battle Plan and KPIs set up, but how do you actually execute? An approach that works for me is to understand that even if you have those KPIs in place, that you tend to forget about them. One way to remediate this is to put a meeting in the beginning of my week - even if it's just for 15minutes - as a reminder for myself to be aware of these KPIs and measure them.

Next to that there are a couple of other things that work for me in executing these plans and allowing me to spend more time on the subjects that increase my impact in the end:

  • When you encounter something that could be automated, automate it! This doesn't have to be big, but it helps reducing your work in the longer term (just make sure that you know how much time you will spend automating it versus the time it will gain you, a basic calculation of investment vs ROI).
  • Plan your battle of the rocks: moving a big rock takes time and effort, why not instead plan a few smaller rocks representing the achievements you want to get within a certain timeframe? By focusing on a few smaller ones, you will be able to gain more energy and motivation when you complete each one of them and be less likely to fail when tackling a rock that is too big for you at this moment in time.

3. Personal Growth

A last point that I want to tackle are my personal learnings in the area of "Personal Growth". I can for sure say from experience that this has been the most difficult area by far for me as a person, not only because I was going from a "student" mindset towards an "enterprise" mindset, or that I am a ENTJ type of person. But also because of that you start working with people far more senior than yourself (which is a good thing, that you will have to learn to appreciate and utilize!).

Something I have noticed around me, is that for a junior profile as mine, it's good to start off humble and build up your experience. A nice quote I got from my managers here is that: "Gray Hairs Count", showing the importance of it. To illustrate some of my few key takeaways in how I try show humbleness:

  • Put others first: Know your own self-worth, and rather than spreading it around, just show interests in others and ask about their job/day/… This will not only gain you a lot of respect (because others come first), but it will also improve your networking by it, getting to know everyone around you.
  • Listen: Instead of charging into a conversation and start talking about how you want to get things done, try to listen. Never dominate the conversation, but come in with facts, numbers and your voice when it really counts. This will save you a lot of energy in the long-run and also gain you respect. Since really, who wants to be known as the "know it all"?
  • Say "thank you": People like it when they feel appreciated. Therefor take the time to show how much you appreciate their work.
  • Speak your mind, but politely: Instead of starting everything sentence with "I think", "We should do…" why not start the sentence with: "Is it a good idea to …"? By just changing this little nuance in your sentence, people will feel less offended.

Another approach to show this and be less likely fall into the trap of coming over too direct is by paying attention to a few key points that you should try to avoid while at work:

  • Gossip
  • Judging
  • Excuses
  • Negativity / Complaining
  • Exaggeration
  • Facts versus Opinions

I hope by sharing that I am able to bring over some of my struggles that i had during my first year at a big corporate as this one. What were the struggles you had? Feel free to share them in the comments below and start the discussion! :)