Holly Boothroyd from Computing and Information Technology was named FEPS Placement Student of the Year. She tells us about her year at Microsoft.
Rewind to the start of second year and placement was the main thing on my mind. It would be my first “real” job, thus I had many questions on how to best present myself during the application process. I was a bit lost, but I did have a goal to drive this process: work as a Software Engineer at Microsoft.
Microsoft has always been my dream company. I am inspired and motivated by Microsoft’s altruism in all matters. They create impact globally and put mechanisms in place to provide growth opportunities for their community and employees. However, Microsoft was never going to be an easy place to join. International recognition meant thousands of people would be applying for only a handful of software engineering placement roles. My chances were small, but I knew I would never get the job if I never applied. To be as prepared as possible, I immediately went to the Employability and Careers centre to review my CV, application questions, and attended every careers event that covered telephone, video, and in-person/assessment centre interviews. I wanted to be equipped to take on any challenge that would lead me to my goal. Microsoft was the first company I applied for and was the last company I heard from.
In the meantime, I looked elsewhere. It is important to remember that you are interviewing the company just as much as they are interviewing you. They need to win you over and provide you with the opportunities to succeed in a method that suits you.
Like many developers, video games triggered my interest in programming. I love the idea of playing a game with my friends that I made. To pursue that dream, I researched different games companies in England and specifically around Guildford. There are quite a few! However, many did not offer placements or were not development offices. Despite this, I delivered a CV and personalised cover letter to each of the main game companies in Guildford and emailed those abroad. It did not amount to much, but the experience was worthwhile. Dreams do not come easy and each step is a step in the right direction.
I managed to progress to the final stages of my Microsoft application. The process included an initial CV and application question screening, a situational assessment, video interview, telephone interview, and finally an assessment centre. At each stage I was very thankful to have attended the careers service workshops. I felt more prepared which made me more relaxed and personable with the interviewers. Additionally, interviews with other companies gave me the experience of interviewing.
The day I had been waiting for
Then the day came. After my assessment centre, I received an email from Microsoft that said “Congratulations! You’ve been offered a position as a software engineer”. I was absolutely ecstatic! I couldn’t believe that my first job would be at my dream company as a software engineer.
When my start date finally came around, I was so nervous. I found out that I would be working on Paint 3D the day I started! The first couple days were lots of fun. We met the leaders from each team, demoed Paint 3D, and got to try out HoloLens, Microsoft’s holographic headset.
I was assigned a mentor to look out for me, help me when I needed it, and teach me how to be successful at Microsoft. He was also my manager who I had performance reviews and weekly one-to-one meetings with.
Over the next twelve months, I built up skills in new technologies and languages. I was given and volunteered for critical path and high-pressure tasks to establish myself not as an intern, but as a core member of the team. However, this is not to say that I did not experience a bit of imposter syndrome. It is only natural when you’re surrounded by the top developers with years of experience at Microsoft and in the broader industry. It became clear that I had a lot to learn. However, as the year went on, I became more independent and started to be the “owner” of different feature sets. I finished the year feeling confident in my abilities and proud of what I had achieved.
At the end of my placement, I interviewed and received an internship offer on the Xbox team at Microsoft HQ in Redmond, Washington in America for the summer. It was phenomenal, and I only had positive experiences.
So, what have I learnt on placement?
It’s all about a growth mindset. This is a Microsoft company pillar to success. It sounds cheesy but has real substance and changed the way I think about my work. I started my placement worried that I wouldn’t be able to perform to Microsoft’s standards. I didn’t want to ask too many questions to hide that I didn’t know something. This is obviously ridiculous because the point of being an intern is to learn. To embrace a growth mindset, I shifted the way I looked at asking questions. I realized without asking questions I wouldn’t learn the answers and continue to be confused. I needed to put this silly worry behind to learn. In doing so, I have learnt enormous amounts over the 15 months. The problems I face now aren’t as difficult and I have the confidence to keep pushing towards an answer knowing that I have proved to myself that I can do it. Ask questions, learn, grow, and you’re forever smarter.
Prioritisation and flexibility is key. While at university, I have a set number of assignments due on a specific date and time. While there were deadlines at work, there was a lot more flexibility about when things are due, but also fundamentally what work needed to be done. This means that I worked on something one day and had to put it to the side temporarily to do something more important the next. The ability to adapt to a changing schedule and prioritise multiple pieces of work to complete them all on-time and to a satisfactory quality is a skill I used daily.
Workplace preferences. I have shifted my workplace environment preference. I originally wanted an office thinking that it was a sign of success and that I would want my own space to work. At my first internship it was an open plan office that encouraged collaboration with different teams. At the internship with Xbox, the office was still fairly open plan, but there are offices around and we are separated into “pods” or large cubicles for sub-teams. It is a different experience that has given me the opportunity to compare different workplace environments.
Plenty of subject specific knowledge. Wowza! I learnt loads about programming and software engineering. I learnt three new languages and learnt advanced techniques of one I had learnt previously in university. On top of this, I gained much more experience with the development environment Visual Studio, learned how to develop a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) application, and applied a new engineering design pattern (MVVM). My manager and team were amazing teachers. They loved to help me when I needed it and push me to be a better developer. The knowledge I learnt was applicable for my daily work and will always be useful to build upon when technology inevitably changes. I got practical experience that will stay with my longer than if I had just read it in a textbook. I feel much more confident entering my final year and ready to tackle my final year project with this experience.
Reaffirmed my beliefs that you get out as much as you put in. Over the last 15 months, I worked hard to get involved in my workplace and the industry. My efforts to try new things, be involved, and stand out gave me the opportunity for some pretty cool experiences.
For those seeking placement opportunities, do not give up. You only need one company to send you that acceptance letter. Utilise the resources within your department and especially the careers service. If you are unsure as to what you would like to do, apply broadly and see what openings present themselves or speak to the careers service or your department for advice. Placement year is a great opportunity to explore careers and find out first-hand what you like and what you don’t, so when it comes to looking for that first graduate job, you know what to look for. There are many avenues to reaching your dream and a whole support system at the university to help you reach them.