How to Become a Software Engineer at Microsoft

How to Become a Software Engineer at Microsoft
How to get a software engineer role at Microsoft. An interview with Brian Kariuki on the value of setbacks, being courageous and honing your skills with others.

What is your current job?

I am currently working as a Software Engineer at Microsoft, based in Kenya. I am passionate about creating software and harnessing the power of data to create smart solutions that address complex challenges in an interconnected world.

Can you describe your way into software engineering and data science?

My path into software development started back on campus where I did my undergrad in electronics engineering. I early on joined the Microsoft tech community and learned the intricacies of software development. A few internships (some software and some hardware) later, I graduated and started working as a software engineer in the financial services industry to gain additional expertise. That is when I experienced the dynamic shifts defining the disruptive state of the financial and technology sectors.

Most solutions such as a loan application that I worked on demanded knowledge of data collection, preparation, analysis, and visualization (interactive dashboards) in addition to the conventional software development processes. I ended up pivoting into the field of data science by approaching local data practitioners who had experience in this field, they pointed me in the right direction, plus I took courses on Coursera and Udemy that gave me a comprehensive foundation in the field.

Can you share a point in your career where things got a bit difficult? And how did you overcome them?

I can’t really pin down one big failure, there have been quite a number of setbacks I have had in my career that leave you questioning whether you are good enough?

Other struggles I have faced are the common ones that most people struggle with within their career or work environment; stress, over-working, or feeling overwhelmed at times.

But what I can say is I learned three major things, which helped me to get through obstacles with more confidence, calmness, and clarity.

1. Learn to accept setbacks as part of the process

Accept it and just move on. There are things that you can’t always control as there are always external factors involved. And you will never be the master of external factors. This is a great illusion.

If things are meant to go sideways they will always go sideways. The good thing is you will learn a lot from the sideways as the most important lessons are often hidden in going “off-track”. It makes you reflect on yourself and the situation you have been in. So the question you can ask yourself is, What can I learn from it? And then you move on to the next endeavor. One step back, and two steps forward.

That reminds me of the following quote, “Every setback is a Setup for a better comeback”

And progress requires setbacks! The only sure way not to fail is to not try.

2. Be patient and develop grit

You are in it for the long run. So better develop some perseverance. Even after a series of obstacles, it will eventually pan out in your favor if you keep trying. Use every setback as a stepping stone and moment of reflection.

This reminds me of an article that I recently read which talks about being patient in your data science career. It says resilience is at the core of becoming a good data scientist. You need to wait for enough data to be collected, appropriate features, classes to be balanced, and then fine-tune your Neural Network on your dataset. Data science takes time, and it’s important to not give up in the middle of it, just because you bump into a few obstacles.

Just like in a data science project, you should look at your career with a patient eye.

“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” ― Angela Duckworth

3. Be courageous and move forward

It helps to be courageous enough to take a step back and put things into perspective. Take note of everything on your plate and prioritize them. That way you know exactly what you should focus on now and what you will focus on next. As you work towards concrete problem solving through different techniques, the path becomes clearer and the answers start to fall into place. Also, take on challenges that make you feel uncomfortable and ask yourself what can really go wrong? More than not, it is just our mind which puts limits on what we can actually do.

And if you are really stuck or feel helpless don´t try to solve everything alone, ask for help instead.

What was the best advice you got in your career?

Always have a growth mindset, stay hungry, inertia can be a dangerous thing, and accept failure, it’s inevitable.

Any closing words?

It’s important to have a learning mindset, always seek to tap into opportunities and prospects, and your career will take care of itself. Constantly build up your knowledge and expertise. And I also encourage everybody to get involved in projects, you get an opportunity to upskill, meet amazing people around the world while impacting people’s lives.
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