Working at Microsoft – My Experience as FastTrack Engineer

Opinion Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed in this post are based on my own perspective.

Starting from the End

The contract that had me working at Microsoft is going to end the next week. The agreement was for more months but the situation for me and other contractors (and employees, to be fair) has changed quickly in the past weeks.

This is the nature of working as a contractor so I was surprised but not disappointed. I was also able to get some interesting offers and have a new job in a really short time (I will talk about that in a separate post) so my time at Microsoft had sort of a happy ending. The idea of this post is to write down a few impressions and experiences that I had while working there.

In the Beginning, it was Learning

FastTrack is a well-organized group. From the 1st day, there is a lot of focus on the new starters learning how FastTrack and Microsoft work, plus plenty of technical learning. As you can see here Products and Capabilities FastTrack offers support and advisory for a large number of Office 365 and Microsoft 365 services, so it is not surprising that on some you could require additional preparation.

The feeling you have as an engineer is that the organization has learned from past experiences and created a clear list of steps and checks so that people have time and support to get ready before they have to manage customers.

You get a Mentor, and You Need it

Starting with FastTrack I was assigned a mentor and I am glad I had him. The experience is deeply personal, you could find yourself working with a person that you like or not. Luckily I had an amazing engineer in the mentor role and it was a brilliant learning opportunity. If you think that at 48 I should not be in the student’s role, you got Microsoft (and its push for constant personal growth) completely wrong.

Do You Feel Ready? It Could be Good News

Situations could be different (again) from person to person. In my case, before I started working with customers, I had plenty of time to get prepared (and I was checked on my preparation). It goes without saying that the sooner you are ready, the better because there is plenty of work waiting for you.

Having Customers (and Lots of Stuff Happening in the Background)

The activities with customers are well organized (again, you can see a lot of lessons learned from the past) but still require plenty of time for preparation and searching for any answer the customer needs. What could be overwhelming is that being in Microsoft means that a thousand things happen every day in the different communication channels. You have to develop really soon a filter to decide what is relevant to you and what is less urgent. Quiet Time in Teams and Outlook is also a good move unless you fancy notification at every time of every day of the week (that’s a global company, baby).

You are Microsoft, So You Know About (**Put a Random Odd Tech Topic Here**)

That’s probably one of the biggest pressure you will get working at Microsoft. For an architect or engineer at a Microsoft partner, there is already an expectation from the customers to get an answer to any question, whether it is in your scope or not. Working with the Microsoft label on you means that this expectation is even bigger. Luckily you are in the right place to get the answers for your customers. There is plenty of colleagues, and then Subject Matter Experts, and sometimes even people in the Product Group that have an answer to almost every question. Not just that, they are usually easy to reach and happy to help if they are able to. My experience outside Microsoft has been a mixed bag from this point of view, with people really helpful or really useless despite their competence. The average person in Microsoft is available to listen and help, which is a big bonus.

So, the Dream Job with the Perfect Company?

I think that whatever is your job, it is good if you like it, otherwise, there is no money or external motivation that could make you enjoy it. FastTrack (and Microsoft) were a brilliant experience for me, but I can also understand that some people could be uncomfortable in the same place. There are some aspects that could make the experience at Microsoft unpleasant, depending on your personality

  • Results: every person and service in Microsoft has objectives (and they change over time). As a contractor, I did not have the same pressure as employees but I felt that my colleagues were keeping a keen eye on their objectives
  • Cloud Changes Anxiety: this is a constant for every professional working with the Cloud. Changes happen on a daily base and there is an expectation about you being always up to date. In Microsoft, this pressure for being on top of the latest news is even worst and (for services that cover many different products) could be hard to manage
  • Internal Communication: there is a constant effort in Microsoft about communicating and getting useful feedback. Still, sometimes, the internal communication is not as good as the effort above would make you think. I suppose there is something about the sheer size of the company that makes communication more complex
  • Growth Mindset: Microsoft has an expectation about everybody in the company have constant personal and professional growth, even if you stay in the same role for a long time. There are obviously positive and negative aspects to this mindset. People stagnating in their roles is not good news for the employee and the organization. However, there are moments in your life in which you feel the need to focus on different aspects of your life outside of work. If that goes on for a long time your needs and Microsoft’s expectations could be going in opposite directions

Life is the art of drawing without an eraser (quoting John W. Gardner)

In a nutshell: my experience at Microsoft has been brilliant, and I am happy to have taken the risks of a contractor job with them. It is a truly inclusive company, where differences contribute to the organization’s culture and business outcomes. There is also a large number of learning opportunities (at least in FastTrack) delivered by outstanding colleagues. The points that I listed before are to be considered as a warning to not start at Microsoft with unrealistic expectations because we are still talking about a company that makes business and is made by people.