When college student Bayo Olatunji was first introduced to his school’s Microsoft recruiter, he froze. He couldn’t think of what to say. Then he opened his mouth and the following words spilled out: “Hi. I have no skills, but I want to work for you guys. What can I do?”
The recruiter asked, “Do you go to MIT?” Can you read? Can you write?” After each question, Olatunji answered in the affirmative. “Then you have the basic skills to learn all the other skills. MIT saw something in you. Don’t ever say that to someone you want to work for—start again.”
“Then he smiled,” says Olatunji. “He had a smile that made you feel comfortable. He didn’t dismiss me—he waited patiently.” So Olatunji started again. He said, “Hi, my name’s Bayo. I’m a sophomore. I’m not taking computer science classes, and I’m not sure there are any internship positions at Microsoft for people like me—who think they want to do computer science but aren’t sure.” The recruiter told him about the Explore Microsoft program, a cross-discipline internship designed for college freshman and sophomores. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be in tech,” says Bayo. The opportunity was exactly what the MIT student was looking for.
Mainly geared toward science, technology, engineering, and math majors, the Explore Microsoft program offers an introduction to different software engineering roles. Any student who’s passionate about technology and enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program in the United States, Canada, or Mexico can apply. The only requirements: all applicants must have completed an “introduction to computer science” course (or equivalent) and a calculus class (or equivalent) prior to starting.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be in tech.”
Students learn about end-to-end software development during the twelve-week summer internship. They work in a team with two or three other students, and tackle projects as a team. For four weeks, interns work in the Program Manager (PM) position, and for eight weeks, they work as a software engineer. During the software engineering phase of their internship, students also perform quality (testing) work.
Currently a PM II on the Windows Experience Reach team, Olatunji had an Explore Microsoft internship back in 2008, when the program was relatively new. This past September marked his fifth anniversary at the company. “The earlier you can jumpstart your career on what you think you want to do, the more opportunities you have to test the water, and fine tune what you want to learn back in school,” he says.
“Freshman and sophomores often don’t believe they’ll get an internship early on,” says Karishma Irani, who heads up the Explore Microsoft Program. She recommends students “take time to attend a Microsoft presentation or career fair” at their college to learn more. If the company doesn’t visit their school, students can apply online.
Irani suggests college freshmen and sophomores take an “introduction to computer science” course and a calculus class, so they’ll be eligible. “Students need to have confidence they can get accepted,” says Irani. The first step of the process is a 30-minute interview, either in-person on their college campus or via phone.
“Think through all the different things you have listed on your resume,” says Irani. Students who can speak clearly about their experience will show recruiters “their passion for technology and interest toward computer science.”
Students can also reference interview tips on Microsoft’s site. “Practice with your friends and any seniors in your school who have interviewed for the program” says Irani. “Practice answering problem solving and technical questions—especially for any coding languages listed on your resume.”
Ify I., a junior at Princeton University, was hired for the program last summer. She has advice for the interview. “Be confident in your abilities. Make sure you can communicate your ideas and what you’re thinking,” she says. “They do ask logic questions. They want you to be able to talk through your thinking. If you have a problem, you need to be able to tell your mentor or teammate.” Ify had previously completed a non-tech related internship in India, which she described during her interview. “It’s great if you have something that interests you. Don’t try to be something you’re not,” she says.
During her chat with the recruiter, Ify felt like it was okay that she didn’t have a lot of coding experience. She was looking for an internship that would allow her to learn while she worked. The program “emphasized the learning aspect of coding—that you’re not in it alone.”
While on campus, she talked with people in different affiliation groups, which helped her realize that “even though it’s a huge company, it is very interconnected.” She likes that interns have the freedom to “try as many things as possible to figure out what they want to do.”
“The mentorship was amazing. There was a lot of help.”
“There were lots of cool, exciting projects people were working on,” says Ify. “The mentorship was amazing. There was a lot of help.” She found her experience “overwhelmingly positive.” She’s already recommended the internship to several classmates.
She also appreciated all the social activities built into her summer—both planned and spontaneous. She went on hikes, attended Seattle’s bohemian Fremont Solstice parade, saw Fourth-of-July fireworks exploding above Lake Union, and took a cruise to Blake Island, where they “ate and played lawn games.”
But the pinnacle affair of any intern’s summer is Microsoft’s Signature Event. Last August, Ify and her intern friends heard Ellie Goulding sing at the Seattle Center—an exclusive concert. Before the evening was over, each student received a Surface Book laptop.
“My calendar has never been busier than it was during my Explore Microsoft internship. The organizers do such a great job of making sure you get exposed to different areas of Microsoft and that you��re—quite literally—exploring,” says Chuma Kabaghe, a software developer who just celebrated her one-year anniversary at Microsoft.
Kabaghe attended “brown bag” lunchtime talks and became more knowledgeable about different areas of technology. She learned what Microsoft was working on and the many different types of teams at the company. Early on, she “realized program management is not exactly my thing.” The “ridiculously insane amount of opportunities” to learn about the tech field and the roles at Microsoft led her to “make a more informed decision” about her future. “After the Explore Microsoft internship, I was more comfortable taking the software engineer path,” she says.