How a former elementary teacher translated his skills to a career in the cloud

Learn more about what brought Adam Coccari to Microsoft

Adam Coccari’s path to Microsoft wasn’t one you might imagine for a recent grad’s leap into a promising tech-industry career: It began with a psychology degree, a teaching job and his high hopes of convincing fourth- and sixth-graders that math didn’t have to be a chore.

He developed an app that hides math practice in the fun of a video game — and in the process, realized he “truly did love creating visual products” and the project management, design and marketing that went along with it.

So he got his MBA, landed an internship with Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise Marketing Group and quickly realized it was exactly where he wanted to be.

“I think Microsoft is special. They were willing to take a bet on someone like me, with a non-traditional background,” Coccari says. “I just really love that they were willing to bring in a teacher and say, ‘Hey, you know, we think you can learn and thrive in this environment.’”

Matt Schnugg, who was the first to interview Coccari at Microsoft, says all of Coccari’s work developing and marketing the math app showed “he was familiar with technology and what it takes to sell. That was a key plus for me.”

“The ability to understand a marketplace that is not tangible is something that goes beyond the understanding of a lot of candidates,” says Schnugg, business operations program manager leader in Cloud and Enterprise Analytics and Insights. “There was a lot of overlap between what he was doing with organic marketing of his product and what we would be doing with Azure.”

Schnugg says Coccari’s math skills and strong ability to teach and motivate people are major assets, along with his “willingness to take on something that might not be intuitive right away” — all things that have little to do with very job-specific experience.

“One of the pieces of advice I give to people who are coming on from a background that is not technology, or pertaining to exactly what they’re working on, is: Find things that you can do to add value right away,” Schnugg says. “To me, intelligence has nothing to do with how many years you’ve had in a particular background or experience; it’s the ability to connect the dots.”

As a product manager for the past year, one of Coccari’s main projects is working to connect customer data to help show the customer journey, an effort aimed at optimizing marketing efforts.

He’s also designing new Web-based dashboards that show the effectiveness of specific Microsoft marketing methods, which are helpful tools for digital marketers, field salespeople and others all the way up to top-level executives.

Coccari says he loves creating things and then building on each effort, finding ways to make them better for users by getting a deep understanding of what they want and need.

“I really like working with the team that’s doing the building — going back and forth on how we can make improvements, doing the designs and iterating on all of that,” he says. “That’s really what I’m most passionate about.”

That passion began a few years ago with the idea for his award-winning math app. Fresh from college at Colgate University, he wasn’t yet sure what he wanted to do with his career when he found an associate teaching job at a private school in California.

There, he wanted to show kids that math didn’t have to be something to dread, so he began using cards, games and anything else he could think of to engage them. He looked for apps that might help and “was kind of surprised to find there weren’t many good ones,” he says. “I was pretty sure I could do better.”

He started designing what would become Math Evolve. An art teacher at his school helped design characters. He got feedback from kids, found a video game studio that could make it and turned to online marketing to find an audience for it.

He launched it in early 2012. It has since been downloaded over 500,000 times in more than 90 countries and is used in schools around the world. It gives kids the excitement of a game and math exercises they might barely notice as they conquer enemies in elaborate settings, including the depths of the sea and outer space.

The whole experience inspired Coccari to go to business school at the University of Michigan and seek the internship at Microsoft, where he spent a summer managing the search engine marketing (SEM) program for Windows Server, System Center and SQL Server, and he helped define SEM strategy.

He also helped design the user interface and functionality of a Web platform for highlighting customer success stories, another responsibility that gave him the chance to make an impact and have something to show for it.

“Microsoft really gives interns important and challenging products that aren’t just throwaways,” he says. “I got to see the site that I designed go live on our Microsoft page.”

At the end of his internship, accepting the offer of a full-time job was easy. “I just signed. I was really happy,” he says. “It wasn’t a tough choice.”

In the past year, he’s gotten to travel to China to help create a new partnership, and he flew to Istanbul for a data analysis project. He recently went to Florida for the MGX conference with the Microsoft Academy for College Hires (MACH) MBA program and got the chance to meet other new employees with MBAs from all over the world.

Coccari also takes advantage of many of the other things Microsoft offers; he plays on company soccer and basketball teams, goes to tech fairs and joins other fun activities to connect with people outside of work hours.

He says he’s glad to be in a supportive environment where he feels like he has the freedom pursue different ideas and the challenge and inspiration to enjoy what he’s working on each day.

The job has “pushed me in completely new directions learning about how to work with data, and work with really complex problems and tradeoffs,” he says. “I’ve just learned so much.”

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