In his 25 years at Microsoft, Bjorn Rettig has never felt compelled to offer someone a job during an informational interview. But that all changed after he met Kasey Champion. “She was so excited about everything we were doing and where we were going with computer science education,” says Rettig, a senior director with the Microsoft Learning Experiences team.
For Champion, who just celebrated her fourth anniversary with the company, joining Rettig’s team has been the fulfillment of everything she’s worked toward at Microsoft. She’s able to combine her passion for teaching and her enthusiasm for computer science. In fact, Champion’s talk at this year’s Grace Hopper conference was entitled “Technology and Education: Combining Your Two Passions into One Career.”
This education enthusiast arrived at Rettig’s group from the Office 365 team, after volunteering for every education-related opportunity she could find. At one point, she volunteered to be the coordinator for her team’s Give-campaign events; she organized one gathering that centered on education. The Learning Experiences team attended the party, and when they discovered how excited she was about computer science education, someone said, “You know we create computer science curricula at Microsoft, right?”
Not long after she met the Learning team, she joined its ranks. Her eagerness and enthusiasm for their endeavor was so contagious they added an additional role for her, developing computer science coursework and teaching. Now, she’s paid to do work she previously volunteered for, and it’s felt like hitting the jackpot. “I had no idea my dream job was right here at Microsoft,” she says.
How did her boss feel about the move? “He was amazing,” says Champion. Her joy was so obvious he encouraged her switch. “I keep making moves based on what I’m really excited about,” she says. And, because she’s so clearly followed her passions, her managers have been supportive.
People who want to map their own careers are a good fit at Microsoft—it’s part of the company’s culture—and Champion has deliberately forged her own path. She’s also taken many switchbacks along that route. She had a Project Manager (PM) role before taking a developer (dev) position on the Office 365 team.
Dev work felt like a better fit. But moving into a new kind of role was essentially “setting reset” on her career. Most first-level developers are hired straight out of college. For 12 months, Champion worked extra hard to catch up.
During this time period, she was also starting her second year as a volunteer teacher with Microsoft’s incubator nonprofit: Technology Education And Literacy in Schools (TEALS). The organization empowers young people by offering computer science classes in high schools.
Champion piled more work on herself; she spent hours prepping for class. When her dev lead saw how much “time and care” she put into lesson plans, and the vast contrast between how the TEALS-related work and the dev-related work fed her happiness, he encouraged her to look for a role more closely related to her passion. “That was a very kind thing for someone in a leadership role to do,” she says.
His suggestion is just one example of a manager helping an early career employee live the Microsoft maxim “Come as you are, do what you love.” Incidentally, the timing of her dev lead’s suggestion couldn’t have been better. She met the Learning team soon after.
Champion has taught in the U.S. and abroad. Last June, she flew to rural Tanzania to teach coding, plus computer and career skills. Some schools, without electricity and internet, required her to improvise, so she taught computational-thinking courses instead. “What are they going to do with computer science? They’re going to learn how to solve problems,” she says. Her two-week trip was sponsored by Microsoft’s “MySkills4Afrika” program, a venture that supports Microsoft employees’ travel to African nations, where they share their skills.
Here at home, she’s starting her third year as a TEALS teacher. Every morning, she’s in a South Seattle high school, sharing her passion for computer science. Students lucky enough to study with Champion receive a taste of tech culture. She treats them like adults—no hall pass necessary. In return, she tells them, “I’ll have high expectations and I’ll give you all the support that you need.”
Champion gives each student individual attention, and acknowledges their frustration when they’re learning how to code and build solutions. “When I was learning this, it drove me insane,” she tells them. But she doesn’t dwell in that frustration. When she hears a triumphant “Yes!” from somewhere in the classroom, she asks, “What just happened? Share it with the classroom!” She’s jokingly considered buying bells for the students, so they can ring them to celebrate a successful code compilation.
When Champion thinks about her career journey, and where she’s arrived, she sees herself as having gotten to a place where her work is something she “gets to do”—it’s not something she “has to do.” She’s already passed insights she’s gained along this path to her student mentees.
She tells them to find work they love. “You’ll never find more doors open and more opportunities come to you than when you’re sparkling because you’re working on something you’re passionate about,” she says.