Windows of opportunity: Where career potential meets cutting-edge technology

Great job with ‘a sneak preview of the future’ all started with a Windows internship

Program Manager Nikhil Gaekwad

Nikhil Gaekwad was only a month or two into his freshman year of college when, out of curiosity, he popped into a Microsoft career information session. He knew many of his fellow engineering students dreamed of working at the company and wanted to see what kind of positions it might have.

He ended up deciding, right then and there, exactly what he wanted to do with his future.

“The company, the perks and the work culture seemed like a dream come true,” he says. “I was intrigued by the wide variety of opportunities available in one company — and came out of that session learning about the unique program manager role and how well it fit with my desire to design, problem-solve and innovate to impact millions of people around the world.”

That fall day in 2010, he set his goal and started planning how to achieve it. Six internships later — including two at Microsoft — he’s a program manager in the Windows Storage, Things & Connectivity team (internally known as STACK). Just a year after graduating, he’s responsible for projects and features that people around the world will use regularly.

“Working on such a large, ubiquitous product as Windows immediately presents an opportunity to impact millions of people,” he says. “It is really satisfying to think about how the work that you do will help improve the productivity and user experience of customers who use the Windows platform.”

“The possibilities are endless.”

Windows offers potential-packed career opportunities in part because of its remarkable evolution: What was once thought of as the operating system you’d mainly use to do work and homework is now the constantly updated platform behind countless cutting-edge technologies and devices from Xbox to HoloLens to the internet of things (IoT).

“When you think about Windows, you immediately think about the PC. And we love that. But Windows also powers IoT devices — everything from a small maker board powering a personal weather station, a robot, a streaming video player or Internet-connected speaker, a refrigerator — the possibilities are endless,” says Billy Anders, director of program management in the Windows and Devices Group.

The other part of Windows’ appeal is Microsoft’s practice of giving interns real, meaningful projects and then not just valuing new perspectives but actively seeking them out.

“Windows is a fun place to work and provides great opportunities for interns, and we learn a lot from our interns. Our interns bring fresh perspectives into the product, oftentimes very different than how we might be looking at an opportunity,” Anders says. “We incorporate their diverse perspectives, allowing them to help shape their project, the program and the product. Ultimately, this shapes the overall business, and I think it’s great for interns to know they made an impact to something at the scale of Windows.”

 Anders says the Windows team is an ideal place for people who “really want to be a big part of the tech industry future, and the future for enterprises and consumers alike.”

Gaekwad, who was born in India and grew up in Toronto, was studying system design engineering at the University of Waterloo when he set his sights on Microsoft. He aimed to build the experience and skills he needed, first seeking technical internships at other companies to broaden his knowledge, develop his ability to speak the programming language and ensure he could communicate well with developers, customers and partners.

“There are not a lot of companies that have the program management role for interns,” he says. “Working on something that would impact millions of customers around the world really interested me.”

In his first internship, he joined the Windows Devices and Networking team to improve a feature that allows users to share content wirelessly between Windows devices that are near each other, a role that gave him the chance to define his own vision for the technology.

The position allowed him to jump right into an important project rather than wait, as he had in  internships with other companies, for managers to figure out an assignment that sometimes felt like it was more to assess his skills than accomplish something worthwhile.

In that first role, he says he developed “a whole new set of skills,” from creating his own vision and focusing on the big picture to advocating for customers and collaborating with various groups to make the best products possible.

His success with the project helped him land his second Microsoft internship. He returned to the same team to define and develop a way to bring the “magic tethering” feature – the capability to turn on the mobile hotspot feature remotely through Windows Phones – to other platforms such as Android.

“I had the opportunity of writing an app to prototype the design that I came up with,” he says. “I never would have thought that coming to Microsoft, I could work cross-platform, especially on Windows. A lot of people think you just code in C# or C++, but I was coding in Java and writing an Android app.”

“Everything I worked on is something we’re using now, or will be using.”

In both Microsoft internships, he felt like he was given significant responsibility and was surrounded by talented, experienced people who were willing to take the time to help him learn new things.

And “everything that I worked on is something we’re using now, or will be using,” he says.

 Gaekwad says doing a few things helped him land the full-time role he has now: Exceeding expectations on the projects he was assigned, proactively seeking feedback, demonstrating project-management skills and simply just having fun.

He advises interns to ask plenty of questions, become “best friends” with their assigned mentor and “go above and beyond” what they’re expected to accomplish.

Gaekwad says the best part of his job now is “being able to live in the future.” He gets to work on products and features that haven’t yet been released to the public, so he’s privy to what great technologies and capabilities will soon be in users’ hands.

“As an early adopter, it’s always fun to get a sneak preview of the future — and, of course, provide my inputs to make it better,” he says. “The opportunities are endless for Microsoft employees to try out the latest and greatest in tech.”

As he approaches his one-year anniversary as a full-time employee, he is glad to have the opportunity to work on projects he’s passionate about and help the tremendous number of people who use Windows for daily tasks.

He says “the rapid growth in the technology industry and the latest agile model adapted by groups such as Windows makes Microsoft one of the most exciting places to be.”