How to get a software engineer role at Microsoft. An interview with Brian Kariuki on the value of setbacks, being courageous, and honing your skills with others.
What is your current job?
I am currently working as a Software Engineer at Microsoft, based in Kenya. I am passionate about creating software and harnessing the power of data to create smart solutions that address complex challenges in an interconnected world.
Can you describe your way into software engineering and data science?
My path into software development started back on campus where I did my undergrad in electronics engineering. I early on joined the Microsoft tech community and learned the intricacies of software development. A few internships (some software and some hardware) later, I graduated and started working as a software engineer in the financial services industry to gain additional expertise. That is when I experienced the dynamic shifts defining the disruptive state of the financial and technology sectors.
Most solutions such as a loan application that I worked on demanded knowledge of data collection, preparation, analysis, and visualization (interactive dashboards) in addition to the conventional software development processes. I ended up pivoting into the field of data science by approaching local data practitioners who had experience in this field, they pointed me in the right direction, plus I took courses on Coursera and Udemy that gave me a comprehensive foundation in the field.
Can you share a point in your career where things got a bit difficult? And how did you overcome roadblocks?
I can’t really pin down one big failure, there have been quite a number of setbacks I have had in my career that leave you questioning whether you are good enough?
Other struggles I have faced are the common ones that most people struggle with within their career or work environment; stress, over-working, or feeling overwhelmed at times.
But what I can say is I learned three major things, which helped me to get through obstacles with more confidence, calmness, and clarity.
1. Learn to accept setbacks as part of the process
Accept it and just move on. There are things that you can’t always control as there are always external factors involved. ANd you will never be the master of external factors. This is a great illusion.
If things are meant to go sideways they will always go sideways. The good thing is you will learn a lot from the sideways as the most important lessons are often hidden in going “off-track”. It makes you reflect on yourself and the situation you have been in. So the question you can ask yourself is, What can I learn from it? And then you move on to the next endeavor. One step back, and two steps forward.
That reminds me of the following quote, “Every setback is a Setup for a better comeback”
And progress requires setbacks! The only sure way not to fail is to not try.
2. Be patient and develop grit
You are in it for the long run. So better develop some perseverance. Even after a series of obstacles, it will eventually pan out in your favor if you keep trying. Use every setback as a stepping stone and moment of reflection.
This reminds me of an article that I recently read which talks about being patient in your data science career. It says resilience is at the core of becoming a good data scientist. You need to wait for enough data to be collected, appropriate features, classes to be balanced, and then fine-tune your Neural Network on your dataset. Data science takes time, and it’s important to not give up in the middle of it, just because you bump into a few obstacles.
Just like in a data science project, you should look at your career with a patient eye.
“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” ― Angela Duckworth
3. Be courageous and move forward
It helps to be courageous enough to take a step back and put things into perspective. Take note of everything on your plate and prioritize them. That way you know exactly what you should focus on now and what you will focus on next. As you work towards concrete problem solving through different techniques, the path becomes clearer and the answers start to fall into place. Also, take on challenges that make you feel uncomfortable and ask yourself what can really go wrong? More than not, it just our mind which puts limits on what we can actually do.
And if you are really stuck or feel helpless don´t try to solve everything alone, ask for help instead.
How did the Omdena experience help you? How can they make the best out of this experience?
I will focus on two aspects that I believe made a great impact.
Developing your problem-solving skills
Joining Omdena projects helps to demonstrate some extra set of skills that probably an interviewer is looking for. It shows you are creative and open to taking challenges and solving actual problems, which is one of the key skills companies are looking for. It further trains your cultural awareness, ability to experiment and to learn new things quickly, which makes your resume stand out from the rest especially with open-source projects.
Joining a unique environment for teamwork and leadership
In Omdena you get to collaborate with a cross-functional team, especially remotely, contribute ideas and gain constructive feedback. The mix of highly diversified people and the bottom-up approach sharpens one’s behavioral skills.
I would suggest that Omdena collaborators take a challenging responsibility even though they may be new to it and learn along the process. You can manage a task group and thus develop your leadership skills, something that is missing in all the competitive platforms and data hackathons out there. The experience of working on a machine learning project across the entire lifecycle is invaluable. To make the best out of this experience, at least take part in most if not all of the phases. Also, the skills I acquire through this help me quite a lot at Microsoft as a software engineer.
Also, stay active on LinkedIn, it helps as you get to follow industry leaders, fellow peers who will share lots of information that can be quite resourceful.
What was the best advice you got in your career?
Always have a growth mindset, stay hungry, inertia can be a dangerous thing, and accept failure, it’s inevitable.
Any closing words?
It’s important to have a learning mindset, always seek to tap into opportunities and prospects, and your career will take care of itself. Constantly build up your knowledge and expertise. And I also encourage everybody to get involved in Omdena projects, you get an opportunity to upskill, meet amazing people around the world while impacting people’s lives.
Brian Kariuki joined several Omdena AI challenges and we wish him all the best in his software engineer role at Microsoft.
Why compete if we can collaborate!