Working with Microsoft UK

In the first of a series of guest blogs, we take an in depth look at several of our current students and alumni, their careers and what the future holds. The first is Zain Luke Ali,  currently on placement at Microsoft UK and contributor to Be Your Future.

When I started my Journalism and Media course at Coventry University just over two years ago, my plan was to make sure I gained as much professional experience as possible alongside my studies. I have always been incredibly passionate and motivated to pursue a successful career in journalism, and I knew the only way to make that dream a reality was to experience the world of professional journalism and media from the word ‘go’. Since starting my course I have worked at Coventry Telegraph, BBC and Sky News, as well as being the Editor for the university newspaper ‘Source’. All of these opportunities have been very different, but all of them incredible in their own ways.

My experience when working for Sky News in London was probably the most exciting for me as an aspiring journalist. I started off on a month-long placement and was working on the missing Malaysian plane story, and every day was so different from the one before it. It was awesome, but the hours were long. I was often getting up at 4.30am, commuting across London, working all day and then I would get home quite late in the evening. As I said, it was an exciting job, but I couldn’t help wanting to try something different to find out if there was something else out there for me with more sociable hours.

For my third year I had three options: complete my three year course as normal, spend a year studying abroad, or working on a year-long placement in the industry. I considered all of these and what would be best for me and my long term career goals. I had already had placements with the two biggest news companies and I had a good idea of that part of the industry; I wanted to try something new. I saw that Microsoft had an internship programme. It looked pretty exciting, but it’s a technology company. ‘What could I possibly do for Microsoft?’ I thought. I’m not technical and I’m not a computer wizard either, really. There were so many different roles available though, catering for every type of background and career direction. There was a journalism and editorial stream available and it looked like an incredible opportunity.

Microsoft is the company that introduced me to technology and the modern way of communicating. The company is involved in so many incredible areas to make the future of technology something that empowers us all. I took my time to learn all about the company, the role and I started to think about what I could bring to Microsoft. Then I started to write my application. The application process was a long one to say the least, from the first written application through to online tests, video interviews, telephone interviews and a final assessment centre at their headquarters in Reading; it was the most challenging application process I had ever experienced. I only applied here as this was the only placement I wanted. After submitting my application, I also applied to study journalism for the year in Madrid, just in case I didn’t get accepted onto the internship programme at Microsoft. This was more of a backup plan for me, but it would still be an incredibly rewarding experience.

I put everything into my application for Microsoft and it was an extremely pleasant surprise when I received a phone call months after clicking submit to say I had been successful. I was offered the role of Internal Communications Manager for the Microsoft UK Services business. It’s quite complicated, but the UK Services business delivers strategy, consulting and support to Microsoft’s Enterprise customers – some of the biggest UK organisations in the private and public sector. The Internal Communications Manager role involves managing communications channels within the business and continually developing a communication strategy to enhance cross-team collaboration. I know what you’re thinking: this role doesn’t sound like it is directly linked to my ambition to become a successful journalist. And you would be right – it isn’t. For this reason I wasn’t sure whether I should accept it or not, but I learned more about the role and spoke to a lot of different people too. Internal Communications is journalism, but it is journalism within a company – the other side of the journalism coin, really. The question I asked myself was: ‘Do you or do you not want to work for the biggest technology company in the world?’ – The answer was of course yes, and I would have been stupid not to accept the offer!

I have been at Microsoft for five months now. I am loving every minute of it and have become so passionate about the company and the work I do there. The time is flying by, but it really is an incredible experience. At Microsoft, interns have lots of responsibility. We aren’t just shadowing, or supporting more senior staff; we have really important roles that really matter to the success of the company. My main responsibilities in my role are producing a weekly newsletter with fantastic internal stories about the work Microsoft is involved in, managing the intranet site, planning and delivering big Microsoft events, managing the employee awards programmes and supporting the head of the business with important business updates and presentations. Essentially, it is my job to make sure everybody in the business knows what is going on in the business and knows the direction we are heading towards as a business. My role involves a lot of storytelling and a lot of writing, so I love it! Its right up my street and it’s incredible to be doing what I love every day for such a huge company. It’s exciting stuff, and if I wasn’t doing it nobody else would, so I really have a big responsibility. I have many other responsibilities on top of these, including some external stories too, but these are my main ones.

My background has always been in journalism and media and I wanted to create more opportunities for myself to bring some of my skills and passions into my job role. First of all, I joined the Be Your Future website team, becoming the Content Lead for the website. This is a fantastic website that provides insights into what it is like to work for Microsoft. We feature stories from current interns, graduates and apprentices and provide a channel for them to tell their stories and talk about their experiences. We also provide application tips, as we know how challenging it is. On top of this, we produce a lot of video content as well; I recently presented on a video tour of Microsoft HQ to show people what it is like to work here – this is now on the official Microsoft UK YouTube and you can see that video here. I also really wanted to bring my presenting and video production skills to the job role. I started off by producing video content for different areas of the business. People soon saw that I was quite good at this and I soon became the Creative Media Manager for Microsoft UK Services as well as my normal job role. This has given me opportunities to produce video content for all areas of the company, interview some really high profile members of Microsoft and I was recently asked to join the official Microsoft media team at the massive event which was Future Decoded, held in London last month. It’s amazing to be able to bring this into my job role. It’s something I love doing, and by showing people in the business what I can do, I have been allowed to extend my role beyond what it was originally meant to be. This has also allowed me to meet many important people across the business and network in many different areas and offices.

I could talk all day about my experience at Microsoft so far, but I won’t. What I will say is that working for Microsoft is awesome – really awesome. It’s the most incredible professional experience I could have asked for and being part of a company that is literally changing the way we work, play and connect is pretty exciting. Microsoft has so many exciting opportunities in so many different areas. You don’t have to be a technology expert to work here – as long as you’re passionate about technology, what it can do for people, and what Microsoft is doing to shape the future, then there will be something here for you. Have a look on the Be Your Future website to discover what it is like to work at Microsoft and how you can join us. I wasn’t sure if Microsoft would be for me, but I don’t have any regrets. Once I finish my placement, I will complete my final year at Coventry University. Nobody knows what the future holds, but I can definitely see myself returning to Microsoft once I graduate. I couldn’t recommend it more.