Blast from the past: 10 Lessons I learned as an intern at Microsoft

This afternoon I spent an hour looking over some of my original posts here at paul-woods.com. I first started blogging in 2005-2006 – over 8 years ago now, over that time I have posted 100s of posts – including essays like “The Productivity Myth” which was nexus of an idea which would become the Business Productivity Services team at Data#3, through to the time I got an email from Bill Gates.  Whilst my publishing has been very “ad-hoc” over that time, there was one post I read stuck out though.  Back on 23 July 2006 I posted the classic car insurance 10 things that I learned during my one year as an intern at Microsoft.  Looking back at this list it is amazing that 100% of it still holds true today – and how that 12 months set a very solid foundation for my career (and career growth) since then.

Here is what I wrote…

I thought it would be great to share with everyone the top ten lessons I learned whilst an Intern at Microsoft.  The following list essentially is how I continue to analyse what I am doing every day… to keep on track.  Hopefully you will also find it a useful tool.

In no particular order…

10) Be Passionate
Dive in and give it your all.  Be excited, believe, and most of all encourage everyone else to believe as well!

9) Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
This is a big one!  12 months ago I was a nervous wreck whenever I even thought about presenting to a small group of people (… I was even nervous when I didn’t have to speak!).  Now I absolutely love getting up on stage and sharing a story with 5 people, or 155 people.  I would never have found this out if I had not stepped out of my comfort zone.  Likewise, when I went to university I stepped out of my comfort zone and picked a major I had no real interest in before, and now I absolutely love anything to do with Marketing.

Step out of your comfort zone, and live!

8) Take on Big Challenges
… because when you succeed, it is sooooooo much sweeter!

7) Give More
Live to give, do not live to receive.  Not only does it get peoples attention (which is great for building relationships), but you will get much more in return.  Offer to take notes at the meeting (you are the one writing the history books. As a friend of mine once said… “He who controls the definitions, controls the argument“), offer to present at the user group (you are the one igniting the passion of many in the room), offer to take the stretch assignment or the big challenge (people will remember you!).

Plus, it feels great to give.  Trust me!

6) Soak Up All That You Can
Try to learn as much as you can from as many people as possible.  Learn from their mistakes, their experience, and their stories.  Pick up as much advice as you can.

But don’t just soak it all up, actually use the information gathered in your analysis, your processes, and your decisions.  Act on what you have learnt.

5) Don’t be Afraid to ‘Geek It Up’
… just be sure to do it at your pace, and with products/technology you love.  Everyone I met at Microsoft did this (although many will not share that publicly!).  Whether it be Virtualisation and Development, or Cars and Photography, make sure you have something you can really stick your teeth into and know in depth.  Because there will always be someone, somewhere that you can strike up a conversation with, and build a relationship very quickly based on your knowledge of a particular topic.

So if you want to get to know me, lets ‘Geek It Up’ and talk about Flying Aircraft, Digital SLRs, or v.Next Software (or all three!)

4) The Result of Taking Shortcuts is ALWAYS Less Than You Expect
I have never really been one for taking shortcuts in the past, but this time I thought I could get away with it.  I can’t think of one time in history where this lesson hasn’t held true.  In this instance I had a product brochure (for BizTalk Server 2006) in PDF format, with all the extra bits that professional printing places need to figure out colour matching, where to cut the paper etc.  Being a little tight, I thought I could get away with simply printing the brochure on our unreliable colour laser printer at work, and then get the good old guillotine out and cut the pages to fit.

End result was a pretty lack luster colour, uneven cuts, and an overall unprofessional feel to the printed document.  Sure it saved me $500, but I am pretty confident that it also saved a majority of customers tens of thousands of their dollars for disregarding the product based on their first impressions alone… the brochure.

3) Do Not Tell a Cab Driver Who You Work For!
… unless you have quickly refreshed basic PC troubleshooting 101, the latest deals at Dell, and most importantly what garbage was published about computers in the weekend paper.  At one stage I was commuting to a client site in a cab every day for 3 weeks.  I learnt this lesson very quickly.  Every now and then there were days I would wear a Microsoft shirt.  You can’t talk your way out of that one!  They were the bad trips.

Note this lesson also applies to people sitting beside you on Aircraft, whilst waiting in Airports, sitting on the bus etc.

2) Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
Everyone by know should know that it not what you know, but who you know that gets you anywhere in this world.  From a personal perspective, all my job offers when I left Microsoft were unadvertised positions (some even created just for me!), and all were from people who I had a professional relationship with already.

The worlds economy runs on trust… people need to know you before investing in you.  Sure… pieces of paper and letters after your name count, but in the end the key differentiator for between you and another candidate, or your company, and another company, is the level of trust in the relationship.  No relationship = no trust = no sale, or no job offer.

Plus it is nice to have plenty of friends :)

1) Change the World Every Day
Otherwise it gets harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning.

What are the lessons you have learned from your current job or project??

Sick leave 101: Online housekeeping in 2 hours or less

Today I have spent most of the day trying to get over a horrible man-flu – given to me by my wonderful children!  Unfortunately when I am on sick leave the boredom kicks in pretty quickly and I tend to gravitate online to to keep occupied.  Here is what I did today…

Step 1 – look for inspiration

This step is pretty easy… since I missed out on my usual feed of podcast content whilst commuting to work, I had a quick scout around the web looking at some inspirational content from some of my favourite authors like Steve Sammartino, Tom Peters, Seth Godin.… and listening to a few podcasts from the likes James Altucher, and the crew at Beers, Blokes, Business

Lots of good content there to knock a chesty cough for six!

Step 2 – inspiration into actions

A consistent theme across all of those authors/channels was that it is really important to take control of your work online.  Now you can unpack that a number of different ways – but the things that I took away from it were:

  1. You should own your name online.
    Not LinkedIn, not Twitter, not Facebook.  At the moment in my part of the world this blog which sits at http://www.paul-woods.com is on the second page of results for Paul Woods – yep – I am a NOBODY!  My Linkedin profile, Twitter feed and Facebook timeline all rank higher.   This needs to change!
  2. You should own the content you produce online. 
    I have a few blogs around the place – some lie very dormant (like this one has for a while), some are quite low maintenance – like my Microsoft Office tips and tricks blog – whilst some a quite fresh like my new site where I am documenting the things I learn about my new Zoom H4n Handy Recorder.  Across just the three blogs mentioned above, I have written over 400 pieces of content in the past 8 or 9 years – a small back catalog of good (and not so good) content.  But according to Google, you couldn’t really attribute that content to me.  This needs to change!
  3. You should own your future
    Today, I have a great job where I have developed over time and had the opportunity to do some truly amazing things, and learn from some amazing people.  For example over the past four years I have been given enough rope and support to create a business inside the larger corporate machine – and have experienced the good and the bad of raw intrapreneurship – where I transformed what was simply a hobby – my Office tips and tricks blog into a “7 figure, profitable, employing a team of people” business.  But I know for sure that I will not still working at the same place when I retire at 40/50/65/70/80.   To survive/be comfortable in the future, where businesses are redefining what work is for the middle class… you can’t pretend to rely on employment forever.  I have been pretty comfortable to date.  This needs to change!

Step 3 – actions into execution

Yep… all of that needs to change.  But what is the first step?  Good question.  I thought I would share what I have done in the past 2 hours to kick start “turning the ship around”

  1. Wrote this article!  And committed to myself (and you) to write more articles like it which are more focused on where I want to be tomorrow.
  2. Ensured that I had some basic Search Engine Optimisation occurring on my WordPress blogs.  In this case I simply used the All-in-one SEO Pack for WordPress which does some pretty nifty things out of the box, but one thing in particular that I like is that it made it really easy for me to set up…
  3. Google Authorship.  Clearly identifying Paul Woods as the author of stuff that Paul Woods has created online.  This meant getting familiar with something that (to be honest) I had disregarded in the past – Google+.  Whilst there is little value for me in circles at the moment (as not many of my friends or family are there) – the fact that my Google profile acts as the glue between all my content – both text and video – is a good thing.
  4. 30 minutes Exploring other ways to raise / curate my profile and learn at the same time.   Top of the list was becoming a “author” – well as close to an author you can be without a publisher behind you.  I am thinking about taking some of the best content from my Office tips and tricks blog and turning it into a easy to consume Amazon Kindle title.  It will take some work, but a “as traditional as you can almost get” book published via Amazon.com is a great artifact that adds credibility to your story, what ever it is.  You can help me craft the first title by filling in this quick survey

So there you have it – 120 minutes of time that I let my body and mind rest from work, and applied some creative thought to the world I live in.  A little bit of future proofing for the years ahead.  You should give it a go too next time you are unwell and trying to stop the spread man flu and your addiction to a regular salary.

Paul W