This week we are talking to Camai Phan, who undertook a placement year at Microsoft as a technical specialist Intern. She has now returned to the University of Sheffield to complete her Computer Science degree, but will be rejoining Microsoft in September 2022 as a graduate.
1. What does your work at Microsoft involve and what does a normal day look like to you?
During my placement at Microsoft, I was working in technical sales and my work consisted of two roles.
For my core role which made up 75% of my job, I was a Technical Specialist intern in the Retail, Travel and Transport team. My team and I were aligned to clients that included high street retailers, airlines, hospitality organisations and more.
The other 25% saw me working as a 1st Party Solutions Specialist for the Mixed Reality team where I was expected to support demonstrations of the HoloLens device; a Mixed Reality headset that renders holographic images in 3D space which users can interact with through various hand gestures.
In both roles, I worked in the Business Applications sector where our primary goal was to assist customers on their journey towards digital transformation, empowering these organisations to create engaging customer experiences and transform their internal operations. We did so by introducing our Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Power Platform solutions.
I never would have imagined that I would take the first steps of my career directly from my childhood bedroom but I can’t complain about being able to roll straight out of bed to my desk to start work. Given the pandemic, the placement was largely remote which meant that my days were mostly spent on my laptop using Microsoft Teams although I was lucky enough to have a few opportunities to visit the Microsoft Campus in Reading and the Microsoft office in Paddington once lockdown restrictions eased towards the end of my placement.
Every day was different as I had control over the projects that I engaged in, each project presenting unique challenges. Some weeks were busier while other weeks were quieter.
Overall, the sales opportunities generally followed a process that had stages like this:
Sales Specialists work with customers to qualify and bring in business opportunities. They then engage Technical Specialists to support these opportunities from a technical standpoint.
On Microsoft Teams, the Sales Specialist and I would join the customer on a call where the primary goal was to identify the needs of the customer.
Based on the requirements identified in the Discovery Call, the Sales Specialist and I would work together to align appropriate products. My task was then to build a demonstration that proved the value of those products.
For the final step, I would demonstrate the solution that I built to the customer live via a Teams call.
2. What attracted you to this role and Microsoft?
Microsoft is an American multinational company renowned around the world for a portfolio spanning from personal computers to business software. With household names like LinkedIn, GitHub, Xbox, Windows and more, it’s hard to not be influenced by the technology that Microsoft produces.
From playing games to studying at university, it is highly likely that you have come across a Microsoft product at some point in your life. I believed that working in a big corporation like Microsoft would give me the ability to work at the forefront of technology with some of the world’s greatest minds.
I chose this role as it was the most technical role available given there was no Software Engineering placement available. At first, I was hesitant as the role, being a sales role, would not consist of programming which is what I had initially expected from my placement. I am glad that I gave it a chance as I was able to develop an entirely new skillset as well as to indirectly apply my course knowledge in unforeseen aspects.
3. What has your career path looked like to get you to this point?
Up to this point in my life, I would say that my career has followed a relatively generic path. I did all of the typical things that many of us who grew up in the UK would have participated in such as NCS and Young Enterprise. Outside of this, with a small to non-existent professional network, I had little work experience apart from supporting my parents at the family-run Chinese take away after school or at the weekends.
4. Do you find that being a woman in engineering makes a difference to the way you are treated or the way you choose to work?
As a woman in general, there can be many barriers to entry especially in STEM fields due to deep-rooted stereotypes and views.
I have been lucky to have not experienced discrimination in the workplace due to my race or gender, but as an ethnic woman I believe it is my responsibility to be well informed and to champion my peers wherever possible.
Throughout my childhood, I was never told I couldn’t, which is why I dared to try. I hope that the younger generation, regardless of gender, will never feel that they can’t or don’t belong. For this reason, I am grateful to organisations like the Women in Engineering society for the work that they do to uplift the achievers and break down the barriers for the next generations to come.
5. What does the future look like for you?
Growing up as a Chinese-Vietnamese first generation university student with a family who immigrated to the UK and USA for a better future, there was always pressure to study hard, attend university and to later find a good job.
When I thought about my future career and what that might look like, I didn’t even dare to dream about working in large companies like Google, Facebook or Microsoft because I thought it was an unattainable aspiration for me. Now looking back a year or two down the line, the advice that I would give to prospective placement students or graduates is that, whatever stage you are at in your life, shoot your shot. Whether this be applying for lofty job aspirations or simply trying something new. What is the worst that can happen? If you try, even if chances are slim, a 0.01% chance of success still gives you better odds than 0%.
In the summer this year, I reapplied and signed onto a Graduate role on the Aspire programme and I will be returning to Microsoft in September of 2022 as a full time Technical Specialist. In the meantime, I am completing my final year back at the University of Sheffield. In terms of what is over the horizon beyond Microsoft, I am unsure but at some point, I would like to transfer and live abroad to really immerse myself in another culture around the world. The future is uncertain but I look forward to the journey ahead.
If there are any questions about my experiences at Microsoft or if there is anything else I can help with, please feel free to reach out or contact me on LinkedIn. I wish you the best of luck in all your endeavours! Whatever challenges you are facing, keep pushing. You’ve got this.
Interviewer: Daisy Bradley
Blog Editor: Mehar Aziz