Going Behind-the-Scenes at Microsoft

Northwestern MSIT students toured the tech giant's Chicago office along with students from Northwestern's MEM program.

Students from Northwestern's Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) program took a behind-the-scenes look last month at Microsoft's Chicago office, located in the Aon Building in downtown Chicago. What made the experience unique was the students were able to share the experience with some of their counterparts from Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program.

MSIT full-time student Kailash Umayaorupagam and part-time student Dayo Popoola took time to talk about what they learned at Microsoft and what they took away from their experience with MEM students.

What were you looking forward to with the trip to Microsoft?

DP: I was eager to learn more of Microsoft’s strategic roadmap for its cloud products and services, artificial intelligence, and how its renewed business strategy has transformed the culture of the company since the arrival of CEO Satya Nadella. I was also hoping to discover any new initiatives Microsoft is launching.

KU: I was interested to learn more about Microsoft business, work culture and especially about the ‘Office of the Future.’

How would you describe what all you did and who all you spoke with?

DP: From a student perspective, it was good to gain some insight into the background of Kevin Gates, Microsoft Cloud solution architect, and our gracious host. The path he traveled to arrive at his current post at Microsoft was non-traditional and proved that if one has a passion for a particular field, it can be converted to a professional calling.

The team-based product development exercise had us all participate and was an excellent way to interact with MEM students. The goal of the activity was to develop a product or service that solved a problem for a specific consumer segment. We had to present the product in front of other participants in a competition for a prize. We also had an opportunity to embark on a quick tour of emerging technologies such as facial recognition and control system integrations.

KU: Our host Kevin Gates kept us engaged throughout the event with his informational session and when he took us through the tour of the ‘Office of the Future.’

What are two or three things you learned from the trip?

DP: Here are two key points:

  1. Follow what interests you and find a way to turn it into your life’s work.
  2. New product development can be a challenge. Especially when you have diversification of thoughts and competing ideas. Collaboration skills and the awareness of when to step up to lead and when to allow someone else the opportunity to succeed is critical.

KU: We learned more about Microsoft’s future vision about technology and its product range. We saw Microsoft's various products concomitant with IoT and artificial intelligence. Our host, Kevin Gates, shared his personal experience by walking through his years at Microsoft. He helped us understand different departments at Microsoft he had worked in and highlighted how they recognize and appreciate the employee’s talent at Microsoft. He also shared information about the product development process and shared the steps of taking a product or service from conception to market.

I was also able to see how the latest technologies I learned about, such as machine learning and deep learning, are being applied to real-time products at Microsoft.

In what ways did you and your classmates benefit from having MEM students on the site visit with you?

DP: MSIT and MEM students do not have much interaction during the regular course of the academic year. It was great to have some exchanges with students under the same McCormick School of Engineering umbrella to compare notes and see that their goals are not too dissimilar from what we’re also attempting to accomplish with our academic and professional goals.

KU: We had a product development workshop in the second half of the session where MSIT and MEM students formed groups and worked collaboratively toward developing our own product. The business component of the MSIT program made it easier for us to collaborate with MEM students.