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How I Went From No Coding Experience to a Microsoft Offer in 1 Year

Glass Panels Exterior of the Microsoft Building

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Mara Hart shares with us her journey of getting a Microsoft offer in just a year.

I did not understand my first piece of code until two weeks into my first-semester Introduction to Programming class. I finally understood what int or string meant and how 3 is different from “3”. All throughout high school, I had a dream of majoring in computer science — despite taking AP Computer Science and not understanding what a method or a class was. Being able to thoroughly understand my first program was addicting. I wanted more.

Offer letter from Microsoft
Tinkertoy

Growing up, I loved logic puzzles and Tinkertoy. Coding was essentially the combination of both — building something from scratch and figuring out where it goes. I applied to universities as a CS major, unsure whether or not I would even be good at it. I knew I had a passion for Computer Science, but none of the experience. That was something I was determined to change.

I don’t want anyone else to feel the same kind of panic, so here are my three tips for landing a Microsoft internship.

Make Friends

The summer before college, I attended an Alum/New Student mixer. We had the opportunity to meet people from our area that knew what university was like or would spend the next four years with us. We ate food, made small talk, and played games.

One alum had SEAS CS ’18 written on his name tag; that was my major — Computer Science in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences! I didn’t understand what School of Engineering and Applied Sciences meant, but I knew he was just the person I could ask. Little did I know, I had stumbled upon my first mentor. A week after I had met him, he sent me an email detailing how to best take advantage of my first year — events that most of my peers were unaware of. Throughout my studies, he helped me astronomically to achieve my potential. He taught me what an elevator pitch is, how to write a resume, and how to network with others. He was also a Microsoft employee and knew exactly what I was going through.

How to Find a Mentor

While I was lucky to stumble upon my mentor, many don’t have that same chance. If you’re looking for a mentor, list your requirements. Are you looking for someone who just graduated or is an industry veteran? Is in your same demographic? Lived in the same hometown? Regardless of what you would prefer, you should look for someone who works at your ideal company (whether it’s a specific big-tech company or in your field — such as a startup or research facility) and comes from your school.

The best resource for finding someone with these criteria is LinkedIn! When searching for people, always change the filters to make it as specific as you want. If you can find close connections, that’s great — but definitely not expected.

Filter showing Microsoft on LinkedIn

Once you find them, there are two ways to connect: LinkedIn Messaging or Clearbit Connect. You can choose freely between the two, but Clearbit Connect gives you the email address of your contact. Use your judgment when using this option as people can prefer either email or LinkedIn.

When connecting, let them know (1) who you are and (2) why you’re messaging them. If you have a specific question, that’s even better. People may still respond to “Hey, can I pick your brain?” but a specific question lets them figure out how much time they can offer you. If you want a general elevator pitch tutorial, check out this article!

When should I ask for help?

Always! Whenever you need help, feel free to reach out. Are you looking for advice on applying to the company they work at? Are you coding a personal project in a field they have experience in? Do you want to know how what their industry is like? Do you want help? If you answered yes to any of those questions, ask for help!

Teach Others

“When one teaches, two learn” — Robert Heinlein

Growing up, I naturally had a passion for teaching. I volunteered at the library and aquarium, teaching kids how to make crafts and their favorite aquatic animals. My favorite thing about these jobs were learning these facts to share them with others. So, when I first got to college, I didn’t know how to program, but I knew how to teach.

Teaching Jobs

Teaching CS challenges you to know your craft to the point you can explain it in the simplest terms. After my first semester of programming, my professor sent out an email, asking for TA applicants. I was nervous and almost didn’t do it. Thankfully, I pushed myself and by my second semester of college, I was an Introduction to Programming Teaching Assistant. This, honestly, was the highlight of my resume; at every career fair, recruiters would be impressed with a first-year TA.

This was an easy entry job to get at my university. We went through two rounds of interviews, showing how we’d help a student debug their code. However, the experience is invaluable. Because of this job, I was able to secure more teaching jobs, working with all ages. I’ve worked for Black Girls Code and Kode With Klossy the summer after my first year. By the time I applied for Microsoft that summer, it showed that I had a passion for CS. Sure, I didn’t have an internship my first summer, but I was still finding opportunities that got me excited!

There are so many opportunities to be a teacher or tutor for coding whether it’s as a tutor or summer camp. You don’t need a software engineering internship to get experience!

Quick Tips on Teaching

In case you’re not sure how to get started teaching, here are some tips:

  1. Ask questions — you don’t want to give them the answer. Ask them leading questions to help jog their memory
  2. Be understanding — they’re learning new skills; it’ll take a while. When explaining concepts, put yourself in their shoes and pause every couple of sentences to make sure they’re comprehending the material.
  3. Encourage your students to teach themselves — self-sufficiency is important in coding as honestly, most answers can be found in a Google search. Give your students resources for them to read up more as well. If you have a student who’s got this down, encourage them to teach their classmates.

Be a Self Starter

Opportunity is a mix of luck and hard work. If you stumble upon all the opportunities you can imagine, but if you don’t push yourself to get them, you won’t get them.

Take Every Opportunity

If you see something you’re interested in, get more information right there and then. Send an email. Open up the application. Get started!

Once I had a professor in China who sent out a flyer into our class group chat. I didn’t think much of it until my classmate told me he was applying. I opened the flyer and immediately texted my professor on how to applying. An hour later, I was offered a free flight to another city in China and the opportunity to not only work at a start-up but practice my Chinese. If I had waited, that position would’ve been filled and I wouldn’t have had the amazing experience I did.

Yes, it’s scary to get rejected. It’s hard to put yourself out there, but if you don’t work to find those resources, who’s finding them for you? You’ll get rejected; you’ll get ghosted. I know I did, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get accepted down the road. Each application and each interview all prepare you for bigger goals in the future.

If You Can’t Find an Opportunity, Make Your Own!

Opportunities are hard to find and networking can be difficult — especially if you’re a freshman, getting turned down by every recruiter at the college fair. This means you have to find a way to put yourself on the map.

Start something. Become a resource for others. Make the opportunity.

When I had free time, I found out what I could do to get even further. I edit my resume every month. I create a coding project to work on. I started my University’s first Girls Who Code chapter. Just keep going no matter what and don’t forget to share it with others.

Mara Hart

Honestly, getting out there and networking is hard. If you want some help, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn — don’t forget to include a note when connecting! 

Read more of Mara’s content on her Medium Channel

Click here to read Mara’s blog on How My Microsoft Interview Landed Me Higher Position Than I Applied For

Connect with Mara on LinkedIn

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