*Note: This is a guest article by Ke Chen for the Spotlight on MACH series. The writing is entirely her own. No edits, other than formatting, have been made.
Ever since I can remember, people have asked me what I wanted to be when I so-called “grew up.” I hated that question. Up until the age of eight, I always answered with “I want to be perfect.” After that, I responded with retorts like “I want to be a gastroenterologist” or “an otolaryngologist” (among other extremely complicated medical specialties that I sometimes even made up) and the conversation usually ended there as I learned early on that rarely does the asker ever continue pressing on a subject foreign to their understanding. In fact, even as I was a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, I couldn’t find a subject that held my attention for more than 3-4 classes. I skipped around from geology to economics to molecular biology to impressionistic art to Shakespearean literature to finally settling for a BA in medical sociology (I mean, literally, if you track my official major/minor changes at Penn, you’ll see something resembling borderline medical indecisiveness). But seriously, I loved it all and I was haunted by the need to pick one route when I was so mentally captivated by such differing subjects.
The day after I declared my major in Medical Sociology (the study of the relationship between social factors and health), I was contacted by Microsoft for a summer internship interview in finance (which Internet Explorer told me was the study of the management of money or “funds”). I interviewed, got the internship, and worked intensely for three months in Microsoft’s Divestures, Acquisitions, and Joint Venture Accounting. And yes, as a student in medical sociology, I Bing’d every word in that sentence.
Almost four years after that first internship, I am now in my second and last year of the Finance Rotation Program at Microsoft, a 2 year program that allows college graduates to participate in 4 six-month rotations to build intellectual horsepower, drive for results, and self-awareness. I could not have imagined a better role for myself. My past rotations have included Internal Audit (where I got to travel to Tokyo and Prague for 2 months), Office Finance (there are few companies that can boast a $22B P&L not to mention business groups within a company), and Startup Business Group (working on the ever coveted role of developing incubations/new products). Through the Finance Rotation Program, I have discovered my passion is with new products and incubations because it is a mix of everything I love. I get to be strategic and analytic, brainstorming customer pain points and how to best understand and deliver what the consumer wants in “the next big thing.” I work with business partners on marketing taglines and campaigns, including assisting in brand strategy proposals. I build models that forecast units and pricing sensitivity to inform my business partners of optimal strategic decisions. I am exposed to product SKUs and experience the beauty of design, giving user experience feedback on how to successfully morph a technological vision into a work of art for the greater market. To sum it up in five words, it is a dream job. It’s as if I am working in a startup environment without having to worry about funding (thank you Microsoft), where cross-functionality takes precedence over specialization, and I am allowed to hone skills relevant in marketing, product planning, and most deeply, finance.
I have a piece of 11×15 paper that I drew up a while ago with elements I need in a job. This includes “strategic problem-solving,” “analytical modeling,” “artistic expression,” “collective brainstorming,” etc. because contrary to traditional thought, I don’t need to lock myself into a position. At Microsoft, there are so many roles across different business groups and functions and so many opportunities to do a billion things at once. So now when managers ask me what I want to be when I “grow up” I don’t think specific roles or titles or even professions. I think, here’s what I enjoy doing. Now tell me if your job fits me.