We have an internal marketing newsletter that highlights career related information (careerpath, training, professional development, etc.). After reading some of these newsletters in the past and thinking how cool it would be to share some of this information with people externally, I decided to stop being such a lazy-bones and contact the group that publishes the newsletter to see if I can share some of the content here. Anyway, as a result, I am sharing an interview with Neil Shah, a Group Research Manager in our Central Marketing Organization (don't worry, Neil is OK with me publishing this too...I checked).
Name: Neil Shah
Title: Group Research Manager
Current Group: Corporate Marketing Group, Research Team
Years at Microsoft: 5.5 years
Groups Worked in at Microsoft: Microsoft Library, different parts of the Research Organization including Market Research for the Windows Server Product Group and Competitive Strategy Group
Born and Raised: New Jersey
Education: B.A. Rutgers University
Path to Microsoft
How and why did you become interested in Microsoft?
I’ve always personally been really excited and passionate about technology and I’ve been building computers in my room since I was 12 years old. My first experience with Microsoft was through the really old version of MS DOS. I’ve always known Microsoft products and I’ve always used them since a very young age.
How did you get started at Microsoft?
When I was in college I applied to Microsoft for internships and the opportunity never came up but I really wanted to work here. Later down the path Microsoft found me.
Are you doing now what you thought you’d be doing earlier in your career?
No I am not actually. When I came out of college, I was a little unsure of where I wanted to go since I graduated with a liberal arts degree. But I have always been interested in technology and really interested in research and writing. I never thought that all three things could come together but they actually did at Microsoft, which is why I love my job and have been doing it for so long.
Path through Microsoft
What has been your career path at Microsoft?
Some of the areas I was working on in the Microsoft Library related to competitive strategy and some of them didn’t. At the time when the Central Marketing Organization was formed, they were looking for people who had specific expertise in what were at the time niche areas. They wanted to build this house of deep subject matter experts in different areas. So they had me join that organization. It was a new experience because I had to learn a whole new set of skills that I didn’t have previously, like market intelligence and actually developing research studies.
What skills or competencies have you used the most to get to this point in your career?
I would say that understanding the customer and representing the voice of the customer through market intelligence has been the cornerstone of all of my work--especially through all the research work, the surveys, and the focus groups. The purpose of this stuff is to help us walk in the customer shoes and really understand them. A lot of marketing should begin with understanding the customers, then we figure out what innovations can we bring to them that will make their lives better.
What is your impression of marketing at Microsoft?
Marketing at Microsoft is unique. From a company with such a strong technology heritage it's sort of shifting the balance a little more to be really customer focused. It is a path towards maturity and I think we are taking a lot of great steps. Marketing at Microsoft is lucky in that we have a CEO like Steve Ballmer who comes from a marketing background and who really embraces doing what is best for the customer. We have all the resources in place to do world class marketing in a way that a lot of other companies can’t.
Knowledge along the way
What advice would you give marketers at Microsoft?
Trust yourself and take chances. I think we are fortunate because we are in a culture that rewards smart risk taking. We can turn the crank and do regular marketing stuff from a textbook and achieve so-so results, but to really do outstanding marketing you have to be willing to take good chances. Doesn’t mean that we should take all risks, but we should take smart ones where there is a good chance of a good pay off. So just trust yourself, be smart, and take risks.
What do you see for yourself in making the next step in your career?
The next step for me is developing my people management skills. Over the past five years, I’ve had some really great experiences and now I have the opportunity to start managing people. This will be a real exciting challenge for me.
How do you manage your work/life balance?
It all comes down to prioritization and understanding what things really have to get done today versus which things can be done tomorrow. Asking people on your team and working with your manager to find that out is important. It is a line that I think every employee has to draw for themselves. Without that balance people will burn out relatively fast.