Marketing@Microsoft Employee Careerpath Profiles: Neil Shah

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.

Comments (11)

  1. ARGH says:

    Dear God, this is exactly the sort of employee that gives Mini-MSFT a raison d’etre.

    Let’s see:

    -Mid-level manager? Check.

    -Buzzword bingo? Check.

    -Has grown his org without growing bottom-line? Check.

    -From MSR (aka, how to deliver half-finished, purely academic "solutions" which only add more process and bureaucracy?) Check.

    -Ballmer worship (have you seen the stock perf since Ballmer became CEO?) Check.

    -Dodgy green shirt? Check.

    Fire this guy and help make Microsoft a lean mean customer-pleasing machine.

    PS I will pre-empt the rubbish about customer focus groups being essential to the "conversation" with the single word: blog. This guy is in marketing, he wants to interact with customers, and doesn’t have one yet. Therefore obviously incompetent.

  2. Saved! says:

    It is very disheartening to see someone take their colleagues inventory publicly. It is an employee like Neil that makes Microsoft a great company! He is a winner because he is proud of his job and wants to develop into a great leader.

    I have recently interviewed for a position at Microsoft believing that I would be working among men and women who supported each other in a way that would allow them to develop the creative and innovative software that Microsoft is famous for creating. After reading your post and other MS employee blogs I really don’t think that it is a place that I want to be a part of…if you are blasting each other online, God only knows what is going on each day on campus. Thanks for helping me make my decision!

  3. HeatherLeigh says:

    I guarantee that ARGH doens’t know Neil. He’s taking out his own angst on seomeone else because they are happy (are you kidding me right now with that shirt comment?).Incidently, the anonymous ARGH doesn’t realize that research in corporate marketing is not MSR and that the central marketing team is not a business group. The most fascinating thing is that ARGH disses Neil for not having a blog, yet ARGH doesn’t link to one himself. ARGH’s comment bile really does not lend to any kind of credible discussion.

    Saved!- don’t hold one anonymous post against us. There are people like this everywhere (I guarantee, there are people like this in your current company). I don’t have any proof that ARGH is an actual MS employee (frankly, he seems too uninformed…he could have looked Neil up in the address book and realized he didn’t work in MSR). My guess, anonymous, non-MS with some kind of axe to grind. Shall we guess where they actually work?

  4. ARGH’s comments are not surprising at all. Some people read controversial stories about a company in magazines, and then try to paint every employee in that company in the same color. I find the following comment particularly interesting:

    "From MSR (aka, how to deliver half-finished, purely academic "solutions" which only add more process and bureaucracy?) Check."

    It is amusing especially because Neil specifically said, "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."

    Finally, just because someone does not have a blog does not mean that person is incompetent. Some people just don’t have the time. There are several other avenues for collecting reliable market information. The world does not lack immature pessimists and ARGH is just one of them.

  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    CerebralNetizen- right on!

  6. Paul says:

    Folks like Argh are unfortunately very common in tech companies. They have a knack for sucking enthusiasm out of all those around them and contributing little in compensatory value.

    He (I’m pretty certain it’s a he – women rarely exhibit these character flaws) could be a Microsoftie, or he could be an outsider, but it doesn’t matter. He is stereotypically insecure in his technical superiority, and feels the need to lord it over all those around him.

    I suspect he is a person of considerable intellect, and my suggestion is that he should look inward. We all have the power to be constructive, but it requires a lot more effort and brainpower than being destructive. Argh, if you truly are as smart as you think you are, apply yourself to helping people to improve, fixing problems, and building morale rather than tearing it down. You’ll find it much more rewarding.

    Kudos to Neil for being willing to put his character out there for the world to see, and sharing his experiences. It’s tough to expose yourself to inevitable criticism. In a world of givers and takers, Neil appears to be a giver.

    Heather, thanks for putting this story on your blog. You don’t deserve ARGH’s spleen.

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Thanks Paul. You know when I asked Neil for permission to post this, I should have warned him about the trolls. Anyway, your thoughtful posts always make up for the bad stuff!

    I have to say, that I rarely come across people like Argh here (I still don’t believe he works here bc anyone here would know the diff between corporate marketing and MS Research; they are so different….one is full of technical people one is full of marketing people). Maybe I don’t come across that type of person often because I don’t really like to listen to idle complaining (trust me, I complain plenty and it’s always followed by “so this is what I want to do” or “so this is why I am asking for x” or “and that’s why we should make this change”). If I hear idle complaining, I ask what they are doing about it (or, “have you talked to your manager about this if it’s bothering you?”). If they aren’t willing to take a stand on an issue, then the question is "then why are you here?" (sorry, I take pride in working here and it never crossed my mind that I couldn’t change the world here…or at least the Staffing world). I mean, if something is not working for you, why stay and suffer (and in the case of the complainers, make others around you suffer as well)? It’s just not smart.

    This isn’t a Microsoft thing. There are complainers everywhere. My last job, the lady who sat across from me used to complain and get so fired up she would start to shake but she would never do anything about it (maybe it was because of no free soda, cube farm, no parking, insurance premiums and limited career path ; )). Why put yourself though that? Here, I think it’s a unique situation because we forget how good we have it. For example, with the benefits, I think about people complaining about the fact that there’s a co-pay if they choose a name brand prescription drug when a generic is available (and by the way, as a shareholder, yay for that rule!). I think back to previous jobs where I was making co-payments left and right. I have not paid one cent for any medical care in 6.5 years. I think we kind of get lulled into the sense of "this is how it is" and it’s just not true at other companies. Most of us here know that.

    I love the fact that people like Neil come to work excited to do their job(s). Some unhappy people may find Neil’s enthusiasm foreign but that’s says more about them than it does someone like Neil. I happen to get jazzed by the idea of coming to work every day. I’m sorry everyone doesn’t get to feel that way. If they don’t they should do something about it. I mean, something besides blog trolling.

  8. Shishi says:

    I worked at MS for 5 years, and ARGH’s comments– outside of being personally insulting to Neil, which just isn’t nice–otherwise pretty directly hit their mark. Internally, MS is a confused organization, trying to meander its way toward making life better for people (ie, "companies") while in reality creating so-so products that isolate and divide people and cultures. I’ve seen it first hand.

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Shishi, I don’t agree with you but we are all certainly entitled to our own opinions. Though I’ve got to ask why you would stay at a company for 5 years of you felt that way.

  10. jbs says:

    Don’t listen to the fashion police… the shirt rocks Neil! Only thing that could make it better is if you had a Jethro Tull T-shirt underneath it… just personal preference, some may prefer Rush, but not enough flute for my taste!


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