'Making the World a Better Place' - Oliners at Microsoft - Part II By Chelsea Bailey '16

Last week we introduced you to Olin alumni and students at Microsoft, and they told us what they were up to out in Redmond, WA.   Today, we ask them how they feel they are affecting change in the world - both professionally and in their spare time.   

How have you made a difference during your time at Microsoft?

SHARON (Grimshaw, rising senior) - I'm still trying to figure out how I fit into the whole space (I've only been here a few weeks), but already I feel  I'm making a difference through my networking.   I think the biggest difference I'm making is actually outside of work in the social space, since there are always people looking for things to do weeknights and weekends, and I have been taking an active role in organizing events. In the future, I can see myself continuing to make a difference in this area, connecting people to others like them!

NIKKI  (Lee, alum '10) - Quite a loaded question! I am the Dean of Seattle's Awesome Foundation chapter and have been involved in all of our grantmaking over the last 2 ½ years (we've given away $30,000 so far!), and done a few talks about our approach to philanthropy. I've also been quite involved in the Global Awesome Foundation, helping compile our New Chapter Handbook, creating and sharing promotional materials, and assisting with documenting our yearly summits. Before coming to Microsoft,  I was a Teaching Assistant at the University of Washington for almost 2 years,  ran an HCI seminar in Seoul,  and am now helping revise the curriculum for one of their introductory Human-Computer Interaction classes. I've been writing quite a bit and have received some really heartfelt messages from people who've been moved by my work. I'm a member of the Seattle Global Shapers, a World Economic Forum community. We haven't yet done much (the group is still spinning up), but it has interesting potential.

Nikki.jpg Nikki keeps busy with large-scale philanthropy projects and her own blog!

MOLLY (Grossman, alum '13) - I'm working on a team that is incredibly technical, which means that we're really down in the 'guts' of software systems. Every day, we work toward creating new solutions to problems that Office has been facing for a while. The combination of having people on the team who have immense technical depth and new people (like me) who ask all the crazy questions that make people reconsider their assumptions means that at least once a week, we come up with an idea we didn't think was feasible the week before. That's a really exciting environment to be in.

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Molly Grossman works as a PM at Microsoft, but she still finds time to goof around with friend and fellow alum, Hannah Sarver ('13) who works at Amazon!

What do you feel you are doing that's innovative?

SHARON - I would say most of my innovation comes in the accessibility space. This is the area I've been working on with professors  Lynn [Stein] and Caitrin [Lynch] for a few years, and I'm finding the skills I learned easily transferrable to Microsoft. Microsoft is full of people who are very smart,  but often assume that everyone understands technology to the same degree that they do. I've already stepped in a few times and asked the developers in my group to consider a more accessible, more obvious version of the feature they are working on. Just on Friday, one of my ideas got accepted and should be rolling out in a few weeks!

NIKKI - What I'm doing at work is definitely innovative and interesting. There have been a lot of concepts and explorations around digital pen, but almost nothing has been actually built before. I'm very excited to help move this forward, as I think there is massive potential for this technology (if nothing else, it has huge promise in educational contexts).   And, of course, the Awesome Foundation is one of the most dynamic and innovative philanthropic organizations on the planet. I love being a part of such a vibrant group of people.

Advice for current students?

NIKKI - You got where you are today because you are smart, hardworking, and lucky - there's no reason that any of that has to stop.

JAMIE (Gorson, rising junior) - Appreciate what Olin is teaching you! There are some classes that I have grumbled about at the time, and then they ended up being extremely helpful at Microsoft. In fact the things that they taught have been following me everywhere around here!     For instance,  the personas and user scenarios we learned to develop and explore in UOCD (User Oriented Collaborative Design) class have really come in handy in our Project Management roles.

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Jamie enjoying her time away from the office.

SHARON - I think I was well prepared technically for this internship. It was actually the social scene that was the most challenging to get a grip on.   And to that end, I would advise students to step outside of their comfort zone, open themselves up to new experiences, and don't be afraid to look silly. I never would have thought I could climb a mountain - it's been years since I last hiked anything at all - but my manager mentioned that it was something that a lot of people in the area had done and that I should try it out. So I found a group of people and decided to do it. The hike up was awful, and I was really sore on the hike down, but the view at the top was the best, and it also gave me the chance to bond with a few other Microsoft interns at the same time.


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Sharon's rewarding view from the top of Mt. Si

MOLLY - Communication and people skills are incredibly important. Especially if you're going to have any sort of leadership role, you have to be able to communicate to a wide variety of different audiences and work with a whole host of different working styles. Being able to write and present effectively is not just important for securing a job--it's crucial to getting work done in an interconnected workplace. Also, if something looks fun, try it! You never know what will end up being your next passion.

DEBORAH (Hellen, rising junior) - Take the career fairs seriously! They provide a valuable opportunity to talk to a recruiter in person and truly show your passion for your work. Making a good impression with a recruiter in person gives you a much better chance of landing that first-round interview than simply submitting a resume. Talking about a project you're really excited about usually helps too. I was nervous when I went to talk to the recruiter, but once I started talking about the project that I was working on for Baja, I forgot my nerves. The recruiter was so impressed that he offered me an interview on the spot.

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Deborah has been enjoying the Seattle music scene and visiting with friend and classmate Paige Cote.


SASHA (alum '13) - Do a bit of everything!    My happiest memories from Olin were all preceded by someone saying, "Hey, do you want to go [insert adventure here]?"  I can't remember what I did instead, the times I declined.   If something seems even remotely interesting, give it a shot. Your time at Olin is an amazing opportunity to explore the world. Go camping, learn flameworking, study away somewhere far and different, build robots, perform on stage, learn about the things you had no idea you would love.


Sasha continues to do ALL the things! She even finds time to keep up her hobbies from Olin, like slacklining.

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