The Explore Microsoft internship a Gateway to Redmond

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‘Softie in Question: Jeremy Tillman

Job title: SDE, Home & Small Business Server

How did you come to arrive at Microsoft?

I was born and raised in Gary, Indiana. Back in ‘99, when I was in about 8th grade, my brother brought home a Gateway computer in that black & white “cow box.” It had a whole 7 gigs of storage and that nice little AOL Internet package. I was the first person on my street with a personal computer.

Everybody on the block started coming to me for computer advice. If you needed t-shirts made, business cards, tickets – I did it all. When Yahoo! Chat was hot, everybody used to come to the house and try to play around on it.

My sister worked at a medical office and soon I was helping to set up their network. After high school graduation, I worked for the school board and created a database to organize all of their building blue prints.

Sounds like you had a lot of tech entrepreneurship experience by a young age. What was the next step?

I didn’t really know what a computer engineer did, but I loved computers and, so, I went off to Purdue to study computer engineering. I aced any class that was engineering-oriented, but overall I had some difficulties with my GPA. My high school experience wasn’t too challenging and I don’t think I was that well prepared.

When I went to my first career fair, the recruiter looked at me and said “I can’t talk to you unless I you have a 3.0.” He handed back my resume and proceeded to look right past me like I wasn’t even there.

How did you bridge the gap between your computer skills and the standardized requirements of the job application process?

I was working at a job fair, checking that the guest companies had everything that they needed, setting up their computers etc., and I got into a discussion with the guy at the Microsoft booth.

He wasn’t an HR person. He was an engineer. I asked him what his job was like from day to day. He just explained what he did and then he turned around and asked me, “What do YOU do from day to day?”

I told him about everything that I worked on and the different coding projects that I’d done. He started to question me and… I know my stuff. If you question me, I’m gonna go deeper and deeper. He was grasping what I was saying. It was really refreshing. Too many companies discriminate based on a GPA or how somebody ranks you and not on your actual knowledge. They standardize things and, instead, should appreciate what kind of new ideas you bring to the table.

Two weeks later, I got an email saying “We want to interview you for the Explore Microsoft program” I never imagined that I’d be going to Seattle to work for a company like Microsoft. When you come where I come from, you just don’t see that kind of stuff.

Tell me a bit about what it’s like to be an Explorer.

As an Explore intern, I was hired in the Small Business Server team. You aren’t hired to work a specific position. They say, “We’re going to give you a project and you’re going to go through all of the disciplines to see where you best fit in.”

Our Explorer team was from University of Puerto Rico, Michigan, USC and there was me, from Purdue. We had a nice little mix. Our project was to create a tool for the product to help manage user information. We spec’d out our project, developed it and tested it.

The manager came in and told us to code it in a way that none of us knew. It wasn’t about reusing our existing skills, it was about how we learned new things and explored different options. Microsoft really respects and appreciates a person’s potential. We didn’t just sit around in training classes. I learned to code in C#. It was an entirely new world for me. After that summer I had a great grasp on C# and a lot of inspiration for my future career.

And that future career came on pretty quickly after that, huh?

I was a 2007 Explore Intern, a 2008 Intern and, in June 2009, I started as a full-time employee here at Microsoft.

LINKS

Learn more about the Explore program here (you must click on the Explore Microsoft tab in the left-hand-side nav bar).

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