About four years ago, I almost quit.
I was getting restless and decided that I wanted to launch a startup. Soon after that, I told my manager that I planned to leave within the next year.
I told her that I needed autonomy and creativity. I wanted a job with greater purpose and world-changing impact. I wanted rapid growth, not just of my products, but also of myself.
Her response caught me off guard. She said she’d support me either way and offered a few suggestions for ways I could get all those things at Microsoft, should I consider staying. She could give me more room for creativity and risk-taking, more help gaining access to all of Microsoft’s resources, and a lot of other things that I’d not considered doing before.
I stayed, and I never looked back.
I’ve always looked for creative ways to solve problems, ideally without involving a ton of waste. As a rural kid growing up three miles away from a very small town, I didn’t have much to do other than figure out how to entertain myself. I had to be independent and resourceful. So I got into fixing and building and creating things—treehouses, go carts, you name it.
Once I got my uncle’s ancient dune buggy up and running again with very few tools and even less adult supervision; for a brief moment I may have been the only eighth grader with wheels. I was always redesigning things that were broken and giving them a new purpose.
Although I didn’t know what to call it at the time, I now realize that was lean hacking (experimenting with new ideas and testing them—quickly), and it turns out I’d been doing it for a while.
Instead of leaving the company, I decided to bring more of this mindset to my job at Microsoft. I turned an old lab into a collaboration space where my team and I can experiment constantly. I love that space. In it, our vetting and forensic services team (translation: we protect Microsoft and its customers from a variety of risks) have developed products—sometimes with the help of The Garage, and other times as volunteers supported by Microsoft Philanthropies.
Together, we built a state-of-the-art identity-vetting platform. We found that our skills translated well to areas with great societal value too; our lean hacking tactics have helped us address major global challenges through solutions like PhotoDNA, a product used to fight child exploitation on the internet; Child Finder Service, which helps find missing children; and Content Moderator, which helps organizations identify high-risk text, images, or video on their platforms.
Other hacks are fun, and our team engages in small experiments constantly; we’ve created a four-in-one programmable-height ping-pong scrum table, a custom-designed lab layout with a bell for big wins, and a community snack cart for sharing healthy treats. In a team survey, 100 percent of our people said that their jobs are more than just jobs—they have real meaning. I think this is due to our hacking culture.
Since that conversation with my manager four years ago, I’ve gone through a transformation—I used to think that I needed to start my own company, make a fortune, and then have a positive impact on the world afterward. But I’ve realized that life is too short to defer one’s calling.
I still often wonder about other opportunities. But the question I ask myself is how much impact can I make somewhere else versus where I am at. So far, there’s nowhere else I’ve found where I can have a greater, global impact than at Microsoft.
Are you a Microsoft employee with a journey to share? Drop us a line from your work email at MicrosoftLife (at) microsoft.com.