NICHOLE KURZ

Microsoft Intern Program Manager



Can you describe your path to Microsoft?

When I went to university, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. Neither of my parents went to college so I'm the first in my family to graduate. While I was there, I tried a computer science class but I didn’t see anyone who looked like me or have opportunities for mentorship which made it hard. I ended up graduating with a degree in psychology and communication and fell into a contractor position at Microsoft for recruiting that I thought would be temporary but ended up loving it. I realized that this job allowed me to utilize my interest in technology and passion for working with people. It's why I've been at Microsoft for 10 years now. Looking back, it has been the perfect career for me because I get to make a lasting impact on the world through the lens of technology.



How did you get involved in university and high school recruiting?

As I got into recruiting, I continued developing a passion for helping people. I noticed that there are awesome opportunities when students get into university, but there are also all of these students who just don't know that these opportunities are available and don’t have the avenues to gain exposure.

Honestly, I think about that CS 101 class I took in college. If I had had exposure in high school, I wonder how that class would have been different. In the end, I think I landed in the most perfect place, but I wonder how many other students, particularly women, minorities, and those of lower socioeconomic status, are in that same position.

I really started to get involved in a lot of diversity recruiting events and realized that running an internship program could be a really exciting opportunity. I got involved in the Explore internship program which shares the same philosophy as the high school program in that it's meant to give students the opportunity to see what a career in tech might look like. I also knew that I was particularly passionate about helping students in the “high school transitioning to the college stage” so the High School program seemed like a natural next step.

Can you explain what goes on in your day-to-day?

There's really no day-to-day. In the fall season, I work with teams to conduct interviews and figure out how many interns they’ll be hosting in the summer. In the past month, because of the pandemic, it has been about thinking on my feet and making decisions with very little information. For example, the management training that we held this week would usually take almost three months to execute. Then, just about two weeks before for the training event, it was announced that all of the university internships would go online. We had to rethink the entire content of the training because now we're not just training managers on things that they should know while hosting an intern, but also how to do that in a virtual environment.

Another piece that I think is very relevant in my job and a side passion of mine is coaching. I typically work with people going through transitions, such as students going in and out of college. I also do a lot of coaching in my day job too, like helping teams think through hiring decisions and the kinds of projects that they're going to create for their interns. I'm not generally telling them what to do, but more so coaching them through that thought process to determine the best solution.

What are the main steps that go on behind the scenes in the internship recruitment process at Microsoft?

It kinda feels like a big black hole right? You submit your application, generally wait a few months, and hope to get a phone interview, then an onsite interview.

On our end, we plan a year in advance on how many internships we are going to have, and that is broken down by the different teams, roles (software engineering or program management), and programs (High School, Explore, etc.). We then open the doors for applications in late August or early September and review applications on a rolling basis. We also ask current interns and employees for referrals, which is why networking is so important. When you come to an interview, you aren't interviewing for a specific team, just an internship in general. Based on our conversation in the interview and the resume, we determine where the intern would fit best within the organization.

What skills would you recommend students should learn at the high school and early college stage to stay competitive in today’s job market?

I think the most important thing you can do is stay connected and start networking. Sometimes, I talk to students who come to interview for the High School or Explore program who think that if they don't get the opportunity now, they’re career is lost, which is so not the case. Having an internship is going to give you a step in the right direction, but it's not going to make or break anything. If you don't have internships, but you do have volunteer experience or projects, that can be equally impressive. I’ve even heard of interviewers say “well, they worked at McDonald's for two summers so here are the 25 qualities that they have because of that experience”. So even if an experience is not directly applicable, but you’re able to show passion and work ethic, you still get points for that. Actually, I just hosted our manager training session with just under 3,000 managers attending. We talked about how this generation of interns is going to be really impactful because they are so resourceful and creative and I am really excited to see what happens next.

How have you seen intern cohorts evolve over the years, either in skills, interest, or any other way?

I think it is really interesting to look at skills within different age groups. The Explore program was developed around 12 years ago because we saw students who took a computer science class in freshman year, without previous exposure, would stop pursuing more classes and we wanted to encourage them to continue. Nowadays, I see high school students who already have the skills and have taken the classes. When I was in high school, there was no such thing as a computer science class. Now, the “problem” that we were solving with the Explore program is just starting at an earlier age. We’ve been starting to think about ways to get students engaged at an earlier age through camps or workshops to continue offering exposure in not only the topic of computer science but also how that would translate in the industry.

Is there any way that interns have taught or impacted you over the years?

This is something that we talked about in the manager training. As much as we think that we’re teaching an intern, we actually absorb so much. For me personally, I have been inspired by the confidence that high school and college students have. I use that to remind myself to keep going because if you guys can do it, I can too.

What is the one piece of advice you would offer girls pursuing STEM?

Be inspired, get connected, and persevere. Find yourself a mentor and learn from them, have them challenge you and push you to just keep growing. When you get that “No”, know that it’s a “No” for right now and not forever. As I mentioned earlier, I started at Microsoft on contract since temporary positions are pretty common in the recruiting industry. When I interviewed for a full-time position the first time, I didn’t get hired. A lot of people would go through that and think that they're never going to have that chance again, but I used that rejection as fuel to succeed and here I am 10 years later.