A blog by Tom Light, focusing on apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships at Microsoft and his experience in Microsoft’s Early in Career community.
I owe a lot to the Microsoft apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships programme. Driving past the Microsoft sign and into the Reading campus on a Monday morning in September 2017, I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement and achievement. I was a tech-savvy 23-year-old, and this moment felt almost like a dream. Having not yet received my employee badge, I did briefly have to explain to security that it was my first day. But that didn’t bother me one bit – I was proud to be one of the newest members of the Microsoft family.
It wasn’t my first time visiting Microsoft UK headquarters, but it was my first time arriving as an employee – and if I’m honest, I almost took my little hatchback off-roading towards the campus lake because I was so absorbed in that slightly surreal moment. They say it’s always important to make an immediate impression. I don’t think tyre tracks over the immaculately-cut grass would have been the best stamp to leave on day one.
I had been working in a sales team at a professional football club since leaving school after completing my A-Levels when I was 18. University never felt like the right path for me. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always been hardworking and driven, but at that time in my life that drive had steered me down a path towards starting my career as soon as possible, to have an impact on a business, to earn money, and – as I saw it – to be ‘an adult’.
Have I ever reflected on where I’d be now if I’d taken an alternative route? Most definitely. Do I regret the choice I made back in 2012? Absolutely not.
An opportunity presents itself
It had often crossed my mind that my aspiration of working for a tech giant could have passed me by. I’d always had a keen interest in Microsoft in particular, having been brought up surrounded and empowered by their everyday applications like Office and having gone through the education system immersed in a Windows ecosystem. And the fact that the main Microsoft UK offices are pretty much on my doorstep only sharpened my interest. I’m extremely lucky to have a 10-minute commute to the Thames Valley Park campus here in Reading, but I’d have travelled countless miles and sat in endless traffic for this opportunity.
That’s exactly what I saw one day – an opportunity. Looking at the Microsoft careers website, I spotted the advert for apprenticeships within the UK. At first, I clicked it more out of curiosity than anything else, but that single click was the moment that completely transformed my career.
Five years before, when I was preparing to leave school, there was a stigma attached to apprenticeships. The range of industries that offered them were limited, and they were broadly viewed as an option for people who ‘didn’t have the grades’ for university or a job that was seen as a ‘proper career path’. Sadly, my sixth form wasn’t particularly helpful for those of us who weren’t applying to universities – there was a definite feeling of isolation and a lack of support there.
The evolving apprenticeship path
I was surprised at what I found online five years later in 2012. The scope of apprenticeships had clearly evolved, and Microsoft offered a range of roles in both business and technical environments, while affording the chance to work towards Level 3, 4 or 6 (degree) qualifications.
For a while, I’d wanted to get into marketing, but the majority of roles out there were understandably aimed at university graduates. I knew I didn’t want to go back to being a full-time student, but further digging led me to the discovery that Microsoft offered a number of marketing positions as part of their apprenticeship scheme – tick!
I had recently turned 23, and the scheme was open to applicants aged between 16 and 24 (this has since been made completely open) – tick! I took a punt…
My application journey
Within a few days, I received an email thanking me for my application. As I read further, it became apparent that my application had in fact been unsuccessful as I was ‘underqualified’, despite having the relevant GCSE grades required.
Naturally I queried this, and it turned out I had submitted my four A-Levels into the GCSEs box. Microsoft kindly rectified my administrative error. They must have thought “We’ve got a right one here!” – but despite this, I was delighted to be offered a video interview. Just thought I’d throw that little story in. We all make mistakes, but we’re only human and people get that. It’s how we rectify them and learn from them that really counts.
After completing the video interview, I was thrilled to be offered a place at an assessment centre held at the UK headquarters in Reading. I was one of 10 individuals and the eldest, as I expected, but that didn’t bother me. I was part of a group of young, hungry individuals – myself in more sense than one as I’d been too nervous to eat breakfast – and we were all there for the same reason. We all knew what an incredible opportunity we had to make a positive impression and earn a role at one of the world’s largest companies.
One of the key parts of the day was an individual interview. There were a variety of hiring managers there, but it just so happened that I was interviewed by Danielle Crayton. Danielle was a Senior Product Marketing Manager for the Surface product portfolio. Although I was open to marketing opportunities anywhere within the very broad Microsoft business, being a hardware lover, my dream role would have been working in the devices team. This was my opportunity to show my passion and knowledge to an influential person within that field – and the rest, as they say, is history.
The following week, Danielle offered me a role within her team. To say I was ecstatic would be a huge understatement. After further discussions with her following the assessment centre, it became even more apparent that the stereotypical view of apprenticeships was sorely outdated. Apprentices are not tea and coffee makers. They are not assistants. They are real members of real teams with even realer responsibilities and unimaginable opportunities ahead of them.
My role at Microsoft
Over the past 18 months, I have represented Microsoft and told our Surface and Modern Workplace story to both existing and new customers at huge events like Future Decoded and BETT, as well as at many smaller first- and third-party events. I’ve also led our internal communication and readiness streams, focusing on how we can further empower our internal sales teams and partner community.
My favourite part of my position has been playing an important role in the preparation and execution surrounding new product launches. The trust and faith put in me, as an apprentice, to know things such as our product roadmap and to be able to be a part of launch planning months in advance of announcements – well, it’s most certainly not the vision of an apprentice role that I had in my head beforehand. It’s overwhelmingly beyond that.
Add all of the above and more to the fact that Microsoft have invested in my development with marketing-centric qualifications (including a Level 4 Award from the Chartered Institute of Marketing) to complement my day job. I am unbelievably grateful for everything this company has allowed me to achieve. If I had any words of advice for somebody thinking about applying to become a Microsoft apprentice, I’d limit myself to four: Just go for it!
Taking this path has been the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve built a great network, both internally and externally; become more qualified than I was 18 months ago; and am now stepping off of my apprentice programme to join our UK Public Relations team as a Communications Manager.
When I was 23 and thought a career in marketing within the technology industry was starting to appear to be beyond me, I had no idea that it was just around the corner, ready and waiting for me.
Apprenticeships at Microsoft
Please find more information below on the types of apprenticeships we are offering, based in Reading and London, from October 2019:
Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship – Digital Solutions Technology
4.5-year programme designed for those looking to start their careers in technology.
Level 4 Commercial Supply
2-year programme designed for those looking to start their careers in procurement in our online Microsoft Stores. You will be learning with a team of industry experts who will nurture and support you every step of the way.
Level 4 Data Analyst
2-year programme designed for those who are looking to start their careers in the world of data, as part of the dynamic online Microsoft Store.
Level 4 Junior Management Consultant
2-year programme designed for those looking to start their careers working in a fast-paced project environment supporting, consulting and delivering projects.
About the author
Tom is a Product Marketing Manager for Surface for Business at Microsoft UK where he focusses on digital content and customer journey strategies, as well as internal communications and readiness. He is passionate about empowering others to learn and grow, using modern workplace devices as a catalyst. In 2018, Tom also received the Microsoft Early in Career Award for Marketing.