Making the Transition: The key differences between university and working in the industry

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Premier Developer Consultants, Ashley Shorter & Tamar Zamba, describe the experiences, challenges, and lessons of going from undergrad to Microsoft Consultant. 


Getting an offer from Microsoft straight out of university was such a thrilling experience. It seemed like the grand prize for all the hard work, stress, and long nights needed to graduate. Making the transition from university life to Microsoft, however, had its own set of challenges. It was quickly realized that there are some aspects of working in industry that cannot be taught in a classroom lecture or lab. As computer science graduates, here are some of the key similarities and differences in university and working at Microsoft: 

What’s similar: 
  1. Having a routine.
    • Just like in university, you need a routine to get you through your workday. This routine, of course, varies for each person but is necessary for getting all your tasks done in a timely manner.
  2. The Agile workflow.
    • As computer science students, we were taught about the Agile workflow process in many of our programming courses. We have come to notice that not only is the process used in delivering solutions to customers, but many aspects of the Agile workflow are found in how we collaborate with each other as a team. For instance, we often set up time to meet with our managers and other team members to see how we have progressed over a period.
  3. Listening to you customers as if they were your
    • In university, we often listened to our lecturers attentively and took notes. Most people would not consider this much of a skill when coming out of college, but when working with customers regularly, it is a great skill to have! Active listening is not a skill that is taught in school but, is certainly learned and very much useful in the workforce.
What’s different: 
  1. There is no syllabus.
    • The hardest part of the transition to working industry is that there are no pre-structured guidelines or timelines to shape your career. Instead, you are given some operational goals and a multitude of resources to help you. Being rather new to the industry, it was difficult trying to figure out what to do on our own. However, we have a great team of industry professionals that are glad to help point us in the right direction.
  2. There is more than just the internet for help.
    • Those industry professionals mentioned before are the topic of this bullet point. As computer science student, when the lecture notes or the textbooks couldn’t help us figure out a problem on one of our projects, we often turned to the internet for help. The internet is a vast resource and can be helpful at times, but not very useful when you need help with a unique issue. That’s where the industry professionals save the day!  As rookies, we are truly grateful for these members of our team because there isn’t a problem that they cannot help us with.
  3. There is a stronger sense of community.
    • Finally, working in industry provides a greater sense of community compared to university. This may be because of the absence of a “cut-throat” competitive environment and the abundance of professionals who are just a ping on Teams away. This experience is vastly different from university, where students are often focused on their own work, not collaborating, and often most students only have as much knowledge as you do. 

We have examined some of the differences you will notice on making the transition from university to working in industry. Let’s look at the steps needed to learn new technologies as a Consultant. 

Developing a Roadmap: Ramping up on a technology 

One of the first steps to becoming a Consultant is to select a technology and develop a roadmap for learning or “ramping-up”. At Microsoft, there are a lot of resources to learn for free like Pluralsight, LinkedIn Learning, and MSLibrary (an internal tool). This can be overwhelming because there are thousands of articles, videos, and demos to view on any given technology. The challenge is knowing where to start in creating the right learning path for you. Here are the steps to ramping-up on your technology: 

  1. Identify your learning style.
    • Most people are Kinesthetic learners, but if you’re not sure there are lots of online quizzes available to find out! Based on your learning style, a certain resource may be better for you. For example, Kinesthetic learners learn best through experiencing or doing things so a video or demo may be a better learning tool.
  2. Review your resources.
    1. Now that you’ve narrowed down your learning style, you need to familiarize yourself with the learning resources available. From there, you can get a good idea of the things you need to learn to go from beginner to expert. Keep in mind that shadowing a colleague is a valuable way to learn your core technology.
    2. Here are a few links to start:
  1. Talk to your colleagues and/or manager.
    • You’re off to a great start! Talk to others who are already proficient in the given technology and see what they think. They may be able to offer suggestions to complete your roadmap or offer shadowing opportunities. If you’re not sure who to talk to, ask your manager and they can point you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  2. Develop a plan.
    • Set time aside in your schedule to study. This should be an uninterrupted time period where you can build your knowledge. This is also a great opportunity to become familiar with organizational tools like Outlook and Teams.
  3. Study and Learn
    • Practice, practice, practice!

Coming straight from college, you already know how to study. The only difference is that, this time, there is no syllabus and no study guide. Having that type of freedom can be exciting, but it can also create a lot of confusion on where to start. With these steps transitioning from the classroom to the office can be easier. 

There are a lot of fun and exciting things about working in the corporate environment, but this doesn’t mean it also cannot also be overwhelming and leave you feeling lost. We hope this post serves as an inspiration and a roadmap on how to bring your best self to work, create impact and succeed in your career. 

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