The pandemic brought the world online overnight. Emma Neal knows this very well as a Principal Program Manager at Microsoft. She leads a team in the Microsoft Teams Engineering Group — a collaboration tool used by millions. The team have been continuously helping customers move to the Cloud and making product improvements to help make remote working easier for everyone.
Emma shares her rewarding two-decade career at Microsoft and the exciting projects she has managed in our chat.
Diversity in the workplace helps solve problems.
Emma manages a European team in the Microsoft Teams Engineering Group. She cannot be prouder of her team, who have gone above and beyond to support collaboration tools people use to keep their businesses and educational institutions going during this pandemic.
“I manage a technical team of Program Managers and Service Engineers who are part of engineering but also work directly with customers. I ensure the successful delivery of some of our customer facing Engineering Led Programs in Europe, enabling customers to transform their business digitally through Microsoft Teams.”
Before the pandemic, there was a push from Emma and her team for customers to move to the Cloud to streamline their work better. Businesses know the value of this, but like any change, sometimes it does take time.
“It’s amazing. Our customers moved to the Cloud almost overnight during the pandemic. We used to think that change happens slowly. The speed of change here right now is rapid.”
Emma does take collaboration to the next level, which is an excellent benefit of working at Microsoft — you have all the technology there and the people to build a great working culture and career. She says the great thing about working for Microsoft is the opportunity to network and work with a diversity of people who all share very different perspectives and solutions to solve problems.
“I’m based in the UK. My manager and my peers are in the US and all around the world. My team and I serve customers all over Europe. It is an excellent team here as you get to work with people from different backgrounds.”
Award-winning and striving for excellence
It is all fun and games (literally) working at Microsoft. Emma has worked on several other Microsoft products, including XBOX. But perhaps what Emma sees as significant achievements or milestones in her career was winning the Microsoft Founders Award in 2019. For context, this is the most prestigious employee award at Microsoft. The Founders Award recognizes superior leadership, innovation and contributions to the business with extraordinary impact.
We’re not at all surprised by this win. Emma shares her success (mind you, with so much humility) is due to a strong team and being under the guidance of fantastic leaders. It’s also a place where you can explore creative solutions unapologetically.
“Microsoft is a place where you can take on new challenges and try new things. I’m given opportunities to do roles I demonstrated an aptitude for — even if I did not have the experience. I had great managers who believed in me and backed me up.”
We asked how she came to apply and know of opportunities at Microsoft. She confesses that she applied because it was close to home, and she had her career sights on being a psychologist. Little did she know, she would still be here today, two decades later!
“I did a psychology degree. I originally thought I wanted to be a psychologist. I wanted to go and start work and learn what the world of work was like. I accepted the job [at Microsoft] because it was local. It doesn’t sound very good. My housemate worked at Microsoft and encouraged me to apply. He thought I would love working here – he was right.”
See things through a different lens
We asked Emma to share her top career tips for anyone wanting to succeed in the world of work — especially in tech. We resonated with these so much. They were:
- If you don’t ask, you don’t get it: “Be open with what you want. It didn’t necessarily change my career but changed the way I can spend time with my family. You still need to love what you are doing.”
- Have a different view of leadership: “My career is leadership, and I enjoy it. I always see my role as lifting everyone, removing the noise, supporting and inspiring people to be more effective and try new things. I empower my team by giving them stretch development opportunities.”
- Be true to your values: “Stick to your values. It is harder online. Just know when to push back.”
- Sometimes it’s worth it to pick your battles: “I’ve learnt to pick your battles. It’s about compromise. Know when to stand up or when to let things go — otherwise, you will end up exhausted.”
In good culture
Emma’s leadership mindset is shaped by Microsoft‘s culture of inclusion and belonging.
“Microsoft embraces diversity and inclusion. It encourages you to be who you are and rewards employees for their contribution to making others successful and their accomplishments. Microsoft has a strong ethical stance on being a global citizen, having strong codes of business conduct and giving back to others. We are encouraged to volunteer and be part of our communities.”
Microsoft provides the flexibility for Emma to be herself. During the pandemic, she spent a lot of time hosting events revolving around food and companionship. Emma is an entertainer at heart and loves to delight people.
“I love entertaining. I experiment with different recipes and enjoy having close friends over. We all need a release during these tough times.”
Another thing we noticed was the impeccable furniture and design during the call. Emma is the sort of person that puts her heart and soul into everything — especially in creating unique experiences for her team. She is certainly a leader you’d want to work with.