Showing the people behind the products: Storytelling for Microsoft’s IT SHowcase
Showcasing the product, process, and people behind our work
Role: Content Creator Intern
Duration: Summer 2018
Skills: Feature writing, pitching, interviewing, corporate storytelling
When interning at Microsoft during Summer 2017, I was on the quest to find someone at Microsoft who made their living as a storyteller. This meant that I met with 3 people a week to learn about their workflow, shared my aspiration of telling stories for the rest of my life, and asked them for 3 names of people to meet with whose values aligned with mine. A few weeks in, I was in Jen Warnick’s office and was astounded by her story of helping to create Microsoft Story Labs, a team that’s dedicated sharing the people, places, and ideas that move Microsoft employees. When I met her, she was telling stories about how Microsoft approached IT. She told me,
"If you can tell stories here, you can tell them anywhere."
I followed her lead and spent Summer 2018 as a program manager intern on Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO), the IT branch of Microsoft that creates tools for employees that are used to complete tasks like booking a shuttle, scheduling time off, or viewing benefits.
In my role as a content creator intern, I wrote articles for IT Showcase, a storytelling platform for IT professionals and IT decision makers who want to learn from how Microsoft creates and manages its internal tools. The site receives approximately 3 million views per year and hosts approximately over 300 artifacts such as technical content and feature stories focusing on people, not just the products or services they use.
Over the course of 3 months, I pitched, wrote, and edited 6 stories that focused on accessibility, user experience design, and the importance of representation in the tech industry. I strived to own end-to-end content creation as much as possible from identifying sources and conducting interviews to being the creative director for the photos and graphics included with each story.
My role was to:
communicate Microsoft’s process for developing IT tools in an inclusive and accessible way.
advocate for my content and convince stakeholders of my content’s value
be a story-listener who amplified the voices of the people I interviewed.
In my stories, I was challenged to ensure that I accurately communicated the technical details of how our organization manages software in a way that focused on people, not just products.
Pitching and inFluencing stakeholders and members of the leadership team
My writing process started with pitching my story ideas in our team’s editorial operations meeting where I would the story, audience, impact, and connection to CSEO’s mission to create end-to-end experiences.
When pitching stories, I focused on creating an empathetic connection with my team members. For example, one of my stories, “Paving a path to human-centered design in the heart of Microsoft,” focused on how CSEO was building a new design and research team that would redesign products based on employee needs, expectations, and pain points. I knew that everyone on the team used tools for reporting time off or booking a shuttle at some point, so my pitch began with an explanation of how there were 1,600 tools across Microsoft, each with an entirely different user experience. My team members recognized the value of highlighting the tough parts of the culture change and the actionable steps that people took to ensure buy-in.
I wanted to advocate for diversity and inclusion stories, which is why I pitched a series of profiles that focused on being a woman of color in CSEO. When pitching it, I led with a simple notion,
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
I went on to explain that IT Showcase needed more content that empowered and highlights the accomplishments of women of color and other underrepresented minorities within CSEO.
Here’s a note from one of my colleagues about my pitch:
Just wanted to drop you a note to say thanks for pitching your stories / blogs yesterday at EdOps! In the short time you have been with us, I have been super impressed with the gravitas of stories you are proposing – all really impactful, relevant and so very important to tell in today’s world. Please keep championing your stories … and keep doing what you are doing in the short time you are with us!
Ultimately, my team members approved my pitches in Editorial Operations, which meant that I was ready to start interviewing people!
Learning to write for IT professionals by going to the experts
After receiving approval for my stories, I worked with my subject matter experts, or interviewees, to understand what motivated them to work on their projects. My approach was to lead with the experience of my sources, so I focused on pulling out quotes from the interview and framing them in my narrative.
I also used follow-up interviews as an opportunity to take photos of my subject matter experts, which you can see below. I also worked with a graphic artist to create graphics that would complement my story on user-centered design:
Visuals and graphics for my stories on IT Showcase
Writing is rewriting
The most important lesson I learned from this internship is that writing is re-writing. Once I crafted a draft my story with all of my quotes in it, I used a text-to-speech tool to read each draft out loud to me. This enabled me to identify sections that needed stronger connections to sound like a cohesive story. Finally, I completed review cycles with sources to ensure the accuracy of my descriptions of their work.
For Cory Joseph, ensuring accessibility is personal. As a person with a visual impairment, Cory Joseph is committed to ensuring that Microsoft lives its mission to empower every single person on the planet, starting with its employees. He does this by holding developers and designers accountable to create inclusive and accessible products.
Culture change is hard, especially at a company like Microsoft where people have been building the tools the same way for a while. Tricia Fejfar, the leader of the Studio Team in Core Services Engineering, is changing the way people develop tools for Microsoft employees by building a Studio team of researchers and designers who put people first.
This story chronicles the story of Helen Valmeo-Yang, a senior engineering program manager with a passion for helping Microsoft sales associates spend more time with customers. She also talks about how her cultural values inform her work.
My stories were shared across a range of internal channels at Microsoft, including MSW, a central hub for employee stories. Additionally, my interviewees shared these stories on their personal social media and LinkedIn profiles.
A final word
This role gave me my first taste of working on storytelling at a tech company. It made me realize a few things:
I love listening to people’s stories, and I’m grateful that people trust me enough to share the most vulnerable parts of themselves.
As a writer at a tech company, I am expected to advocate for my discipline and my work. This has strengthened my ability to articulate the value of my writing by influencing stakeholders and communicate the value of storytelling for the business and organization.
The most important measure of success is ensuring that my sources feel well-represented in the story and want to share them with their own communities.
I hope that my presence in CSEO and IT Showcase leaves a legacy where I tell stories that truly empower underrepresented voices, and I hope these will be the beginning of more stories that focus on people of color and underrepresented minorities. I also hope that my article demonstrated the impact of telling stories about people, not just the products they use.