Behind the Code
Behind the Code
Behind the Code
The Commercial Software Engineering team (CSE) is a global engineering organization that works directly with the largest companies and not-for-profits in the world to tackle their most significant technical challenges. We’ve helped customers do everything from using AI and deep learning to create sustainable farming practices, protecting rhinos in South Africa with facial recognition to using blockchain to accelerate and secure payments in the travel industry. All in partnership with their developer teams.
Every day, this global team of incredibly talented people helps other developers create and utilize technology to achieve more. We will work on just about anything: blockchain, mobile apps, cloud services, big data ingestion problems, artificial intelligence, and machine learning – you name it. The Microsoft CSE team works closely with customers to find creative solutions while also upskilling their developers to carry the project forward to a production-ready solution.
The best part of these partnerships, we don’t charge a dime for our work or the code we create. We thrive as a team when we find ways to fill the missing links in potential solutions and cranking out code to make that happen.
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Being from the Detroit area, which has a heavy automotive influence, Anna Burek knew she wanted to be an engineer. She just didn’t know what kind. It wasn’t until she took a Computer Science course at the University of Michigan that she fell in love with coding. She really appreciated the ability to approach the same problem from a variety of angles and still reach a similar solution. Anna is now a valued member of the CSE team, helping to create real-world solutions for a diverse set of Microsoft customers.
As she progressed through her college career, she received invites to various recruiting events. One such event was a Microsoft dinner. They showed a video about a lot of the fantastic technology they were developing to help people, including people unable to speak or move type with their eye movements. Moved almost to tears, she left her resume with the recruiter and didn’t think much would come of it. A few months later, she was offered an internship in Cambridge at The Microsoft Garage. It was an eye-opening experience that let her take theoretical knowledge from school and apply it in real-world situations.
Although more motivated than ever to excel at her classes, Anna started to feel like she wasn’t as capable as the other students. Unfortunately, many programmers and computer science classes fall victim to ‘Crunch Culture’ where there is a glorification of burning yourself out, working late, and neglecting other priorities. The idea being that if you have time to shower daily and take care of yourself, you’re not working hard enough. Many computer science classes have this mentality, and it can scare people with different cultures away from computer science as a whole.
One of the reasons it was hard for Anna to push past her insecurity was because she didn’t see many people who looked like her in the field. She just became known as ‘the red-headed girl that sits upfront’. One of her female professors helped open her eyes to inclusion in tech and eventually Anna learned that you could take care of yourself and have diverse hobbies while still learning a lot and following your passion
This initial challenge taught Anna to advocate for herself and appreciate good mentors. She has now started a mentorship program at Microsoft and volunteers with Microsoft’s TEALS program, which helps bring technology into schools that need it and teach teachers how to teach computer science education.
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Azadeh worked in the IT field 15 years before a recruiter encouraged her to apply to Microsoft for a Technical Evangelist role. Although she was unsure of her chances of being selected, with the recruiters’ encouragement, she started the process. Not even two days later, they called her in for an interview. Although she was traveling through Europe during the process, Microsoft accommodated her schedule. She had her last two interviews while she was enjoying the enchanting beauty of the northern lights and the Lappish wilderness in a glass igloo. Finally, she received her confirmation letter in Paris. She hired as a Technical Evangelist, and now she is a Senior Software Engineer in the Microsoft commercial software engineering (CSE) organization.
Azadeh gets her love of computing from her dad. Despite growing up in a war zone, seeing anti-aircraft towers everywhere, hearing sirens, and watching planes carrying bombs fly overhead, her dad always stressed the importance of education. As an electronics engineer, he was always bringing home cool technology and encouraging her and her sister to learn how to program. Her love of learning continues to this day. One of Azadeh’s favorite things about the CSE team is that she is not locked into any specific technology. While other Microsoft teams work on particular projects, Azadeh loves the variety of customers and projects she encounters on the CSE team. She gets to try new things while providing honest feedback to the Microsoft product teams. Her work continually challenges her to think outside the box about what’s possible and what’s the right solution for the customer.
One of her favorite projects was working with NT fisheries to find a better way to count fish. Knowing the number of fish helps them apply industry rules on what’s allowed to be fished at any given time. Before Azadeh and her team worked with them, people were manually counting fish by watching videos frame by frame and counting whatever fish they could see. Using machine learning, they were able to significantly reduce the amount of time people spent counting fish. Recently she has become interested in Kubernetes. She is now leading an open-source project in Microsoft, which extends Kubernetes API and allows people to submit Databricks Notebooks job on Azure.
In addition to her work at Microsoft, Azadeh has always been passionate about Empowering female engineers. She is one of the organizers of Girl Geek Sydney; a community with more than 2500 members, that has two main objectives. To make IT more attractive for females and to help female engineers grow in their careers.
Girl Geek Sydney run monthly meetups and an annual all-female hackathon called Shehacks.
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Federica has always found herself at the intersection of data and human behavior. An engineer by training, she started her career as an analyst in finance, learning about enterprise operations and investments, before pursuing a master’s in computational sociology at the University of Chicago. Here, she applied machine learning to various social realms, including in the prediction of patent innovation.
Federica’s first development role was as a data scientist. She applied machine learning to consumer preferences and product recommendations for marketing, first at a startup and then at Microsoft, where she worked on the Xbox, Surface and Windows Mixed Reality products. She then joined the CSE team in 2018.
Federica enjoys working for CSE as it allows her to use the latest technologies to enable customers to innovate around their hardest challenges. Working on best practices to bring Machine Learning models into production (now sometimes called MLOps) is one of her passions. She loves CSE’s focus on continued learning side-by-side with customer teams.
As part of a CSE Dev Crew, Federica has worked on many different customer projects, building machine learning solutions in Finance, Retail, and Manufacturing. One of the projects she remembers most keenly was helping Toyota Materials Handling develop an AI solution to improve welding quality in their forklift manufacturing process. The team had to overcome both technical latency challenges as well as difficulties around transforming and analyzing audio data from the welds. However, one special highlight at the end of the project was being able to drive one of the Toyota forklifts!
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Growing up in Czechoslovakia, there was a stigma about girls being in IT. Janka’s dad and brother were both in IT, so it was nothing unusual that she played around with technology at home. Even building her own computers, but she never thought she could do it as a career. Instead, she decided to study International Business, which made her miserable. It was her boyfriend, now husband Peter, who told her that he had seen how good she was with computers and that she should do something that made her happy instead of sticking with International Business. The moment she started studying Software Engineering, she excelled. That’s when she realized how important it was to have someone who believes in you.
She started at Microsoft as a developer in consulting services, but quickly realized what she really wanted to do was User Experience. Her manager at the time didn’t think this would be the right fit for her, as the team didn’t have any capability to do or sell anything design related. He had her attend a customer meeting to gain more experience but told her not to participate, just observe and learn. To her surprise, the very first topic of the meeting was user experience and its importance. Being the only expert in the room and taking a chance, she leveraged her know how and talked about her ideas with the customer. The customer ended up asking her to join for the rest of the project to implement her design. Her manager was impressed with her quick thinking, and Janka has been helping customers with UX design at Microsoft ever since.
Since joining the CSE team as a Senior Human Experience Designer, she really enjoys working on the cutting edge of innovation and doing things nobody else has done before. She loves working with customers directly because it allows her to solve technical problems with a human-centric approach.
It was not always easy – at university, being one of very few females, Janka learned early on that when she partnered for project work with any of her colleagues, it was expected of her to make the project “pretty”. What others would see as an obstacle, she made into her opportunity. Janka has a natural inclination towards design, and soon she realized that even though there were thirty guys in her class that wanted to be a developer, nobody had her skill set for design. Janka wanted to be one in a million, not one of a million, and decided to focus her studies on her unique skill set.
Janka now teaches Sketching and Prototyping at the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien to students in the Master’s program of User Experience Management. It’s her mission to empower others and give them the courage to believe in themselves.
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Before Jhansi was a Program Manager Architect on the CSE team, she was a Software Developer and PM on the Microsoft Learning team. She also worked as an instructor at Seattle Central Community College. A passionate lifetime learner herself; she loved teaching programming to students. Her experience as an instructor helps her communicate with customers in a way that works best for them. She is never afraid to get up in a meeting and draw things out on a whiteboard for visual learners or walk customers through the process step by step.
In addition to her communication skills honed as an instructor, her background in Engineering gives her a unique perspective when solving problems. She likes to take an algorithmic approach to problem-solving were coding is only part of the process that helps her create the final solution and design. While many people believe coding is a solitary job, she thinks it is much more collaborative. She loves working with her team to solve customer problems.
One of the reasons she enjoys working on the CSE team is, she gets to work with new skills and technologies. She finds that going through the process of learning new technologies gives her a better perspective on how to meet customers where they are. The customers have subject matter expertise, but she can help them know the pros and cons of each solution so they can make the best choice for their industry. Jhansi is currently working with a Dev team on Kubernetes guidance to build production-scale services. Her favorite part of working on the CSE team is the variety of customers she can help on their journey to success.
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Judy Meyer leads the Automotive Industry Team on CSE. Eight years ago, she started at Microsoft in the Sequel Division and stayed with Core Engineering for six years. During that time, she worked closely with the team that would eventually evolve into CSE. She always admired their work with customers and the insightful feedback they provided to product teams. As CSE grew and started focusing on industries like Automotive, she seized the opportunity to join the team. Judy believes having a deep understanding of an industry can help you communicate and solve problems for specific customers as well as creating better tools and solutions to address common challenges faced throughout a particular industry. Her team not only works directly with customers to find solutions but also looks at patterns throughout the industry to anticipate what tools will be needed in the future.
One of the projects she was most proud of leading was developing a comprehensive strategy and platform that facilitates Microsoft and the CSE team to work closely with automotive customers needing to leverage new technologies as they pursue future innovations in the industry. They researched trends in the industry and coordinated with the product teams to develop technology approaches that helped build a platform that supports their customers now and into the future with trends like autonomous driving. She finds it incredibly rewarding to truly be a part of the customer journey.
One of the reasons Judy enjoys being a part of the CSE team is its unique way of working directly with customers and their developer teams to solve some of their most pressing challenges. She and her team are able to work directly with their customers to develop ideas and build applications in partnership with them. The ability to talk and brainstorm directly with the customers’ engineering teams leads to better solutions, and she feels this is core in her ability to empower developers and her customers’ digital transformation to achieve more.
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Lilian fell in love with computers in college, where she enjoyed the problem solving and the creativity that came from coding. More than just the physical aspect of coding, she really enjoyed helping people find solutions and seeing them use the tools she built. In fact, math was never her favorite subject in school, and she really had to push herself to be better at the fundamentals of coding. In CSE, Lilian now enjoys working with a diverse set of customers to develop creative solutions to their problems. She loves that the job allows her to work with many different people while still using her technical knowledge in a creative way.
Lilian sent an application to Microsoft in 2015 on a whim. She never thought they would hire her. When they offered her an evangelist position, it really stood out from her other job offers because it was something more than spending her time only developing code. She would get to travel and meet with customers. After speaking to one of her mentors, she accepted the position as a Technical Evangelist in the UK before eventually moving to America to become a Software Engineer. The technical evangelist role represented a new challenge because she was not naturally a big conversationalist and unlike her peers who had years of experience, Lilian had only recently graduated from college.
To overcome her fear of speaking to large groups, she spent hours and hours practicing her public speaking. Today, she is a frequent speaker and panelist at national and international software development conferences and meetups.
One of her favorite projects was working with Disney to help save the purple martins Lilian and her team created an IoT solution that helped track the birds as well as an AR app that helped teach park visitors about the birds and why conservation is important. Lilian has worked on several projects in the last year, finding new ways to leverage blockchain to tackle customer problems; given how new the technology is, she believes there is still a lot to learn around common patterns and best practices in that area.
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Luisa de Miranda
While most people would believe that Art History is as far from software engineering as it gets, Luisa de Miranda would say it’s not as big a shift as you think. After pursuing a career in the art industry, Luisa decided it was time for a change and she is now a proud member of the CSE team. She loves working with a diverse set of customers to develop creative solutions to their problems.
As an Art History major, Luisa has always been interested in the psychology and neurology of how people see art. After working at several art galleries and pursuing other options in the art industry, Luisa realized that it wasn’t making her happy and she needed to do something else. Thinking about going back to school for her Ph.D., Luisa began investigating ancient Greek and cognitive psychology, where she learned about some fascinating use-cases for computer modeling and AI. She found there was a parallel in how her brain was stimulated working with art and creating code. Intrigued by the possibilities these technologies represented Luisa enrolled in a coding boot camp and never looked back.
Luisa found coding to be really satisfying because it let her be creative and build impactful solutions to problems. She believes everyone should learn how technology works because it is becoming a common language between people. Coming out of the boot camp with only six months of experience, Luisa decided she needed to find a job with a structured program to help continue her learning. Luisa applied for the LEAP apprenticeship program at Microsoft. Two years later she is a full-stack software engineer with the CSE team. Her team helps support her continued learning while exposing her to many different situations and customers. Luisa enjoys the hands-on experience she gets with her team while also being given the space to think creatively about problem-solving.
One of the things Luisa appreciates about working at Microsoft is the commitment to giving back to the community like their Hack for Goods and donation matching. Her team recently participated in a Hack for Good to create a VR experience for The Colored Girls Museum, a memoir museum in Philadelphia, which honors the stories, experiences, and history of ordinary women of color. The program was initiated with the hope of creating an interactive, multimedia experience of the museum that would capture the curator’s and artists’ voices and bring them directly to the real women and girls of color around the world, whom the museum is designed to engage and honor.
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Ryan is a self-taught software engineer that went from a shipping company night manager to running a team of developers on the CSE team. He loves that CSE allows him to work on business-critical projects with customers. His team is right at the heart of the problems that matter to customers. Beyond the work itself, Ryan enjoys the collaborative atmosphere of the CSE team. He’s never worked for a team that was so open to contributing to the success of others.
One of his favorite engagements was working with Delta Airlines to streamline the boarding process with wearable technology. While the product has not gone into widespread production, he was able to experiment with the best way to work with customers. Some of the strategies he developed on that project are still used on the CSE team today. He also enjoyed the project because he was able to teach one of the Delta engineers how to program outside of a mainframe. Given his unique background, it really meant a lot to him to have helped another person find their way.
Ryan started programming at ten years old when he and his mom saw a TS4 Color 80 at their local Radio Shack. Although neither of his parents were super technical, they all loved solving puzzles, and they bought a family computer for Christmas. Ryan used the computer more than anyone else in the family. In support of his new fascination with computers, his mom subscribed to several programming magazines to help him learn. When he was older, Sam started working at the same shipping company as his dad as the night shift operator. There he met the Systems Administrator Phil Nesser. Phil took Ryan on as a mentee and encouraged him to pursue his passion for programming. Ryan met his other mentor, Howard, a Microsoft engineer, who also took him under his tutelage. He attributes much of his career success to the kindness and generosity of his two mentors.
After spending his time working for small startups and banks, Ryan knew he wanted to work for a large software company. He interviewed with Microsoft five times before a vendor company called with an opportunity to fill a position on the Xbox team. They could not share any details about the job, but Ryan decided to take a chance and came to Seattle. He walked on to campus with the idea that he would turn his vendor position into a full-time job with Microsoft. Talking with his manager, he was eventually successful and came on full time with Microsoft to help bring the Microsoft store online. He and his team created the middleware software that would orchestrate the collection of funds on the site. After a few years of working on the same software solution, Ryan came on to the Customer Catalyst team, which would eventually evolve into the CSE team.
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Sara Spalding is a key member of the CSE team, working with Microsoft customers and partner engineers to help them solve some of their biggest challenges. Sara has always enjoyed solving problems and writing code, but what she finds most satisfying about CSE is watching her team grow and develop in their own careers. Sara has always been passionate about mentorship and believes it is time well spent. While some believe mentorship is a one-way street, with the mentor sacrificing time for the mentee, Sara gets as much out of it as she puts into it. Her time spent mentoring has taught her many things and brought her new perspectives. She loves working on a team that lets her prioritize these mentorship relationships while also working on problems that energize her.
Before joining the CSE team, Sara was the site director for Microsoft’s New England Research and Development center. She was responsible for physically building the space and working with local leaders in the Cambridge tech community to grow and shape the program. The New England lab builds on Microsoft’s commitment to collaborate with the broader research community and pursues new, interdisciplinary areas of research. The local universities play a large role in the Cambridge tech community. To help foster the engineering talent coming from these schools, Sara helped expanded the internship program to allow students to create their own startup during their internship at Microsoft. The internship program was so successful that Microsoft has expanded the program to Vancouver.
Sara’s passion for mentoring the next generation of computer science engineers is inspired by her mom. Her mom completed a master’s in computer science one class at a time, while also raising Sara and her sister as a single mother. Beyond her mom’s dedication and hard work, Sara was also able to see computer science advance to what it is today. Her mother’s generation made some amazing developments in computer science, which have given Sara the tools to push at the boundaries of what computers are capable of. Sara wants to continue to make advancements in the field so she can one day pass the baton to her own daughter.
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Shweta started coding in university and quickly fell in love with it. She loved her computer classes because of the real-world examples and practical solutions. After college, she moved to a big city in the hope of finding a job that let her code.
Unfortunately, her education qualifications didn’t transfer well from her school to the city. She ended up getting a job in tech support for a while before taking a risk and joining a software startup company. She worked for two years without a salary before the company hit the jackpot by creating regulatory software for the Bombay Stock Exchange. While Shweta enjoyed the work she was doing, she always felt she was fighting for time to do an excellent job on each project.
She decided to join Microsoft and became one of the first people in India to onboard ISVs to Azure. She enjoyed the in-depth engagement with enterprise customers as she helped them move to Azure Cloud. She is now the Principal SDE Lead for the CSE Dev crews. She loves CSE because she gets the benefit of a big company, with the flexibility and variety of work that you would get with a smaller one. She never feels like she must fight for time and can always focus on doing the best job for the customer.
One of her favorite projects was working with a construction company in India. The customer itself was a traditional manufacturing company with 500,000 assets. They needed a way to maximizing the availability of these assets across projects. As projects would sometimes be delayed because they didn’t have the assets they needed to continue. Her team looked at the data coming in from these types of projects and created a solution where they lit up areas where assets were under or over-utilized — completely redesigning how their systems were working for real-estate and more.
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Tempest Van Schaik
Tempest van Schaik has always been interested in science fiction – from cyborgs and robots to Batman’s tool belt. Anything that augmented the human body to do extraordinary things. This is what attracted her to tech. She started in Biomedical Engineering, specifically interested in medical devices and learning about human health at medical school. She was accepted to complete a medical degree but realized she didn’t want to be a traditional doctor. Instead, she wanted to use engineering to improve healthcare, so she took a second degree in Electrical Engineering. After then graduating from Imperial College London with a Bioengineering Ph.D., Tempest worked for various startups and digital health companies. Tempest has multiple inventions under her belt and has given a TEDx talk about her research project Lab in a Pencil Case.
Now she is a Senior Machine Learning Engineer focused on healthcare on the CSE team. She does real-world machine learning in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry helping R&D teams build and deploy large scale AI solutions. Her favorite thing about Microsoft CSE projects is working on multidisciplinary teams with domain experts from different industries, like doctors. Tempest has worked with a variety of customers, including hospitals, insurance companies, and most recently Project Fizzyo, which helps children with Cystic Fibrosis complete their physiotherapy. The Fizzyo device has also granted medical professionals access to data insights they’ve never had before about physiotherapy techniques and effectiveness. She loves making real impact on the world.
One of the things Tempest has learned working on the CSE team is that close collaboration with customers is key to the success of data science projects. She vividly remembers a project where she sat with medical experts for hours to understand the story behind their data, and had regular check-ins with them to make sure that the machine learning solution was valuable to them and their patients. Beyond the actual work with customers, Tempest also appreciates how much opportunity she gets to learn new skills. Machine learning evolves rapidly, and there is always new technology to keep up with. CSE gives her the support and room to challenge herself so she can continue to develop new skills
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Tolu Agunbiade joined Microsoft in 2015 as a Business Ops manager but quickly took an interest in data science. He was very excited about the digital transformation projects Microsoft did with customers and wanted to work on the engineering side to be more directly involved. His manager told him about an opportunity in CSE, and he was instantly attracted to their charter to work with customers directly. He loves being able to help customers change their business and realize the value proposition of moving to the cloud.
One of his favorite projects involved him working with one of the largest banks in Turkey to scale their mobile applications to increase their response time because it was very impactful in helping the bank respond to their customers more effectively. His team helped break the banks services into parts so they could respond more agilely to customer requests coming though the mobile app. The project exposed him to a very different business culture than the one in the United States. He found that people in Turkey valued deference over being direct. It challenged him to communicate in a different way and to be mindful on how he worked with the customer engineering team.
Tolu believes the most rewarding part of his job is getting in front of customer problems – deeply understanding those issues and collaborating with their developer teams to come up with tailored solutions. He greatly enjoys getting to learn about their business and point of view.
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Tracey Trewin is a self-proclaimed geek and a successful General Manager of the Microsoft CSE team. She helped build the team charter to rebuild Microsoft’s relationship with developers by connecting with them on the issues that matter to them in a way that meets them where they are. The CSE developers are inspired to get up in the morning to help other developers succeed. She finds empowering people to solve problems is what motivates her the most.
One of the projects she is most proud of was working with the then startup, TadaWeb, on the refugee crisis. When Microsoft first started working with them, they had 0 customers, and now they are used by several intelligence agencies across the world. Her team has often had a strong pull towards humanitarian aid and have worked with numerous governments and conservationist. Tracey knows people who believe in the project they are working on more committed and will extend themselves to create success.
What started out as a small team has grown to over 400 people. The CSE team works with some of the largest companies and governments in the world to solve some of the biggest global challenges. Tracey has worked hard to help build a team that empowers change and success around the world. But that wasn’t always the case; she very nearly decided to be a career server in Waikiki at the Hilton Village. The job paid well and allowed her to live in beautiful Hawaii. Her mom encouraged her to do more and got Tracey her first programming job creating software for land use permitting. It took almost five years for her to make more money than she did as a cocktail waitress in Hawaii.
After she graduated college, she got another programming job at a startup in California building development tools and line of business apps. After leaving that job, she decided to start her own company creating custom business apps, beginning her long career in building tailored solutions for individual customers. Tracey ran her own company for 12 years before a customer in Bothell asked her to come work on location for six weeks. She said yes only after they had agreed to ship her new horse up to Washington, and she then ran her business from Seattle for three years. By then, she had her second child and decided that she either needed to find more customers in Seattle or work for a company that provided health insurance and other benefits.
She joined Microsoft when they were just starting to focus on the enterprise. At the time, they didn’t have customers relying on them for business apps or platform technology. After some time on various teams, John Shewchuk and Satya Nadella recruited her to build a small group to reconnect with developers as they had in the past. She created a team to specifically re-engage with startup communities and innovative enterprises. The engagement model they built was the beginning of the CSE team today, who now works with developers all across the world.