Can a person truly mold and shape their own career at a company as large and as complex as Microsoft?
Ask Shaina Morrison, Audience Marketing Manager within the Marketing and Operations organization. She has taken pointed, yet adaptive steps to better understand her interests, apply them to her passions, build her network and craft a trajectory that continues to build upon her experiences.
Hailing from the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, Shaina got tons of practice early on. She recalls the days of being bussed to the suburbs for school and having to adjust to complexity. METCO, a K-12 grant program intended to “expand educational opportunities, increase diversity and reduce racial isolation,” afforded her new opportunities to grow in more ways than expected. “I lived in two worlds,” she explained. “I grew up in a strong Black, Latin and West Indian city neighborhood, while balancing a suburban education for a chance at more opportunity.”
She went on to become a straight A student, but not without the struggles of straddling the fence of two vastly different worlds. At times, she had to overcome extreme racism all while balancing the trials of fitting in and excelling at her academics. “I learned to find balance in who I was,” she added.
Shaina immersed herself in music, culture and dance, going on to become a classically trained ballet and modern dancer, and training with the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre while in high school. By college, she developed an interest in the creativity and consumer insights of marketing, while potentially combining her artistic interests with her passion for people and the societal factors surrounding them. Per Shaina, “my love for sociology, marketing and music is what led me to New York for undergrad.”
At Hofstra University, she sought to find “her fit in marketing” through internships and marketing roles. In her first job at Brand Asset Group (a Warner Music Group agency), she connected brands with label recording artists and worked with the team to rebrand Motions Salon Hair Care, a leading beauty brand for textured hair. “I wanted more campaign development experience and more exposure to digital marketing,” she explained. Shaina later took on a position at Digitas, a global marketing and technology agency. There, she worked in a more traditional agency setting where she briefed and executed every type of marketing medium as an account executive.
“I loved that when I interviewed for this role, there was a balance of strategy and execution.”
Her stint at the agency proved much of the core decision making and overall strategy often remained with the client. According to Shaina, “there was also a shift in data decision making.” She recognized her desire for the science of marketing and realized data-driven insights were the cornerstone to any strategic approach. Shaina decided to attend the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and earn her MBA.
Business school added three key pieces to her marketing foundation. First, it gave her more exposure to the intersection of technology, entertainment and marketing. Then, through an exchange program in Barcelona and an immersion class in China and Mongolia, Shaina was introduced to global marketing, which has proven helpful at Microsoft. Lastly, she could “sink her teeth” into data-decision making through marketing research and analytics courses. “I applied it to my creative background to round out my skillset in marketing,” she concluded.
Kellogg also set the stage for Shaina to choose a Microsoft commercial for Kellogg’s annual Super Bowl ad review, a well-known marketing analysis assignment for their students. “It really touched upon empowering every person and every organization to achieve more,” Shaina said of her initial consideration of the company.
She became intrigued by Microsoft’s challenger position and its passion for marketing insights and applied findings. “I thought that was fascinating and a place where I could learn and grow,” mused Shaina. “I loved that when I interviewed for this role, there was a balance of strategy and execution. It would allow me to strategize my approach based on our goals and allow me to execute on that to see the whole vision come to life.”
Once Shaina interviewed, learned more about the opportunity for growth and concluded that – despite Microsoft’s innovations and long-standing history in the tech industry – her potential new teammates exuded a sense of company-wide humility that helped seal the deal. Furthermore, the role would introduce her to a new audience.
“The role has the developer component. Everything we build digitally requires a developer, so to understand their ‘language’ and create content for this audience would allow me to really deepen my understanding of development.” During a time where anyone can pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations, whether they are in HS, college or simply a dreamer, Shaina finds that the title of “student” can span a myriad of scenarios. From the high school senior who daydreams about creating a fun, mobile app game to the university junior who wants to build a way to support people affected by autism spectrum disorder through HoloLens development, she felt she was able to implement interesting initiatives to reach her student developer audience.
“It’s amazing to be able to learn and see how another team works while remaining in a role that I love.”
In true Shaina fashion, she took control of her career and her personal journey and joined the Microsoft team through the MACH MBA Program, a customized learning experience for recent graduates of university or graduate school who take on roles as a part of the Marketing, Evangelism, Finance, IT, Operations, Sales and Services organizations. This was the perfect opportunity for her to do precisely what she set out to do – design her marketing career. She joined the US Marketing & Operations and Developer Evangelism team, with a focus on inspiring and educating student developers to support their exposure to Microsoft’s developer tools, such as Azure and Visual Studio.
As for her new role, she loves that she has been able to make a difference while building her “marketing toolkit.” Shaina manages all programs that reach the student developer audience and drives exposure to Microsoft developer tools. For example, she manages the U.S. Imagine Cup, including the selection, promotion and nurturing of the student teams. She’s also responsible for setting up the live and digital event experience. Shaina feels this aspect of the role intersects the worlds of entertainment, tech and marketing. “It’s a production,” she added.
She also runs the Microsoft Student Partner Program for the U.S. With 110 aligned colleges, the program serves as a platform for student ambassadors to evangelize Microsoft on their respective campuses and host workshops (e.g., mobile, app, and game development, machine learning development, and the Internet of Things [IoT]).
As part of one of group’s organization-wide meeting, she moderated a discussion around customer obsession, diversity, and high performance with the award-winning artist, Common.
A year into her role, Shaina has joined BlackLight, an internal organization that connects African American/Black employees who are a part of the Marketing and Consumer Business group. “I was hoping to network outside of my immediate org and learn more about the different teams within the company, while lending my support to help with retention.” She immediately felt welcomed. “The group’s executive sponsor started looping me in with other senior leaders. It was quite meaningful to have an org invest in me early on.”
Through the group, she has committed to a “stretch assignment” to lend her expertise in support of diversity and inclusion in the company. She’s worked closely with Microsoft Brand Studios in support of an upcoming nonprofit. This experience has allowed her to apply newfound learnings to activities like Imagine Cup. “It’s amazing to be able to learn and see how another team works while remaining in a role that I love.”
As for her “marketing toolkit,” she’s happy to report that she has expanded her strategic chops by taking collected insights and building strategic plans, while executing on them. What’s next? “The revenue aspect. At an agency, you don’t always get to see the lift in sales and attribute it back to your efforts,” Shaina explained. It’s important that she’s able to understand the marketing levers that impact revenue in an accountable way.
Shaina says she’s “pleasantly surprised” as she has a role she enjoys and continues to amass meaningful connections. As she approaches her second year at Microsoft, she has found her stride. “You get out what you put in. If you don’t put forth the effort, you won’t like wherever you are,” she advised.