First MAIDAP cohort reflects on two-year program rotation completion

| MSNE Staff

MAIDAP transfer party over Microsoft Teams

MAIDAP (Microsoft AI Development Acceleration Program), which was first introduced in 2017, is an early-in-career program for new graduates to gain exposure to a diverse set of AI opportunities at Microsoft. As we prepare to bring in our third cohort in August, our first cohort is wrapping up their two-year rotation. Below, members share reflections on their experiences with the MAIDAP program as the first ever cohort!

Manon Knoertzer, Program ManagerManon Knoertzer, Program Manager

It is hard to believe that it has only been two years. MAIDAP has been a whirlwind since day one. I had arrived into the program one month late due to visa constraints. I needed to hit the ground running on a project re-architecting Azure Cognitive Search with Spark and Kubernetes. By the end of my first day I knew I was surrounded by the best people — technically proficient and profoundly human.

The main highlight of the MAIDAP experience will always be the people, the MAIDAP gang, our two cohorts. Launching a program such as this one creates more than just working relations, it enables friendships. Humor, solidarity, and knowing not to take oneself too seriously are the ingredients that allowed us to take the bumps along the way. I am grateful to every MAIDAP member who applied these ingredients on their journey.

The first iteration of the MAIDAP experience was challenging. We learned from our partner teams, the Garage program, our own experience, and evolved the program from unknown territory into a functioning team complete with project feasibility assessments and stakeholder satisfaction scores. Watching the second cohort improve MAIDAP with as much passion as the first, I know that this program will continue to astonish us.

There are challenges that will persist. Five-month rotations mean that the many steps of product development are condensed into short, intense periods. The cohort setup reduces the number of senior team-members compared to a traditional product team, raising challenges the leadership team is expanding fast to address. At the same time, we are often reminded of the support we have among peers, from our partners, and our leadership team, and we are spurred by the responsibilities of top-class machine learning development. Emerging from this context, the quality and impact of every project that has come out of MAIDAP has been a major source of excitement and pride. I look forward to reading the MAIDAP newsletter and knowing, for each project, what it must have taken to build this up in five months.

As I look forward to a new start in the Office Docs product team, I know that I will take with me the close ties to MAIDAP members, my network across four organizations, and the ability to plan, pivot, prioritize, and start again.

Janhavi Mahajan

Janhavi Mahajan, Software Engineer

I recently joined the Responsible AI team in Azure Machine Learning as a software engineer. MAIDAP has played an important role in my career by giving me opportunities to work with different products, teams and technologies. I gained experience in cross collaboration, which has been valuable in my current role. Because of the opportunity provided by the program to own multiple projects from beginning to end, I learned the value of ownership and accountability. I worked on impactful projects ranging from developing open source software to creating an application to optimize DRI’s investigation process. The cohort nature of the program allowed me to learn and understand the responsibilities of data scientists and program managers in the program. I believe that MAIDAP sets the foundation for a successful career and I would recommend the program to new graduates!

Dalitso Banda, Software Engineer

Dalitso Banda, Software Engineer

After graduation, I was thrilled and excited for my career. I knew I loved working on systems and ML but wasn’t sure on the precise fit for a team. MAIDAP afforded me the flexibility to explore my passions without fully committing to one specific project or organization. That opportunity has been priceless. Within a year and a half, I had expanded my networks and was exposed to so many different communities, teams, and subcultures within Microsoft.

As part of the first cohort, many components of the program had been undefined and novel. As such, we were partly responsible for architecting what the program will look like for the next few years. This was a tremendously impactful learning process; working along with the leadership team to build the program. Learning what works and what doesn’t and figuring how best we can provide value to the teams we work with in rotations.

In MAIDAP, working on short six-month rotations across different teams provides for a different flavor of learning and design experience than one would typically get from a regular product team. It involves adding to your arsenal a broad range of technical skills gathered from various rotations; becoming a versatile “swiss army knife” engineer ready to adapt to shifting environments, and work across disciplines with ML engineers, customers, program managers, and data scientists.

One thing I loved about MAIDAP is that members of the cohort are on similar stages of their careers and get to support and learn from each other as we navigate the intricacies of starting out a career in program management, data science or engineering. Our managers provide us with valuable career building advice and encourage us to learn and try new things. I’m glad to have been part of the MAIDAP experience and hope it continues growing and improving.

Courtney Cochrane, Data Scientist

Courtney Cochrane, Data Scientist

Looking back at my MAIDAP experience, I am grateful for the opportunity to work on high impact and high visibility projects while partnering with other passionate new grads. After graduating from my master’s program in Computational Science and Engineering, I was enthusiastic about joining Microsoft as I had interned at NERD previously, but did not know which product team was the best fit for me. MAIDAP provided me the opportunity to sample the ML projects in many teams across the company, learn about the team’s culture and create cross-team connections. From the Docs team, to AzureML, to Excel, I had the privilege of working with very knowledgeable individuals who valued our work and expertise.

The MAIDAP program is a unique and invaluable experience. The program is very diverse and I learned so much from working with people with varied academic backgrounds, nationalities, etc. Compared to a regular product team, MAIDAP gives you more responsibility as a new-hire, provides social opportunities to bond with your team members (game-nights, weekly lunches, morale events like canoeing and snow-tubing, etc.), and has a heavier research slant. As the next cohort joins, the older cohort gets the opportunity to provide leadership of the project teams and help onboard the new cohort. As MAIDAP scales, there are also opportunities to shape the program and help improve the processes. For instance, I was involved in creating an algorithm for project selection and along with Irene and Tom we created the first iteration of the new cohort onboarding week.

MAIDAP is really a choose-your-own-adventure program; you’d be hard pressed to find a program that exposes you to as many different projects and teams and gives you as much independence in seeking out the opportunities you desire. Coming from academia, if you are unsure which AI-focused product team you’re best suited for, I would highly recommend the MAIDAP program to help you make this determination.

MAIDAP offers recent BS/MS/PhD graduates the opportunity to collaborate with product groups across Microsoft by providing AI as a service in solving some of our most exciting and challenging AI problems. Interested in joining the program? Watch for job postings here