Although I haven’t always been a journalist, I do self-identify as a storyteller – and I learned it all from my family. I grew up hearing my grandmother recount the tales of crossing borders during the India-Pakistan partition, but there were more-lighthearted ones too. She shared pieces of her life by recounting times that she climbed into the neighbor’s yard to get mango trees as well as ghost stories from haunted houses where soldiers had lived. Every time she told me this narrative, I found myself gripping my seat as she brought her through each moment, and I wanted to capture people’s stories with the same authenticity and vividness that she had shown me.
Now, I’m at Microsoft, which is often first and foremost identified as an engineering company, but I would not consider myself a “techie.” For this reason, I was nervous to intern at Microsoft because I didn’t feel like an engineer at heart or in practice. In fact, my three favorite things are storytelling, higher education, and supportive communities marked by diversity and inclusion as central values – none of which are usually associated with technology. For the past three years, I’ve leveraged these values and empower underrepresented voices through my work as a reporter, and the journalism has helped me develop these skills.
Journalism as a conduit for meaningful conversations:
My love for reporting started two years ago, when I applied to be a photographer for the school newspaper, The Daily of the University of Washington – only to find out that I had completed the application to be a journalist. For context, I hadn’t been a writer up until this point. I had written essays for English classes and a few reflections on my phone, but most of these musings never made it into public sight.
Regardless, I took the leap into journalism and didn’t look back. From that moment, I jumped straight into the world of AP Style and [CQ]s and never looked back. Since I often have autonomy over what I wanted to write about, I chose to tell stories about culture and higher education and programs that strive to address differential access to educational resources. Too often, voices of marginalized communities are overlooked in the media because narratives of college campuses often focus on celebrating what is being done well in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, and what is getting funding, whereas the stories about what we need to do better are overlooked. As a journalist, I wanted to bring these stories to the forefront of our news coverage. I realized this when I wrote a story on undocumented students, and it opened up the world of this hidden identity that I never knew. Being a journalist has challenged my perceptions about what it means to be an undocumented student or commuter or foster care youth thanks to conversations with people who have these identities. In my conversations with undocumented students, I realized that these students just wanted to make America better by positively contributing to the community, but they lived in fear of judgment from their peers, colleagues, and instructors. It was an invitation to check my biases and recognize that any stigma I faced because of my own identity as a Pakistani American paled in comparison to these students – at least no one ever told me that I needed to “go home” when I walked down the street.
So, how does this tie into my work at Microsoft?
With these skills, I feel prepared to conduct meaningful 1:1s and informational interviews with my role models at Microsoft. Through my work, I’ve realized that being a good reporter starts by getting out of the way and letting people share their own perspective. So, whenever I chat with people at Microsoft, I try to create space for people to share their story honestly, only prompting them with reassuring nods or follow-up questions to dig deeper. When I started doing this, I realized that people want to share the most vulnerable parts to share, and an interview might be the first time that they have space to do so. I’ve had countless conversations where people will tell me about moments where they’ve felt overlooked or excluded as well as times that they’ve finally made a difference in their communities.
Moreover, I feel like my journalism skills make me a more engaged coworker, storyteller, and friend because I’m always trying to learn from others, regardless of their discipline of interest. This became apparent to me when talking with a UX voice designer on Cortana who studied journalism during her undergrad at Seattle Pacific University. At the end of our conversation, August commented that I had great questions and kept the conversation moving while still being engaged in the conversation. I’m convinced that hearing this from a fellow journalist, and someone who looks for the intersection between writing and technology, made me sit up a little bit straighter. It’s cool to know that I’m in the right business, and I’m thankful every day that journalism helps me craft compelling stories that capture someone’s voice and priorities. And I’m even luckier that I get to have these conversations as part of my job, and the view from the 25th floor of the Microsoft City Center made it all even more worth it. I feel empowered and excited and inspired to be surrounded by people who are blazing trails in their field of voice design and hold themselves to high standards every day.
I’m learning to bring my love of storytelling to my work as a content publishing intern. Although this field is often focused on the concise and direct nature of technical writing, there are ways to bring a love of stories to this work – and, at the end of the day, we’re trying to empower people in some way, which is the goal of any good story. Our Content Experience team is using words to paint a vivid picture for customers, and the goal of that can vary from troubleshooting how to set-up a printer to the process of changing your desktop background at work so it reminds you of home. All storytellers are trying to make information accessible, and I’m learning to apply what I’ve learned about providing context, keeping the reader engaged, and offering opportunities to follow-up.
So, journalism and storytelling may not traditionally be associated with a Microsoft intern, but they are integral to my success as a writer and future UX career.
Just like my grandma taught me, I will make it because of culture and who I am.