I was in high school when I told my mom I wanted to study literature. She didn’t believe me at first because she thought this was something I would get over with.
Sorry mom, it wasn’t just a teenage dream. Two years later, I was accepted to study English at the University of Washington and also in the department’s study abroad program.
“Are you sure you can study English?” my mom asked, doubting my ability to study English as a Vietnamese international student. As a person who didn’t put her pedagogy degree to use, she was also concerned about my future opportunities as a non-STEM major.
Until this day, she would constantly give me reality checks whenever I spoke high of creativity, fan fiction, and Carol Ann Duffy.
One and a half years later, I applied for the Microsoft Content Experience (CX) internship and made it to the final on-site interview at the company’s headquarters in Redmond. After only four days, the recruiter called and said “I’m here to bring good news.” I immediately covered my mouth to muffle my screams of joy.
“Are you sure you can work at Microsoft?” my mom asked after two weeks in my internship. She wanted to know whether I was “fitting in” the American corporate culture and could handle the same work a white person can do.
I was really offended by this at first, but after all, she had all the reasons to doubt her daughter’s capabilities— I study literature in a language that is not mine and work in a male-dominated engineering company as a woman in the humanities.
I remember sitting in a big conference room with all the interns on orientation day. When the host said “who here is a software engineer intern?” three-quarters of the crowd roared the room. How many CX interns were there in total?
Both she and I are aware that this career isn’t well-represented among international women of color.
So what does a CX intern do?
The job description that I was sent described a CX intern as a “tech-savvy writer” who can design and write content in-product and for the web and can show critical thinking in the “development, design, deployment, vision, and business strategy” of their work.
Recruiters tend to seek writing majors because our job is to use words to design product experiences. But even though writers are wanted, interns do more than just sitting at a desk and typing words all day.
In my internship, I led a project from research and development (R&D) to the design strategy stage. Honestly, I felt more like a project manager since I spent more time making sure the project was on schedule than the content creation itself!
The other CX interns created an inclusive security word bank, an internal writing style guide, and templates for a new product. Skills such as design, data analysis, and project management were integral in our work.
Above all, what made my experience enriching was the autonomy I had over my work, thanks to a team that helped me build a growth mindset by supporting my experiments and allowing me to grow from mistakes.
How was the intern life?
Microsoft creates a successful program every year. The company hosts activities around campus to inspire students to lead careers in tech and have networking opportunities with accomplished full-time employees.
Some of my few memorable events were the Women’s Symposium (with Amy Hood), International day, Intern Day (with Satya Nadella, Brad Smith, and Sean Paul), the Intern Yacht Party, Food Fest, Fireside chats with CVPs, and the Treehouse Talks, a storytelling event where I did a stand-up!
The future of writing in tech
If there’s a bubble that’s growing for writers in tech, that’s conversational design — the design of conversations for voice assistants and chatbots.
During my internship, I shadowed the Personality Chatbot project led by my manager Deborah Harrison. As a team, we wrote queries, strategies for localizers, and made sure conversations between a human and bot are ethical and inclusive.
Working on this project made me excited to be a tech writer in the future because, no longer were the days of unfriendly 404 errors, the language of devices is becoming more human and natural to interact.
“Human language is the new UI layer, bots are like new applications, and digital assistants are meta apps. Intelligence is infused into all of your interactions.” — Satya Nadella
How can I prepare a resume for a CX internship?
Breaking into CX is hard for students. Many people enter user experience (UX) writing or CX (as they call it at Microsoft) with a rich writing portfolio in professional industries. Since the field is still emerging, there aren’t many resources for students to explore.
However, CX internships happen every year. English, Communications, and Journalism majors are in demand for these roles because we specialize in storytelling and content strategy.
Be sure to have a few work experiences in any writing role — editors, journalists, copywriters, video editors — and prepare 3–5 published articles to show recruiters your best writing abilities.
To make yourself more competitive, start immersing yourself in the world of UX and data science. As an English major with an informatics minor, I can tell you the knowledge I gained in my Informatics classes helped me to leverage my colleagues’ work faster. But even if getting another minor or a second major is not an option for you, you can still learn UX by reading books and social networking.
Honestly, most of my design skills come from my involvement in design sprints hosted by Dubstech’s “The UX Club.” Not only did I improve my prototyping skills, but I also made connections with members who became my life-long mentors.
If you’re still trying to figure out what kind of writer you are, just letting you know that writers at Microsoft come from all walks of life. In my office alone, there are published authors, poets, teachers, songwriters, bloggers, video game writers, film enthusiast, booksellers, and a founder of an ethical clothing company.
There isn’t one mold to emulate but to be yourself and sell your story.
For me, coming from Vietnam to study literature and expressing the values of diversity and inclusion made a stellar impression, despite feeling insecure about this very own identity at the beginning of my journey.
My last email as a Microsoft intern was titled “Standing on the shoulders of giants,” one of my favorite quotes by Isaac Newton. It expresses the meaning of “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries,” which was the experience I had as an intern.
Every day, I had the opportunity to meet a colleague who has gone through years of learning and is now impacting billions of customers, one UI string at a time. After 12 weeks, I am blessed to have clearer professional and personal goals.
If you’re interested in UX writing, I urge you to apply!