Career advice from Qi Lu, President of Microsoft Online Services

Qi Lu, President of Microsoft’s Online Services Division, was at Berkeley this evening to have a casual talk with students. He gave a very interesting recap of his own career so far, why he joined Microsoft last year, and what he envisions his division to accomplish. And he shared plenty of career advice.

Qi gave two reasons on why Microsoft, which are essentially his core career principles: first, to be in a position where he can have profound and enduring impact; second, to be able to work with and learn from great people. As for his vision for Online Services, he says their mission is to “computationally understand user intent,” or, in plain-speak, to “build a human mind reader” (so that we don’t need to tell the computer what we want to search, the computer will be able to read our mind and know what we need). It is an extremely ambitious and perhaps “geeky” vision, but Qi’s passion comes across so strongly that I can’t help but also become excited at this vision.

As for career advice, Qi was like an encyclopedia of idioms and metaphors-

  • Chance favors the prepared. (Always work hard.)
  • Opportunities are like buses – if you miss one, there’s always the next one. (So don’t worry and always look ahead!)
  • No bus will take you straight to your end goal. Think about “will this bus get me closer?” instead of “will this bus get me there?” (Think about your career in phases, and work towards intermediate goals which will help you get closer to your long-term goal. I really, really liked this metaphor.)
  • Keep your head above the cloud, and your feet on the ground. (Have the big vision, and work hard consistently.)
  • Make yourself uncomfortable. (Push yourself out of your comfort zone – if you’re comfortable, you’re not learning.)
  • Be good at letting things go. (Be willing and open to sharing.)

These bullet points don’t do him justice. He is such a great speaker and it seems as if he just oozes intellect and wisdom. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

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