Careers: Interviews
Andrew Coulson: Microsoft Canada

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Andrew Coulson, Director, National Partner Team, Microsoft Canada Co.

Q: Andrew, thank you for agreeing to this interview. For those just starting their careers in IT, can you describe your career and the decisions you made to reach your current position at Microsoft? What 10 tips can you provide to others that helped you in your path to success? What would you do different looking back in hindsight?

A: Thanks Stephen – My educational background is behavioral psychology and Physiology so I can’t claim to have had a grand career vision from day one! What really changed my career path was when I started learning about the power of computing and the ability for the personal computer to change peoples’ lives – not in the grand society changing way that the industry talks about – just the average person being able to do more of what they really want accomplish. Simply put, I was excited by the endless possibilities of technology. I think the secret to success is finding your passion and building your career around it.

The following tips guided me in my successes. Looking back, I wouldn’t have done anything differently:

  • Know what is current. If you aren’t up to date you become ineffective – pretty quickly, especially in the computer world. Thinking about what is coming or what “should” be coming is a great exercise.
  • Maintain personal long-term goals.
  • Take a genuine interest in people – not just for career advancement but who they are: from the person that serves you coffee in the cafeteria to the CEO.
  • Have a specialized skill but maintain a broad perspective.
  • Try different jobs in your area of interest through the course of your career and don’t get hung up on stepping up the ladder every time – breadth of experience is valued.
  • Learn to listen to your customers and understand their needs. Then listen again and check to make sure you heard it right.
  • Understand the economics of Business – become a spreadsheet wizard – learn to drill down on data of different types and mine the jewels that most people miss.
  • Prioritize time effectively – and don’t let e-mail drive your activity.
  • Know who your competitors are and why they are good.
  • Honesty and solid business ethics will always win.

Q: What are the ten biggest traps or pitfalls to avoid in the IT business?

A. There can be so many traps in business, so my best advice is only to concentrate on avoiding ONE major pitfall – the fear of taking risks. Calculated risks often lead to the greatest innovations and the most rewarding experiences. Any advance has come after someone took a significant risk or bet. Accept that there may be setbacks and forge ahead. Success will come to those who aren’t afraid to try.

Q: I can see that you’re an active professional and that your work occupies much of your time. What are your five ways you can relax?

A. I spend a ton of time with my family – they are my greatest balancing element and ultimately most important to me. Playing with my 2 daughters is probably the most relaxing thing I do. I’ve also tried recently to take up golf, and while it’s not relaxing yet, I’m hoping that is part of the program down the road! I also read a great deal of fiction – helps balance the technical nature of the Microsoft world.

Q: What are your responsibilities as Director, National Partner Team? What are your immediate goals within the next six months and within two years? How do you measure that you have been successful?

A. Our team is responsible for the services partners in Canada that work with customers to provide solutions on the Microsoft platform. What that means is, we are really focused on supporting our partners who have utilized our technology to the max and have engaged customers on great projects. We’re successful when the whole Microsoft Solution Provider marketplace establishes a reputation for providing comprehensive, professional services across vertical and horizontal solutions. We know we’ve been successful when customers call and tell us how great their solution is: how it works and how impactful the partner was in implementing it!

Q: Businesses are seeing many technologies in their strategic paths? What advise would you give to businesses as they plan their own evolution in the next five years? Do you have specific technologies and processes they should watch out for and implement?

A. Prepare to be more connected than ever before. We are really just at the beginning of the computing revolution – we won’t see that perspective for a few years. Microsoft is introducing a user-centric architecture and set of XML Web services, Microsoft .NET My Services. .NET My Services will make it easier to integrate the silos of information that exist today. .NET My Services is oriented around people, instead of around a specific device, application, service, or network. It puts users in control of their own data and information, protecting personal information and providing a new level of ease of use and personalization. .NET My Services takes advantage of the Microsoft .NET-based technologies and architecture that make it possible for applications, devices, and services to work together. These services make user consent the basis for who can access user information, what they can do with it, and how long they have permission. Look around your desk right now – can all of your devices share information? Can you access the same data from each device? Do you stand in line for anything? How many devices do you currently interact with that are automated but really not that intelligent?

Q: If you were doing the interview, what two interview questions would you ask of someone in your position?

A. 1. What importance do you attach to how people get the job done vs. what they get done and is that reflected across your organization? 2. What is the greatest motivating factor for you personally?

Q: It’s a blank slate, what added comments would you like to give?

A. We have a robust foundation for IT business success here in Canada. I would encourage anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in the area of IT, to remain positive in the face of current economic and social challenges. Technology is an exciting field where young Canadians can explore many rewarding careers. We are only at the very beginning of an incredibly impactful time – if you are excited by what computers might be able to do, then you may have the unique opportunity to do what you love and make it a gratifying career.


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