Ben De St Paer-Gotch

Current employer: Microsoft

Current job title: Project Manager

Current location: Reading

“The work I did during my placement year made up a huge chunk of my applications for graduate schemes, interview answers, and really did give me something to showcase to potential employers. Not everyone needs this but for me it was the perfect platform to feel comfortable in interviews.”

Tell us about your career path since graduation.

During my final year I applied for the Microsoft graduate programme (MACH scheme). I was accepted and started at Microsoft in September 2011, as a technical graduate. Starting here, I pushed on to move into project management and then moved over during my first year to be a project coordinator. I have continued to work and develop myself and I am now a project manager looking after large customer projects, delivering anything from custom applications to deploying Windows 10 across thousands of customer machines.

Has your career path changed since graduation?

I started at Microsoft on the technical stream, and at the time there was no planned option for project management. I saw someone doing it and I was inspired to ask more. I then created my own plan to develop myself and put forward a case to move into that role. My role has now evolved as well, owing to the experience I have gained. I've moved from administration on programmes and projects to leading them. This has been a gradual process and it’s sometimes startling to look back over such a short time and see how much everything has changed.

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

The most difficult part of my jobs is taking negative feedback from a customer. This is someone who is paying for Microsoft and in my case, when I am stood in front of them and representing Microsoft, being told that you are not doing well enough is hard. I think that the hardest part is bouncing back and coming into work the next day having thought about it, taken it on board, and being ready to have another go. Learning that feedback, positive or negative, is the most important thing for developing yourself in a career, especially where you are delivering to customers, was an important step for me.

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

I have been to America half a dozen times, but the most amazing part was going to the Microsoft global conference where around 15,000 Microsoft employees gather in a stadium to cheer on our CEO (at the time, this was Steve Balmer). Afterwards, I met up with the other graduate hires and we were given a presentation about how we could change Microsoft and change the world. The opportunity to be in America with one of the most influential business people in the world telling you that you will change his company and the world around you was amazing.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could?

I would have learnt a second language whilst at university, because trying to find people or groups with whom to learn a language is so easy at university. I wish I had taken the chance to do this. Also, I would have looked at random companies for jobs which matched my skillset: Microsoft is only partly technical in the UK – we have sales, marketing, HR, etc. – so doesn't require technical degrees. It is important to think outside of the box when considering where you would like to work.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

Getting into a company, any company, is about being yourself and being the right fit for the workplace. For me, that came in the form of following my passions and just pushing for where I thought I could go. For project management, the role involves a lot of communication and working with people in order to support them. Learning about the different tools, techniques, and approaches helps a lot and being able to talk about the industry and trends really helps as well. With any job there is a certain amount of paying your dues and working hard in your own time to learn, make your case, and putting in the effort to learn in your own time, trying and failing fast and getting back up to keep going.

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

Plymouth helped me in two very different ways. I really struggled in the second year of my degree and I got really down. My lecturers, head of school, and friends were there for me during that period and I would not have managed to achieve half of what I have done without them supporting me. Along with that, Plymouth pushed me to get a placement year, gave me a lot of options to study what I was interested in, and allowed me to follow my passion which is something I am still doing at work. Studying at Plymouth really set me up for the journey I hope to continue.

Did you undertake a placement during your degree and if so, how did this benefit you?

Yes, I did a year’s industry placement working as a developer consultant at GlaxoSmithKline. I took loads out of this year, as it taught me how multinational businesses work, how hard it can be to change things, how people are managed and incentivised, what peoples’ careers can look like, and how to code at an enterprise level. More than anything else, it taught me how to develop my personal time management. The work I did during my placement year made up a huge chunk of my applications for graduate schemes, interview answers, and really did give me something to showcase to potential employers. Not everyone needs this but for me it was the perfect platform to feel comfortable in interviews.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Plymouth?

One of my favourite memories is sat in one of the labs in Babbage Building, with my three best friends discussing a piece of group work one evening. We had to produce something and we decided that ‘Ben would just write a game and we will do some bits around it,’ and my friend still has a picture of me on Facebook tagged as ‘Ben in a computing room realising he is doing our coursework for us!’ We all put work in and aced the assessment, but that was just a fun time in a fun place to do creative stuff with other passionate and energetic people.

Would you recommend undertaking a course with the University, and why?

Plymouth for me was a choice based on the technology options and programming languages which the course offered. In the end, I don’t use these in my career and the more influential parts from my education were the paths I chose myself, the support and conversations I had with the lecturers, and peers around me.

Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?

Try loads of different things while you have a chance (languages, clubs, sports, societies, learn something from another subject area, etc.). When you have tried loads of things, work out what you really love doing and then go and do it.

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