Q&A with Microsoft's Stuart Pitts

November 5, 2019


Last week, I sat down with Stuart Pitts, Microsoft Global Product Marketing Manager from the Mixed Reality team, after he spoke with AMA on Oct. 30. Below he discusses what his job truly entails, what he wished he knew, and his advice for college students everywhere. Keep reading to see his thoughts on these subjects. 


Q (Kobashigawa): What is your why? Why are you still in your current job? Why are you doing what you are doing? What gets you out of bed and into the office?


A (Pitts): When I look at what I like and what I don't like about what I do today and when I look ahead to what I think I might want to do tomorrow, I've realized it all revolves around bringing energy and focus on audiences. We talked about this during the presentation in terms of the groups of people in the world whom we want to love us, the scenarios that we want them to love us for, and the stories and activities that will spark interest in their hearts and minds. This idea embodies the culture, environment, and group of people I want to be a part of. 


I’ve always said since my first day in the Microsoft store, Microsoft was a place where that was true for me. I've always said that I would stay as long as I felt this is true, and I'm still here. It has been eight full years – I am a strange millennial. I've been in one place for eight years – I am cognizant of that – but when I look at alternatives, the pros still far outweigh the cons. 


Q (Kobashigawa): You started at the Microsoft store when you were my age, 19. If you could go back in time, is there any advice you would tell your 19-year-old self?


A (Pitts): The advice I would give myself is to do more than what you think your limit is. We all have an idea as to what our capacity is and I did push myself beyond my capacity a lot of the time, but I still could have taken on more. My advice would be to take on even more. If you think you are at 120 percent capacity, go to 140; that is what college is about. The benefit of this is when you are looking for somebody to employ you, you have more evidence and more experiences to point to. You don't even have to like all the experiences. You do not even have to do them all well. In fact, you could have totally flopped. But by flopping on something, you learn something. You walk away a more valuable candidate with a more unique perspective and ultimately that is what every employer is looking for: people that bring a unique perspective. 


Q (Kobashigawa): What does your team look like at Microsoft? How many people do you interact with daily?


A (Pitts): It varies every day. I work on a team and with my direct teammates and manager, there are probably about six or seven of us total as a product marketing group. However, Microsoft is a huge, highly matrix company and we do not do everything ourselves. We depend on many other groups in engineering, marketing groups that manage across each channel, and sales groups that do not just actually sell but support selling through programs and materials; so it varies a lot. 


That is what I like about my day, the fact that I work with so many different people. I can be in a meeting, helping think about what next product we should create or what new experience we should build and an hour later I can be on the phone with a customer trying to close a deal. That is why I love product marketing; it’s a really diverse set of things you get to experience. 


Q (Kobashigawa): You've worked on a lot of different products and different marketing teams throughout your time at Microsoft. What are you most proud of?


A (Pitts): For me, I am most proud of the work we did and the team continues to do with Surface devices. The two-in-one device category was brand new when Microsoft created it: at the beginning, it was Surface tablets that were tablet, laptop, all-in-one. In the beginning, Surface was not doing very well. Within the first year, the company wrote a nine hundred million dollar loss on the Surface business. In a short period, we went from a nine hundred million dollar loss to a four billion dollar business annually. We did it by spending time with the people who were using and loving our products to better understand why they loved it. We wanted to figure out what could make it better for them and how could we bring their stories to more people—that's what it was all about. This was the spirit of the effort and it has now grown into something that is much bigger which has resulted in a big business for Microsoft. Surface is now in the hands of many more people around the world and more people know what Surface represents. It was an immensely cool thing to be a part of, an awesome team.


Q (Kobashigawa): So you wake up, go to work, then what can you expect? Do you have a typical work day? Or is it whatever happens, happens?


A (Pitts): Honestly, it is more of the latter. Almost everything I've worked on has been new, scrappy, start-up-like initiatives even in a big company. The things I've worked on aren’t big established business. They are new categories of hardware, new solutions to compete against Google and Apple in an increasingly competitive education market. Our new CEO, Satya Nadella, is now looked to as a hero, the leader who helped revived Microsoft’s culture. When he started, he wasn't a household name. He largely still isn’t, but he’s become a figure in business communities and across industries. The nature of these kinds of environments means most days are not the same. This gives me energy and, eight years later, I’m still a part of smaller groups in this big company.


Q (Kobashigawa): In the Simon Sinek TED talk, Sinek mentions people do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Do you think the who or the why is more important? What would be at the center of your marketing model?


A (Pitts): When I first heard Simon’s talk, I was probably a sophomore at the UW and I fell in love with it. It was one of the more foundational things I had learned. I do not know what he would say, but if I had to guess, his model of why, how, what, assumes you know the who. To your question, if I had to pick one, I would pick the who. But I think it is who, why, how, what. The why has to be important to somebody otherwise you end up with a Volkswagen Phaeton.


Q (Kobashigawa): A lot of people are interested in going into marketing or working for a large company such as Microsoft. What advice do you have for people interested in doing something similar to your current job?


A (Pitts): My advice is to take on more than you ever think you can do. I did but I could have done more. Everybody is looking for people who will bring a unique perspective. What does that mean? It means how you see the world, what are the experiences you have had in your life where you've come from, and how would that help you contribute to a new way of looking at problems and opportunities in a business. That is not something many people think about. I think we are trained in school to think about course load, major, and GPA. It's: get the grades, graduate, get the job, and it is fair to say that a lot of people probably within Microsoft and many companies have been fortunate to have a series of internships where they can just check the boxes. This is a path you can choose to take, but another you can choose to orient yourself around is the unique skill set that you want to contribute—where you can say in an interview: this is what I will bring and I am confident that no other candidate will bring. It's up to you to decide what those things are for you.


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