In his over 34 years on the job, Chris Shaffer (Director of Engineering Learning & Insights) has been a part of many changes within Microsoft. We recently invited him to TechKnowCon‘s Leader Spotlight Series to hear about his inspiring career. He went over his history at the company, how he started as an engineer, and how a chance opportunity led him to find his passion for engineering excellence and learning.
Call to AdventureIn 1989, Chris started as a software development engineer in test. He was the person that did all the testing on the software development kit for Windows 3.0. After a few years, he wanted a change. There was an opening on the Application Frameworks team, so he decided to interview. Though he was offered the job, he didn’t know he was interviewing for a manager position. He didn’t want to be a manager. It was a hard sell, but after giving him the option to try it for six months, he took the job and learned something he didn’t expect.
“When things don’t go as you expect them to go, they often end up being some of the most amazing and transformational parts of your journey. That’s been my case, and it never feels that way at the time.” -Chris Shaffer, Microsoft
He started to discover his passion, even though, as he put it, he was “tricked into being a manager” and didn’t have the complete picture yet. That passion was fundamentally people and helping them succeed. Working on the team, he built his brand without even knowing it. Over time Chris was asked to lead teams that weren’t struggling, and by giving them some care they turned around..
“I ended up getting the brand as the guy who fixed broken teams.” – Chris Shaffer, MicrosoftEventually, the organization decided that their senior leaders should be the most technical people, and Chris was asked to find another job in the company. Looking back, this ended up being a good “kick” in the pants. He landed in the engineering excellence organization and things were going great. Then the 2014 layoffs came and he was given 60 days to find another role at the company. So he took up a new position at Microsoft, but it wasn’t a great fit. But, 2 years later, he was invited to build a team from scratch to reboot the learning effort for engineers, and he finally landed his dream job.
Learning and Its ChallengesIt took Chris over two decades into his career to fully identify his passion. During that time, he gravitated toward engineering excellence and picked up bits and pieces that greatly expanded his brand beyond just the broken-team fixer.
“My passion is to create environments where people and teams are empowered to learn, grow, and realize their full potential.“ – Chris Shaffer, Microsoft
One of his goals is to help accelerate this process for early career folks so they can identify their passions early and intentionally pursue them. Here are some things he has learned that help him do that.