As one of the largest tech companies in the world, Microsoft employs more than 500 University of Waterloo alumni.
Chris Pratley (BASc ’91), 28-year Microsoft veteran, describes as the company as having “a rare combination of enough money and talent to change the world,” combined with a respect for ‘intrapreneurship.’
A talent pipeline between the University of Waterloo and Microsoft has endured for 35-plus years, with more than 2,600 co-op students hired since 1987.
The quality of the candidate pool makes it an exceptionally strong partnership, but it goes deeper than co-op. Microsoft also funds Waterloo research, scholarships and internships, and there’s an alumni network for which Pratley is the executive sponsor.
“[For a Waterloo grad coming to Microsoft], what you make could be used by everyone in the world,” said Pratley, who is the corporate vice-president of Microsoft’s Office Media Group and the co-founder of OneNote. “The chance to have an impact with world-changing products and services is thrilling!"
He added, “Our principles and commitment to world citizenship set Microsoft apart. We don’t view ourselves as trying to extract revenue from customers and companies and countries. We approach everything as a mutual win-win.
“It sounds trite to say this, but Microsoft is a nice place to work. Our CEO [Satya Nadella] is seen as a rock star CEO and for good reason. He came into a company that was more focused on ‘How do we defeat the competition?’ and transformed it to be more thoughtful about our role in the world and how we treat the customer.”
Pratley, who accepted the University’s Friend of the Faculty of Engineering award on behalf of Microsoft last year, is laser-focused on making the partnership even more impactful.
“The University of Waterloo is very well known at Microsoft,” he said. “Great students give the university a great reputation, which attracts more great students. When we go to hire, they’re a cut above.”
In his own student days at Waterloo, Pratley bounced around between a program or two before finding his passion in Systems Design Engineering, where the opportunity to create things, people could use to be more successful proved irresistible.
After a stint working in project management in Japan he was encouraged by another Waterloo grad to pursue a job at Microsoft.
Turns out that being able to relate to people, being able to think like an entrepreneur and having a solid grounding in tech was a magic combination for Pratley, who’s known these days as “the guy who does new things in the company.”
“If you’re in an environment where everybody around you believes that things can be changed, you raise your own expectations and you’re not drawn away by cynicism,” he said. “That attitude that the world is your oyster helps a lot. One of the reasons I loved going to Microsoft is that everybody there had the entrepreneurial attitude that of course anything’s possible. That’s not true at a lot of places but it’s true at Microsoft and Waterloo.”
“One of the reasons I loved going to Microsoft is everybody there had the entrepreneurial attitude that of course anything’s possible. That’s not true at a lot of places but it’s true at Microsoft and Waterloo.”
Chris Pratley (BASc ’91)
Waterloo collaborates with industry partners like Microsoft to offer co-op students work term experiences that set them up for future success.