53 Traits You Need to Succeed at Microsoft

Microsoft program manager software engineer

Microsoft Holo Lens

SEE ALSO: How to Ace the Microsoft Program Manager Interview and How to Ace the Software Engineering Interview

What attributes make a Microsoft employee? A study at the University of Washington determined successful Microsoft employees had 53 common traits that helped them thrive in the software development industry.

Internal attributes (personality, decision making) led to effective situational awareness and problem-solving solutions. External attributes (team collaboration, product management) assured productive teamwork and rewarding end-user experiences. When hiring (or applying) for your next developer position, be sure to look for these following traits.

Personal Characteristics

Improving, Passionate, Open-minded, Data-driven, Systematic, Productive, Perseverant, Hardworking, Curious, Risk-taking, Adaptable, Self-Reliant, Self-Aware, Aligned, Executing, Prideful, Creating, and Focused.

John Carmack at QuakeCon

Great engineers are defined as those “not satisfied with the status quo and constantly looking to improve themselves, their product, and/or their surroundings.” According to senior developers, the most important trait engineers need to have is the willingness to continuously learn and improve. They should also be genuinely interested in software development and not be motivated by money or external recognition. When making decisions, engineers need to utilize data as much as possible; however, they also need to be flexible and open-minded in certain situations. The ability to act independently, stay focused, and create new products in an efficient manner are all important traits as well.

Decision Making

Knowledgeable about people and the organization, Updates their mental models, Sees the forest and the trees, Handles complexity, Knowledgeable about their technical domain, Knowledgeable about customers and business, Knowledgeable about engineering processes, and Models states/outcomes.

Donald Knuth at Stanford University

Great engineers understand the strengths, weaknesses, responsibilities, and tendencies of their coworkers and company. Engineers with this information make the right decisions when asking for advice or delegating a specific task. Keeping up-to-date with technical and industry trends also “enable great engineers to make globally optimal decisions, [while] avoiding local optimizations.” The capacity to integrate all levels of organizational architecture and adapt to probable outcomes is also one of the key attributes of a successful engineer.


Creates shared context, Creates shared success, Creates a safe haven, Honest, Integrates contexts, Well-mannered, Acquires content, Not making it personal, Mentoring, Raises challenges, Manages expectations, Has a good reputation, Stands their ground, Trading favors, Personable, and Asks for help.


Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson at Bell Labs

External attributes highlight the engineer’s ability to use their emotional intelligence when interacting with others. Great engineers always bring mutual understanding and success to the whole team. Engineers should be able to compromise for the benefit of the project and lead managers or coworkers to desirable outcomes. They also need to contribute to a ‘safe haven’ work environment that allows “engineers to learn and improve from mistakes and situations without negative consequences.” Above all, engineers need to be honest and always look for solutions to problems, rather than ‘time shifting’ and blaming others.

Software Product

Elegant, Creative, Anticipates needs, Makes trade-offs, Attentive to details, Fitted, Evolving, Long-term, and Carefully constructed.

Linus Torvalds with the Linux kernel

The ability to anticipate the needs of fellow developers and end-users is also an important attribute of great engineers. Senior developers prized engineers that could deliver simple and easily accessible solutions. Concise code not only reduces maintenance costs, but also decreases the possibility of bugs. When meeting project requirements, engineers should be creative, yet also know when not to ‘reinvent the wheel’. Engineers need to produce code that incorporates “ error handling, memory consumption, performance, and style”, while also balancing quality control and time to market. Software design should also be focused on optimal scalability, future feasibility, and existing product integration.

The study concluded that promoting these traits in educational or corporate settings help aspiring developers reach their full potential. Understanding the important attributes of great engineers can also guide employers when hiring developers for their team.

Employers need to invest a significant amount of time and dedication when hiring a developer. We hope the findings of this study will help you with your candidate search.

SEE ALSO: How to Ace the Microsoft Program Manager Interview and How to Ace the Software Engineering Interview

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  • Frank Ramirez

    Personal Characteristics “…They should also be genuinely interested in software development and not be motivated by money or external recognition…”

    Honestly? From a company perspective -all publicly traded corporations functions to meet the needs of shareholders. Having a well defined and attractive business case is important. Additionally, The strength of a brand can add as much as 12% to margins. Market recognition of innovations is a key positive attribute. Net, some good stuff here but this statement seems a bit academic and divorced from reality.

    In terms of personal wants/needs a desire for financial independence, a good lifestyle, and providing for yourself and your family are not negative attributes indeed they are attributes of responsibility and recognition of self capability and self worth – these are needed for leadership. A desire of peer recognition is also a very human trait and indicative of an individual that seeks to be socially well integrated.

    Net, net. At corporate and personal level a desire for good compensation and recognition is good.

  • Frank Ramirez

    I have been an FTE and consultant at Microsoft. A traits list of 53 is in of itself a violation of a core skill – being concise. Also, as a big company in an industry that changes rapidly. You must be agile. You need skills but even more you need relationships to survive. Start networking day 1. Finally, like most places success excuses almost anything. Make sure you can demonstrate your value in very concrete terms.

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