Working Geek: Each day is different for Megan Dahlen, incubating Microsoft’s new ventures

Megan Dahlen carves out specific time for family and uses Skype when she’s on the road. (Dahlen Family Photo)

It’s great to have a job where you’re not stamping out the same widgets everyday, and Megan Dahlen has taken that love of new professional challenges to an extreme.

As the general manager of global sales innovation within Microsoft’s Inside Sales organization, she’s tackling projects in devices, Bing advertising, Azure cloud-based initiatives and more.

“I get to cross all products and all services,” Dahlen said. “I’m not boxed in super tight, which is amazing.”

Megan Dahlen, general manager of Global Sales Innovation within the Inside Sales organization at Microsoft.

Dahlen works with Microsoft leadership, from CEO Satya Nadella on down, acting as a bridge between the company and its corporate customers. Her incubator group devises, tests and delivers new, scaled go-to-market initiatives. The ideas can come internally from leadership or externally from interactions with customers.

“Joining Microsoft for me was a really strategic decision in my career,” said Dahlen, who took the job two-and-a-half years ago. “I wanted the depth and breadth of the portfolio. It really keeps me engaged and learning more.”

Sometimes that means staying up late after her three kids are in bed in order to read about Microsoft products and better understand the technical details and terminology.

Dahlen is also passionate about shifting the gender imbalance in tech, but she doesn’t hew to the traditional strategy of encouraging women and girls to pursue a STEM path. Instead, she argues that a diverse set of skills are valuable in the field, and not everyone needs to be a computer science major to succeed. Dahlen herself originally studied sports management and sports administration.

“You don’t have to have a deep technical degree to pursue technology,” she said. “There are so many women qualified today who don’t work in tech.”

In fact, Dahlen said that the hardest part of her job isn’t mastering the technological details — it’s helping colleagues make the shift toward putting customers first. “Microsoft is at an interesting point in their cultural journey,” she said. “And it’s just bringing people along to become hyper-focused on our customers and their needs. It’s one of the biggest challenges.”

We caught up with Dahlen for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Redmond, Wash.

Computer types: Surface Pro 5

Mobile devices: iPhone 7S+

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “I live most of my day out of apps, so there are so many I could list. My top five:

  • Starbucks: The order-ahead feature is amazing and my first stop every morning!
  • LinkedIn: I try to stay active throughout the day on social and I get much of my industry and business news here.
  • Bing Maps: I don’t have a natural sense for direction so this one is a must regardless where in the world I am.
  • Insight Timer: My go-to in the morning, at night and any small doses of silence I get between meetings.
  • Microsoft Teams: The primary way I engage across all devices to communicate and collaborate across the business.”

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “My official workspace is in an open environment on the Redmond campus; however you rarely see me sitting and working there. My real workspace is different every day, which is one of the amazing things about my role at Microsoft. I spend quite a bit of time meeting with customers, partners and global sales teams where they live and work. This means I work from wherever I am at a given time: a car, plane, Microsoft offices around the globe, airport lounges, my home office, as well as many Microsoft offices in the greater Seattle area. The flexibility and entrepreneurial spirit my workspace brings me is where I do my best work.”

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “My advice is to know there is no perfect way to manage work and life as both change frequently and require a give-and-take to live in balance. Learn to be agile based on what is needed within both at any moment and don’t starve one to feed the other. Listen to yourself and ensure even in the most hectic times that you carve out a piece of whatever it is you need. Even in small doses, this can go a long way in creating balance.”

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “LinkedIn for business networking. I do a lot of reading, sharing and writing and this is my go-to platform. Facebook for keeping up with friends and sharing pieces of life with them. Snapchat for family. I have a big family that lives in the Midwest. Snapchat is my go-to for keeping up with their photos and videos. Twitter is a new one for me and I am still trying to figure it out.”

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “At this very moment there are too many to count!”

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 43

How do you run meetings? “I like to focus the time discussing where help is needed and solving challenges. This often means fewer slides for discussion and individuals spending a bit of time on a ‘pre-read’ to ensure everyone has baseline knowledge prior to the meeting. It’s not always possible, but I find it drives a different human connection in the room with more discussion, is the most efficient use of collective mind share, and allows for acceleration.”

Dahlen joins colleagues in Sydney, Australia for a sales kick-off meeting. (Microsoft Photo)

Everyday work uniform? “This varies based on where I am and what I am doing. Could be jeans with a blazer, a suit, a dress or even yoga pants and sweatshirt when I am working from my home office.”

How do you make time for family? “This is really a tough one, but something I have gotten better at as years have passed and I have seen firsthand the career results when family is not a priority. I am fortunate that my husband Nick left his career two and-a-half years ago to become the primary caregiver at home, so it allows me to trust him with things I previously needed to take care of. I focus on quality over quantity, which means when I am making the time, I need to ensure I’m not distracted and giving them my full attention. A few tips:

  • Non-travel week: When I am not traveling, I keep a daily sacred block on my calendar beginning early evening to spend time with them before my kids head to bed. If I have calls with the team in Asia, they’re well after my kids are asleep and I try to limit them to one or two nights a week. There are times when a meeting must creep into this block, but I would say that 90 percent of the time, I stay committed to it.
  • Travel week: I use Skype to see and speak with my family at least once a day, even if that means I must get up at odd hours to make it work. It’s important enough for me to make the time, often carving it out in my calendar so it doesn’t get scheduled over.
  • Weekends: I try hard to shut down all day Saturday and Sunday until around 8 p.m. Sunday evening is my week prep time and starts when my kids are headed to bed. This space of 48 hours gives me time to decompress from work and really focus on my family, which gives me a renewed purpose every Monday morning.”

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “I love floatation therapy, especially late on a Friday afternoon. It allows me a place to decompress and desensitize before I start my weekend. Unplugging itself is hard with all of the technology surrounding us on a daily basis. About nine months ago, I shut off all alerts and notifications on my phone, which helps to really focus on the moment versus what my mobile devices are telling me is most important at that given time.”

What are you listening to? “This awesome podcast called ‘Entrepreneur on Fire.’ It features thousands of entrepreneurs sharing lessons they have learned, ‘a-ha’ experiences, as well as their worst entrepreneurial moments. It sounds like it would be a real downer podcast, but I find it inspirational.”

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Financial Times, BBC, World Economic Forum and Forbes Women

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath

Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “Night owl — I have been one as long as I can remember. When I am traveling my sleep patterns vary significantly. When I am at home, I try to get a solid six hours minimum but strive for eight hours.”

Where do you get your best ideas? “When I am sleeping. I just started to keep a ‘dream book’ beside my bed so I have a place to write them down when they come to me at night.”

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “I don’t have anyone specifically who I want to emulate. I like to pick up tidbits from many individuals in all different industries and try them out if I feel compelled. It allows me to really own them and build my own personalized working style.”