Interning at a Top Tech Company as a Person with a Disability

By Meenakshi Das

When I changed my major to Computer Science in 2015, never did I think I would get the opportunity to intern for a company like Microsoft. Growing up watching television and movies, they always portrayed successful people who worked at big companies as able-bodied, and  who spoke extremely fluently. I was diagnosed with a speech disability, specifically a stutter, at the age of 5. Naturally, I never thought I would fit in and did not see myself as working at big corporations. I didn’t think I would be accommodated or accepted. Things started to change for me when I went to college. I discovered organizations such as the Lime Connect, Disability:IN etc. who worked for supporting college students with disabilities land jobs and internships in the corporate world. I found supportive mentors and professors in college who encouraged me to pursue my passions and not let my disability stop me.

According to a report by Accenture in coordination with AAPD and Disability:IN, many US organizations have started to successfully employ people with disabilities and develop their disability inclusion programs. The report also states that the GDP could get a boost of 25$ billion if just one percent more of people with disabilities join the workforce! Looking at such positive reports and with the support of my mentors, I decided to apply to my dream companies. Through networking at a conference, I received an interview for a software engineering internship at Microsoft. I studied extremely hard and in October 2019, received an internship offer from them.

While interviewing at Microsoft and other companies, I received accommodations for the interviews. Disability Disclosure is a personal choice for a lot of people but for me, as a person with a speech disability, it has always been beneficial for me to disclose. In my earlier years, I would try to hide my stutter and a couple of interviewers actually thought I didn’t know how to speak English.

Microsoft final round interviews for software engineering internships were in person – so I asked and received accommodations to answer behavioral questions via a shared google doc. This way interviewers could see what I am typing in real time. For coding questions, I used the whiteboard. I tend to stutter less if I am writing and speaking at the same time, so the white-boarding approach worked best for me. This brings me to an important point. Accommodations vary largely and there is not a set rule for them. You can mix and match a variety of reasonable accommodations and see what works best for you!

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the internship was made virtual so I and my team had to communicate over Microsoft Teams. I had a really supportive mentor and manager which made interning with a disability very comfortable. I normally communicated over chat, and during on-call team meetings I used the ‘raise-hand’ feature and/or typed in the chat box in Teams to express my views. Both worked well and my thoughts and opinions were always respected. At the end of the internship, we interns had to demo our work to the higher ups and I even received extra time for my presentation.

In all, I had a great experience interning virtually at Microsoft. I am looking forward to starting full time there next July! If you had told me five years back that I would intern at a place like Microsoft, I would have probably laughed and never believed I was capable of doing so. However, it did happen. My personal efforts, in addition to companies making their hiring practices more inclusive, made my goals come to life. Thank you to all disability advocates who have fought and are fighting for us.

One thing I would like to see is such policies being implemented at smaller companies as well as I have heard people not always having good experiences. Big companies tend to have the expertise and budget to make changes to their hiring practices, but this seems to be missing from many small companies. I’d love to work together to make these changes happen!

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