When I think about high school and college classes that prepared me for a Microsoft PM internship, a lot of different classes come to mind outside of the requirements for my major. A program management intern should have a broad understanding of various topics related to design, coding, user needs, existing and emerging technologies, and effective communication skills to share all of this information with their team, and I am grateful that I was able to learn so many valuable skills from my undergrad classes. Here are the high school and college classes that prepared me for a Microsoft PM internship, along with specific course names for students at George Mason University.
High school: Microsoft certifications
When I was in high school, I took a class called Computer Information Systems 1 and 2 that allowed me to earn five Microsoft Office Specialist certifications in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, as well as additional Expert certifications in Word and Excel. These certifications were by far one of the most common things I was asked about during college interviews and even came up during my internship interview, since not a lot of candidates had pursued the expert certifications. I use something I learned from studying for my certification exams every day, and especially at my internship.
Microsoft certifications can be earned outside of the high school and college classroom and are a great way to become familiar with different productivity applications. While having MOS certifications is not required for a PM internship, it is definitely nice to have.
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My major: Computational and Data Sciences
I mention classes in both the Information Technology and Computational Data Science departments because I switched majors shortly after applying for a Microsoft PM internship. I switched out of IT and into data science because I developed a strong interest in data analytics and applying emerging technologies within the context of accessibility. Since many of my IT courses fulfilled other requirements for a data science degree, I mention classes in both programs when available.
Students can take classes across different departments either as elective credit or by talking with their advisor about course substitution options that may be available to them.
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Software Usability and Design
Software Usability and Design is one of my favorite classes that I have ever taken and taught me a lot about how to design great software and great things in general. I learned what makes an effective user interface and what makes something easy to use, as well as what goes into bad and frustrating designs. Other topics covered included the basics of web accessibility and universal design/inclusive design, which were important for the internship project I was working on.
George Mason University class: SWE 205
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I took a few different SQL programming classes in the information technology and data science majors. Outside of learning the programming language, each of my SQL classes helped me learn how to create entity relationship diagrams and effectively outline projects and programs, and made it easier for me to learn how to write pseudocode and document how something should work. I didn’t write any SQL code as a PM intern, but I did write outlines and take notes using strategies I learned from these classes.
George Mason University class: IT 213, CDS 302
Multidisciplinary English Composition
All students have to take an upper-level English composition class, and my college offers classes in different areas such as business, humanities, natural sciences and technology, and other topics. I chose to take a multidisciplinary online class that covered topics related to outlining sources, annotated bibliographies, and reading information from various sources ranging from academic journals to blog posts. I especially appreciated learning how to navigate databases and wikis, which helped me when searching for internal resources at my internship.
George Mason University class: ENGH 302 (M)
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Python Modeling and Simulation
Even though I didn’t write a single line of Python code during my internship, taking a modeling and simulation class helped me to better understand how to track different metrics for my project, as well as construct ideas for experiments and display items in different ways. My professor had also spent time teaching students how to write efficient and concise code, as well as how to prioritize different functions and features, which was really helpful when creating spec documents.
George Mason University class: CDS 230, IT 102
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Disability in American Culture
I took Disability in American Culture as part of the requirements for a minor in Assistive Technology, though it could also be used to fulfill general education requirements. I loved all of my courses in assistive technology, and particularly enjoyed this one because I was able to listen to lived experiences from people with various disabilities and conditions. Many of these stories have helped me to create better technology because I can consider accessibility and potential barriers from the beginning, instead of trying to address them later in the design process.
George Mason University class: EDSE 203
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Introduction to Assistive Technology
Want to learn more about how people with disabilities use mainstream and specialized technologies? Introduction to Assistive Technology is another one of my favorite classes that taught me about various accessibility features and disability areas, and introduced me to various topics related to web accessibility and how people with disabilities use computers. Outside of connections to accessibility and assistive technology, I also learned how to read and write case studies, as well as document how technology can be used in multiple ways.
George Mason University class: EDAT 410
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Introduction to Health Information Systems
This may seem like a surprising addition to the list, but I took a class in Health Information Systems as an elective, with the original goal of learning more about healthcare databases. In addition to learning about databases, I also learned more about the fields of program and project management, data privacy, and strategies for writing spec documents.
George Mason University class: HAP 360
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Other classes that prepared me for a Microsoft PM internship
- Taking the Information Systems CLEP exam allowed me to skip a foundational course for the IT major and take classes I was more interested in- I talk about this more in CLEP Exams and Low Vision. George Mason University class: IT 104
- Capstone projects and project-based classes that I could add to my portfolio/resume were super helpful during the interview process, since I could talk about different projects I had worked on.
- I actually took this class after my internship, but I loved my Data Visualizations class as it helped me develop valuable data storytelling skills. George Mason University class: CDS 301
- In general, taking classes in hybrid/virtual environments helped prepare me for working at a computer for long periods of time and using productivity applications.