Elisabeth Olson Interview

Elisabeth Olson is a Senior Program Manager on the Identity team at Microsoft. Her job role involves working with Azure Active Directory B2B collaboration that most of you will have come across while working with Azure. Elisabeth is an easy to approach and kind individual who is always willing to assist. As you’ll gather from her interview, she loves working at Microsoft and finds it humbling to realize how many humans are affected by the choices she makes every day as part of her current role.

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Elisabeth Olson interview

Tell us about yourself?
Hi folks!  I’m Elisabeth Olson and I’m a Senior Program Manager on the Identity team at Microsoft. Microsoft was my first job out of college, and I’m still here 13 years later and having a great time.

Outside of work, I have a wonderful husband and three amazing children.  For hobbies, I tend to go for more low-tech things like baking, knitting, DIY home improvement, and gardening – things where I can see a physical change in something because of the work I’m putting in.  I recently started sourdough bread baking (along with many others during the pandemic) and am unreasonably excited whenever a loaf turns out the way it’s supposed to.

What is your greatest achievement whilst working in the world of Tech?
I recently became a people manager, which was a huge career goal of mine.  I’m really excited about the opportunity to help the people on my team grow their skills and reach higher levels of success.

How did you get into IT?
I was fortunate enough to have access to computers from an early age, but my experience with them was mostly limited to Office programs and web surfing. I went to college thinking I’d be a famous actress, and when that didn’t seem to be panning out I changed to a chemistry major. I was starting the second-to-last year of my degree when I decided to take an Intro to Programming course on a whim, and I did so well and enjoyed it so much that I decided to add a computer science major. Plus, there was definitely some consideration of the idea that chemistry is relatively dangerous, while the worst that was likely to happen to me pursuing a career in programming was carpal tunnel.

What is it like working at Microsoft?
It’s really hard to describe what it’s like to work at the scale of Microsoft. Our products are used by billions of people all over the world, so everything has to be perfect every time.  I find it really humbling to realize how many humans are affected by the choices I make every day. It’s also really important to me to work for a company that is having a positive impact on the world, and I think Microsoft is doing a lot of great work in both the environmental and social spheres.

What would recommend for a techie or a beginner wanting to apply for a job at Microsoft?
First of all, just apply!  But to make your resume stand out, having real world experiences that align to the job you’re looking for is very important. That experience doesn’t have to be an official job, it could be something you did as a class project, volunteering with an organization, or something you just did for fun.  Point out the experiences and accomplishments that you think are relevant to the role you want.

What would you recommend for anyone wanting to start a career in IT?
I’d say you should find some way to try it out and get some experience both to make sure it’s really something you want to do and to have something you can put on your resume.  There are tons of places that need a website or an app, like your favorite restaurant, your kid’s school, or a non-profit you really like, and a real-world project will teach you so much more than just taking a class or bootcamp and will be much more impressive to hiring managers as well.

What are your areas of expertise? Are you still working with other Microsoft products apart from Microsoft Azure?
From a technology perspective, I have to be relatively well-versed in authentication itself and how the many products in and outside of Microsoft are using it in order to properly represent Azure AD B2B collaboration. I also concentrate on core UX principles, as I’ve found that concentrating on how the human users will interact with the system is the best path to building successful products even if you’re working really far down in the stack.

Could you please explain what Azure Active Directory B2B collaboration is?
Azure AD B2B collaboration is a set of features that allow organizations to collaborate easily and securely across tenant boundaries. It’s one of those great features that provides a better user experience and better security/compliance at the same time.  End users only have to remember one set of credentials to get access to any tenant they’ve been invited to, and admins can be confident that not only are those users taking better care of those credentials, they will lose access to the shared resources if they lose access in their home tenant too (for example, if they leave the company). It also works with nearly any app or service that’s integrated with Azure AD, so things like SharePoint and Teams as well as custom apps can be used by B2B users.

Why is it important for businesses to securely collaborate with one another and how can Azure Active Directory help? Why should businesses use Azure Active Directory?
There’s really no organization on the planet that can be successful without interacting with someone outside of the organization. Whether that’s working with customers, suppliers, vendors, partners, etc, every organization has a need to share something outside of their organizational boundary. B2B collaboration is really the best way to enable that scenario.

Are there any recent developments within Azure Active Directory B2B collaboration that were announced recently? Could you please share?
It’s hard to even know where to start on this one. We’ve been working hard for the last few years to support any B2B user with any account, and most recently announced general availability of email one-time passcodes in addition to support for social identities such as Facebook.  We’ve been excited to support customizable self-service sign up flows for guests, which can make it easier to have your partners get access quickly when you don’t know exactly which people you’ll be working with.

We’ve also invested heavily on the governance side to help our customers have better processes around how they on and off-board their guest users. We recently announced the capability to use access reviews to disable and even delete guest accounts that are no longer needed by the organization, as well as the ability to scope an access review to automatically review any Group or Team that has at least one guest in it.

Are there any new Azure Active Directory B2B features being released in future that you are excited about?
This feels like asking me to pick a favorite child!  All I’ll say now is keep an eye out on our blog and be sure to join us at Microsoft Ignite (March 2-4, 2021) — I’m excited to share more about all the features we’re working on and how they’re going to help our customers.

How do you keep up to date with the latest Microsoft Azure products?
Does anyone actually manage to keep up to date?  For me, I spend a possibly-unhealthy amount of time on Twitter, so most of my exposure to new tech stuff is through that forum and the people I follow there.

Do you have any final words of wisdom?
I think the most important question anyone can ask is “why” – if you don’t understand the problem you’re solving, the question you’re answering, etc, things are going to go off the rails quickly. Understanding the “why” is critical to being successful both as an individual and as part of a bigger team.

End of interview

Name: Elisabeth Olson
Twitter: @elisol

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