Moving across the country to start a job at a mega-corporation could make any working professional sweat. But for Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) student Katarya Johnson-Williams, it was the opportunity she had been waiting for. A few days into summer, the rising junior moved to Seattle to begin her dream internship at Microsoft.
Johnson-Williams is a software engineering major and has always had her sights on Microsoft. As a sophomore, she snagged the company’s explorer internship, which is targeted toward freshman and sophomore college students. For 12 weeks, she worked on the Native Mobile Experiences Team within Microsoft Power Apps, the business application that allows users to build forms and apps with little or no code.
“I love being at Microsoft. It’s my dream company,” said Johnson-Williams. “There are so many different organizations within Microsoft, and they all have such a big impact. I love my organization because our clients are businesses, so you get to help hundreds or thousands of people at once.”
Johnson-Williams’ drive and determination did not spark overnight. Her love for software started at age 11, during a coding day event in middle school. She knew that was the path she would pursue in college.
“I think it’s so cool that as a software engineer, you get to create things that help make people’s lives easier, and millions of people could potentially end up using it. I just love how powerful software is.”
Despite starting at FGCU in the middle of a global pandemic, Johnson-Williams took advantage of every opportunity, including the U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering’s Bootcamp for Engineering and Mathematics (BEaM).
BEaM is open to incoming FGCU first-year students majoring in engineering or construction management. The 10-day prep program helps develop math proficiency and study skills to prepare students for the engineering and construction management coursework.
“After I got accepted to FGCU, [the U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering] sent a letter out about BEaM, and I signed up because I wasn’t able to take computer science classes in high school,” Johnson-Williams explained. “I saw this as an awesome opportunity to meet people in my college.”
During the program, students connect with others in their field, meet program professors and get comfortable with the campus. This summer, BEaM was held in person for the first time since 2019.
“The program gives students a jump-start before starting classes,” said Julie Rose, outreach specialist for the engineering college. “They make connections within the campus community and their programs to help them navigate the college experience and provide them with a sense of belonging. We presented Katarya with the resources, and she not only took advantage of them but created a space for herself to excel academically and personally.”
Johnson-Williams believes the BEaM program served as a springboard to her campus involvement. She is an engineering ambassador for the 2022-23 academic year, president of the Resident Housing Association, a two-year learning assistant and served as vice president of the Software Engineering Club during the 2021-22 academic year. She is also involved with several engineering associations on campus, including the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers.
Her advice to incoming freshman or current students is to take advantage of all opportunities on campus and not to be afraid of getting involved.
“Step out of your comfort zone. I know it’s hard and can be intimidating, but everyone feels the same way,” she said.
Fast forward to the start of her junior year, and Johnson-Williams is excited to apply what she learned at Microsoft to her classes. Her ultimate goal is to return to the company as a full-time employee. She learned in her last few weeks as an intern that she will be receiving a return offer to be a Microsoft software engineering intern next summer.
“I am excited to get back to school and start learning more advanced stuff, so I can [go back to Microsoft] and keep contributing.”