Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: A Groups participant at Microsoft, Raanah Amjadi finds a product and a goal

Raanah Amjadi
Raanah Amjadi grew up in Florida, went to school in North Carolina and landed in the Pacific Northwest. (Microsoft Photo)

Raanah Amjadi moved to Seattle more than four years ago to start her career at Microsoft and during that time has tried her hand at various jobs within the company. Over the past year, she’s found the right team. Or, Teams.

As a product manager with Microsoft Teams, the software giant’s year-old challenger to Slack and other collaboration tools, Amjadi focuses on engaging millennials and small business customers through her passion for using technology to create a sense of community. And community is what attracted her to Microsoft in the first place.

“I’ve been able to work with some incredibly smart people and explore a wide variety of roles ranging from PR and Business Operations to Brand and Product Marketing,” she said. She even got to demo Hololens and Teams integration alongside Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at Ignite last year.

Amjadi, our latest Geek of the Week, is a 2013 graduate of Duke University, where she studied Sociology and Markets and Management. Born and raised in South Florida, her time in the Pacific Northwest has her missing sunshine and palm trees.

“I’m the daughter of two incredibly smart, talented, and adorable Iranian immigrants and small business owners,” Amjadi said. “We own a rug store, so yes, we are a Persian stereotype. I have one sister who is a badass woman in tech and someone I try to learn from every day.”

In her free time, Amjadi said she likes to live up to her “Persian hostess potential” and invite friends over to eat massive quantities of Persian food.

“I try to get out into nature as much as possible by hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. I’m a proud cat mom and owner of three tattoos.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Raanah Amjadi:

What do you do, and why do you do it? About a year and a half ago, I was working as a creative producer on the Office Brand Studio team helping manage daily operations and various campaigns. One of the projects I was working on at that time was the launch of this new thing called Microsoft Teams. The core v-team was brought into the preview experience so we could become more familiar with the value proposition, the features, and ultimately this new type of teamwork.

“Within a few days, I felt a tangible shift in my work environment. I felt like I was more connected to my teammates and that the anxiety that often comes with a crazy launch moment had totally lifted. Now my team was super open and close-knit. We all genuinely loved working and spending time together. But even we couldn’t find a way to recreate that magic in our online work environments. With Teams, we now had this space that helped us bring our full selves into work. A space that gave us permission to share a funny meme or giphy right in line with an important project update or document we were working on.

“My whole motivation in life is to create environments where people feel comfortable and heard. I think as humans, we’re at our best when we feel we have the space to be ourselves. When we see the people around us not just as these other people, but as a community we feel connected to. We become more creative, more spontaneous, and more easily find joy in the simple things. I try to create that space for my communities at work and in my personal life.

“So finding a product that also embodied that same mission of inclusion and was just getting started was a life changer for me. As the campaign came to a close, I applied (read: begged) to be a Product Marketer on the Microsoft Teams team because I knew opportunities to directly align your personal values with your work don’t come that often. I’ll hit my 1-year anniversary with the team on March 14, which also happens to be the 1-year anniversary of Teams itself. I like to think we’re growing up together.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? When technology is built with empathy, it can be an incredible unifier. It can give marginalized communities a voice and a means to engage with the rest of the world. It can bridge generations and geographies. It can give us the time and space to be creative and focus on the things that make us uniquely human. The pace of change can sometimes feel overwhelming, even for someone like me who grew up in the age of the internet. But I’m a technological optimist and I’ve seen how advancements like artificial intelligence and mixed reality can bring people together and build them up.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “I find my inspiration in the mountains. For me, inspiration comes when I’m able to clear the noise in my head, regain perspective, and create space for new ideas to form. When I’m in the mountains, I can look out at these beautiful giants that have been here millions of years before me and will (hopefully) be here millions of years after and be reminded of my place in this universe. It’s my reset button. The drive home to the city is usually when the ideas start creeping back in. (Also, it doesn’t also hurt that driving to and from the mountains means passing by like 30 Taco Bells which happens to be my other source of inspiration).”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “I really couldn’t live without my smartphone. It’s essentially the control center for my life. Pretty much everything I interact with can be now texted, edited, scheduled, snapped, logged, and called from that little rectangle. If you want to get to know me, all you need to do is check out my Wunderlist to dos and OneNote quick notes. My entire life is there. But most importantly, my phone keeps me connected to my family and friends around the world in ways that make us feel like we’re still somewhat living our lives together.”

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “My leadership team is really flexible with how and where we do our work, so my workspace is constantly changing throughout the week. On our work-from-home Fridays, I usually end up at my favorite place in Seattle — Elliott Bay Book Company. In the morning, I’ll post up in their café with an almond milk latte and some avocado toast (basic, I know) and then transition to a pre-weekend beer in the afternoon. The bookstore has that quiet reverence of a library that keeps me focused, but with the ambient noise and light visual distractions of open floorplans to keep me energized.”

Rannah Amjadi sometimes uses her favorite place in Seattle — Elliott Bay Book Company — as a workspace on Fridays. (Photo courtesy of Raanah Amjadi)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.): 

  • “Make lists. I am a huge proponent of list making. Lists are your friend! You need to get your thoughts and actions out of your head and onto paper – physical or digital. Once you can clearly see what’s ahead of you, you can create a plan of attack.
  • Prioritize sleep. You and your brain need sleep to reset. The work will get done better and faster if you sleep. Deprioritize whatever Netflix show you’re binging and get to bed sooner.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. As deeply as you feel and obsess over your own life, so does everyone else over their own. No one is thinking about that stupid misspelled email you sent or the awkward comment you made in the meeting – they’re thinking about their own stupid emails and awkward comments! Try to keep perspective that your life is so much more than work and give yourself permission to act upon that perspective.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “I’m a Windows lifer. *Pounds chest in solidarity*”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Hm Capt. Janeway. I’m a big fan of strong female leaders.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Oh come on, transporter 100 percent! There would be no concept of long distance relationships. You could keep friends, family, and loved ones close no matter where you wanted to live — that is incredibly freeing. Of course, you could also see the world a lot faster, but I kind of like the hustle and bustle of airports. Prime people watching.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “I would give it to a better suited entrepreneur to find a startup opportunity. I’m way too risk adverse when it comes to money. I’d want to invest in real estate or put it in savings right away! Cool, right?”

I once waited in line for … “The 2010 Duke-UNC game in Cameron Indoor Stadium. I slept in a line overnight outside in the middle of winter to see the game. I’m admittedly not a huge sports fan, but apparently that was the thing to do your freshman year. We were the last group let in and Duke won, so it was definitely worth it!”

Your role models: “This may sound like a cliché, but my role models really are my parents. Like many others, my mom and dad had to leave their home country due to a revolution and begin anew in the United Sates with pretty much nothing to their name. They had to leave behind a life that was set — the career, the community, the comfort — for something uncertain and rather isolating. But despite those setbacks, they created a beautiful life together and raised two somewhat decent human beings. They built a small business together and nurtured a new community of friends who now have become family. They redefined their idea of comfort and found happiness in life’s little joys. My parents are strength, resilience, and love personified. I adore them.”

Greatest game in history: “Backgammon is the greatest game in history! I love how it’s strategic thinking at a measured pace. My parents are crazy amazing at it and really make the whole game look like an art. Every roll, every move is full of thought and skill. It also goes great with back patios and strong Persian tea.”

Best gadget ever: “I’m stuck between the Litter Genie and the PetSafe automatic cat feeder, both of which changed my life. I do realize this makes me look like a crazy cat lady, but I’m OK with it. It is the truth.”

First computer: “Our first computer was a Compaq desktop from the early ’90s. I played a lot of Minesweeper and Aladdin games on that bad boy.”

Current phone: “iPhone 8S.”

Favorite app: “MyFitnessPal. The only thing that keeps me accountable for not eating like a 10-year-old kid. Left to my own devices, I would eat mac and cheese and French fries every day.”

Favorite cause: “Black Lives Matter.”

Most important technology of 2016: Consumerization of augmented reality.”

Most important technology of 2018: “AI and the proliferation of bots (physical or digital) to enhance human capacity.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “The best advice I ever received from my sister, a fellow geek, was how to think about each step in my career. She taught me how to be mindful about new opportunities and how to guide my own path by asking three questions:

  • Are the people you’re working with people you enjoy spending the majority of your week with, can learn from, and be supported by?
  • Is the focus or subject of your work something that excites you and gets you out of bed in the morning?
  • Is the function of your work–what you’re physically doing every day–giving you as much energy back as you put in?

“Each of these elements have taken turns in the priority position at various points throughout my life. I’ve always tried to find opportunities that give me at least two out of the three, which has served me well. I now have a job with all three and I am holding on for dear life.”

Twitter: @theranjad

LinkedIn: Raanah Amjadi

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