Making the Move: Retail Employee With No Degree to Communications Manager at Microsoft

It takes time to figure out who you are and what you want in life. Growing up without much in the suburbs of Cincinnati with his mom and siblings, Josh’s mom taught him early on about the importance of having manners and treating people with kindness.

Today, Josh Roberts is a popular Communications Manager at Microsoft where he works closely with the leadership team to foster an engaging community of Communications professionals across the company—and he is achieving all of this without a formal university degree!

A few years ago, Josh wasn’t sure what to do with his life and career, and was going through what he now calls a quarter-life crisis. Thanks to a strong support system around him, Josh learned more about himself and unpacked what it was like being queer in the midwest. Over time, he discovered and embraced his sense of self and identity—letting go of the need to please everyone around him.

Feeling aimless and unsure about life and career

Back in high school, Josh aspired to become a music teacher. Being the first in his family to attend college, there was a lot of pressure to go to school and graduate with a degree. After a semester in music school, Josh had planned to take a semester off but ended up never going back. He tried again six months later, studying English at the University of Cincinnati—only to realize that he wasn’t fit for the traditional world of academics. 

Instead of wasting time and money on school, he decided to enter the workforce and became the Assistant Manager at a gas station where he discovered his interest in content creation from helping out with store promotions. This led him to earn a certificate in journalism and broadcast at a local technical school where he recorded his own radio show and wrote a news program.

Even after earning his certificate, Josh wasn’t sure what he could do with it. He felt aimless and caught up in the day-to-day monotony of life. In a way, dropping out of university took away some of the structure in his life—structure he was craving. He eventually left his job at the gas station—bouncing from one soul sucking job to the next—waiting for the right opportunity while delivering pizzas to make ends meet.

One day, he looked at himself in the mirror and asked “what’s really happening?”. It was a wake up call.

Networking is #1: Treat people like human beings

As fate had it, there was a job opening at the Microsoft retail store in Cincinnati and Josh knew someone from high school who ended up referring him. In an inclusive work environment that promoted growth and impact, Josh was starting to thrive—flexing his people skills and customer service experiences in creative ways.

In his role as a part-time Product Advisor, he loved welcoming customers into the store and helping them make purchasing decisions. A few months later, he was promoted to a full-time position as a Gaming Expert where he had opportunities to collaborate with Microsoft HQ teams to execute marketing strategies and campaigns. He invested his energy into building, marketing, and maintaining a strong community of gamers through events like Fortnite Fridays and partnering with gaming non-profit Extra Life. His efforts resulted in him being recognized as Employee of the Quarter where he was invited to the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, WA for an appreciation event.

From a Microsoft retail store to the corporate HQ

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world by storm, Microsoft Store employees started supporting enterprise customers virtually and running training sessions for products like Microsoft Teams. From there, Josh developed virtual community programs like virtual graduations and built supplementary educational programs and virtual field trips for students around the world. After some time, the retail store team became focused on e-commerce sales which Josh was less interested in. He knew it was time to apply all of his growth and learning from the past couple of years to something else that excited him.

A couple weeks later, a new career program was launched—and it was exactly what Josh was looking for! The ACE for Stores program was aimed at helping Microsoft retail store employees pursue corporate roles and career paths. For weeks, Josh focused solely on prepping for the interview. Throughout this stressful time, he found that meditation and reflection were very important in helping him stay calm and in control.

You don’t have to follow the rules to be successful. Focus on what you want and need.


As part of the first ACE for Stores cohort, he ultimately landed a job as a Communications Manager on the Community Operations & Experiences team. These days, he is working on huge and exciting communications events across the country—earlier this year, he was flown out to LA for the Bing AI Launch (so jelly)! 

Final tips and advice

  1. Have a growth mindset. Think about all the experience you do have and what you can do with it.
  2. Get serious about what you’re looking for and find a community of people who have the same aspirations as you or are already doing those things.
  3. The power of your words is greater than any amount of wealth. Listen well, limit your assumptions, and treat humans the way you want to be treated.
  4. Be honest with yourself and recognize when things are not OK. Then start doing something about it.
  5. Sometimes you feel ready for the opportunity, but get burnt out or caught up in your nerves and flounder… leading to missed opportunities. Slow down, remain level-headed, assess the situation. There is always a path through!

Thanks for reading!

Thank you so much to Josh for taking the time to share an incredibly challenging, but inspiring journey. I absolutely loved the passion and energy that he brought into our conversation, and hope this helped give you some perspective on career advancement.

The Making the Move series strives to inspire those who come from unique backgrounds and want to break into the world of tech. Here’s a secret… You don’t need to be a computer science major! Please read more inspiring stories here and check out more career tips and advice on this blog.If you or someone you know is interested in sharing your story, please email me at