Making the Move: Stay-At-Home-Mom to Exec Assistant to Business Program Manager

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!

Today, I am sharing the career journey of Esther Chen, Business Program Manager at Microsoft where she actively leads the hiring and recruiting efforts within the Intelligence Platform (Azure Data) organization. In this role, she partners closely with hiring managers, business leaders, recruiters, and the admin community to identify hiring needs and organize hiring events. To reach diverse talent, she also collaborates with the Hispanics & Latinx and Blacks @ Microsoft ERGs to organize networking events and virtual interviewing days.

Fun Fact: Over 200 job offers were made in the span of 6 months!

Feeling lost in the beginning

Esther shares that she wasn’t really career-minded back in college. She was undeclared in her first 2 years because she wasn’t sure what to do, and only chose to study Social Sciences because she was forced to choose a major in her 3rd year. Like many other students upon graduation, she didn’t feel capable or ready to work.

When her parents gave her 2 choices: get a job or go back to school, Esther decided to pursue grad school and earn a Masters of Urban Regional Planning because she was interested in community development. This led her to work for a non-profit organization, but then she got laid off because of funding issues.

Becoming a stay-at-home mother

With a supportive husband by her side, Esther decided to take a couple of years off to figure out her next steps. She started retracing her past experiences and fondly recalled working at a restaurant during her grad school days. Her strong people skills brought her back into the hospitality industry where she led new employee training. Everything she taught came from her empathy and care for people and having the goal of giving them a positive experience.

Esther then had her first child and decided to focus on raising her children for the next 7 years. During this time, she kept herself busy with different side projects—from wedding planning to running a cookie business! No money was made but the experience was priceless (with kids in tow).

Rejoining the workforce

While her children grew up, Esther was an active parent at their school. Once her daughter started kindergarten, the principal of the school asked Esther to apply for an Executive Assistant role that opened up. Although she had no idea what an Executive Assistant was at the time, she learned quickly and became an expert at calendaring (an essential skill in this busy world), office management, and teacher/parent relationships. She also took on other opportunities such as fundraising, program managing, contract development, and learning how to operate a successful and high performing school.

Transitioning into Tech

After a few years of working at the school and a local non-profit, Esther’s friend told her about an opportunity at Microsoft. At first, she was hesitant about joining big tech because she wanted to be creative and have more flexibility. However, she decided to apply despite not having any tech experience.

Instead of thinking that the odds were against her, she went into the interview thinking that the hiring manager was rooting for her! This gave her enough confidence to lead the interview conversation and ask great questions like:

  • What are you looking for in building your team?
  • What can I do to make the team successful?
  • What do you see as success for the team?
  • How do you best receive feedback?

Esther’s growth mindset led her to become a Business Administrator at Microsoft where she supported an entire team remotely with headcount, spatial allocation, equipment management, team morale, business planning, equipment distribution, hiring and recruiting, calendaring, and more.

Advocating for career development

With a keen ambition to grow in her career, Esther always talked about what she wanted to do beyond the traditional R&R (role and responsibilities) of an admin. She would clarify what she wanted to learn or do, and then ask her hiring manager for guidance as a sponsor. Through weekly 1on1 conversations with her director, she often dropped hints about what she wanted to pursue and naturally found ways to build skills to navigate her way into this field.

In every performance review, she would also share her Career Roadmap and where she planned to be in the future (6 months, 1 year, etc). She aspired towards program management at the business level and connected with other admins who had successfully moved into those roles.

In her first 2 years, Esther had regular 1on1 conversations with her organization’s Chief of Staff, who eventually gave Esther the opportunity to become a Business Program Manager and oversee the talent management and hiring side of the business. In this role, Esther enjoys the day-to-day planning for her growing team and hopes to grow her skillset and understanding of people and culture programs, finance, headcount, and more.

Advice for admins who want to #MakeTheMove

Go beyond the admin mentality. It is easy to feel stuck in the monotony of admin life because you keep using the same tools to do the same activities. This can lead to burnout or a feeling of disconnect because you don’t feel a sense of ownership. Remember that an admin’s role is powerful and should not be overlooked because it has a ripple effect that brings success to the entire team. Beat the admin mentality by envisioning what you can learn and do next.

Advocate for yourself. Oftentimes, admins think they can’t move out of their role or scope. Esther says that it can happen, you just need to find the right avenue to get your foot in the door. Moments of change can be moments of opportunity, like re-orgs or leadership changes.

Build relationships. Take the time to build your rapport as a reliable team member and build relationships with managers in and outside of your org. When the moments of change eventually happen, don’t be afraid to approach others and express your interest in a change of scope.

Tips for those who want to make a career transition

  1. Come with the perspective that the hiring manager WANTS you. Imposter syndrome will always be there to make you feel like you’re not doing enough but remember that people are rooting for you and that every situation is a valuable learning experience.
  2. It’s not about being the best but being at your best. It comes down to how you support others when they are going through challenging times and being a part of a community that you can learn, grow, and live life with.
  3. The growth mindset is powerful even if you don’t have all the qualifications. Hiring managers will advocate for candidates who may not have the best skills but are willing to ask questions, learn, and listen.
  4. Don’t be afraid to make random connections! Everyone is connected to everyone, and you never know where one conversation can take you. People want to help you as much as they can if it is reasonable. Ask questions, participate in conversations, and create an open environment for others to engage!
  5. Whatever you’re learning now will never be wasted, it can only help you in the future. From taking a random history class to volunteering at her daughter’s kindergarten class, let Esther’s journey prove that every bit of experience you gain throughout life can help you later in your career!

Thank you so much to Esther for taking the time to share such an inspiring journey. I loved the authenticity of our conversation, and how serendipitous everything was. I hope you enjoyed this refreshing perspective on life and career, and please check out the other Making the Move posts for more inspiration.

Thanks for checking out my blog! I’m Karen and I am passionate about sharing my learnings, experiences, and perspectives to help others in their lives and careers. You’ll find a mix-mash of content from paying off student loans to creating a career walking deck for your next job interview, so enjoy whatever you find and share your feedback with me at or share this with others. 

P.S. I do this mainly for fun and out of passion, with a hint of hope that I can retire off this one day 😅 You can also connect with me on LinkedIn or check out my TikTok and Instagram. Have an awesome day!