UW Bothell MBA gave Microsoft leader a mindset

Aseem Datar / Marc Studer photo

By Douglas Esser
Aseem Datar, a leader in Microsoft’s fast-growing Azure cloud-computing platform, said his MBA experience at the University of Washington Bothell was uncomfortable, which is exactly what he wanted.

“Anything that makes me uncomfortable, that I don’t know about, drives me to work in that space,” said Datar, who first came from India to earn a master’s in Electrical Engineering in 2002 at the University of Washington. The following summer, he interned at Microsoft and then became a permanent employee in 2004.

As an engineer, he was driven to learn more about business and so entered the two-year program for the MBA, which he received in 2009. The opportunity to keep learning and up your skills, Datar said, is “one of the beauties of being at Microsoft.”

A career path in program management, planning, marketing and sales led to Datar’s current position as chief of staff for Jason Zander, the executive vice president for Azure. Since 2014, Datar has led the team responsible for operations and business growth for Azure. The commercial cloud business has been growing at better than 90 percent a year. Providing massive computing power, Azure’s data centers deliver more than 200 services to more than a billion customers across the globe.

Datar had heard about the UW Bothell MBA program from colleagues at Microsoft. And while the program did require an investment of time, he liked the flexibility of having classes on the Bothell campus at night, plus weekend meetings. “It was a fantastic experience, fairly taxing, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he said.

Another attraction, Datar said, was being part of a close cohort of students. “It was not just the professors but also my classmates.”

About 40 people went through the program together. Some others from Microsoft but also from T-Mobile, Boeing and a lot of startups — “a mix of energies that people brought to the table.” Datar is still in contact with friends he made.

He also remains in contact with professors, such as Sandeep Krishnamurthy, dean of the School of Business. External guest speakers also left a lasting impression, Datar said, including Jim Donald, who was CEO of Starbucks at the time.

There were aha moments when Datar learned something new and thought, “How can I apply that?” But the real value of the UW Bothell MBA was the mindset, he said.

“It was less about the concepts and more about a way of thinking that the MBA cultivated in all of us,” Datar said. “It’s not a content skill, it’s a life skill — the ability to go deep and wide at the same time: Ask why we’re doing things a certain way. What’s the crux of the issue? How do you get down to the bottom of deep understanding?”

Datar, who is still under 40, said he feels fortunate to be front and center during a digital transformation.

“I think it’s phenomenal to be in this industry at such a big inflection point. The cloud computing space continues to solve massive challenges in the industry. I think we’re at the point of complete transformation,” Datar said.

From 2011 to 2015, Datar taught some MBA classes at UW Bothell, but with a challenging job and “two young ones” at home, time is precious. His favorite sport of cricket has taken a back seat. He still talks with some UW Bothell MBA classes and likes to hear what students are thinking, what tools they are using and how they have advanced.

Datar also serves as an adviser to the Delta Sigma Pi professional business chapter on campus. His advice to anyone considering an MBA? Make yourself uncomfortable.

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