From Addis Ababa to Microsoft: The Extraordinary Career of Betsegaw Tadele


A tale of talent that transcends borders

In 2013, the eyes of Ethiopia and the United States were focused on one man as he gave a speech to the graduating class of Morehouse College, of which he was a part. Graduating with a 3.99 GPA his speech was followed by a standing ovation from the entire college. Among the attendees was the then-U.S. president Barack Obama, who didn’t hold back in his admiration for the young man giving the fiery speech. Betsegaw Tadele’s accomplishment inspired and delighted many Ethiopians across the world. Today, he holds the esteemed position of Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft. Let us embark on a journey to discover his remarkable life story and the invaluable insights he has gained along the way.

Early Life

Betsegaw discovered his passion for programming in the 4th grade while growing up in Addis Ababa. He always knew that he wanted to pursue a career in Computer Science. However, things didn't go according to plan. Betsegaw initially wanted to study Computer Science at Addis Ababa University, but his family insisted that he choose Computer Engineering. Unfortunately, he ended up at Arba Minch University, which didn't offer a Computer Engineering program. This meant he had to settle for an Electrical Engineering degree, which he spent two years on without much enthusiasm.

During those two years, Betsegaw focused on searching and applying for scholarships to study abroad. He knew that studying overseas was a risk, but he took the chance because it was his best opportunity for success. As he candidly puts it, "If the scholarship didn't work out, I would have been in trouble."

Fortunately, after his two-year stint at Arba Minch University, Betsegaw's luck turned around when he secured a fully funded scholarship at Morehouse College to pursue his dream of studying Computer Science. Although he had to start his degree from scratch without transferring any credits from his previous courses in Ethiopia, Betsegaw embraced the challenge with newfound passion and determination. The result was nothing short of remarkable. His exceptional dedication and hard work paid off, as Betsegaw graduated with a stellar GPA of 3.99, earning him the esteemed role of valedictorian speaker for his graduating class in 2013.

Productivity Hacking

To have such an accomplishment, Betsegaw acknowledges that he had to work hard - sometimes studying up to 14 hours per day. But he says that his passion, made the hard work tolerable, even enjoyable. 

Betsegaw describes himself as a "productivity hacker" who seeks efficient methods to accomplish tasks effectively and save time. He learned this valuable lesson during his first year at Morehouse College when he realized that traditional note-taking using notebooks was time-consuming. To overcome this challenge, Betsegaw turned to Evernote, a digital note-taking app, which streamlined his note organization process and saved him approximately 15% of his study time.

In another instance during his university years, Betsegaw and his peers enrolled in two elective courses. One course involved programming and deploying an application into the App Store, while the other focused on world religions. To maximize his time and effort, Betsegaw developed a flashcard app that helped him memorize the content of his religion class while simultaneously addressing the requirements of the programming course. This clever approach allowed him to achieve a perfect score in both classes. By embracing such efficient techniques, Betsegaw saves time and energy and consistently delivers high-quality work.

Entering Microsoft

Betsegaw says that he never believed he would have the opportunity to work at Microsoft because he believed he lacked the qualifications. However, he went to attend a seminar organized by Microsoft. After the seminar, Microsoft requested resumes from the attendees. Without expecting much, Betsegaw submitted his resume. To his astonishment, three months later, he discovered three emails from Microsoft in his spam folder. These emails invited him to Seattle for an interview and offered him an internship position. Following the successful completion of his internship, he was offered a full-time job position at Microsoft.

Today, Betsegaw plays a vital role at Microsoft, specifically in the Windows division. His primary responsibility involves developing custom products to enhance productivity and fill knowledge gaps for engineers working on Windows. With Windows being a product used on an astronomical scale, engineers require specialized tools to efficiently manage the system. Betsegaw's creations bridge these gaps, contributing to the overall success of Windows.

Horizontal Growth: Valuing Autonomy Over Power

When Betsegaw was offered a leadership position at Microsoft, he made an unexpected decision. Preferring to remain in a technical role, he declined the offer. For him, management and leadership positions require a distinct skill set that diverges from his technical expertise. Betsegaw's devotion to the technical aspects of his job led him to choose horizontal growth—remaining in the same position within the company while increasing his influence and autonomy. This approach allows him to initiate his projects, giving him the freedom to implement his ideas. While he has no passion for power or administrative responsibilities, Betsegaw admits that his perspective on leadership is gradually evolving, thanks to the insights and perspectives shared by his brother, who occupies a leadership position.

What the Future Holds

Betsegaw doesn’t imagine his future without programming. Continuing to enhance his skills, he seeks to increase the scale and impact of the work he does. He also plans to improve the field of software engineering in Ethiopia. His advice to aspiring programmers is “Work on what you’re passionate about”. Betsegaw believes that passion facilitates success, and young people should steer their lives toward their passion as much as possible. Betsegaw's story serves as an inspiration to all, reminding us that with passion, hard work, and a commitment to efficiency, we can overcome obstacles and carve our path to success in the ever-evolving world of technology.

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