Athena at Work: Surbhi Lohia, Product Manager at Microsoft Teams

Highlighting Surbhi’s Passion to Help Women Break into PM

Athena Alum Network
7 min readFeb 11, 2022

A 2019 graduate and Athena Scholar, Surbhi Lohia studied Computer Science and Economics at Barnard. She spent her summers invested in tech, working as a product manager intern for theSkimm and Microsoft and a software engineering intern with Reltio. After graduation, Surbhi joined Microsoft full-time as a Product Manager for Microsoft Teams where she currently works.

Surbhi is passionate about empowering women in tech, and she spoke with the Athena Center about her journey to the industry. To help students learn more about Product Management (PM) and break into the tech industry, Surbhi designed a 5-week starter course and community geared towards college-aged women looking to break into PM. Learn more about Surbhi, her career path and enthusiasm for product management, and the SurbhiLately Product Management Fellowship below!

What is product management? How would you describe it?

Product Management is the role that defines the what and the why of a product or business. Product Managers, often known as PMs, have a deep focus on the products’ users and their specific needs, and work to build new functionality that aims to solve a specific pain point or need of a user. I often think of PMs as the glue of the organization — they sit between several disparate parts of a larger company, and define the product while taking input from different roles such as engineers, designers, data science, and marketing to name a few.

What did your path to PM look like? Did you know that you wanted to work in PM before landing your first job?

Being at a school like Barnard, I always felt that I was a more interdisciplinary-minded person. A job that had a one track description would never be the fit for me. Rather, I needed something that not only allowed me to utilize my technical computer science background but also allowed me to bring in some of my knowledge from my other Barnard classes, such as psychology, art history, economics, and more. When I learned about PM, I felt it was a good fit for someone like me who maintained a lot of different interests but wanted to be rooted in a technical role. I interned in PM twice before my full time job: once at a startup in NYC and then the summer before my senior year at Microsoft, where I then joined full-time after graduating.

How does your Computer Science major relate to your career path so far?

Working on a technical product in a role that works closely with engineering and other technical functions, I would say my computer science background has really helped me succeed in this capacity. Computer science gave me the technical savviness to walk into engineering conversations and understand complexity and how to build, but my leadership and business acumen is what makes me successful in my role. It’s often said that a computer science or technical background is a prerequisite for a career in product management, but I think a lot of the technicals can be learned on the job, and what’s most necessary is a willingness to learn and a growth mindset.

I believe the power of female communities and female mentorship has really helped me get to my point in my career — all those moments when someone lent out a helping hand and shared their wisdom — and I want to ensure other women have that figure in their lives and can achieve the greatest of their potential as well.

Tell us more about your leadership and business acumen. How did you develop these skills?

The best way to develop leadership, business sense, and strategic decision making skills is, frankly, to be a leader. Whether that is in a club, organization, or a team — leading other people and making decisions that impact the outcome of your team forces you to think long-term and strategically. My experience being the Chair of the Senior Fund my senior year really helped shape me into a leader with strong business sense. Ultimately, one learns the most about their job on the job. I think working on a product like Microsoft Teams before and through the pandemic really pushed me to develop my leadership and strategic product thinking skills.

What has it been like to work at Microsoft Teams during the pandemic?

Prior to the pandemic, I never really thought about Teams as a product that had the ability to re-imagine what a new workforce could look like. I thought of it as what people on the job use to chat and call one another with, but working on Teams before and through the pandemic has really allowed me to think about the massive possibilities of a future workforce and how we have the ability to build for a future to fit our needs. Working on Teams during the pandemic was a lot of work, stemming from the sheer need to deliver high quality features in a short amount of time to fulfill the needs of the millions of customers that were converting to a strictly remote work format by the day. However, I look back with massive pride that much of the world was able to seamlessly move to working online, and still are working majority online today, because of the many hours my team and I put in early on to ensure we were reaching a high bar of quality and functionality.

What challenges are you looking forward to working on in the future?

I’ve really enjoyed thinking about the future of work and the problems around it — I see myself investing more time into this space and continuing to think of solutions.

“Future of work” really entails how moving forward we imagine our work-life balance to look like. For a majority of individuals that means working in mostly remote or hybrid roles. To me working in this space means thinking about how the workplace will evolve, and how we as individuals will change how we define work and what we do for work over the next few years. I’m also really excited by new technologies, including web3 and crypto. I’m hoping to spend more time in 2022 learning more and diving in!

What’s your superpower?

I always felt that one of my strengths was in my ability to connect with people and especially in empowering other women. I really feel my time at Barnard showed me the power and strength of female communities, and I care about cultivating those relationships and communities now several years after college as well. I believe the power of female communities and female mentorship has really helped me get to my point in my career — all those moments when someone lent out a helping hand and shared their wisdom — and I want to ensure other women have that figure in their lives and can achieve the greatest of their potential as well.

A screenshot of Surbhi’s TikTok profile, @surbhilately

Tell us about how you’re motivated to help other women break into PM.

Over the past 6 months, I started posting on TikTok with some of my big learnings as a young woman in the tech industry, what it has been like to build and work through the pandemic as someone early in my career, and [about] product management. Of all my videos, the ones where I talked about what I do at my job and how I broke into it were always the ones that sparked the most questions. I had many women reaching out to me personally asking for advice and mentorship about how they themselves can break into PM or prepare themselves for a career in Product Management. I realized a lot of the ambiguity about PM stems from not much formal education around the career in college. There is certainly no major for PM and at Barnard/Columbia we don’t even have electives geared towards the career path. Considering more recently there are more opportunities to break into PM from college directly, I thought it would be a great chance to equip college-aged women with the information and skills needed to interview and learn about what a career in PM really means through some sort of a course-like program and thus the fellowship was created. I didn’t expect so much interest — I wanted to take on just 5 students for my initial cohort so I could really focus on tailoring the experience to their needs and questions, however I’ve received over 100 applications for this first cohort. It’s just even more evident to me that this fellowship is really needed and people have a huge desire to learn about this space!

How can Barnard and Athena alumnae connect with you? And, how can students and professionals learn more about PM?

Outside of email and LinkedIn, the best place to stay updated on what I’m building is on TikTok and Instagram! I use @SurbhiLately across all my platforms and it’s the best place to connect and check in on what is the latest with my fellowship program!

Thankfully, there’s a lot of great content out there in the form of blogs, newsletters, Twitter posts, and Youtube videos. If you’re interested in making the jump to PM, or even learning more about what the role entails, I strongly suggest reading blogs (or checking out my TikTok @surbhilately) to learn more!

Learn more about the SurbhiLately Product Management Fellowship here.

Athena at Work is a series of posts that showcases the diversity of professional choices that Athena and Barnard alumnae have taken on post Barnard.



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