A Customer-centric Approach to Tech: Stephen Sae-Joon Smith ’18 BSBA (MIS)

Sept. 6, 2019

Stephen Smith

Stephen Sae-Joon Smith ’18 BSBA (MIS)

In a world of instant communication and ever-evolving technology, it may feel like there is never a moment to pause and reflect. This is not the case for Eller alumnus Stephen Sae-Joon Smith ’18 BSBA (MIS). Technology pushes him to take a step back, look at the big picture and reflect on the right path forward.

Before attending Eller, Smith completed his first year of college at Brigham Young University (BYU), where he studied computer science. “I quickly learned that computer science programs are very focused on technical skills, whereas I wanted to find a program that had a practical combination of both the business and the technical,” he says. “I was interested in the MIS program at BYU, but when I found out that Eller’s MIS program is one of the top-ranked programs in the nation, I knew I had to apply for it.”


Stephen Smith
Stephen Sae-Joon Smith ’18 BSBA (MIS)

Once at Eller, the Tech Core program caught Smith’s eye. Formerly known as Tech.Global, Tech Core provides University of Arizona students on-the-job training and an opportunity to contribute to technology innovations and solutions across campus in areas like web development, mobile development and VR.

“Tech Core seemed like the perfect way to pair the skills I was learning in the classroom with real-life experience,” says Smith. “The program helped me gain technical skills in building software and also learn how to work collaboratively with customers so I can better understand their needs for the project and gain valuable feedback on my work.”

After graduating from Eller in 2019, Smith landed a job as a software engineer on the payments team at Microsoft. “I can honestly say that Tech Core is one of the main reasons why I have this job, and I am super thankful to the program,” he says.

The skills that Smith learned during his time in Tech Core were put to the test during his interview process with Microsoft. “During one round of interviews, they give me a technical puzzle which required me to solve the problem with code,” he says. “The other individuals I was interviewing with were visibly nervous, and though they had strong technical skills, some failed to solve the problem or accidentally solved a similar problem because they did not fully understand the original question or work through the thought process correctly.” 

Smith wasn’t thwarted as easily. “Working with Tech Core, I got really good at taking a step back, looking at the entire problem and asking every question necessary to get the full picture,” he says—skills he learned through the trial-and error process infused within Tech Core.

The benefits from the Tech Core program didn’t stop there—Smith sees parallels between his work in Tech Core and his work at Microsoft on a daily basis. “Both groups are very customer-focused and geared towards finding solutions that get at the heart of the problems that our clients are facing,” he says.

By day, Smith works tirelessly on coding projects, ensuring that alerts are set up and running properly so that Microsoft’s suppliers, vendors and partners are paid on time and that payments are processed successfully. In his free time, he is exploring the possibilities in iOS programming and hopes to develop and launch an app of his own for smart devices.