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Microsoft's Peggy Johnson is having a spectacular career thanks to a fluke conversation she had in college (MSFT)

Julie Bort
Peggy Johnson Microsoft

Business Insider/Michael Seto


  • Microsoft's dealmaker Peggy Johnson studied engineering in college due to a fluke. 
  • She was a business major but when she found herself running an errand to the engineering department she had a conversation there that changed her life.
  • Thanks to that conversation she discovered engineering and has gone on to become a major force in the tech industry.


Peggy Johnson is Microsoft's executive vice president of business development, the company's top dealmaker. She was one of Satya Nadella's first new hires when he was promoted t0 CEO in 2014.

Johnson and her team work on everything from partnerships to acquisitions (like LinkedIn). Plus she manages Microsoft's VC fund Microsoft Ventures, which in three years has backed about three dozen startups.

And none of it would have happened if not for a fluke errand she ran in college, she revealed on a post on LinkedIn.

She was born to a big family, No. 14 out of 15 kids, and when she went to college she followed in the footsteps of her older siblings and majored in business. She got a job on campus and one day had to deliver a package to someone in the engineering department. She had never been there and got lost so she went to the department's executive assistants offices intending to ask for directions.

Little did she know that right before she walked in, those assistants were discussing how to attract more women into the program. They didn't know Johnson was just there to deliver some mail. They thought a woman had strolled in to enroll in the engineering department.

They invited her to sit and they quizzed her. They asked her what she was studying, if she liked math and science and solving problems and what made her consider engineering.

But she had never considered engineering before. So their questions made her think.

"The truth was that I loved math and I loved science. I took two years of calculus in high school, and nearly every science class my school offered. But nobody had ever taken the time to encourage me in that direction. Nobody had asked me those questions," Johnson recounted in the post.

The very next day, she switched her major to engineering. She graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and landed a job at one of the major San Diego tech companies, Qualcomm where she had a 25-year career working her way up to executive vice president before Nadella poached her.

Johnson shared this story to kick off her involvement with Code.org’s annual Computer Science Education Week,  which encourages teachers to teach kids to code via a special program called Hour of Code. The goal is to make sure the young Peggy Johnsons of the world will find their callings, too.

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