Skip to main content

Returning to Microsoft and Minecraft

Danielle Ma (MMM '22) is applying the focus on human-centered design she learned in MMM into her work at Microsoft, where she's leading consumer insights for the Minecraft franchise.


Presenting your work as an intern to members of leadership at one of the largest technology companies in the world would be daunting to most. Presenting it five times to an ever-more-senior group of leaders at that company would sound even more nerve-wracking, but Danielle Ma (MMM '22) experienced that at Microsoft.  

Ma interned at Microsoft during her time in Northwestern's MMM program, a dual-degree program between Northwestern Engineering and the Kellogg School of Management. Ma interned in the company's Xbox division, where she focused on the uber-popular game Minecraft. Her internship was so successful that she's returning to the company full-time as a product marketing manager leading consumer insights for the Minecraft franchise.

“This is pretty much a dream for me,” she said. “I get to talk to humans, and in the case of Minecraft, lots of cute kids. I get to spend my time thinking about their motivations, pain points, sources of delight. That’s what I’m most looking forward to.” 

Ma’s MMM experiences helped fuel her success. During that time, she focused intently on the human-centered design approach the program teaches.

“You cannot escape the MMM program without talking to humans,” she said. “Human-centered design is the antidote to navel-gazing corporations, and I knew I wanted that to sit at the center of my business school experience.” 

She also learned the importance of being able to simply communicate complex ideas. For Ma, that type of communication should never include phrases often mocked in Dilbert cartoons – things such as “synergy” and “economies of scale.” 

“The best, most impactful insights are written in plain language,” she said. “They uncover something perplexing or unarticulated about human behavior, and that’s where their power lies — not in industry jargon or complicated math or traditional business school language.”

So when she was asked to present her work as an intern to leadership at Microsoft, she focused on doing so clearly and plainly. Then she was asked to present it again. And again. And again and again. 

“My boss and mentors saw the value of the work I’d created, and they wanted it shared as broadly as possible," she said. "I fielded thoughtful questions and requests to use my work across other teams. That was a high I’ll never forget.” 

Ma’s MMM success grabbed attention outside the program and Microsoft. She was featured in May as one 2022’s “Best & Brightest” by Poets & Quants, a key website for prospective MBA students. In the feature on her, Ma discussed her belief in the power of human-centered design. 

“I believe it’s the future of business," she said in the story, "both as a framework for how we should tackle business challenges and an ethos with which I want to lead.”

Now she’ll be able to show that type of leadership at Microsoft with the Minecraft team as it seeks to evolve the game in an increasingly competitive space. To do that most effectively, Ma said she plans to rely on key lessons from her MMM experience. 

“When we concept a new game or content series, I’ll be the person who slows the strategy conversation to ask what we know about our end users,” she said. “Who are they? What are the tensions in their lives? Where do we fit in?”

When she does that, she said she’ll carry the confidence the Poets & Quants honor helped give her.

“It means a lot. I’m still a little stunned that it happened,” she said. “I feel lucky to have that as a little reminder of my work and accomplishments from the last two years.”

Back to top