Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks on ‘notion of empathy’ in life and work at UNL

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks on ‘notion of empathy’ in life and work at UNL
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, talks about life and business at UNL. UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA AT LINCOLN

When Satya Nadella got his first job at Microsoft in 1992, he made it through the grueling seven-hour interview of coding and puzzle exercises only to be stumped by one scenario question at the end:

You’re sitting at an intersection when you see a child fall. The light turns green. What do you do?

Nadella thought for a while, realizing there was no algorithm to give him the correct answer. So, he told the interviewer that he’d probably call 911.

“(The interviewer) gets up from his chair, walks me out, and he says, ‘You know, you need empathy. When a baby falls, the first thing you do is pick up the baby and hug them,’” Satya said.

But Nadella got the job anyway, and 27 years later, he’s the CEO of Microsoft. He shared this story with almost 1,000 University of Nebraska at Lincoln students, educators and alumni at the Lied Center in Lincoln on Thursday as he engaged in an on-stage conversation with Jeffrey Raikes, who grew up in Nebraska and is a former top executive at Microsoft. Raikes has been involved philanthropically with UNL and is the namesake for its Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management.

Nadella said he often revisits the experience at his first Microsoft interview because it was the first time he considered the “notion of empathy” to be so central in life and work.

The dialogue between Nadella and Raikes was open to the public as part of UNL’s 150th anniversary celebration. Raikes gave Nadella a tour of UNL and Lincoln’s various technological and innovative centers, including the Raikes School and Innovation Campus. Nadella also toured Hudl, a local company that offers web-based video analysis and coaching tools to professional, college and high school sports teams.

Nadella told Raikes on stage that he got a sense of Nebraska’s impact by visiting the community and seeing globally competitive companies like Hudl, and ambitious small businesses and startups that are productive and innovative.

“That’s what I got to experience,” Nadella said. “I see great things happening.”

Nadella also spoke about his recent best-selling book, “Hit Refresh,” in which he explores the need for empathy, individual change and the broader transformation happening within Microsoft. In his presentation, Nadella said the key is knowing which items need to be “refreshed.”

He shared about Microsoft’s efforts to lead the way in increasing diversity, highlighting the need to “look like the planet” if the goal is to do work for the entire planet.

After the presentation, Nadella met privately with Raikes students.

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said he’s excited about the plans that are already forming around agriculture technology.

“UNL is a global leader of higher education,” Green said. “Bringing someone like (Nadella) here … provides that learning opportunity, but it also signifies the fact that we are a globally leading institution to have someone like Satya here interacting with our students and our faculty and our community.”