AS A PSYCHOLOGY MAJOR, HOW DID YOU END UP IN THE TECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY?
When I initially started school, I went into the college of engineering for genetic engineering. I chose the University of Michigan because it was one of the few schools offering that track back then. As I started my junior year, I got a call from my dad saying he had just lost his job. They laid him off after twenty-seven years and that was a huge turning point in my life, a lot of things changed from that moment going forward. What I saw happen to my dad after that had even more of an impact on me. He had really lost himself, it hurt his ego because he really defined himself through his job, which I didn’t realize until he lost his job. Watching him go through that made me think about what I really wanted to do, especially because his profession was very specialized and a similar career path I was pursuing. I remember thinking, if an organization could dismiss you after twenty-seven years, what you really need to do throughout your career and in your life, is to create as much equity and value in yourself as possible. You truly need to value the work you are producing as much as the organization is valuing from your efforts.
I then made the bold decision to change majors, because when I looked into what a genetic engineering degree would get me, it was a very specialized career just like my dad’s. So I thought that would be a bad idea. I went to the career counseling office and asked them for guidance selecting another major, after focusing for three years on genetic engineering. They advised me to switch to psychology. It was more general and seemed like it could open more doors for me than genetic engineering. The career counseling office was amazing. When it was time to graduate I told them I didn’t have money for graduate school at the time and that I needed a job right after graduation. I asked them what kind of jobs I could do with my degree and they put me through a series of tests that suggested a management position, saying, “You are a prime candidate for a great manager.” But what is a twenty-one-year-old supposed to do with that? I didn’t have any experience in management, so I just started applying for any job that had a management training program. One of them was Cigna Health Insurance. They have the most practical training program that teaches you how to be a great people leader. So for four years, That’s what I did. I went from managing a team of twenty to managing a day and a night shift of six hundred people. I learned a ton about people: their motivations, how to manage them, how to work through issues, and who I should be as a leader. Then I decided to move to Seattle with my boyfriend and started looking for other opportunities. Tech was already starting to be big even in the 1990’s. So I started working for a company called Aldus, which was eventually bought by Adobe. That’s how I got into technology. The only “in” I really had was managing people, operations, and support teams so I went in managing customer support and operations teams. After four years with Adobe, I moved to Microsoft.
HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED YOUR CAREER MOVEMENT WITHIN MICROSOFT DURING YOUR 20+ YEAR CAREER?
My objective, because of my experience with my dad, was to learn as much about all the facets of running a company as I could. That way, at any point in time, if I decided I wanted to do something else or if the company decided I didn’t belong there anymore, I could walk out the door. I would still feel great that I had a lot of skills that I could apply in a lot of different fields. My primary objective has been to never become a subject matter expert. That’s opposite of what a lot of people have done. In my past jobs, whenever I had found myself in a position where everyone was looking to me for answers, I always thought to myself, “Oh, I guess it’s time for me to take another job!” As a result, I’ve crossed over into six different disciplines at Microsoft. One of the great things about the company is that it’s not hard to do that. When you have a core set of skills, the company is willing to take a risk and let you move into an area completely different than what you’ve done before, as long as you’re willing to take that risk yourself. I started in Operations, moved into Customer Marketing then did some Partner Marketing, and competitive recruit campaigns. From there I moved into Enterprise Services and helped our enterprise consultants repackage their IP and their engagement. We developed a business model where we repackaged that IP and created some solution accelerators. I created readiness programs for both our consultants as well as our partners, and eventually moved into our US subsidiary, where I learned about our sales teams and took on a role for licensing sales and marketing. This was a pivotal moment in our history where we were moving from consumer-packaged licensing into enterprise licensing. We built-out our licensing specialist channels and our large account resellers. With that, I helped define the software assurance value propositions and our enterprise agreement structure for about five years.
After that I asked myself, “What’s next? What haven’t I learned?” I ended up moving into the business group because I hadn’t learned how to build a product. I hadn’t learned engineering. I jumped into product management to figure out the value of the Windows client in the enterprise agreement, which was a big conundrum back then in the early 2000’s. I created the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack. I enabled several acquisitions with Microsoft and brought them together into this suite of products that complimented what the Windows client was and how it worked with Windows Server and System Center. I was promoted to run all of our Windows clients in the commercial product management team. I led the team through the development and successful adoption of Windows 7. Four years later, when we were going to release Windows 8, I recognized it wasn’t going to be a highly adopted enterprise product. The next three years were not going to be a very exciting three years for me professionally. So I decided to take a job back in the US subsidiary running our Cloud and Enterprise business. Azure at the time was a very small incubation product with ten million dollars in sales, so we needed to figure out how we were going to expand that growth. I took over the P&L business with Window Server, Systems Center, SQL, and this little Azure product to figure out how we could fill an ecosystem and drive marketing campaigns, awareness, and direct business while reconditioning our sales teams to think about services. I did that for another few years and then an old manager of mine came back onto the partner team, reached out and said, “Hey, we need to reboot the ecosystem.” He was right. I also saw this as a huge need when I was doing the same for our Cloud and Enterprise business. So I told him I was happy to come over and figure out how we could create an ecosystem that goes around our new business rather than our old business. My whole career has been focused on start-up projects; things we needed to do at Microsoft, where we saw a need but didn’t really know how to solve it. Someone needed to come over and take risks to tackle these problems. That’s what I love to do, I love to take on new challenges and just figure it out.
WHAT CAREER OPPORTUNITIES DO YOU SEE FOR WOMEN IN TECHNOLOGY THAT ARE NOT STEM ORIENTED?
There are so many. The thing is, sometimes people don’t see the opportunities because they think you have to be able to code and build a product. But there are so many tech jobs around running a business where what you’re selling and what you’re building is the technology. Looking at the world ahead, I don’t think there will be a business that doesn’t involve technology. Today, I’m working with farmers and IoT devices that allow them to farm better. It’s weird to think farming is moving towards technology. But the industry can’t afford not to. Across industries, business leaders are re-thinking the business model of the business. How do you think about the brand? How do you think about marketing it? How do you think about selling it? Who are your customers? How do you create great customer experiences? How do you create scale mechanisms to reach your customers in your market (which is where partners come in)? How do you run finance around that? How do you make sure the people you’re hiring are growing and hiring other great people? People management, leadership, HR systems; these are all questions you need to answer to successfully run an organization. And they’re all tech jobs. I think we can do a better job helping our young people understand these jobs are everywhere. I had a student from the University of Michigan job shadow me one time. She said she learned so much in that short amount of time that it helped her define her career goals. I believe in mentorship programs and job shadow programs to help students understand that these jobs are available and to help them dream of these careers.
WITH THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION CONTINUING TO EVOLVE, HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN A WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
There’s a lot of things I learned while working part-time for three and a half years while my kids were toddlers. First, you don’t have to go part time and give up twenty-five percent of your salary just to have a decent balance. Second, it’s all about setting boundaries and knowing what you’re willing to do and what is non-negotiable for you. Be very clear with people to set the right expectations. I think there’s a lot of fear around doing that. But what I found is that the clearer you are about setting those boundaries, the more respect and credibility you earn from your colleagues. I also think you’re much more productive when you have those personal deadlines. When you give yourself more time, things take more time. Third, I’ve learned that 100% doesn’t always exist. You can’t always expect to achieve 100%. For most things, when you get to 80% that’s usually good enough. The other 20% isn’t always worth it.
WHO HAVE BEEN YOUR MOST INFLUENTIAL ROLE MODELS, MALE OR FEMALE AND WHY?
My very first manager at Cigna was a key role model for me. She was a nurse who had come into this office position because they needed people who could look at the claims and actually perform medical evaluations on medical necessity. It was amazing to me that she was a nurse and was also running the claims office. On top of that, she was a single mom and one of the most patient people I had ever met. She had high expectations and could give you hard feedback. But you’d still be smiling at the end of the conversation. She had a growth mindset and was very empowering. I learned a lot about how to be a good coach, and what real leadership meant. She showed me honesty and transparency was very important. I’ve kept in touch with her throughout my career and have had multiple meetings with her. She continues to mentor me. Another key role model for me has been my friend Erin, who is a very strong leader at Microsoft. She’s on the engineering side and helps me form a good, balanced view of both life and the business, which helps me understand where people are coming from. From a career standpoint, it’s really nice having someone close, but far enough away to be able to coach you through difficult situations.
ARE THERE ANY BOOKS, PODCASTS OR OTHER EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS YOU WOULD RECOMMEND TO YOUNG WOMEN?
One of my absolute favorites is Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. It’s about stepping out, taking risks, being vulnerable, and doing your best everyday. She’s pretty remarkable and I love her message; you don’t have to be someone different or do things differently. You can be the best version of you and do what you do best. It’s a really inspirational book.
Another favorite is Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play Like a Champion by Pete Carol, the coach of the Seattle Seahawks. He has a whole course on “winning forever” that I was lucky enough to participate in through Microsoft. He ran us through the importance of positive thinking and positive coaching, expecting the best of yourself, giving yourself grace for your mistakes, and just going out and doing better every day. One of my key takeaways was this: at the end of the day, make an internal highlight reel, similar to reviewing the plays that worked in the game. I used to do a lowlight reel. On my way home, I would think of all the things I didn’t get through in the day, or all the conversations that didn’t go right; all the things I could have done better. I learned that’s just not helpful. All it did was reinforce the negatives. What you need to do is build a highlight reel and think about all the things that did go well and learn from the things that maybe didn’t go the way you’d hoped. Then you can think about how your day can be structured tomorrow to do even better.
Another book I love is called Essentialism by Greg McKeown. It’s awesome. It’s all about work-life balance and focusing on the things that matter, while letting go of the noise and not letting yourself get distracted by the unimportant things.
We also have Jae Allerd who leads a company called Simple Intentions come and lead mindfulness sessions for my team.
AS SOMEONE WHO HAS CARVED OUT A SUCCESSFUL CAREER PATH AS A FEMALE EXECUTIVE, ARE YOU CURRENTLY MENTORING OTHERS, IF SO WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU ARE DOING?
Mentoring others is extremely important to me. It inspires me and gives me energy. Another great thing that I learned from Pete Carol’s course is to develop a personal statement, and know who you are. You should be able to describe your personal philosophy on life in twenty-five words or less. When I challenged myself to do that, I found that coaching, mentoring, and helping people helps me learn and grow and gives me a lot of energy. When people ask me to coffee or ask to shadow me, I always say yes. There are three reasons: I love doing it. It expands my network. And I always learn something new. Probably thirty percent of the time, I continue connecting with them month after month or year after year. I see such great changes and growth in these people. It’s as rewarding as watching your own children grow. I love feeling like I’ve been a part of their growth.
Another way I try to help others is through women mentoring groups I’ve launched to help empower women to make sure they have a seat at the table and can contribute in meaningful ways. We are also very involved in Women In Technology (WIT) and helping the partner community increase their diversity and help women grow in their careers.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT ON THE HORIZON AT MICROSOFT THIS YEAR?
We have a lot of simplification underway both for our partners and for our customers. I have seen Microsoft do a lot of new things each year, before cleaning other things up, which can pile up each year and create a lot of complexity. I’m really excited about our current approach. We’re making an active effort to hit “file new” on a bunch of backend systems and tools, assets, and catalogs. That will simplify things and get rid of the extra noise. I think that will make an enormous difference. We’re taking a much stronger “One Microsoft” approach. Satya Nadella has made a huge difference in the organization. When we went through the challenges with the Department of Justice (DOJ), it really divided the organization by necessity. It’s taken a long time, but we needed to bring it all back together. Satya has been the driving force in making that happen, so we can function and think as one organization. I’m really excited about the new collaboration and connectedness we are delivering throughout the organization. Along with new customer focus, that collaboration enables us to create new end-to-end partner experiences and end-to-end customer experiences.
Something else I’m very engaged in is the work that Kurt DelBene is doing for the company. He’s working on our own digital transformation and relooking at the way we do everything; the way we support ourselves. We’re creating a new north star about how things could and should be done, bringing digital together for the company. We were the epitome of distributed computing. We took that to the extreme within Microsoft and everything was built on their own system and everyone had built their own thing. But this work is bringing everything back together so we can simplify and eliminate the noise. Our main focus is to create connected experiences and I’m very excited about it.