1. Tell us a little bit about yourself – What is your current role at Microsoft, and how did you first get started in technology? I am a Senior Program Manager and one of the founding members of SharePoint spaces- a new service that empowers SharePoint users to build immersive and engaging mixed reality experiences. I am also the General Chair for the 2019 Grace Hopper Conference, an advisor for a non-profit, a public speaker, and a trained singer.
Growing up, I was very interested in math and problem solving, and I was surrounded by family members who pursued Computer Science, so part of me was curious to explore that field. I took a few introductory CS classes in high school and it felt like a natural fit. One thing led to another and I pursued my bachelor’s and master’s in computer science and started my professional journey with Microsoft six years ago.
2. Congratulations on being selected as the 2019 General Chair of the esteemed Grace Hopper Conference! How did you first start getting involved with the Grace Hopper Conference? I started getting involved with the Grace Hopper community as I was eager to learn how things worked behind the scenes and wanted to give back in a small way using my skillsets. I started volunteering as a note-taker and leading smaller community initiatives, and my work was noticed by the then Director of GHC who looped me into the conference leadership team. I have since served on a variety of roles in the past five years ranging from chairing the open source day track to the human-computer interaction track and have grown with the conference. I am truly thrilled and humbled to be chosen as the General Chair for 2019 and to have an organization like AnitaB.org look to me as a thought partner.
3. Any tips/advice for other women and allies looking to either 1) volunteer at the Grace Hopper Conference and/or 2) secure a coveted conference pass? GHC is a volunteer-driven conference which is fascinating as it truly represents the power and passion of the community, and we had over 2000 volunteers last year. So, if you are interested in volunteering, there are plenty of opportunities. There are roles you can take up before, or during the conference. Head over to https://ghc.anitab.org/2019-connect/ to learn more. My only advice is to not overthink and just take the first step. Many of us tend to overthink about how much value we bring to the table. You’ll be surprised at your own abilities after you take the first step.
To secure the coveted conference pass, the best way is to apply to speak! We have a wide range of tracks catering both the technical and career needs of our spectrum of attendees. If your proposal gets accepted, you’ll get access to early registration. The same holds true for volunteers of track committees. More info on how to apply to speak and the CFP process can be found at https://ghc.anitab.org/2019-speakers/.
4. What does a typical day in your life look like? As a mom-in-tech, my day starts and ends with my family! Becoming a parent taught me a lot about striving for quality than quantity in everything I do. Our mornings are really busy, and I start my day at work by jotting down the list of must-do’s. Being a PM, I have a fine balance between heads-down time thinking about challenging technical problems, and meeting with partners and customers. Working in mixed reality is fascinating as it is still a niche area and there is not much precedence for many of the problems we are currently trying to solve.
5. Do you have a tech role model? What do you admire about this person? I have many, and it’s hard to list only one. Being a minority in tech, I’ve looked up to my role models for inspiration and energy. The common thread amongst all of them is contagious passion and willingness to take risks.
6. What do you think has been the greatest 1) opportunity, and 2) challenge for you in your career so far? One recent opportunity in my career was being chosen as the first member of the team to lead a futuristic incubation, which eventually became SharePoint spaces. It was fascinating taking this effort from a vague idea to something tangible that is resonating so well with our users. We still have a long way to go but working in an emerging technology lets me dream about the future and all the potential it holds.
One challenge worth talking about also happened around the same time as I was given the opportunity to lead this incubation on my second day back from maternity leave. As a new mom, I had absolutely no idea how I would be able to manage it all. Figuring out every step of the way was both challenging and motivating, and I am glad it all worked out at the end.
7. You’ve done a lot of volunteering in the community to help boost diversity and tech in the industry – how has that experience been for you, and what advice would you give to someone who might be interested to start volunteering for the first time? These experiences have always been very rewarding and helped me develop a lot of empathy. I got to hear different perspectives of the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion and was able to build my network as I often work with technologists across industry, academia, government, and non-profits in these initiatives.
One question I often get from someone interested to do more in this space is - where do I start? My recommendation is to ask yourself what are you truly passionate about? What cause drives you and what issue bothers you the most? Self-reflection often helps find opportunities where you’ll end up going above and beyond as you are naturally drawn to the cause and are determined to make a difference.
8. Do you believe in mentorship? Have you been mentored by others, and conversely, have you mentored others? A big yes! I’ve had and still have several mentors and I call them “my tribe” as it’s more than a formal relationship. I look up to my mentors and lean on them when I need guidance, and they have always been there to help and support me.
From a mentee standpoint, I have several who reach out to me for one-off advise but I have a good set of students and early industry professionals who have a long-standing mentoring relationship with me.
9. Was there a particular tech event or program that was particularly helpful in enabling you to accelerate your career? The first Grace Hopper Conference I attended six years ago opened doors in many ways for me. Not only did I end up being a part of this amazing community, I also found my first mentor at that conference. It’s been over five years and we still have a great relationship!
10. If you had to give one advice to someone just starting out in their tech career, what would it be? It’s okay if you don’t have everything figured out when you start. Just do it anyway. Life is a series of experiments. Win or lose- these experiences are essential in understanding yourself better.
11. What do you think the tech industry needs to be truly diverse and inclusive, be it socially and culturally? More empathy. When you start building more empathy, you want to become a part of the solution. This has a ripple effect which the tech industry can benefit from.
12. Lastly, what do you hope to see happen in the diversity and inclusion space in 2019? I hope for two things -
More men to be a part of the dialog. I’ve worked with some fantastic male allies and we need more such perspectives to make progress.
More progress and breaking stereotypes associated with parents, specifically moms in tech. We talk about the pipeline problem and retention a lot, and moms are a crucial part of the equation here. There is so much more we can do to support moms, make them feel a part of the community, and not see them as a liability but as the asset they truly are.
I completely agree about having more men being apart of this dialog. Being (nearly always) the only female tech in every organisation I have worked in the last 20+ years, has made me realise the value of having allies - not only those who speak up for you but in many cases to you.
I personally judge my technical skills against my male peers. This meant I felt that I could never keep up with them. This means that I often don't see the value of my own personal worth. I have been so fortunate over the years to have worked with some fantastic men who have clearly pointed out the skills that I bought to the team - when I was being down on myself about not having a thorough enough understanding of a specific technology.
These wonderful men pointed out that I had skills that many in the team lacked - communication both with the customer and between the team members, a passion for documentation and the technology, a dedication to making sure that any project had a good outcome and being able to tackle any technology rather than being focused on one specific one. My organisational skills, and being a people person, also meant that I was the glue that keeps the team on track with the task and also ensured everyone stopped for meals and breaks.
Yes, there have been inappropriate comments regarding my gender in relation to my work - but these are far outweighed by the positive engagements I've had.