by Lauren DeLisa Coleman
Time for my next installment spotlighting women of color in the tech space. (For those who perhaps missed the first, be sure and click here for the profile on Google exec Bonita Stewart.) Today I had the opportunity to ask Phoebe Ash of Microsoft a variety of questions. I selected Microsoft because while we may think of the tech giant in many respects, brown faces might not spring to mind when mentioning the brand. But they do exist, and it’s important that their work be recognized.
Ash is a Senior Software Design Engineer in Test for Microsoft. Use Outlook to email friends about the latest must-have hip hop track? Launch Internet Explorer to research elements for your company or small business? Then you have touched some of Ash’s work. But there’s much more to it than that, so read on while we go inside the mind behind one of Microsoft’s prominent women:
LdC: I always like to start off back in the day a bit and focus on education. I read that you attended the legendary Tuskegee?
PA: Attending Tuskegee University was almost like a dream. It was a great experience that helped me to realize I could be what I set my mind out to be. I learned right away how to sacrifice and how to work hard to reach my goals. I built strong networks, and made lifelong friends within my major, my sorority (Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.) and connections just by attending this great university. I learned several lifelong lessons there and I think the most important lesson was about diversity. I learned while at Tuskegee that although we are all the same race, we come from many different backgrounds or have different interests and we may differentiate ourselves based on, i.e. your financial status, where you are from (East Coast, West Coast, Midwest or down South), your affiliations with sororities or fraternities and the like. This helped to prepare me for my career at Microsoft and to appreciate the differences in everyone.
LdC: And it seems that a work study program in which you participated while attending there was key to building your foundation in tech. But what made you actually accept that work study program when computers were not really initially on your radar as a political science major?
PA: I accepted the work study position because I thought that it would be good to learn more about computers and gain real job training. Little did I know that this would lead me down the path to my career.
LdC: So now that you’re fully entrenched in that career, what would you say is the most challenging part of your job at Microsoft?
PA: The cool thing about my job is that there are many challenging aspects, from learning new technologies, to solving a complex problem, to working with partner teams, to career planning for my direct reports. I love that there is never a dull moment and I am constantly learning.
LdC: It often seems that tech companies, particularly start-ups, try to take the color-blind approach – not wanting to talk about the diverse ratio of their staffs, etc – yet are achingly non-diverse. What are your suggestions for helping to create greater sensitivity in this industry to which, for example, the automotive, consumer packaged goods industries, etc are already a bit more sensitive?
PA: I can only speak from my experience and I think that Microsoft is sensitive in their hiring. We do a great job at searching, and looking for diverse candidates.
LdC: What advice then might you have for African-Americans pursuing tech positions (or to encourage them to pursue tech positions). Why do you find your position rewarding, for example?
PA: Experiment with technology! This is the way that I got into this field because I was passionate about technology and I was curious about what I could create. This led me to my true calling. This is a great time to experiment with technology; you can build web applications, games or mobile apps just for fun. If you are in college, take the Intro to Computer Science class, just to see if it interests you. You just may love it.
I didn’t follow a traditional path, however, I found my passion. I love what I do and I love the fact that the Microsoft culture is about continuous learning.