Have you ever wanted to take a risk by pursuing a career that wasn’t considered “safe” by family or friends?
Sometimes, the best decision you can make is following your heart and passion – and not just what makes other people happy.
Vanessa Araújo understands this firsthand.
“As I grew up, on one hand I had example of my family-owned textile business, on the other hand, I had loads of family members that were teachers. I was taught from early ages that was important to work hard and have a stable/safe job, such as teacher, doctor, lawyer.”
During school, her dream was to be a math teacher.
“I used to replicate what I learned in school, using my toys as students! But one day I saw one of my cousins, who was studying computer science, writing code. I was intrigued, it was related to maths (logical) but at same time I could apply it to solve real problems. I began investigating computer science, engineering university courses.”
The thought of developing something that could change the way people lived inspired her. So, to the surprise of her family, she didn’t enter what was perceived as the more stable or secure job in teaching. She took a risk and studied for an Information Management degree.
“I was a sponge, I tried to learn it all, but I loved data the most and pursued an internship in the field. I then accepted two different roles in consulting, spending ten years learning and implementing different technologies, delivering solutions that after many years are still producing values for customers, and developing my skills in project management, team building, communication, and leadership.”
To Vanessa’s surprise and delight, she realized that in these roles, she could be a teacher for her customers!
“A few years ago, as I read more about the upcoming ‘digital revolution’, how ubiquitous cloud computing, self-service analytics, and artificial intelligence offerings will change the way we work, the way we interact with each other, I felt the rush to play an active role, see it firsthand!
“When Microsoft offered me a role, I once again, decided to take a new risk by changing path and leaving the consulting highway to take a side road.”
Now, she’s a Data & AI Senior Cloud Solution Architect for Microsoft UK.
What does this look like in practice?
“It could include leading design-thinking sessions, guiding customers to the right solutions through workshops, upskilling people through training, participating in community events, coaching, and mentoring peers/early in career.
“But I also have the privilege to work with strategic customers and influence how they leverage Microsoft technology to address some of their problems. And in certain cases, I’ve been able to influence global challenges, such as sustainability, biodiversity, and energy transition.”
What’s been the biggest challenge in taking the road less travelled?
“I was brave to make the decision to exchange the certain for the uncertain a few times. It is important to normalize that we are who we choose to be even if others might judge you or simply do not understand your choices. Remembering that being successful means different things for different people.”
When Vanessa first joined, she needed to win the trust of the external stakeholders she worked with.
“As a young woman leading projects, I feared I’d have to fight against unconscious bias, the same I faced at beginning of my career. Although thanks to my upbringing, I knew that I should not allow others to define my own limitations. I saw it as a challenge instead of an obstacle. And I’m always up for a new challenge!”
In the end, it was her manager’s allyship, trust in her, and willingness to put her in charge of projects that allowed her to overcome these fears.
“I was never micromanaged or managed differently to others. Of course, I still felt scared multiple times about failing, but with time I learned that fear is a sign of growth. I felt fear because I cared and as soon as I transferred the energy of that fear into learning, I ended up growing.”
How do you know if you’ve made the right decision?
If you’ve ever been brave enough to venture on a new path, particularly one in STEMM, it can be tough to know if you’ve made the right decision.
But for Vanessa, there have been many moments that have made her proud to work for Microsoft.
“I can’t deny that I suffered from impostor syndrome during the first months at Microsoft. I asked myself ‘Am I technical enough?’, ‘Can I add value?’.
“I was lucky to have multiple allies, men and women, that helped me understand that I was hired based on my strengths and that I should embrace my uniqueness. Everyone offered me help, and I was never treated any differently due to my lack of experience on a specific tool.”
That’s the core of Microsoft’s culture – helping others and having a growth mindset. And it’s made all the difference.
In Microsoft people are invited to ‘come as they are and do what they love’, promoting diversity and respect for all points of view.
Vanessa loves that Microsoft is one of the first companies to publicly set ambitious sustainability goals. She is inspired by the company’s investment in accessibility for products. She appreciates flexible work policies that embrace team members’ needs to prioritize family when required.
How can you have an impact?
Vanessa hopes to have an impact on her peer culture by creating awareness around what she calls ‘pro-ability’ instead of ‘disability’.
“We all have our limitations. For me, ‘pro-ability’ means seeing people for what they’re able to do, instead of what they’re not.”
Most of all, Vanessa takes pride in being part of a company invested in making a positive impact in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Vanessa is part of Microsoft Women in Tech employee resource group. Within this group she aims to inspire young women going into tech but also empower other women to take the risk as she did join the tech/STEMM world.
“Appreciating the work you do, whether it’s in your company or in similar companies, to support communities is the best way forward. Like it or not, we are at a crucial moment in history, where the way tech will be used will redefine social interactions, politics, sustainability, fairness and so on.
“We’re all responsible for helping each other and make sure all voices are heard if we really want to make a positive impact.”
How can your personal philosophy influence your approach to work?
For people considering a career road less travelled, Vanessa’s personal philosophy is a great one to live by.
“Pursue new challenges, lead with your heart, and be a catalyst for happiness throughout the journey!”
It’s this personal philosophy that’s made her feel proud of all her achievements, no matter how small, in contributing to the success of others.
“I feel proud every time I’ve shared knowledge to help someone achieve their goal. I’m proud every time I’ve taken a risk and followed my heart – despite my rational side and others around me telling me to play it safe! And I’m proud every time someone tells me I’m a role model for women in tech.”
Her final thoughts on taking the path less travelled:
“Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be constrained by other people’s opinions. Stay curious. Stay inspired. Dream. Thrive. There are no right or wrong decisions, all decisions are worthy as long as you take the chance to learn something new from it.”
So, if you’re considering the road less travelled, take it from Vanessa. Be inspired, and don’t limit yourself.