Modality Systems is proud to be sponsoring the 2018 Sync DevelopHer Awards - an annual ceremony recognising women who work in the technology sector in East Anglia. In the lead up to the final in November, Digital Marketing Specialist Rachael Kelly and Project Manager Lyndsay Ansell talk to Senior Program Manager for Microsoft Laurie Pottmeyer about how she started in her career, why it's important to keep your options open, and ways young women can get involved in the Microsoft community.
Tell us a little bit about what you do in your current role at Microsoft.
I’ve been at Microsoft for about 13 years, which is hard to believe! I started at Microsoft with Live Meeting. Through my years at Microsoft, I have worked mostly in Unified Communications, from managing events and user adoption programs to my job today – working with the technology communities.
Today I bridge Microsoft's user community and IT professionals, along with our engineering teams, and look at things like how we collect feedback, how we engage and extend our messaging, and how we ensure we’re out and about and know what’s going on.
The communities I manage as Community Manager for Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams are for RDs (Regional Directors) and MVPs (Microsoft Most Valued Professionals). I keep them up-to-date with our roadmap, ensure their knowledgeable about our products and am their go-to person within the product group. In addition to this, I look after the public online community, which is the Microsoft Tech Community. This is a forum where people can ask questions and get answers. It’s also where we post our most technical blogs. We have a lot of engagement here from different community members including our MVPs.
Listen to the full interview with Laurie below
When did you decide that you wanted to work in the world of communications and collaboration technology?
I don't want to say I fell into it, because I feel that’s very cliché…but yes, I fell into it [laughs], which isn’t always a bad thing.
I remember looking at our big boxy TV while I was talking on the phone to a friend as a kid – a phone that was connected to the wall – and saying ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we could actually talk to each other on the screen?’, and I thought someday, that is going to be how we talk. It’s so surreal to think that now I work with the product team that uses and creates that technology.
Looking back, did I ever think I would be working with the team that develops that technology? No, I never thought I’d be in technology. I guess back in the day, technology wasn’t something top of mind. We didn’t have a phone in hand all the time, we didn’t have the different devices, and so it was never a passion of mine. My passions were around writing and communications. I first wanted to be a teacher, then I changed my mind and went into Public Relations in Marketing and ended up with a degree in Communications. So that’s where my education was – working a lot on my writing and interactions with people.
“I love working in technology now. It’s always different, every single day.”
The way that I fell into technology was after college. I worked in the event field and I would do these big spectator events. I was travelling a lot and it was very intensive. I loved that work but at some point, the travel, the late nights and the hours became a lot. When I left that job and started working for Microsoft it was on a contract for Live Meeting, which seems totally different. How can you go from managing events with 30,000 people on a beach in Florida to sitting in an office and managing an event online? But the skills that I had in my previous role translated into my new role at Microsoft. I thought, gosh, I’m working in this totally different industry, doing totally different work, with very different people and my skills work here. The success that I had in those first couple of years at Microsoft made me learn to love the technology as well. I just thought it was super cool. I love working in technology now. It’s always different, every single day.
What do you enjoy most about your day-to-day job?
Definitely the people. I think that stems from my education and just the person that I am. I love people, I love engaging with people, and the technology for me is equal to that.
Something that I think is important is delighting our customers. If they’re not happy and not getting a product that’s useful, then they’re not going to use it. Really understanding people, what they need and why they need it, is so key. In technology, especially when you develop a product, you think it makes sense. It might make sense to you, but it may not make sense to another person or another vertical. Somebody in the medical field uses Microsoft Teams very differently from someone in IT or in financial services. There are different rules you need to think about from a day-to-day perspective. Understanding people and having those soft skills is really important.
What would you say is the greatest lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?
What I just touched on I’d say is not the greatest lesson but very important – listening to people is so key. We can go down a road and think we’re along the right track but until we ask and get input from others we don’t really know that to be certain. It’s fine to have ideas but being open to changing them based on what others need and feedback we receive is a must.
I think that goes for building a product, but it also goes for building a program or coming up with any new way of doing something. Having confidence, making a decision, and running with it is so important but you have to keep that little piece of ‘hey, this might change’. That’s happened even recently with ideas I’ve had for MVPs. I think to myself ‘we’re going to do this, we’re going to try it, I’m confident this is going to work’, but I want to leave myself a little bit of wiggle room there in case it doesn’t. You guys might tell me it doesn’t work, and if so that’s totally fine. We’ll change it, we’ll tweak it. I think that’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned – keeping that open mind but having the confidence to go down a road and try it.
“Making sure that people understand the work that you do is so important. I am still learning that one.”
Then if I had to think of the greatest lesson, just career-wise, it would be learning how to self-promote and making sure that other people know the work you do. You can talk about all the hours you work, but honestly, if people don’t know what you do then it doesn’t really matter career-wise, right? People can say “oh yeah, I heard she does a good job” but can they really tell you what you do? Making sure that people understand the work you do is so important. I am still learning that one. I’m doing a lot but what is the impact of that work? How am I shaping a product and helping the company with its goals? Really taking the time to think about that isn’t something people often do, myself included.
Do you have any advice for young women who may be interested in working at Microsoft?
I think that, most importantly, my advice would be to young women who aren’t even thinking about careers in technology - to have an open mind.
"Working at Microsoft doesn’t mean you have to be highly technical. It doesn’t mean that you have to sit in front of a computer screen all day and code."
So many of us think that going into technology is coding, being super technical and being really good at math. For a lot of people, that will shut you out of a career that may have been the right choice for you. Working at Microsoft doesn’t mean you have to be highly technical. It doesn’t mean that you have to sit in front of a computer screen all day and code. It means that you’re going to go to a company with exciting technology and fun projects you can be a part of. You can do something like me, where it’s a bit of a hybrid career – working with an engineering organisation but with people to bridge different communities. Or you could be an Accountant at Microsoft and work in a really cool, fast-paced environment to do your accounting work. Same with marketing. You can be in a marketing world where you’re writing and being involved with the different events that we do - making sure that people understand the ‘why’ behind our products. Maybe the job you want to have can be at a company that works in technology. Think about that vertical as an option.
And then to those who are already thinking about going into technology, God bless you, I think that’s great! If technology sounds interesting and coding is your thing, that’s awesome. I would say to those people who are interested in being highly technical program managers or engineers – don’t forget the soft skills. You can be very good at what you do, but if you don’t know how to communicate and listen to people, it will make it really hard for you to do the work you want to do and be successful. You can build the most amazing product in your own mind but if you haven’t listened to the people that are going to be using it, and you haven’t talked to them about what they need and why they need it, your product isn’t going to be the best it can be. Hone up on those soft skills – those are the ones that are going to make you very successful in your career.
In what ways can young women get involved in the Microsoft Community?
We have a lot of different organisations that we work with. One that I really like is called DigiGirlz.
DigiGirlz takes girls from high school (or secondary school) for the day to Microsoft offices, where they have the opportunity to learn about the different roles and participate in hands-on activities – like building an app, or creating a campaign around an app. It’s a great learning opportunity. Supporting young women in technology is a really big priority for Microsoft.
I wanted to be a newspaper writer in high school and went to a career day. I thought it sounded really cool because I liked writing, but I didn’t like the environment. It just felt really boring to me. No offence to the journalists who are out there writing but that’s how you find out what your preferences are. It’s by doing the work.
“Supporting young women in technology is a really big priority for Microsoft.”
Another way is through the Microsoft Community user group, ‘Women IT Pros’. It’s worldwide so anybody can join it. I would say to start there. There are monthly virtual meet ups led by Cathy Moya, and it’s a good way to network with people inside and outside of Microsoft. There’s a thread on there where people talk about their journeys to technology and their backgrounds – some of the questions you’ve asked me today.
In your opinion, what’s the most exciting thing about Microsoft’s evolving communications toolset?
With the work we’re doing, you can work from anywhere. I work from my home because that works for my life. Even though my manager is three and half hours away and most of my co-workers are spread all around the world, it’s really easy for me to connect from wherever I want to. Sadly, that also means vacations and weekends, but if you can work on that work-life balance it can be really cool.
"The technology we work on with Microsoft Teams really does change the way people work for the better. That can be translated in different ways but for me it means work-life balance."
People always ask me how I’m able to be at home for my kids. Thankfully they can take care of themselves now and I don’t necessarily have to be here, but I like being present. Even if it means that I’m connected to my phone and to my computer when they get home from school. The technology we work on with Microsoft Teams really does change the way people work for the better. That can be translated in different ways but for me it means work-life balance. I can stay up until three o’clock in the morning and work if I want to have no work-life balance, but I can also work from the soccer field - my kids don’t even play soccer, but if they did, it just allows me to have so much more flexibility!
Right now, with the mobile app, you could be on a call like we’re on today using video and sharing slides. I could just plug in my headset, sit there and talk. Nobody would even know where I was because I would be fully engaged, and that’s amazing. To have a whole office in your mobile device, who would have thought?
Senior Program Manager | Microsoft
Useful links from Laurie:
Imagine Cup: https://imagine.microsoft.com/en-us
Digital Skills: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/digital-skills
Microsoft Store Events: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/store/locations/events-for-students
Women in IT User Group:https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/User-Groups/Women-ITPros-Post-your-intro-here/m-p/196027#M76 (Subscribe to this thread to get email updates and network with the group).
To learn more about Microsoft MVPs (Microsoft Most Valued Professionals): https://mvp.microsoft.com
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