Virginia Roberts

Microsoft Manager within the Azure program

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What did you want to be when you were younger?

I had a lot of ideas when I was younger; I wanted to be an artist, a chemist, a marine biologist. When I got a little older, I was really excited about a career in software, but like a lot of people, I felt discouraged by the industry, so I didn't pursue that until after I got my college degree in linguistics.

 

When did you first become interested in stem and considered a career in the tech industry?

I had always been interested in STEM, especially Natural Science. I thought I wanted to do something in Biology or maybe even become a zookeeper (I had always loved nature and animals). I hadn't really considered the tech industry until after college; I really wish I'd listened to those people talking about opportunities in computational linguistics while I was studying. After I graduated, I saw how much of a tech boom there was in my city and how successful people were with those opportunities, so I started looking into the field. My first role in the tech industry was as a Linguistics tester at Microsoft. I worked on the proofing tools such a spell check and thesaurus for language that not many people spoke called Catalan from northeastern Spain.

Can you tell us a little about App Camp for Girls?

In my work with App Camp for Girls, I really believe we're making an impact on the future of the tech industry. We are a nonprofit organization that hosts camps in multiple cities across the country. We teach girls and underrepresented genders how to build mobile apps from start to finish in one week. Through the program, we give our campers mentors to lookup to in STEM fields because all our volunteers are women involved in the software industry. We also showcase the amazing things that technology can do by giving them a hands-on way to work with tech.

A lot of the times we have campers who haven't had much exposure to creating software or coding and when we show them what they can do with the few lines of code, they're completely blown away. It really opens their eyes up to new careers that they maybe didn't think of before.

 

What are some challenges that you have faced in the STEM community as a woman?

Well, when I took on a non-technical position as a woman in an engineering organization, some people didn't perceive me to be as valuable as others with a more technical role. Even though I had more insight on the business, operations, customer service side of the company, that was how I was often perceived. The way that I won people over despite those preconceived notions was by interacting with them on a deeper level. For example, going the extra mile to schedule an in-person meeting instead of communicating over email and really talking to them to understand the heart of a problem. That gave me a chance to demonstrate my skills and offer ideas that would help solve a problem that they might not have thought of before.

 

How have you seen the STEM community evolve over time?

When I was first exposed to the tech industry, all the women that I knew - there were fewer at the time - really conformed to the look of the stereotypical “male software engineer”. Now I see a lot more versions of femininity and womanhood represented in Tech. I don't think women have to look like “one of the guys” anymore to be taken seriously. There's still some sort of biased against femininity in STEM, but I do see that diminishing.

 

Are there any woman that you look up to in the STEM community?

I met one of my mentors through volunteering at App Camp. She was a program manager at Microsoft and she helped me get a position there. She reviewed my resume and introduced me to the hiring manager and that's ultimately how I got the job. I really admire her because she's not only kicking butt in her own career in technology but she’s paying it forward to other women by helping them excel in their careers as well.  

What advice can you give to girls pursuing STEM?

  1. Try out classes early on in school, starting from middle school even because if you don’t start pursuing them in the beginning it can really close doors to advance courses later in high school and college that would allow you to dive deeper into STEM.

  2. Never underestimate the power of networking. As important as your technical skills and portfolio are, people are the thing that will help you succeed. By talking to people in the industry and staying in touch with them, you can make great impressions on people which will help you get that job or promotion that you want.

 

STEMpowher