Posted by Editorial Team
In the spirit of International Women’s Day earlier this month, we are putting the spotlight on some of our inspiring women in tech at Microsoft. Global Sales Strategy Lead, Mobile and Windows Ads In Apps, Sharon Harris, is one of our leading ladies. She shares her passion for technology that can add value to our lives, and encourages women to bring their unique perspective to the ICT industry and act as role models for other women.
What attracted you to the ICT industry?
I was attracted to the ICT industry not because I am a geek or have a background in technology. What attracted me was the way in which technology can have an impact on people’s lives in very simple and meaningful ways. I was first introduced to the tech sector while working at an investment firm dealing in tech stocks. I quickly learned about the various new start-ups and technologies coming to market. I became fascinated with a company that was launching a satellite radio service. Not because it would beam commercial free music to your car, but because I love music and now would have access to over 100 channels of music in every genre possible. Technology was going to bring me something that I couldn’t do as easily without it and add value to my life through something I loved – music. My relationship with technology has always been about making it invisible and placing the needs, wants and dreams of people first. My 12-year passion for mobile has stemmed from seeing how easy and effective communication, knowledge sharing and access to information can be made through a mobile device. Tasks once reserved for technology ‘geeks’ now enable us to live our lives in new, often more productive and definitely fun ways.
What do you love most about being a woman in the ICT industry?
Women bring a unique perspective to technology that keeps it focused on the value to the user rather than on the bits and bots. Our sense of design and ease of use have been invaluable in bringing certain technologies to market. Women often illuminate new uses for technology that are sometimes overlooked. I love participating in an industry that will have such an impact on the world for good.
What challenges have you experienced as a woman in the ICT industry?
There are not as many women in ICT as I would like. Often it can be challenging to find role models. For a woman of colour it is even more difficult to find role models and mentors. Often women are viewed as inferior or less capable of running technology projects. I have used those doubters to motivate me and challenge me to do things I didn’t think I could do. As a woman in technology, I have made it my personal goal to mentor other women and provide support in the journey. The only way there will be more women in technology is if there are more women in technology.
Why is it important to encourage more women to pursue STEM subjects?
The next global economy will be driven by technology. Having a solid foundation in STEM will be critical in securing opportunities and having financial independence. Women are increasingly the bread-winners or one of two very vital incomes in the household. Careers in technology will open new doors and present the most opportunities in the future as we move to an Internet of Things world.
How can a woman achieve a good work/life balance?
I don’t believe there is a balance, honestly. I think we make trade-offs and need to prioritise what is most important at the time. There will be times when work is the priority and times when family, hobbies and ourselves are the priority. Having a strong support system is key, as is making the choices that allow you the most flexibility. It is never perfect and we have to make tough decisions at times. The scales will always tip back and forth and we have to manage this carefully when it happens and make sure our managers, co-workers and colleagues are aware of what our needs may be at the time. Microsoft is an amazing company because we are afforded a great level of work flexibility whether through working remotely or shifting our hours to accommodate our family needs or personal passions.
What advice do you have for women looking for a career in ICT?
Find your passion in ICT whether it is programming, marketing, sales or something else. Learn the industry and be prepared for change. Most importantly seek out role models and mentors who can help you along the way. Find supporters who can provide insight into the roles or positions that interest you. Be diligent and take a risk even if you don’t feel like you have 100% of the qualifications. No experience is ever wasted. Learning is a life long journey.