Want To Enter The Tech Industry? Microsoft MD Vanessa Sorenson Shares Her Career Advice

Alice Duthie
on 22 September 2022

Suzie Veitch met with Vanessa Sorenson, Managing Director of Microsoft NZ, to hear about her journey through the tech industry, what achievements she’s so proud of and the best piece of career advice she received that still inspires her today.

Vanessa leads a strategy which focuses on investing for growth in Microsoft’s world class partner ecosystem; driving the innovation across the cloud platforms to deliver digital transformation to customers. With over 10,000 partners across Australia and New Zealand, Vanessa and her team engage to build capabilities across technical skills, commercial and go-to-market, and customer sales engagements.

How have you navigated your career path from leaving school, until now?

My career pathway has been quite unconventional, from being brought up in a trailer park to becoming the MD of Microsoft New Zealand and Chief Partner Officer of ANZ, is not your ‘normal’ career journey at all.

I left school at 16 with no major qualifications and I really had to carve my own path in an industry that had no clear path. My first break came when I was hired as a receptionist at an IT company and later moved into sales. In an interesting twist, I then moved to WangNZ which became Gen-I, and was later purchased by Telecom. Telecom later turned into Spark and then I worked up the ranks to my dream job; MD of Microsoft NZ. Moving through the different jobs and companies I created many of my own roles, it really helped me to learn so much more, craving out my pathway. My journey has really inspired me to help other people from all walks of life to break into this amazing industry!

What types of challenges have you come up against that really tested you?

A challenge for me in the early years was that I suffered from imposter syndrome. I honestly did not feel I was good enough. In hindsight, I suppose we all suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in our career. It took me a lot of hard work, talking to mentors, and reaching out for help to work through the syndrome and battle the overwhelming feelings.

The biggest challenge I’m now up against, which is also the greatest opportunity, is how to adapt organisations to get the best out of employees and create a happy environment & fulfilling workplace.

Work is always a careful balance of give and take. Good companies are those that are consistently willing to recalibrate how we all work together. One of the biggest challenges I see is related to perception. This is also another reason why there is not enough D&I in the technology industry at this time.

I have spoken to so many women who don’t even consider technology, because the perception is that they don’t fit, or that technology is too technical. So, they don’t even consider trying for these sorts of roles.

women in tech microsoft
Source: Capital CoLAB

Microsoft research backs up this thinking and reality. The research reveals a lack of relevant skills – or the perception they don’t have the right skills – has stopped over half (59%) of women surveyed pursuing a digital career. That’s terrible. Even more crucial, over 90% of respondents said they are not currently being offered training or assistance to help increase their digital skills. It’s all too common for people to believe tech careers require programming or technical skills, but that’s just not the case. Really! I am not a technical wizard by any stretch of the imagination. Managing tech projects requires creativity, good people skills and communication, as well as the ability to see things from the tech user’s point of view – in other words, empathy.

Therefore a big challenge is how we change this perception of our industry in order to make the welcome mat even bigger to invite more people to come and take part in what is an incredible business & industry to be in right now.

What’s the best piece of career advice that you’ve been given?

Collaboration is everything! If you can’t build the business together with your employees, it will never succeed. 

What achievement are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the initiatives our team have brought to Microsoft and to our partners to foster greater diversity and inclusion. And I’m so proud of the women that have thrived as a result of many of our programmes. I am most impressed by two women who have used one of these new skilling programmes and come from different industries and ‘broken’ into the tech industry. These ladies took a leap of faith, they re-trained and now work for PwC.

It takes a lot of nerve, and these ladies inspire me. These two incredible ladies are; Ruth and Mere. Before COVID, Mere Rewi-Leaunga was a flight attendant seeing the world. Ruth Langi ran her own events business. Now, they are part of PwC’s Ignite programme; an apprenticeship scheme helping women across Aotearoa find rewarding new employment via on-the-job training and partnerships with companies like Microsoft to provide digital skills.

Already Mere has created a Māori language app for kids, following her passion, and her old school has invited her to speak to girls about opportunities in tech. And Ruth’s husband was so inspired by her stories he applied at PwC himself! The real fuel of innovation is fresh points of view and women such as Ruch and Mere will bring a fresh perspective to everything they do and that’s inspiring!

Talking is one thing but doing is the other, so we have started a number of key initiatives. One of the key things I learned is this: to really make change you need to partner with people, you need to collaborate. You need to collaborate with people and organisations that already have a great voice and relationship with the communities that you want to talk to. That’s why I love our partnership with TupuToa. Microsoft has an ongoing partnership with TupuToa, which sees us employ Māori and Pacific Island interns each year, many of whom go on to enjoy successful careers at Microsoft. 

Building on this, in 2021 we organised a grant and allocated support to TupuToa for the co-design of a skilling programme, Hikohiko te Uira, that sees thousands of Māori and Pasifika people receive free digital skills and training in a setting that is reflective of and respectful to their cultures. In fact, recently we have agreed another grant to TupuToa in order to focus on delivering cyber skilling training to Māori and Pasifika.

We all rise on the same tide, so I’m thrilled that we are always empowering our partners and deepening our relationships with organisations like TupuToa who are doing so much good for New Zealand. And I also want to highlight another initiative dear to my heart. In 2021 we launched the #10KWāhine initiative, which aims to provide 10,000 women in Aotearoa with free training in digital technologies by the end of 2022, either through online Microsoft Learn courses, on-the-job training, internships or other initiatives. I can’t wait to see the women who come out of these programmes, and into our industry to shed a new light and understanding on how we can innovate.

My go-to saying is

 ‘If We Want Wāhine [Women] To Thrive In Digital Roles,

We’ve Got To Give Them The Tools They Need To Succeed.’

tech women microsoft

Is there a piece of advice you’d like to share?

Don’t be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all. We are always learning and no single person has all the answers. So stay open, stay curious and keep learning.

Vanessa is the keynote speaker at the Leadership Summit (virtually) Women in Tech. She is joined by other speakers from IBM, VMWare, Telstra, and Deloitte on Friday 21st October.

To book your ticket or find out more, visit here.

Be inspired to take your career to the next level!

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