WWCode Podcast #41: Sabrina Vega, Software Engineer 2 at Microsoft Talks DEI
Written by WWCode HQ
Women Who Code Podcast 41 | Spotify — iTunes — Google — YouTube — Podcast Page
Stephanie Rideout, Python Track Leadership Fellow at Women Who Code, interviews Sabrina Vega, Software Engineer 2 at Microsoft and Co-founder of HOLA SOMOS. They discuss company culture, diversity, and the importance of community in professional environments.
Share a little bit about your career journey.
Growing up, I was into spy gear, and spy stuff and thought I wanted to work for the CIA. I did an AP Comp Sci class in high school and realized this is what I wanted to do. I was interested in finding different opportunities in how to get into tech. I was involved in NCWIT, the National Center for Women & Information Technology, in high school. They were a really great community and helped guide me. I had some great female mentors and found a couple of internships with Microsoft. Then I decided to do it full-time.
Tell us about working at Microsoft and the work you do there as a software engineer.
I am part of the Word Online team, which is part of the Word organization. I work under performance. We manage how fast the application loads, how fast or how slow it takes to interact, and how features load. I’ve been able to have my hands on a bunch of different projects. I work in server-side stuff, as well as client-side. The boot experience covers all of it. I’ve also been able to work with a lot of data and experimentation at Microsoft. Everything has to pass before we actually ship it out to customers.
The customer-first perspective was new to me. It’s been a fun skill that I’ve been able to learn. A lot of SQL server-side focus, on looking at how users’ experiences actually go, and knowing what that means in numbers. I’ve also been able to do some fun UX work, which I didn’t think that I would be able to do. My team has given me a lot of opportunities.
Tell us about the company and team culture at Microsoft.
I had my first internship after my freshman year of college. I talked to the recruiter and found out that they had a specific internship program for freshmen and sophomores. I had not even taken Programming 1. It was really cool to see that they had one made for folks that weren’t there yet. The basis of the program is to explore the different disciplines. You get to decide if you get a return offer, which one you would want to pursue. They spoiled the interns, we got gifts and concerts, and it was really fun. When it came time to decide where I wanted to work full-time, I knew that I would be able to still grow professionally at Microsoft. I knew that I had a lot of opportunities, but also I really loved going to work. I love my job and I love my co-workers.
My team is amazing. Word has a really rich history, it’s a product that’s been around for a really long time. There are folks on the team that have been there since the beginning, they know everything. There are also a lot of folks that are brand new and they’re bringing all these cool ideas. Both are really welcome. It’s fun to be part of a product that has so much history, but it’s also inviting and ready to grow.
What does diversity, inclusion, and belonging mean to you, and how did this inspire you to co-found SOMOS?
I had always been interested in diversity and inclusion at work. When I started university, I was able to jump into the Hispanic and Latinx communities. I got involved in a lot of the D&I work. When I joined the Word team, they had their own D&I team, but they called it their DIB team. I had heard of D&I, but I never heard of DI and B. The B is for belonging. I liked the concept because it emphasizes hiring diverse people and making them feel they belong. SOMOS is the early career community for Hispanic and Latinx, talent and allies at Microsoft. We fall under a larger organization that is for all Hispanic and Latinx employees, but we felt, especially for those that are early in careers, there was a gap.
What does community mean to you? And how is SOMOS fostering the Hispanic Latinx community for those early in their careers?
Community, specifically within the context of Hispanic and Latinx culture, is super important. The culture is very communal. That has always been a part of my life, being Colombian. I wanted to live here full-time, so I needed to find a community. We’re now at 500 plus members, which is super exciting for us. When we were planning it out, we broke it down into four different areas that we thought people would need to be addressed in order to create that community. They are all different pillars that are run by SOMOS members. We have our executive engagement pillar, our community service pillar, our internship pillar, and our social pillar.
Tell us about the impact SOMOS is having on the early career Hispanic Latinx community at Microsoft.
There are a lot of people that have given us the feedback that the only reason they are still at Microsoft is that they found a community. They found people that were going through the same things that could relate. They were able to have friends, even virtually through covid. That is sometimes a part that you don’t think is important at work. Everyone needs that community aspect.
What advice do you have for college students applying for technical internship and apprenticeship opportunities at Microsoft?
If you’re looking to try to apply to an internship, full-time position, or an apprenticeship, focus less on the specifics. How does your skill set apply in the workplace? Can you problem-solve? How do you handle it when you are stuck? How resourceful are you? These things are what my interviewers emphasized. Computer science changes all the time. There will always be things you don’t understand. Being able to find the resources is going to help you a lot when it comes to being successful in internships and transferring into that full-time job.
What advice do you have about work-life balance and avoiding burnout for those who are early in their careers?
In university, I was very used to the grind and turning in work at the last minute of the deadline. That’s not sustainable long-term, as a full-time job.I realized very quickly. I see people want to impress their manager and team and they’ll take extra work. You must be comfortable with setting boundaries. If you take on a task, ask for help reprioritizing your other work. Make time for the other things that make you happy. Put in time for travel. Take the PTO. There will always be things to stress about. There will always be more work. It is how you make it sustainable.
What is a pro tip you would like to share with our audience?
Leverage your connections. Not just your professional connections. You never know where they will lead. Have those relationships with people, genuine relationships.
Anything else you want to tell us?
Being a woman, especially a Hispanic woman, a person of color, there are a lot of times that I remember walking into spaces or even when I would tell people that I was a software engineer at Microsoft, they would ask what I work on? Almost trying to see if I actually know what I’m talking about? Did I actually earn my spot? Am I a diversity hire? It’s kind of a constant thing. It has helped me to have a strong community of women and other Hispanic women that are in tech. I was able to foster those through internships, through meeting people, even through Instagram or YouTube. It can make the world of a difference. Make sure that you have a community that you can always come back to.