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Living In The Forever Now Series: Investing in Yourself With Miranda Richardson

Fiona Waters

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In this fast-paced world that often stresses productivity over personhood, it's easy to neglect your personal needs. Miranda Richardson, Senior Technology Account Manager at Microsoft, wants to remind employees that they are individuals, first and foremost. “Invest in yourself,” she tells her mentees. She's not afraid to admit that investing in yourself takes a lot of energy. Supportive family, friends, and mentors are the key to maintaining a healthy wellbeing. Miranda herself is a committee leader for Worldwide Blacks at Microsoft, which seeks to support black communities through mentorship, and she has mentored youth in various STEM programs. Especially right now, with most people working remotely, managers and directors need to show some of the same support for their employees as a mentor would.

What company do you work with and what is your current position?
I am currently a Senior Technology Account Manager. What that means is I work with Microsoft customers to help them understand the technology and the services they purchased. The customer and I partner in optimizing Microsoft resources in order to build out their digital roadmap, outlining it from their current technology footprint to their future desired state.

What do you do in that role?
I make sure customers get the proper training and are connected with specialists within Microsoft to partner in implementing a new service, a new technology, or new upgrades within their environment. On the support side I might help customers reactively. If something is not working as expected and escalations are required, I'm who they contact if they need assistance. I help identify what steps they can take next. I also partner with our support organization to make sure the customer is getting the attention they need.

Who do you work with?
My customers are typically CIOs and company directors, but I also work with engineers who implement and maintain the company's current infrastructure, so it really depends on what the specific need is. It's really a wide gamut as far as strategic planning.

What was your path to your current position?
From the beginning it's not all flowers and roses. I really fell into technology. When I was in administrative services at one of the Big Six (now the Big Four) accounting firms, Arthur Andersen, I started socializing with the IT people. Around the same time, one of the business partners and I became very good friends. He asked me if I would like to try to entertain a path like that. Leading up to that, I was always the person people would ask, “Miranda can you take a look at the computers? Something's going on with the accounting software. Miranda, can you take a look at the network? For some reason it's not…” and I'm just a team player, so I was like “Sure, this is easy for me. This is fun.” Already I was troubleshooting issues, so the partner at Arthur Andersen was my path to getting on the consulting side of business.

I grew while working at Arthur Andersen as a consultant and server admin, and the path continued from there; I did some coding and Lotus Notes (now HCL notes). I loved that I was able to go and program by myself in my corner, but I really missed the human interaction. So I ended up migrating towards being that middle person between the partners, the managers, and the end users. I learned to understand users' needs, their use basis, their day to day, in order to provide a technology solution. So for the next set of companies I worked for, that was mostly my position.

Since then, I have worked at a number of places taking on bigger and bigger projects. I moved from a systems analyst role to a project manager role, starting in Chicago, moving on to Dallas, and then to Vegas. The role that moved me to Vegas unfortunately wasn't what it promised to be, so that's when I embarked on my own consulting company. Eventually, customers would ask for me to stay at the end of projects or ask for me to come back for another project. My work in Vegas was mostly for global gaming companies, but I've also worked with companies such as AT&T when they acquired DirectTV. I was brought on to document the data and the data transfer of information from DirectTV to AT&T. I also worked with Sands Corporation overseeing their global booking engine as a program manager.

Everything before that -- the learning and working with the customers, programmers, developers, administration, and networks -- led to me being able to market myself as a voice for the customer who could speak to IT. I say I'm able to speak “Business-ese” and “Developer-ese.” It became a language.

How was growing up in Chicago and going to Northwestern?
Chicago is absolutely awesome, Northwestern is awesome -- I just could not deal with the cold. I actually started at University of Illinois in Chicago, but it wasn't the school for me. I wasn't ready and I wasn't focused. When the time came and I was serious about my education, I went back to school, this time at Northwestern, and I just knocked it out. Our football team was doing well, we had a basketball team that was doing well, and the location was right off the water! So it was a Big 10 school, leading in the higher education space, and I was excited to attend.

In tech, sometimes it seems like you either have to be good with technology or good with people, but you are good at bridging the two. What advice do you have for someone to apply both?
I think the biggest thing is understanding what you want and what you enjoy. What's best fitting for you? Customer engagement is definitely not for everyone. I have my days and I love it and it's absolutely my niche.

The thing about technology: it is not straightforward. It's not just about 0s and 1s, it's not just about programming, it's not just networking, but it is all about what best fits you. Within technology there's marketing, there's program management, there's product management, dictating the direction of the tool or the technology. For my role, I don't do it all, I can't, it's just not possible. That's why I have a team, so that if I need to I can bring in the Sharepoint specialist or the Teams specialist. Knowing how and when to engage other persons for help is required.

What challenges did you face in the male-dominated field of tech?
IT is a male dominated environment -- gaming, which I have worked in, is a male-dominated environment… differences of opinions can happen. We're in the process of change, but until we reach that point, I need to change my perception. I'm never going to make it about that “one person” stopping me. If I need to speak up more in a meeting, I'm going to make sure I am well versed in the topic. That means I have to do the pre-research, which is something we should already be doing when we are working to excel and be successful. If you harp on what other people are doing or how they're treating you, it's going to be a broader issue than a male-dominated room. It changes the dynamic and what someone may approach me with. When I speak, I want what I'm saying to add value to that conversation, so I want people to focus on what I'm saying and not me being female.

That said, when I've encountered negative comments or behaviors, I know myself. I need to remind myself to take a breath, think about what I want in my path, and then focus on what my next steps are. When you're working with other people, you don't know what their challenges are. We don't know what they're going through, we don't know what they're facing. Lean on your mentor, lean on your support system when you have those challenging times. There's always someone who's been there and is willing to offer feedback. Surround yourself with that type of support that is willing to provide guidance in your responses.

What advice do you have for individuals pursuing their careers?
Mentorship is huge when you really want to get ahead. Find a Coach to help understand tasks or steps needed in your career development; find a Mentor to help guide the execution of your career plan; and find a Sponsor to help navigate the path to your career goal. But it's for you to build your team of support and understand what it is you want to do. The information to determine what path you want to take is available for you to research.

I also have a supportive family that is there for me regardless of what I need, just an ear or text to say “You got this,” and celebrate my wins with me, which keeps me driven. And I have close friends that do the same. They have carried me through a number of scenarios and I'm very grateful for that.

Most importantly, start with you. Chart a course for yourself. What makes you happy? What do you enjoy? There are many personality tests and career tests available to guide you. Invest in yourself and then decide what your next steps are, whether it's pursuing a new company, staying with your current company, seeing what offerings your company has, creating opportunities within your company… Don't think in a box of what you are capable of doing. That limits what you think you can and cannot do. No one can hold you back but you. Be willing to do what you need to do for your growth or your advancement.

Always remember: pave the way for others. Someone is taking time with you to talk to you as a mentor, as a sponsor… people are taking time to sow into you and your growth. ‘Pay the way' for others that may or may not have that, and share the knowledge you have that will help them achieve their goals.

How can companies look at employees as individuals, especially in COVID?
That's a great conversation with managers and directors because one of the things we try to do is make it very personal now that we're all working from home. Someone can easily be siloed, not getting that personal interaction that we need as human beings. My sister in her role as a director has encouraged applying a thought process of kindness, even to your direct reports, regardless of what level they're at.

One of the things I appreciate from my company is we have live conversations scheduled with our broader teams. We have happy hours online after work, but we're just sharing and we're personalizing our conversation. You're not just my manager or my skip level. You're engaging me as a person which is what I am first and foremost, and then I bring value added to your business, to this company.

My job is 100% remote already. However, with everything, the family is working from home as well. We've had open conversation about what that looks like, what the needs are, and we're figuring that out in real time.

What hobbies are you interested in right now?
My sister is great at finding great shows to just binge on. The latest one is Newsroom. I'm a big anime-watcher as well so I've been going back and rewatching Naruto and I recently finished Madame Secretary. I went and watched it all over again when I was done. Almost anything by Funimation helps me detox from the day or come down from the day. Those are my jams.

I'm also taking a stab at trying to learn the stock market. (I'm at the stage of thought where I'm thinking about retirement.) It's always been this elusive piece of knowledge that I can't grasp because it's just so needy of attention. I'm trying to learn a bit more so that I can maximize my investments.

What are three things you can't live without?
Food, family, and Chicago-style house music. I'm what we affectionately call a house head. I'll stay on the dance floor for two hours if they play the right music.

What do you define as success?
For me, jokingly, that can be anything from needing to go to the restaurant where Anthony Bourdain went while I'm on a vacation, to wanting to work at a company that allows me to grow, such as Microsoft. All of my progress with Microsoft empowers me towards my ultimate goal of a certain living state when I retire, and I'm still not done growing. All of these are measurable milestones that I celebrate, so for me, success is measurable.

Success is really relative to the person, though. It's understanding, setting, and achieving a goal. It's kind of corny, but I love the smaller things and I think we should celebrate those in order to really appreciate the big things.

Do you have any closing comments?
Keep your head up for where we are today. This is all uncharted territory. It's imperative to build a support system and to be able to lean on it, whether that's after your successes or your failures, because you absolutely can do this. You absolutely can reach what you measure as success.

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