When mom’s ‘lift you up’ message carries you

Oct 1, 2018   |  

Editor’s note: You can’t be what you can’t see. For people of color and other underrepresented minorities, seeing someone who looks like you can make you feel like you have the ability to create change at companies like Microsoft. This story is part of an ongoing series about women of color and underrepresented minorities working in Microsoft Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO).

Katina Reece knows that she can do anything, a lesson she learned when she was 6 years old, when she was asked to recite a story in church.

“My mom says, ‘Baby, just go in your room and practice. You can do it,” she says. “When I was reciting it, I dramatized it, and put my all into it. After I performed, people in church said, ‘You could do anything you put your mind to.’ That has stuck with me all my life.”

Now Reece is a senior program manager on CloudMS Services in Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO), and she has carried this lesson, her Southern roots, and an ability to lead with empathy with her.

“I grew up in a small town where people value relationships. Where people looked at the basics of life,” she says. “Growing up in a small town and having a mom and dad who were educators gave me the foundation and motivation I needed to be successful in a career.”

Prior to Microsoft and other roles in the tech industry, she attended Mississippi State University and received an undergraduate degree in computer engineering. She went on to receive her graduate degree in electrical engineering at Virginia Tech University. There were many African American students when she began in her undergraduate program but by graduation, that number had gone down.

“I attended universities where a lot of people didn’t look like me, but I didn’t think much about it. I thought that if I did good work, I would be rewarded,” Reece says. “Sometimes, getting rewarded is not financial. It could be someone passing the hallway and saying, ‘Great presentation today,’ or ‘Would you be my mentor?’”

In college and beyond, she found inspiration from role models in her life who were achieving their goals.

“I look at people as human. If someone else can be a computer engineer, so can I,” Reece says. “It may take me a little more time to study, but I can do it. It’s just a matter of when and where.”

Fast forward, as she worked through a series of jobs as an engineer, technologist, and program manager that took her to places like New Jersey and Atlanta. Then Reece was recruited to work in CSEO at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond. Although this would be a big move, Reece found strength in her faith and the people around her, which have both been a consistent part of her journey.

“I prayed and received wise counsel that this was the right path to take,’” Reece says. “It’s not about the career. No matter where I go, I can create a network. I am a people person, but I believe that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

Building relationships to foster understanding and collaboration

Reece’s projects in cloud governance have required collaboration across the Microsoft Azure product group, another reason Reece maintains strong relationships with all the people she works with. “We have to make sure we work with each other to make each other successful and make the project successful,” Griffin says.

In her current role in CloudMS Services, she develops policies to ensure compliance with corporate standards and service level agreements. To do this, Reece works with service owners in security, storage, manageability, and data protection. To ensure that she understands the problem space, she did one-on-ones with the owners of each service area to learn their businesses, understand relative policies, and foster relationships.

“It’s important to get to know their role and their journey at Microsoft,” Reece says. “I believe that you can always learn from others and vice versa. Relationships go both ways.”

One person that she’s connected with on her team is Bryan Griffin, an engineering lead for Azure policy and governance in Cloud MS Services. Reece says that Griffin helps her understand the foundational knowledge behind the policies she’s working on. Having this understanding enables her to empower customers to control their cloud presence.

“Reece is very good at taking feedback and working to address it. It’s important to be direct—that’s one of the key elements to having a growth mindset,” Griffin says. “I’m trying to make sure Katina understands the whole thing at a high level, but also able to go to some meetings and understand the conversation that’s happening.”

Reece approaches her conversations with Griffin and other members of her team with a sense of curiosity.

“People may think, ‘Why is she here? Why is she asking questions?’” Reece says. “The way I look at it, everybody started from somewhere. People have been here for years. Naturally, they’re going to know a lot of things that I don’t know yet. I had to realize that and be OK with asking.”

Reece says that as she has fostered relationships, she’s strengthened her network and the understanding of her work.

“I feel included because I can talk about not only about technical norms, but also because I can truly be myself,” Reece says. “Finding common ground with people is key.”

Lifting while she climbs

Reece has passed on the support she’s received by being a mentor to individuals throughout Microsoft, and she continuously inspires people with her tenacity, ability to create community, and ongoing desire to learn. This also enables her to pass on the lessons she’s learned throughout her career.

“When I’m mentoring people, I emphasize that it’s important to value relationships,” Reece says. “You can be passing someone in the cafeteria and saying something to them can make their day.”

By becoming a mentor, she can a be a source of representation for other minorities and leave a legacy wherever she goes, something she attributes to being the middle child. She recalls a story when she returned to her hometown and was forgotten by her mom’s former student.

“Initially, I felt sad. Then, I decided, ‘People in this town will remember me,’” Reece says. “Now, I’ve taken it to the world. You can find ways to be unique and not fear change.”

Ultimately, Reece has always searched for a workplace where she is encouraged to learn and receive support from her peers, and she’s found that on her team within CSEO.

“I can focus on learning Azure and mentoring someone, and those things that I’m called here to work on,” Reece says. “We’re all humans at the end of the day. Inclusivity helps people feel comfortable and focus on the reason we’re here, which is working for Microsoft.”

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