Vanessa Sorenson leads a strategy that focuses on investing for growth in Microsoft’s world-class partner ecosystem; driving 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.

But how did Vanessa get to this point in her career?

At the annual Leadership Summit: Women in Tech Vanessa divulged the details of her journey through the tech industry, the ups and downs and the best piece of career advice she received that still inspires her today!

“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” explains Vanessa.

Vanessa left school at 16 with no major qualifications and set out to carve her own path in an industry that had no clear path. Her first break came when she was hired as a receptionist at an IT company and then moved into sales. She later moved to WangNZ which became Gen-I, and was later purchased by Telecom. Telecom later turned into Spark and she then worked her way up the ladder to her 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, carving out my own pathway. My unique journey has really inspired me to help other people from all walks of life to break into this amazing industry!” 

Like so many rising professionals, a challenge for Vanessa in her early years was imposter syndrome. In her words

“I honestly felt like I was not good enough”.

It took Vanessa years of hard work, talking to many & varied mentors, and reaching out for help through her business connections to work through the syndrome and battle the overwhelming feelings.

Vanessa speaks with so many women who don’t even consider working in the technology industry, 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.

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. 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.

“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” explains Vanessa. Vanessa believes a big challenge for the tech industry is how to change this perception in order to make the ‘welcome mat’ even bigger and invite more people to be part of the growing and dynamic industry.

Over her years of climbing the corporate ladder, Vanessa believes her best piece of career advice she has been given is about collaboration. She believes collaboration is everything in business.

“If you can’t build the business together with your employees, it will never succeed.”

With Vanessa at the helm, Microsoft has started a number of key initiatives. And no surprise the key word ‘collaboration’ pops up again.

“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.”

Microsoft has an ongoing partnership with TupuToa, which sees Microsoft employ Māori and Pacific Island interns each year, many of whom go on to enjoy successful careers at Microsoft. This is just one of the many empowering win-win partnerships Vanessa is extremely passionate about.

From her extraordinary career journey Vanessa has witnessed most things and has offered countless career direction and mentoring advice. So who better to ask for their ‘gold nugget’ of career advice than the MD of Microsoft New Zealand and Chief Partner Officer of ANZ. “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.”