Forbes magazine has named her one of China’s top 50 women in tech, while Fortune says she’s one of the country’s leading businesswomen to watch. There’s no doubt that Gebi Liang is a high achiever in the technology sector. But that wasn’t her original plan.
As a fresh grad, her heart was set on becoming an English teacher.
That career path took a dramatic turn soon after she flew to the United States to further her studies. She quickly came to a stark realization: While her language skills were highly regarded in her native China, they weren’t anywhere near as valuable in America, where “everyone’s English was better than mine.”
Rethinking her future
She rethought her future, adopted a growth mindset and jumped into something completely new: science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
It was a life decision that eventually led her to an important leadership role in Microsoft China, where she is encouraging other women to break out and strive for more.
Gebi took her first step toward reinvention by enrolling in a master’s program in computer science.
“It was overwhelming at first — I had no idea what I had signed up for,” she recalls. “But I was young, fearless and curious. I gave it a try and took it one course at a time.”
Later, with a can-do attitude and willingness to learn, Gebi secured an internship at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Jefferson Lab, where she flourished under a strong support system.
“My managers and mentors had such big hearts,” Gebi says. “They did a lot of work to help me make the most of my internship, which in turn reaffirmed my commitment and passion to stay in STEM.”
Deciding to adapt
Her decision to adapt paid off through a progression of roles. Gebi is now based in Microsoft China’s office in Suzhou, where she manages teams that focus on the development of SharePoint and Microsoft Teams.
For women looking to pursue careers in STEM — new graduates, career shifters, mothers or those re-entering the tech field — Gebi has this advice: “Trust in today’s technologies to make it much easier for you to get into STEM. If you have the interest or passion, give it a go and take it one small step at a time. Build your confidence and go from there.”
Throughout her career, Gebi has benefited from the support of mentors who provided guidance, connections, resources and a sense of community. “They acted as sounding boards and helped me through challenging times.”
Gebi now does the same with members of her team. “It’s so rewarding to see them continuously challenge themselves and become better, gradually stepping up and advancing in their careers.”
She is also sponsoring female interns and supporting women across Microsoft China. As a champion of diversity and inclusion, Gebi has hosted and organized many events for women’s resource groups at Microsoft and has spoken at panels and conferences on STEM.
“It takes one person at a time, one conversation at a time to create change,” she says. “When I have power, my job is to empower others.
“I was conducting a new hire orientation, and one of the new hires approached me and said she joined Microsoft after she heard me speak at an event. She has a one-year-old baby, and when she heard about work-life balance at the company, she decided to apply. In cases like that, I feel rewarded.”
As a mother of two – a 22-year-old son and a 20-year-old daughter – she knows that balancing motherhood and a career can be tough.
“It’s not easy. But I told myself to pick my priorities and try not to do it all — then not feel guilty about that,” Gebi says. “It may not be the perfect way, but this is what works for me and my family.”
Despite her busy schedule, Gebi makes time to unwind through exercise. “That’s one thing I do not only for myself but for others as well, so I can bring my best self to work.”
She tries to work out every day, and she’s been practicing yoga for more than 10 years. “The breathing technique helps calm me down when I’m feeling nervous or frustrated,” Gebi says. “It reduces anxiety and pressure.”
Both her children are currently pursuing degrees in the United States — and they’re following in their mother’s footsteps. Her daughter is at a liberal arts college and has just accepted an internship offer from Microsoft.
“She got it on her own and I’m happy for her,” Gebi says. Meanwhile, her son has a double major in computer science and economics.
Gebi glows with pride when talking about her children, and considers raising them as her greatest achievement. “They have pursued their dreams and are on the right path to becoming people who can contribute to society.”
Throughout her journey in work and life, Gebi has put family first.
“A career is a rubber ball that bounces back and forth. But a family is a glass bowl. Once it’s shattered, it’s hard to restore it into one piece,” she says. “That’s why I believe family should always be the priority.”
All images by Fang Zhao.