A decade ago, Ritchell de Loyola was doing well in her career in finance at a bank. But then she was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune illness. As her condition deteriorated, she was confined to a wheelchair, forced to leave her job, and was out of work for the next seven years.
“The sense of not working had a big impact,” she says.
Eager to get back to work, she joined Virtualahan, a non-profit partner of Microsoft under its APAC Enabler Program, which was launched in September 2020 and piloted in five countries, namely the Philippines – where de Loyola is from – as well as Singapore, South Korea, New Zealand, and Thailand.
Under the program, Microsoft helps non-profit organizations become inclusive businesses by providing job shadowing, internships, mentoring and finding opportunities in tech jobs for people with disabilities.
De Loyola has since joined Microsoft, hosting tech consultant sessions with the company’s experts.
“I got the training, I gained my confidence back and through them, I got connected with Microsoft,” she says of the program.
De Loyola switched to the technology industry because she believes it can help create more accessible environments for people like her.
“I believe that technology can enable individuals. If it is assistive technology, a person with disability can achieve more,” she says, referring to technologies such as voice amplification systems or stuttering aids.
Through her work with Virtualahan she has seen first-hand how technology can help people living with disabilities, not only by providing them with skills, but also with a wider range of experiences than they may otherwise be exposed to.
“Through technology they’re able to explore the world outside their homes, where many of them are limited to physically,” she says. “They can have the same experiences as others – be educated, have fun, find work and everything else. That’s the true potential energy here, bridging not just gaps in skills but in living lives fully.”
Always keep changing
De Loyola was one of three people from across Southeast Asia who recently held a discussion with Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella. The trio were selected because they had invested in themselves to learn, grow, and develop their skills in recent years.
The meeting was an opportunity for Nadella to better understand the motivations of those looking to advance their skills, and to reinforce that doing so creates expanded economic opportunities for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
Another attendee was Ellery Jose, a Senior Technical Program Management Leader at Grab. Originally from the Philippines, Jose now lives in Singapore. He previously worked in a non-tech role for Grab, before utilizing the training opportunities available through his company’s partnership with Microsoft.
“It was a sense of now or never,” he says. “Grab is the first tech company I have worked for, so what better place to explore a role in tech but in a tech company?” he says.
Seeing the opportunity to learn with Microsoft, Jose gained a number of new certifications in areas including Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Data Engineering, and says he plans to complete more training programs in the future.
“It was really my way of gaining technical expertise that I can use to make an impact in my job as a program manager,” he says.
It’s not the first time Jose has reinvented himself. He studied molecular biology and biotechnology at college and at one point saw himself pursuing a PhD in the field. But he realized that research was, “not my thing,” and instead got a master’s in technology management.
It’s all part of his philosophy he says, “one can always reinvent oneself, in career and in life in general. You are who you are, but ‘you’ is a dynamic idea – it’s all up to you!”
Dare to be certified
Sara Khoo, Bid and Proposal Manager for ASEAN at Siemens Energy, also attended the meeting. Khoo moved from commissioning power plants to technical reporting and then to Siemens for nearly seven years in digital marketing and sales support.
Originally an electrical engineer, Khoo uses her present sales role to help her customers deal with the challenges of energy transition and decarbonization. The solutions use artificial intelligence and require machine learning, and initially, she was frustrated by not having her hands on the tech.
“Don’t let the next thing happen to you by chance. This is just the beginning.”
– Sara Khoo, Siemens Energy
That changed after she participated in a Women in AI and Women in Data Science program hosted by Microsoft and achieved AI900 Certification.
“I’m very drawn to challenging work, which makes learning a very important part for my career development,” she says. “I want to emphasize the message that women should know that they do not need to be afraid to be certified.”
Khoo’s career advice for anyone is: “Don’t let the next thing happen to you by chance. This is just the beginning.”
At the meeting, the attendees also posed questions to Nadella about how he views Microsoft’s role in creating opportunities for workers.
“Microsoft, I’ve always fundamentally believed, is in the business of empowering people,” he said. “And when we say empower every person, we mean every person, including the billion people with disabilities.
“Ultimately, our job is to make sure that you are able to have the tools, the platform, the skills that allow you to go create, to build, change and transform the broader society in the communities you live in, and you work in.
“When I listened to your stories, you all are leaders because you solved unsolvable over-constrained problems by figuring out how to find a path.”
TOP IMAGE (L-R): Sara Khoo from Siemens Energy, Ellery Jose from Grab and Ritchell de Loyola from Microsoft.