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“Forge your own path”: How Daniella Mathews took matters into her own hands

When Daniella found herself wanting more in her career, she created her own opportunities to grow, upskill, and land a technical role.

Even in her childhood, Daniella was always fascinated by understanding how things work and solving problems. As an only child, she spent lots of time playing computer games on her grandmother’s Commodore 64 and remembers taking apart a mechanical watch and putting it back together when she was a teen.

Daniella as a young child with her grandmother
Growing up as an only child, Daniella spent a lot of her time playing computer games with her grandmother (pictured)

Her natural curiosity only grew as she developed her career at Microsoft – only instead of taking apart and reassembling watches, she is now breaking down customer problems and building solutions.

Daniella joined Microsoft as a Technical Account Manager a decade ago and spent seven happy years in customer-facing roles. She was promoted to Customer Success Account Manager, where she thrived in connecting customers to the solutions they needed.

But she wanted more.

“I was amazed at how fast the Azure cloud platform was growing, and in our clients’ increasing interest in it. I wanted to be a part of that,” she says.

Daniella wanted to explore the technical side of things and be able to see through a customer’s journey from end to end.

“That’s why becoming a Cloud Solution Architect – a CSA – really appealed to me. Working with customers has always been my strength. At the heart of a CSA’s work is being a designer. We break down complex problems and design cloud solutions to meet customer needs.”

Encountering roadblocks

Daniella knew where she wanted to go within Microsoft, but had to come to terms with a harsh truth after being turned down twice for the role of CSA. She simply lacked the experience and knowledge required for a technical role.

“I found myself stuck in a skills gap and started to reconsider my future at the organisation.”

She approached her managers about her concerns, and they saw the need to create new pathways for staff to gain relevant skills.

“Luckily, my managers were super supportive and even got me involved in designing a new initiative,” she explains. “Many others in the industry lack the hands-on experience and deeper technical knowledge required to progress into these kinds of roles.”

Paving the way

Daniella and her team, made up of her manager, the Customer Success leadership team and HR, got to work designing and delivering Microsoft’s first Associate Cloud Solution Architect program. It gives access and support to a diverse range of Microsoft employees – and external candidates – to transition into more technical roles.

Image of a computer screen showing information of the Associate CSA program
Daniella helped design Microsoft’s first Associate Cloud Solution Architect program – a new pathway for mid-career professionals to transition into technical roles.

“I think it’s important to have people with diverse work and life experiences bring fresh perspectives to the CSA team,” she explains.

We have many avenues at Microsoft for graduates and interns, but the opportunities are limited for mid-career professionals and those from non-tech backgrounds to get their foot in the door.

Daniella was the program’s first participant and helped design the program as she was undertaking it. The entire process took about 18 months, as Daniella would go through the program’s phases herself and reflect on how they needed to be tweaked and improved along the way.

Four adults sitting around a Microsoft Surface laptop
Since the launch of the program, four other Associate CSAs have joined Microsoft ANZ.

“It was so exciting seeing all the pieces come together and to see the program up and running. Everything was designed based on my own experience and I worked with incredible mentors who gave me the skills I needed for success.”

She completed the program in 2022 and was Microsoft’s first associate on the team. Today, she’s a fully-fledged Cloud Solution Architect, owning and running a full complement of engagement with customers.

Having seen the program through, from proof of concept to implementation, Daniella also remains heavily involved in running the program and hiring new candidates.

So far, four other associate CSAs in Australia and New Zealand have joined the program.

“I’m very proud to have created an opportunity for others looking for growth and change to find the support they need to achieve that.”

Finding the right support

While Daniella forged a new path, she says her progress would not have been possible without the support of her team and managers.

My biggest piece of advice for anyone who is facing challenges in achieving their goals is to find your supporters. Find people who will lift you up, look for new pathways and break boundaries.

The Associate program has currently been rolled out across ANZ. This year, it will expand to more locations around the world and across other business groups.

Daniella’s journey has singlehandedly redefined how traditional roles and pathways look in tech companies. “I can proudly say that my work will help many others who are looking for inclusive pathways into tech,” she explains. “I want to be a trailblazer.”