I’m Māori on both sides. Both of my parents have Māori mothers and European fathers. Where the identity crisis arises is from other people based on Māori stereotypes and my outward appearance. But it’s an identity crisis I’ve consciously chosen not to own. Because I’m very fair-skinned, I’ve had people ask “How are you Māori?” or comment, “You don’t look Māori at all.” They haven’t yet grasped that we all come in many different shades. I’ve come to realize there will always be people who say, “You are not Māori because you look like this,” or because you don’t fit a certain stereotype that people have created about our people.
When it comes to family, they’re the ones who understand all the unique ingredients that make up who you are, and that’s the most important part. My family is a very mixed family with Tongan, Welsh, and Mexican culture mixed in with Māori, and we embrace the beauty of all those cultures.
We’ve been here in Grey Lynn, a suburb near inner Auckland’s beaches and harbor, for three generations. When I was a kid, it was predominantly Māori and Pasifika. Now, we’re one of the few original families remaining, as it’s become more gentrified.
Our whānau home still stands here and holds memories and photographs of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who’ve shared meals, holidays, and birthdays. Every Christmas, we’d build hāngī pits in our backyard; that’s a traditional way of cooking on heated rocks just beneath the ground. Nowadays, we use hāngī cookers, huge silver pots that you place on a grill.
Grey Lynn is a place with a rich and complicated history dating back to colonial days. It’s a place where my family’s roots run deep. Back in the seventies, the New Zealand government brought over many Pasifika people to Grey Lynn and neighboring towns for labor jobs, but after the work was done, they wanted them gone. In what was known as the “dawn raids.” The police targeted Pasifika, raiding their homes to try and drive them out. Those with even a hint of brown in their skin were stopped, passports checked, and threatened with deportation. My dad and our extended family went through the dawn raids. They’d often get questioned and told to go back to where they came from, but they’d always say, “We’re Māori. We belong here.” It’s a painful piece of history that many Māori and Pasifika are still recovering from.
From teaching to tech-curious
I faced some challenges in high school that led to me dropping out. After that, I ended up working in cafes, then in tech support and customer service for a few years. Meanwhile, in the background I was working on my kindergarten teaching certification.
Around this same time, I started a family with my then-husband. By the age of 21, I was a full-time mom. But I was ready to get back to work. So after I finished my teaching certification, I was working as a kindergarten teacher when I got an offer to teach at the American School Foundation in Mexico. I loved the STEM curriculum there, a mix of tech and creativity, but after two and half years, my contract ended and I returned to New Zealand. That’s when I started to rethink whether I wanted to stay in teaching or move onto something else. The STEM integration I loved while teaching in Mexico wasn’t happening at the time in New Zealand. So, naturally, I didn’t know that STEM education could be a field that I could even pursue. But I loved it, and it led to me wanting to explore a possible career in tech.
One day, I made a Facebook post about contemplating a career change. My cousin who worked in the film industry, seeing the post, invited me to work on some projects with her and her partner. She was doing translations of the Disney movie “Moana” and working on a local TV show called “Whanau Living.” So, I joined the crew for “Whanau Living” as a production assistant for a couple of months.
That was my pivot.
I got another part-time job—an administrative role—and enrolled in some courses at Unitec Institute of Technology. I initially wanted to study UX web design, a field I’d been interested in for some time. But the enrollment office signed me up for the wrong courses, and I ended up in computing systems and cybersecurity and another on networking and hardware.
I kept attending class, thinking the curriculum would eventually shift to web design. Soon, I realized that there wasn’t going to be a design component; they were focused on Linux, computing, and security. By that time, it would have cost more to switch, and so I decided to fully commit. I worked hard at my courses and started to excel. As I juggled two part-time roles and teaching on the side, the possibility of working in the tech industry gradually started to come into focus.
My journey took another turn when I volunteered for OMGTech!, a community partner of Microsoft. Eventually, they put me on the payroll, teaching kids scratch programming, robotics, and other STEM subjects. Around the same time, I applied for a scholarship program at Google for women tech makers, and out of 25,000 applicants, I was one of the 73 they selected.
Through the scholarship program, I interned at Google and later at Price Waterhouse Cooper in cybersecurity and began meeting other Māori people in tech. One was Dan Walker, a senior territory channel manager and global cochair of Indigenous at Microsoft. We crossed paths at a Māori tech event, and after just one conversation he encouraged me to come work at Microsoft.
I told him I had my doubts. “I don’t think I’m good enough for Microsoft,” I said. “I’ve been to your events and everyone looks so smart.” But Dan insisted, “They need someone like you. Someone who wants to give back to the community.” So, Dan referred me to Aspire, Microsoft’s internship program for recent graduates. I was 27, with a Bachelor’s degree but struggling to find a full-time job. Imposter syndrome had crept in as I noticed all the boys were getting snapped up, even though I had some of the best grades. I decided to get a Master’s degree, thinking it might improve my odds.
I kept bumping into Dan. And he was still encouraging me to come work with him, and suggested I do a virtual training internship at Microsoft. No sooner had I finished the training than someone from APAC, Microsoft’s Asia Pacific headquarters, reached out and asked if I wanted to apply for Aspire. I was still conflicted, but this time, I decided to give it a go.
By now I was almost 30, a single parent raising my two daughters, and had been out of the full-time workforce for five years. I was still doubting myself, but I had rent and bills to pay.
I applied, interviewed, and joined Microsoft as a cloud solution architect in data and AI. Three years in, it’s been a complex journey for me—not the job itself, but the emotional and internal battles along the way.
A stronger network for women
Through finding my passion in tech, I’ve found that I can also help others find their passion.
On top of my responsibilities as a now-customer success account manager (CSAM), I’m also the recognition pillar champ for the Assessment and Planning Experience (APEX) program. I’ve seen people hesitate to put themselves out there, and having experienced my fair share of imposter syndrome, I use the program to empower my colleagues to go after the recognition they deserve.
Back when I was at Unitec, I noticed there weren’t many women in my courses, a reality that opened up questions for me: Was the tech industry unattractive to women? Or was it simply not doing enough to attract them? Determined to make a difference, I began leading groups and organizing events at Unitec for women and minorities in tech, later joining the board of a group called Women in Tech and cofounding the New Zealand Network for Women in Security.
Today, I’m continuing my work to bring more women into the picture, through my leadership with the Global Customer Success Women in Tech pillar for Australia and New Zealand and the APAC team, which involves empowering women in the tech industry through mentorship and various initiatives. With the work I do with women in cybersecurity, I try to uplift them and bring them into this network. I’m on a mission to cultivate new role models.
Bringing my daughters along for the ride
The journey to where I am today has been anything but straightforward; it’s been a rollercoaster ride. What’s meant the most to me is having my two daughters part of the entire ride with me. They’ve seen that as they’ve grown, I’ve grown as well. They get to see me growing and becoming more focused, without losing sight of who I am.
I didn’t see many role models at uni in my mid 20s, late 20s, and early 30s. It’s led me to reflect on how I’m showing up at work and doing community work inside of Microsoft and outside of Microsoft for my daughters and for all the women who aspire to be in tech. I want to show my daughters that they can aspire to be anything they want, even if they’re not entirely sure what that is, because it can take time to find your unique path.