“Interacting with people that don’t necessarily look or think like me, I feel that it helps broaden me and I think it helps broaden them as well. “

After more than 10 years working at Microsoft, Manitoban Deanna LaJambe reflects on the impact of exercising her “empathy muscle” in life and at work.

My first interaction with computers was in high school in Manitoba when I took a computer science course. Before that, I thought I might go into law because I was good at putting together a coherent argument. At the time, personal computers were new. We had a Tandy that you’d boot up with a cassette recorder and I remember thinking, “How beautifully logical!” It’s not like all this other randomness that happens in the universe. Here you can figure it out. There’s always an answer.

After high school, I attended Brandon University, but I didn’t finish my degree. Instead, I went to work for the Manitoba Metis Federation as a Housing Development Officer delivering subsidized housing to remote northern communities. It was eye-opening work and through it, I developed a lot of empathy for people and their circumstances.

A decade and a promotion later, I looked around and realized I was ready for something new — so I took an interesting detour. I took a course to learn how to drive an 18-wheel truck and for about a year, I drove long-haul runs throughout Canada and the U.S. I saw the backsides of shopping malls and loading docks and listened to a lot of audiobooks.

But I missed my family and friends, so I went home. When I did, I saw an ad for an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) training, specifically offered by an Indigenous training institution. I applied, was accepted, and at the end of six months, four of us received our MCSE designation. Not long after, I landed at Microsoft; first, as a contractor doing support for a Forefront Online Protection for Exchange product that was designed for filtering spam, and eventually as a salaried Implementation Project Manager.

One of the things I value most about my job at Microsoft is the potential to do something to positively impact the world and exercise my empathy muscle. Years ago, I remember showing a colleague a spreadsheet I created and asking, “How’s this?” They said, “I can’t read it because I’m colorblind.” So now I’m aware of how to work with someone who is colorblind. That experience showed me the importance of including all perspectives. Whether it’s the appearance of a thing or the ability to use a thing or the way that different people think about using a thing, those perspectives are important.

Growing up in Manitoba, a community where there was a big cultural divide, I was aware of my difference from an early age. While I don’t like to dwell on the past, it has shaped the person that I am and how I try to conduct my life now. Being able to interact with people that don’t necessarily look or think like me, I feel that it helps broaden me and I think it helps to broaden them as well.

Find more stories like Deanna’s by visiting: http://aka.ms/InclusionIsInnovation/indigenous