I’m from the Cook Islands, which is just off the coast of New Zealand, part of the Pacific region. The island lifestyle, which means living off the land, was a very simple, humble environment for me to grow up in. Being Pasifika, my morning routine consisted of waking up to feed the livestock and tending to the garden, then getting ready for school, and a similar routine after school—cleaning the house and doing other chores. Although it’s a very strict culture when it comes to education, I was a bit of a rebel in school. I loved to prove people wrong! In high school, when a computer science teacher told us we could only build an app using code, I rebelled. I built a fully functional app that could store data and work with other applications using only PowerPoint.
Fast forward to my move to Auckland, New Zealand—I studied network engineering and security at the Auckland University of Technology and then joined Microsoft through its Aspire Experience two-year internship program. Following my internship, I moved into a customer engineer role, which gave me the opportunity to work on very specific issues that customers face and solve them.
This was my first corporate job, and I faced some challenges. I didn’t understand the day-to-day of a corporate environment from a cultural perspective. For example, looking people in the eye is expected professionally. But when I first started here, I was very shy, and often my gaze was facing down as a sign of respect. That’s how we grow up in the Pacific region. But while I was quiet at first, after some time, through growing my technical ability, my confidence began to grow as well. I began to believe that what I brought to my role was unique and important. I think having diversity and inclusion as part of our company strategy empowers and encourages diversity of thought.
At Microsoft, we are encouraged to create an environment where everyone in the room has a voice. My team uses a pass-the-mic method, allowing team members to speak and collectively work toward achieving a goal. That group setting, for me, feels familiar, like a cultural transfer.
I credit my mentors for supporting me during my early journey at Microsoft. My colleague Dan Walker is the person who helped bring me to the organization, and during my first year, he helped me find my footing. He was my go-to person for questions about things that didn’t make sense to me. He’s Māori, which connects us from a cultural perspective. Through Dan’s mentorship, I learned how to remain authentic and bring that authenticity to work.
When it comes to innovation in the technology sector, I’ve learned that everyone’s journey and community perspective matters. Your culture is your personal contribution and helps shape how you view or solve a problem. For me personally, listening and being curious are a huge part of who I am culturally. These are soft skills that have helped me understand many of our customer scenarios.