Women’s History Month Interview Series 2019
Welcome to TechFunnel.com’s interview series for Women’s History Month where we are celebrating female executives, CEOs, business owners, and creators across various industries.
Joining us today is Fatima Kardar.
Fatima is the Chief Technical Advisor to the Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft, formulating technical strategy and driving global initiatives across the company. She has worked at Microsoft for nearly 20 years in various roles within the product and engineering organizations – building platforms and developer APIs.
In her most recent role, she helped drive product strategy and developer messaging for the Windows Developer Platform including partnering directly with Microsoft’s top partners (WhatsApp, Twitter, Pandora, Spotify, Beats Music, Qualcomm and others).
Fatima earned an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Lahore University of Management Sciences and an MBA from Duke University.
In this interview, Fatima shares her journey into technology, what a typical day looks like for her, and what it is like to drive and shape the technical strategy of Microsoft.
Take it away, Fatima!
Danni White: First, tell us, a little bit about yourself and how you ended up at Microsoft?
Fatima Kardar: I grew up in Pakistan, did my undergraduate in Computer Science from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Right around the time I was graduating, Microsoft was doing a lot of international recruiting. Several of my friends were applying at the company and convinced me to apply. Four interviews and a long visa process later, I moved my entire life to Seattle to join Microsoft at the age of 21.
DW: Had you always wanted to be involved in technology or did you have other aspirations?
FK: When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut! I was fascinated with space. I was always excited about STEM and knew I wanted to do something in the sciences. However, I did not have access to computers growing up, so didn’t know that was something I could explore. It was only after I joined LUMS for my undergraduate degree that I learned about computer science. I learned I was a natural at it, given my strong math and science background. It was love at first sight!
DW: Can you walk us through what a typical day looks like for you?
FK: I am a mother of two young girls (a 3-year old and a 3-month old). My morning consists of waking up to a smiling baby and rushing to get my older daughter ready for preschool. I catch up on email while still in bed ( This is the first thing I do when I wake up!). My day at work comprises essentially of three parts:
- Working with my team. This includes debating and discussing all kinds of technical issues from high level strategy to very tactical next steps in driving cross company initiatives and cultural change at Microsoft.
- Connecting with people across the company, building relationships and trust, understanding what the challenges are and serving as an example of One Microsoft.
- The best part of my job is that I get to spend time with CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft Senior leadership, and even Bill Gates. I get to be part of decisions that will impact where our industry is headed and technology that will change our lives in years to come.
DW: What is it like to help drive and shape the technical strategy of Microsoft?
FK: Microsoft is so big and we do so many cool things, whether it be quantum computing, OS and device strategy, the Intelligent Edge, Office Productivity or AI platforms, that I am always learning something new. My job is to work with the experts across the company and help them connect to our One Microsoft vision. My team helps provide CEO Satya Nadella, CTO Kevin Scott and our entire leadership team the right information and analysis, so they can create a high level vision that can be translated into actual execution.
DW: You have worked on Microsoft’s Intelligent Edge, how do you feel this technology will continue to evolve?
FK: As Satya Nadella describes it, technology is all around us and at the same time disappearing into our environment. With cheaper silicon, advances in AI, ubiquitous connectivity, the Intelligent Edge is going to fundamentally change how we experience the world.
DW: How did you gain the business experience that allowed you to eventually step into the role of CTA?
FK: It starts with having a foundation as a hands-on software engineer, 18 years working in and having a deep understanding of Microsoft products and culture, an MBA along the way and finally the ability to build strong, lasting relationships and a company-wide network of trusted advisors.
DW: What are some ways in which you work to inspire women on your team?
FK: A big challenge in our industry is that there are not enough role models for women with whom they can relate. We have few women in leadership and even fewer who have the added time commitments that come with younger kids. As a new mother (who just came back from maternity leave) I remind my team all the time that you can have a family and an ambitious career, too. You can have a leadership style that is based on collaboration and empathy. You can have influence even if you don’t have the loudest voice in the room. Women can be very technical. To be successful in this industry, it is not only about technical depth, but people skills matter just as much. A different personality and perspective is an asset.
DW: There continue to be many conversations about women in the workplace especially in high-level roles and in the technology industry. What are your thoughts on gender parity?
FK: As I mentioned earlier, I believe that women bring a different set of skills and perspective. Gender parity is about being equal, while still being different.
DW: What is the one piece of advice that has helped you become a great leader?
FK: Always listen. Always learn.