Women in Tech: Stephanie Morillo
Today, we have Stephanie Morillo 👩💻, a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft with a multidisciplinary career—ranging from project management, communications, technical writing, content marketing, UX writing, content design, and content strategy.
Talk to as many people as possible to understand what they do, how they got to where they are, and to identify communities, groups, and other venues for collaborating with professionals in these fields.
— Stephanie Morillo
In this interview, you'll to learn how Stephanie started her career in tech, her journey so far, advice on tech and experience at General Assembly, DigitalOcean, GitHub and Microsoft. If this interview is helpful to you, please share it with your friends and colleagues and help others 💜
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. How and when did you venture into tech?
Stephanie: I got into tech around eight years ago. I was in my mid-twenties, working for a communications agency, when I decided I wanted to learn to code and possibly find a software developer job. My friend Steven taught himself Ruby and started giving me Ruby lessons once per week. It was hard and I wasn't always consistent, but I really enjoyed being around developers and loved the community aspect of development. I started attending local Meetups and conferences and getting involved with the tech scene on Twitter. Eventually, Steven helped me land my first tech role as a teaching assistant on a part-time backend web development course.
Can you briefly tell us about your job title?
Stephanie: My job title is "Senior Program Manager", which is a common title in Microsoft engineering teams. In practice, my role is a blend of product management and technical program management. The specific program I oversee is the experimentation (A/B testing) program on the Azure.com website. My program has a clear mission and very clear goals and objectives, which drives how we work with other teams and ultimately what we build. I work with Marketing to understand what they want to achieve on the site, and me and my team are responsible for designing, building, and running experiments on the site. I own the product backlog and determine what we're working on next, I manage program operations, build systems, processes, and documentation to help the program scale, and I also project manage each experiment from ideation to completion. The role requires a lot of communication—you have to educate stakeholders and other team members on the importance of experimentation, as well as translate technical requirements to business-minded stakeholders and vice versa—so it requires a high-level understanding of how our architecture works, among many other things.
What difficulties have you faced on your way in tech? Have you ever felt like you were not treated as equal?
Stephanie: There were many obstacles. For one, my path was interesting; it's assumed if you learn to code you will eventually become (or want to become) a developer, and after my first code challenge I realized that was not the path I wanted to take. I wanted to become a technical writer but many companies would only hire writers with deep technical expertise; I was too "green", and few companies at the time trained up writers to become deeply technical. At a few conferences I attended, I was also almost always the only person not working as a developer; I was in marketing. So some folks were wary of talking to me; they assumed I was just there to pitch them a product when I was there to be around devs and learn.
If there is a bias women face, why do you think it is still there, in the 21st century? What are some things people and organizations could do to change this?
Stephanie: Yes, absolutely. There is a prevailing stereotype that women are "less knowledgeable" on technical topics than men. We also see across the board that women are grossly underrepresented in all tech roles, but especially senior and leadership roles. Everyone talks about the "pipeline", which is nice, but what about the women who are already in the industry or those who are poised to enter it? What about their growth and their pathways? And also, what about their compensation? There's a lot of research to show and support how women are paid less for the same work than men, and tech is no different. Companies should hire DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) consultants and have them audit their organizations for everything from pay to women in technical and technical leadership roles. They should work with these experts to design programs that actually yield results—we see too many self-congratulatory blog posts from companies about all the changes they will make and we never hear about how they actually performed. And individuals should actively search for and listen to technologists who are different from them. For example, I still see lots of men in tech follow primarily other men in tech on Twitter which is a missed opportunity. They miss out on the ability to see and engage with women technologists (among others) who are working on amazing things, people they could learn from.
You previously worked at General Assembly, DigitalOcean and GitHub. How was life at these companies?
Stephanie: I entered the tech industry at an exciting time (2012/2013), when the New York City startup scene was burgeoning, and when the very first coding bootcamps opened for business. General Assembly was the best place for me to start my career; at the time, it was a growth-stage startup and because of its educational programs and events, it became a "meeting place" for people in all areas of tech and entrepreneurship. They hosted Meetups, companies would frequently stop by to participate in interviews with bootcamp students, and their various coding courses attracted instructors who worked in engineering roles at top NY companies. When I moved to DigitalOcean, I was finally at the kind of company I wanted to work at: a tech company that made products for software developers. They were very open to letting me carve out my own career path and encouraged me to learn whatever I was interested in. So I took courses in everything from information security to copywriting, and eventually started graduate school in a User Experience Design program while I was employed there. I carved out a career path that was distinct from the one I had when I started there and that was supported by my managers and teammates. Finally, I went over to GitHub. I was only there for four months (Microsoft came calling a few weeks into my tenure) but my content management skills were forged there. For the first time in years, I worked with other content strategists; their writers are among the best in the industry. I learned an incredible amount from them.
You currently work as Senior Product Manager and Content Strategist, how long did it take you to arrive here and what significant difficulties did you face along the way?
Stephanie: I've been in product management for a year now and a content strategist for four. If we're looking at it from the moment I finished university (which was over a decade ago), we can say it took me years; the path was not linear. I switched industries and I took roles that were outside of my main areas of expertise in order to grow and learn and to find what I was interested in.
We see that you work predominately in Project Management, Communications, Technical Writing, Content Marketing, UX Writing, Content Design, and Content Strategy. How did you decide to focus on these paths?
Stephanie: A lot of trial and error! I started my career in communications and when I eventually switched to tech, I picked up project management. When I decided I didn't want to be a dev and was trying to figure out what to do next, I realized that I wanted to write for developers, so I sought technical writing roles. As luck would have it, I didn't get a technical writing role but I ended up in copywriting, where I wrote for marketing and product. That's how I ended up in UX and content strategy, which led to me getting a Master's degree in UX Design. Essentially, all these fields overlap and what they have in common is the communication of information. I like educating and sharing knowledge through writing. All these fields help me do that.
What advice do you have for a newbie or intermediate who dreams to work as Senior Product Manager or Content Strategist?
Stephanie: Talk to as many people as possible to understand what they do, how they got to where they are, and to identify communities, groups, and other venues for collaborating with professionals in these fields. I did not know I'd end up in these roles when I started out; I followed my interests and as I learned more about career paths, I sought out people who were further along in their career to get a better sense of what steps I should take next.
You currently authored two popular books: The Developer's Guide to Content Creation and The Developer's Guide to Book Publishing. What inspired them?
Stephanie: Both of these books were inspired by my work in developer relations, managing company blogs, and as a freelance editor. At first I thought these books would be too foundational and simple, but people responded very well to the concepts and that motivated me to write them and publish them. My previous experiences taught me that I was the right person to write these books.
How long have you been in tech and what word will describe your experience so far?
Stephanie: One word: journey :)
We see that you speak and teach at software conferences, how did you get into public speaking and how has it affected your career?
Stephanie: The first tech conference I ever attended, Madison Ruby 2014, was also the site of my first speaking engagement: I was one of the conference emcees. I tweeted so much about the conference leading up to it that one of the organizers invited me to emcee some of the event by introducing a few speakers. Through that I met a bunch of amazing technologists, one of whom (Ashe Dryden) organized a series of conferences called AlterConf. I submitted a CFP and got accepted to talk about being an underrepresented person in tech. I loved that experience and kept applying to different conferences. I was also invited to speak at conferences, which led to more visibility.
Imposter syndrome is one problem developers face especially newbies, what is your experience with imposter syndrome, how did you manage yours, and what advice do you have for anyone facing this currently?
Stephanie: This is going to sound strange but I don't experience as much impostor syndrome anymore. I still get nervous or wonder if I'm messing things up, but I don't feel like an imposter. I know what I value, what I'm good at, what I can improve, and that I don't know it all. When I experienced impostor syndrome in the past, it was almost always coupled with a desire to do something new and to grow. So I started focusing more on what I wanted than on the feelings of impostor syndrome. They didn't go away or disappear, but I didn't want them to hold me back. You'll be surprised later down the line at how daring you were when you look back on your career!
Rejection emails are another thing that motivates imposter syndrome and depression amongst developers, especially intermediates. How did you manage this effectively during your "job-hunting" days?
Stephanie: This is a tough one. No matter where you are in your journey, rejections can sting. During my last job search, I made sure to have other things going on, like freelancing or taking classes, as a way of continuing to acquire skills and invest in myself. I also remind myself that it's a "numbers game"; you'll have to get through some rejections before you get an offer. And I give myself the space to be sad when something doesn't pan out but then I pour my energies into other things I'm working out to balance things out.
What advice would you give to aspiring programmers who look forward to working for companies like Microsoft or Twitter.
Stephanie: My interview process for Microsoft was atypical from others; I interviewed for multiple roles on two different teams before I got a role. I'd say if working at a big company is your goal, talk to people who are there and ask them about their experiences. Within large companies, the culture can vary from to team to team. Don't get discouraged and don't discount other companies, either! If you don't get a role, it may not be the right role or even the right time. Look for and apply to companies that align with your values and don't be afraid to apply for new roles at a later time.
What does your development environment look like?
Though I can’t share a pic of my environment, these are the tools I use heavily on any given day: Azure DevOps Boards (for project management), GitHub (for tracking dev work and signing off on a PR after all reviews are done), ExP and Adobe Target (for creating new A/B tests).
Finally, what would be your message to women trying to get into technology?
Stephanie: Find online communities to engage with, especially if you're teaching yourself. Online communities are great for creating new friendships, finding new opportunities, and getting support. The friendships I made with Ruby developers early on in my career carried me through, especially when things got hard. It's amazing how many people really want to help and encourage people early in their journey.
Thanks for taking out time to read this interview. 👋
This series is all about talking to the awesome women in tech, understanding the current health of the tech industry and inspiring other women to become better. If you want to share your story, please reach out to me on Hashnode.
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See you next time and keep trailblazing 💪💙