Vanessa Feliberti: Microsoft Women Worth Watching

Today's Microsoft Woman Worth Watching is Vanessa Feliberti, who isn't just a Microsoft 'lifer,' but an Exchange lifer, too. She has worked on all seven Exchange releases during her 17 years at the company.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

In the 25-plus years I've written about technology, I've interviewed fewer than 50 female Microsoft employees (by my rough estimate). In part, this is because there are less of them. Microsoft officials say women comprise 25 percent of the company's total workforce. It's also because many of the women who do work at Microsoft are in marketing, sales and support roles and aren't among those who are "authorized" to talk to us press/blogger types.

There are a handful of women employees dotting Microsoft's executive ranks, including two Senior Vice Presidents (Lisa Brummel,head of Human Resources, and Mich Matthews, head of the Central Marketing Group). But I wanted to meet some of the less-public techies -- the engineers, product managers and programmers who work at Microsoft to find out how and why they've managed to buck the continuing trend of women not entering math/science careers. The women I've interviewed for this series have joined Microsoft via a wide variety of paths. Some knew since they were kids they wanted to be involved in technology. Others came to the Empire via a more circuitous route (master of fine arts in poetry, anyone?). Some are Microsoft lifers. Others are recent hires.

On March 24, Ada Lovelace Day -- which is dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in science and technology -- I kicked off a new series profiling some of these Microsoft women worth watching. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be running profiles of ten of them on my blog.

Today's Microsoft Woman Worth Watching: Vanessa Feliberti

Title: Software Development Lead, Exchange Server

What's Your Typical Day Like? For the past three years, Feliberti has been working on the calendaring functionality in Exchange Server 2010. She currently manages seven people. While she does some delegating, she also does a lot of working on problems, 24 X 7.

Did you always want to be involved in technology? If not, what steered you this way? "I remember the moment I knew I'd be in technology," Feliberti recalls. She was being tutored in math (which she always had found easy) by a high-school student while in junior high. "He said computers were where the future was at," she says. As an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she "put together the logic in computing with the problem solving," Feliberti says. "I knew right away that's what I wanted to do."

Advice for women (and/or men) considering a career in technology? “I’d like to debunk the myth that women aren’t 'suited' for technology. Women are naturally creative and insightful which makes us innate innovators and problem solvers. I think that we’re on the brink of having an explosion of women in the technology field. As technology continues to grow in the consumer markets and as its uses continue spread into new areas, I believe women will create applications of technology in areas for which they are passionate. It’s a natural evolution."

Favorite gadget (just one) or technology? Zune HD media player

Vanessa Feliberti isn't just a Microsoft lifer. She's also an Exchange lifer.

Feliberti has been on the Exchange Server team at Microsoft for 17 years. She started out as an individual contributor, then became a program manager, then a program manager lead.

"Exchange was my first job out of school," says Feliberti, who received her degrees from MIT and, later, Boston University, in Computer Science and Software Engineering. She was recruited by Microsoft directly out of school.

"I've worked on all seven releases" of Exchange, Feliberti says.

During that time, she's seen Exchange grow from the Milestone 0 release in 1993, its first 10,000 seats, to the first 100 million. She takes pride in the fact that her dad uses Exchange to check e-mail and her daughter, "to schedule my time." She likes the feeling of being part of that evolution, she says.

Feliberti didn't do a lot of conscious managing of her career, she admits. She worked with various mentors during her time at Microsoft, but it was really mostly a matter of luck that she was assigned to a team that she ended up loving from the outset. When she joined Exchange in 1993, she was the only woman dev. These days, there are enough women in Exchange that they have created a "Women of Exchange" group that meets regularly to network and share career advice.

"I like building things and solving problems. I like being in the middle of it all," she says. She also likes the Exchange team's camaraderie, she says. "It's about getting it done and pushing it forward" on a variety of fronts, from basic e-mail, to contacts, to Outlook Web Access, to multi-platform support, Feliberti says.

During a stint managing a 25-person unit within Exchange, Feliberti came to be known by the nickname, "Queen V." As she managed folks in China and India in different time zones as part of her responsibilities, the word was "the sun never sets on Queen V.'s kingdom," she jokes.

Now that Exchange 2010 is done and delivered, what's next for Feliberti?

For one, she is listed as one of three applicants on a Microsoft patent application dated December 24, 2009, for "Establishing secure data transmission using unsecured e-mail," I noticed.

"I plan to stay on in Exchange," she says, though she is now interested in becoming a dev manager so she can help set direction for an entire team of engineers.

She's already thinking ahead, she says. "I've got lots of ideas about what should come next, by the time we're ready for the Exchange 2015 release," she says.

(Check out all the Microsoft Women Worth Watching profiles here.)

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