[Guest Blog] My Journey from Former Nun to Microsoft Employee (Yes, you read that correctly!)

This post has been republished via RSS; it originally appeared at: New blog articles in Microsoft Tech Community.

This article was written by Microsoft employee Denise Pyles as part of the Humans of IT Guest Blogger series. Today, Denise is a Senior Ethics and Compliance Manager- she recounts her truly unique journey transitioning into tech as a former nun (yes, really!). Read on to learn about her story.

 

Denise shares her story as a former nun who now works in techDenise shares her story as a former nun who now works in tech

 

 

I have a few out-of-the-ordinary differences that I bring to my career. I leveraged most of these experiences and skills when I switched careers.  Here are a few of them.

 

  • Currently, I am an ethics and compliance manager who is a nerd in risk management
  • I have been a program manager who geeks out on the process
  • I was a bartender at one point in my career
  • Finally, I am a former nun who now works at Microsoft

This direction is not your typical trajectory to move from one industry to another. In sharing part of my story, I want to offer a few insights on the mindset that helped me successfully navigate a total change of career. I also want to advocate that owning our uniqueness is one of our strongest superpowers throughout our career. Our stories are different, and different is OK. 

 

What are your strengths? Of your strengths, which one is your superpower?  What makes you stand out so that you showcase your core strength?

 

A Nun Story

 

When people think of nuns, they think mostly of movie characters, like Whoopi Goldberg in "Sister Act," or famous nuns, like Mother Teresa.  Those who may not be familiar with the term, a "nun," means a "religious sister," a woman who professes religious vows and lives in a community with other women. I was a Roman Catholic nun, a religious sister, for eight years, and I lived in a community with other women across the United States in houses known as convents. 

 

When people find out that I was a nun, one of the first questions they ask me is, "Did you wear a habit?" My quick response is, "Only bad ones." All kidding aside, some religious orders still wear a habit. The community I belonged to does not, and I did not wear a habit when I was a nun. I dressed in ordinary clothes and wore a cross or religious pin that identified me as a religious sister. 

 

Religious Sister - 1996Religious Sister - 1996

 

A Sense of Belonging

 

I belonged to an International Community and moving across the country and globally is part of their mission of service. While being a religious sister, I was privileged to journey with people in their most intense moments of life – illness, the dying, and times of celebration such a birth, a wedding, or anniversary.  I was also trusted to be with people in the ordinary stuff of life while listening, empowering, and serving. I lived that life for eight years.

 

A turning point for me happened when I decided to leave religious life because of a chronic physical illness. I needed to stay rooted in one place to take care of some health issues. When I left the community, I also knew I needed to make a career change to the corporate world. And the company I wanted to work for was Microsoft.

 

In what ways have changes in your life given you a different perspective on the trajectory of your career?

 

Switched Careers from Former Nun to Microsoft Employee

 

The road to a career at Microsoft was not quick and easy for me.  It took a few various job experiences in the corporate environment and a relentless job application process before I finally landed a job at Microsoft. 

 

Let me give you a few numbers of what my persistence looked like in getting to Microsoft: 44, 1, 9, and 1. Forty-four job applications, one rotation as a vendor, nine interviews, and ONE job offer to become a full-time employee.

 

Forty-four applications are a lot to one company.  I knew I would succeed or fail with my work effort and strengths. I just needed someone to give me a chance. 

 

Who or what inspires your persistence? What does persistence look like for you?

 

The Manager Who Empowered the Opportunity

 

Who hired me? Ironically enough, it was a manager who had a strong bias AGAINST institutional religion. Believe it or not, that was the same person who hired me into Microsoft. A few years ago, my first manager, who still currently works at Microsoft and is now also my friend, told me the entire backstory of hiring me. He said that when he first looked at my resume, it had "Church Lady" written all over it, and he instantly tossed it aside into the "Reject" pile. He said that he was not going to give me the time of day, much less a chance at an interview. Yet, upon further reflection, he also knew what it was like for people not to give him a chance. So, he finally acknowledged his own internal bias, and decided to take another look at my resume. That has made all the difference in my story.

 

Now, on second glance, he noticed that I had some project management experience. He then decided to interview me for the job. The interview was a success.  I owe my career at Microsoft to my former boss, who challenged himself to have an open mindset and grow beyond his bias.

 

The First Few Years of Corporate Work

 

When I first started at Microsoft, I was deliberate in covering my experience in religious life. I was worried I would lose my job if people found out I was a former nun. So, I held back. I also did not want to offend anyone because I was afraid that religion was too much of a hot topic to safely mention. I did not want any of my teammates to feel uncomfortable being around me or act differently with me if they knew I was a nun.

 

The good news is that a lot of growth happens in our career, and I have learned to embrace my experience as a former nun. I utilize my strengths of being an empathic listener and a servant leader throughout my work today, qualities that matured during my experience in religious life. 

 

 Switched Careers with This Mindset

  

I do not easily give up on things. Some people call me stubborn, but I think of it as determination. I applied 44 times to one company. Forty-three of them were rejections. One of them was a yes, an opportunity. Finally, an open door, and that was all that mattered to enable me to begin my new journey in tech. 

 

I remember something my Dad taught me at a young age about finding a job and working. My Dad was big on action and less on talk or BS about work. He once said to me, "You get your foot in the door with the job offer. Now you have the chance to keep your job by what you do once you're through the door and working." The lesson I learned from my Dad is to let your actions speak the value of your talent.

 

Getting a job offer was the first step. Doing the work would be the key to keeping my job. Throughout that process, quitting is not an option, but learning and growing from the rejections, mishaps, and mistakes.

 

What is it that you are good at and get better at that? What pieces of your work efforts make you successful right now? Where do you want to go with your strengths and keep moving in that direction?  Remember to lead from a position of strength and not from a place of holding back or covering up. 

 

When it comes to switching your career, be all in and relentless throughout the journey.  Most often, a career change does not happen overnight. You must be committed to the long haul of change. Do not give in or quit too early, and most importantly, do not quit on yourself. 

 

What are the lessons and kernels of wisdom from your past work experience that will deepen your growth in your career today?

  

Resiliency Needed

 

Switching careers or remaining steadfast in your current work environment requires a strong resiliency to be persistent and dedicated to your genuine self, your skillset of strengths, and the purpose of your career. Plus, taking the time to leverage elements of your experience will help you in your current work. 

 

For example, I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I was a bartender at one point in my career. I learned about risk management when I started as a bartender at a pub in a monastery. The bartending was done at a place that valued compliance in ensuring all of us understood the significance of being responsible stewards in serving alcohol. 

 

Another experience was my first job after high school, where I developed black and white film photography for a local newspaper. Here I learned the value of quality work and excellence for the success of others.

 

Each pivotal moment in our experience will define our life in some way.  Learn something from your past, no matter how small or insignificant the jobs may seem.

 

In what ways do your strengths and growth opportunities propel you forward?

 

Summary - A Few Questions to Consider for your Career Development

 

Your experience and persistence help get you where you are today and where you plan to go moving forward. Your mindset throughout it all is essential for growth.

 

Throughout this post, I proposed a few questions for reflection when thinking about your career development. Here is a summary of the five questions:

 

  1. What are your strengths? Of your strengths, which one is your superpower?  What makes you stand out so that you showcase your core strength?
  2. In what ways have changes in your life given you a different perspective on the trajectory of your career?
  3. Who or what inspires your persistence? What does persistence look like for you?
  4. What are the lessons and kernels of wisdom from your past work experience that will deepen your growth in your career today?
  5. In what ways do your strengths and growth opportunities propel you forward? 

 

One final thought.  We only get so many ticks on the clock of life to do the work we are meant to do and to share the superpowers we are meant to give. Remember to hold nothing back in going after opportunities, in the chance to work with incredible team players and to be part of amazing organizations that want to make a positive, lasting impact in the world. 

 

You get better and continue to grow when you:

 

  • Stay true to your authentic self
  • Work on your strengths
  • Share your wisdom
  • Empower the differences in others along the way.

 

What makes you unique?  What is your superpower? How will you pay it forward?

 

I welcome your perspective and insights.

 

Microsoft - September 2020Microsoft - September 2020

 

Note: a version of this article first appeared in Denise Pyles' blog - Mind Trip Blog

 

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