#demystifyIT: Accessibility PM – story by Ioana Tanase

#demystifyIT: Accessibility PM - story by Ioana Tanase. ElaInTech.com (Ela Moscicka blog)

Hello and welcome to the 2nd article from my series: #demystifyIT!

I’m a career changer and I remember how limited my knowledge was when I was just starting in IT 11 years ago: which role to choose, what I could be good at?

Is programming the only ‘right’ career to follow?

What if I’m not technical enough?

The idea behind is it to show you that tech is beautiful, and there’s a place for everyone!

This week I’d like to introduce you to my amazing colleague Ioana Tanase and her “career in tech” journey.

You’ll also have a chance to learn more about her role as an Accessibility Program Manager!

Ela Mościcka: Hi Ioana! It’s a pleasure to have you as my second guest in the #demystifyIT series! Can you tell us more about yourself and your current role (where are you based, role name and what do you exactly do – it might be a mystery for some people 😉 ).

Ioana Tanase: I am an Accessibility Program Manager based in London, UK. 

That standard title can cover A LOT of roles from the spectrum of technology focused jobs (think of product manager) towards business focused ones (e.g. employee relationships, recruitment etc) towards something in between (where I sit). 

The team I am part of is working on accessibility technology innovation. Amongst many things we have an external grant program (for profits, non profits and academic institutions) with the goal of pushing what technology can do in accessibility. More details on AI for Accessibility – Microsoft AI.

I work with our grantees – making sure they are set up for success during their grant period (which on average is 12 months).  

That gives my role an incredible scope – in the morning I might be working with a startup who is producing a refreshable braille display and later in the day I might be discussing with a non profit who is developing AI based technology to make math assessments accessible to blind or low vision students. 

Ela: Let’s take a step back: what were you doing before joining Microsoft?

Ioana: I was a student 😊 I had a gig for about 6 months in between graduation and when I started at MSFT which taught me a lot, but my career really started when I joined MSFT over 11 years ago. 

Ela: When you decided you want to join Microsoft? And how did you make it? (Any tips here are more than welcomed!) 

I have to brush off the dust bunnies, this was a long time ago. Growing up I always used Microsoft products and tech was an area I always had an affinity with. They also were an employer I always respected – the scope of work, the impact of products, how it enabled people and organizations to succeed, those things I always valued. 

At the time I was a fresh graduate, my interview practice was little to non existing but I believe (I might be wrong) that what helped me was a clearly articulated motivation and a desire to learn and get my hands dirty.

Smiling Ioana Tanase in a colorful dress leaning against a brick wall.
Ioana Tanase, Accessibility Program Manager at Microsoft

Looking back my CV was probably a tragedy, but I got really lucky and the recruiter who worked with me looked beyond that and focused on potential and what we now call “screening in”. 

My advice to job applicants today:
1. Do your research – on the company, on the role and figure out WHY you want to be there.  

2. Network, network, network – reach out and speak with people. You get so many insights into the culture, work, opportunities and equally you make it known you are interested.

3. Practice – interviewing is a muscle, the more you practice the more comfortable (or less awkward) the interview will feel. I know I still get SO nervous in interviews, but I am not letting the nerves get to me as much of throw me off track because I have practiced.

Ela: Let’s walk readers through your career journey at Microsoft.

Ioana: It’s a long list of roles so I will summarize things.

For the first 10ish year I was working in a variety of roles in recruitment – from experienced hiring, to university hiring to more internally focused roles working with hiring managers I got the chance to experience a wide variety of recruitment roles. I learnt tons, grew professionally and personally and am super grateful for everything I have experiences.  

However, at some point I realized as I changed as a person my work and my purpose were no longer aligned. I also felt like I was not growing anymore. This led me to a year long journey and many, many conversations of trying to figure out what is the new role or type of role I am targeting.

As I discovered I was dyslexic that led me to learn more about disability in general and by extension accessibility. I was hungry for reading more, learning more and it clicked – this new area was matching my purpose.

From there I grew my knowledge, tried to build experience and meet folks who worked in accessibility to understand what roles are for me, and which ones aren’t. 

As to how – I actually wrote a blog about it: Career switching – the how to guide – Ioana Tanase.

Ela: Can you share some challenges or learnings from your journey?  

Ioana: It’s lot of trial and error. It’s also a lot of rejection. Trying to distance myself from the interviews I didn’t pass and understand that is not a reflection of my value was tough. Some days were harder than others. 

I also had this one informational where the person told me “You can never work as a program manager because you are not a coding expert and we have 10000 candidates on the door step who are a perfect match with the job description”.

It was a really hard pill to swallow and it was delivered bluntly (to keep things polite).

My learning was not to take one person’s opinion as an absolute truth.

Yes, it did mean I would like not target roles that they were hiring for, but there were plenty of other teams who recognized my diversity of experience is a bonus not a minus

Thanks for reading,

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