Industry Professional

Microsoft leader shares wisdom on growing your career

Take risks and tend your professional networks

You could say that Teresa Deveaux, Director on Microsoft’s Management Excellence Strategy team, is a bit of an expert when it comes to steering a career. Not only is she a sought-after public speaker on the topic, but after nearly 17 years and 10 roles at Microsoft, she’s steered her own career to her dream job, although the path may not look exactly like what you’d expect.

“There’s a graphic I use when I speak to groups,” says Deveaux. “It’s a picture of success. The first picture shows a straight line and an arrow. And to many people, that’s success. But with my career, there’s a squiggly line, and it goes up and down, it’s all over the place. But the important thing to take note of – it was always moving forward.”  

When Deveaux first came to Microsoft Canada in 1999, she landed a gig as a manager of a Product Support Team.

“I didn’t have any computer science education or a technical background,” she remembers. But she did have a call center background, and the team was looking for the type of external perspective that Deveaux could bring. 

“I couldn’t have answered a technical phone call. But I had the right background to help support the call center.”

With her tenacity and unique point of view, it didn’t take long, just 10 months, before Deveaux was managing not only a team, but the whole division.

But after five years, even though she was enjoying the work and her team, she knew she was ready for a change, ready for a new location, and ready for something different. It was time for her to drive out of Canada and all the way down to California.

“I took a risk,” she shares. “I went on to be the director of Operations for one of our product teams in Silicon Valley. So again, no computer science degree, but hopefully the tools in my tool belt would be valuable to the company.”

And so they were. The risk paid off.

Deveaux ended up managing operations for three different product teams over 7 years during which time she became fascinated with the idea of interconnectedness between people and organizations. These experiences led her to pursue her Master’s Degree in organizational development and finally landed her in the HR world, or, more specifically, in Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) in June 2014.  

“The interesting thing is I got to use my organizational development skills but I was doing it with a topic that I didn’t know that well,” she explains. “I was passionate about D&I, but I wasn’t a professional HR person. I wasn’t a professional D&I person. I was able to practice one of my new sets of skills, but in a domain I wasn’t as familiar with.”

For many people, that kind of risk would have felt intimidating, even off-putting. But for Deveaux, it was an opportunity to grow.

“I am not a risk taker in the rest of my life,” she muses. “The one place I do take risks is my career. I know my skills and capabilities. I know where I need to grow. I think it really comes down to the fact that I’m open to learning, and I’m willing to try different things that interest me.”

And while D&I is still an area that very much interests her, she’s recently moved within the company yet again. Now a director on the Management Excellence Team, Deveaux is working with a community of 16,000 people managers at Microsoft, giving them the opportunity to increase their skills, close development gaps, create clarity, generate energy, and generally help them realize success.

And she couldn’t be more thrilled with where she has steered her career today.

“I get to continue with my leadership coaching, my leadership engagement. I am continuing the organizational development work, but I am now doing it in a domain that I know very, very, very well – Microsoft people leaders. I know them, I have been one, I joined the company when Bill was still CEO so I have seen all sorts of different things happen here at Microsoft. It’s so exciting now to have a say in how all that works.”

Nicole Sexsmith, Learning & Development Consultant and fellow Management Excellence team member, weighs in on Deveaux’s new role.

“Being a part of the Manager Excellence team, we are rethinking how the Manager curriculum [at Microsoft] looks and what is included. Teresa’s learnings as a manager…encourage us to think outside the box. She just has a good sense of what work will bring the best impact, and she really helps drive our team forward to complete that work.”

And after 16 years with Microsoft, Deveaux brings another valuable asset to the team: deep company knowledge.

“Given her background spans many teams and projects across Microsoft,” Sexsmith continues. “[Deveaux] always knows who we can reach out to for an outside perspective, and/or knows who to loop in when we have a situation we need addressed.  She cares about people and our customers and it shows in her work.”

“It’s funny,” says Deveaux with a laugh. “I started with Microsoft in call centers, running the call center team…and now I’m in HR, doing organizational development work! For me, the success comes from the fact that I’ve done all of these things for the same amazing company. And Microsoft has supported me that whole way, including very wonderfully through our benefits, paying for significant portions of a Master’s Degree and now a Doctorate Degree.”

Deveaux acknowledges that, along with the support she has received from Microsoft as a company, her professional network has also played a role in helping her get where she wanted to go.

“I’ve also had some really strong sponsors,” she says. “These are people who have seen my work product. They stand behind me as an employee, and will speak up for me when it comes to a promotion or a new job.”

But, Deveaux advises, it is still up to you to grow and build on those relationships in order to see results.

“I have one-on-one meetings once a month with someone new or someone who runs a team that I think I might want to move to at some point. I’m continuously reaching out. I’m pretty vocal about where I want to go and what I want to do so people tend to be looking out.”

“A lot of times these opportunities seem to come to me,” she continues. “And when I say ‘come to me’, I’m kind of downplaying all of the hard work I do each month, having meetings, keeping up with people, so it’s not so much magic.”

Deveaux also advises keeping your resume and LinkedIn profile consistently up-to-date – even if you are 100 percent happy with where you are. By continuously adding your accomplishments to your resume, “that’s another commitment [you’re] making to your career, a commitment [you’re] making to your future.”

In addition, Deveaux says, “I have no plans to leave Microsoft, but once a year, I do interview out of Microsoft, mostly because it reminds me of what a good thing I’ve got going here. And it keeps me on my toes because I still have to interview internally at Microsoft. So it keeps my interview skills up.”

Deveaux is deeply committed to her career her at Microsoft, but surely it hasn’t been without its occasional challenges at times. What advice does she have for moving past those unforeseen bumps in the road?

“It’s having that network you can reach out to, those mentors and sponsors who will support you. I recommend that people have trusted advisors who can help you reset and give you another viewpoint. Maybe it isn’t as bad as it looks, maybe the earth isn’t shaking as hard as you think.”

“Also, always having visibility into where you want to go with your career is very helpful in re-stabilizing the ground when it feels like it’s shaking under you. And actually,” she pauses. “Even when it’s not.”