A conversation with Sid Espinosa on the journey to Microsoft

| MSNE Staff

Sid Espinosa gives a talk at the Microsoft New England R&D (NERD) Center.

Growing up in Gilroy, California, the  Garlic Capital of the World, Sid Espinosa never expected to be where he is today.

As senior director of philanthropy and civic engagement at Microsoft, Espinosa oversees a national team that uses Microsoft technology to drive social good in key cities across the U.S. In a talk at our Microsoft New England R&D (NERD) center last month, he took us on a journey from Gilroy to today—with New England right at the center.

“I left my small town excited to go see the world and get away,” he said of his decision to attend Wesleyan University and later Harvard University. “I landed here and spent 10 years on the East Coast.”

Espinosa’s experience in New England was a sharp contrast from his upbringing in a rural farming community on the West Coast. While his college classmates came from a world with a lot of opportunity, Espinosa had more humble origins, working in landscaping during his summers off while his peers took on prestigious internships. Part of his drive to work toward success came from his father, who arrived in the U.S. not speaking English and with few resources—but had been the first in his family to go to college and came to the Silicon Valley as an engineer at the beginning of the big tech boom.

“He really believed in this country,” Espinosa said of his father, “and recognized that there was great opportunity, that in just one generation, a family can go from abject poverty to anything.”

Because of his father’s experience, Espinosa has a driving belief that when a myriad of opportunity is given, one should use whatever talents one has to make the world a better place.

And so he has, covering a wide berth within the civic sector, from speechwriter in the Clinton administration to Palo Alto’s first Hispanic mayor to his current role at Microsoft.  He now serves on the boards of directors of major foundations, national nonprofit organizations, and major universities. In fact, he was in Cambridge in order to attend his first Harvard alumni association board meeting.

Now, Espinosa’s main role at Microsoft is to drive the company’s civic engagement programs across the country. With Microsoft’s strong focus on bringing computer science education to all students, his team has seen a massive shift in the country—including a 40% increase in teen girls taking Advanced Placement computer science. Programs like TEALS and Computer Science Education Week are helping close the computer science gap, and Espinosa is thrilled to drive that effort within Microsoft.

His team is also focused on career pathways and skills development.  

“More tech companies need to be thinking about the impact of their work,” he explained. “We help enable those technologies, but are we thinking about reskilling and retraining the workforce? As a company, we’re working to shift our portfolio toward training those workers. We have to shift our education model toward continuous learning.”

And Espinosa’s team is taking this one step further as they look ahead at the future of work, which he’s hoping Microsoft will be able to impact directly as the company develops new technologies and helps deliver them to the hands of changemakers across the world.

“20 years from now, we’ll be in such a different world,” he said. “The pace of change today is phenomenal. It is on us to engage and help people understand these technologies and the impact they make.”