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February 4, 2009

The Art of Reinvention

gladys kenfack social enterprise marketing executive

SUSTAINABLE GROWTH Gladys Kenfack at Microsoft's main campus in Redmond, WA.

Photo Credit: Jose Mandojana

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EXIT SIGNS: After five years writing software at Microsoft, my job had grown predictable. Each day I'd go in knowing what I had to do, what deadlines had to be met, what milestone I was expected to hit that year. I looked at my growth and what I wanted to get out of my career and saw diminishing returns.

GETTING SCHOOLED: I started working in the evenings toward an MBA in social enterprise. I'd always wanted to effect change in my home country of Cameroon, where most people have never even seen a computer, and this seemed like a way to do it. I subscribed to an internal newsletter for a Microsoft program that brings technology to the developing world, and the more I read, the more I realized that was exactly where I wanted to be. When a job opened up in that group, I told my manager I wanted to try for it.

THE WHAT-HAVE-I-DONE MOMENT: The position I was after was way higher than the one I held; I was up against people who'd been at the company for 15 years. I sat through five interviews of one hour each, and I was so nervous because it was my dream job, but I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I kept thinking, Why should they listen to me? I'm a programmer! Do I even understand what this job requires? My manager knew I wanted to transfer — what if I didn't get the offer? But I did!

THE PAYOFF: Marketing work is completely different from software engineering. I'm still problem-solving, but where I used to use algorithms, I now use interpersonal skills. I work with internal teams at Microsoft. We seek out new countries to work in, determine what the needs are, and work with the NGOs there. The hours are technically the same, but I'm now expected to think creatively and set my own goals — and the sky's the limit. Work bleeds into my evenings and weekends. I often find myself talking about it at dinner parties, because it's my passion.

THE BEST PART: I know firsthand that tech improves lives in developing countries — we can teach farmers about agricultural best practices; we can improve education in refugee camps in Rwanda. So, yes, I lose sleep thinking about work now, which never happened when I was a programmer. But do you know what it feels like to leave for the office in the morning and think, What impact am I going to have on the world today? There's nothing like it.

—as told to Lauren Iannotti

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