Being from the Detroit area, which has a heavy automotive influence, Anna Burek knew she wanted to be an engineer. She just didn’t know what kind. It wasn’t until she took a Computer Science course at the University of Michigan that she fell in love with coding. She really appreciated the ability to approach the same problem from a variety of angles and still reach a similar solution. Anna is now a valued member of the CSE team, helping to create real-world solutions for a diverse set of Microsoft customers.
As she progressed through her college career, she received invites to various recruiting events. One such event was a Microsoft dinner. They showed a video about a lot of the fantastic technology they were developing to help people, including people unable to speak or move type with their eye movements. Moved almost to tears, she left her resume with the recruiter and didn’t think much would come of it. A few months later, she was offered an internship in Cambridge at The Microsoft Garage. It was an eye-opening experience that let her take theoretical knowledge from school and apply it in real-world situations.
Although more motivated than ever to excel at her classes, Anna started to feel like she wasn’t as capable as the other students. Unfortunately, many programmers and computer science classes fall victim to ‘Crunch Culture’ where there is a glorification of burning yourself out, working late, and neglecting other priorities. The idea being that if you have time to shower daily and take care of yourself, you’re not working hard enough. Many computer science classes have this mentality, and it can scare people with different cultures away from computer science as a whole.
One of the reasons it was hard for Anna to push past her insecurity was because she didn’t see many people who looked like her in the field. She just became known as ‘the red-headed girl that sits upfront’. One of her female professors helped open her eyes to inclusion in tech and eventually Anna learned that you could take care of yourself and have diverse hobbies while still learning a lot and following your passion
This initial challenge taught Anna to advocate for herself and appreciate good mentors. She has now started a mentorship program at Microsoft and volunteers with Microsoft’s TEALS program, which helps bring technology into schools that need it and teach teachers how to teach computer science education.