Meet Microsoft’s MBA Class Of 2020: Cathy Zaragoza

Cathy Zaragoza

MBA Program: Yale School of Management

MBA Concentration: Management Science

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Undergraduate School and Major: Princeton, History of Art

Current Title: Services Architect

How would you describe your role to your mother? “I connect the dots between different partners and ensure that our HR programs are documented and designed to scale for the best employee experience possible.” My mom is brilliant, so she would definitely understand that (even if my description is a little jargon-y).

A fun fact about me people would be surprised to know is… My top song for 2020 on Spotify was “Come See About Me” by the Supremes. I’m an old soul.

What was your greatest personal or professional accomplishment? Before I went to business school, I had only ever worked in education nonprofits and startups. I still look back at my time in AmeriCorps and working in education as some of the most challenging and most impactful years of my career.

I credit all my professional resilience and scrappiness to those experiences and would not hesitate to tell anyone to spend a couple of years in service. At this point, you could throw anything my way and it still wouldn’t be as challenging as the countless times I had to plan and execute events for 150 people with a team of four and a $1,000 budget, or the times I had to build IKEA furniture in the office on the weekends while also writing federal grant applications to triple our annual operating budget so that we could hire more staff. To this day, colleagues point out how calm I can be when tricky situations arise. It’s all thanks to my 501c3 days.

Why did you choose to work at MSFT? Finding the right work culture was a top priority for me when I was recruiting. When I visited Microsoft’s campus during my internship interview, I immediately felt at home (which honestly doesn’t happen to me very often). As a woman of color, I’ve also had to learn how to navigate spaces cautiously or show up in different ways. Throughout my MBA internship with Microsoft, I felt so comfortable showing up as myself without covering or being anything different. That felt rare and I didn’t want to give that up.

We also have world-class benefits. Calling that out might be the most grown-up thing that I’ve ever said, but it’s true. My philosophy about workplaces is that when people commit a considerable portion of their time and their lives to working for a company, that company has a responsibility to provide them with an impeccable employee experience. Microsoft consistently does that for me.

What did you love about the business school you attended? A huge motivator for me to go to business school was to build my business acumen from the ground up. I entered my MBA program having taken literally no traditional business classes before. I honestly didn’t even know that there was a difference between revenue and profit at that point. I hadn’t taken a math class since freshman year of college. My undergraduate degree was in art history with a concentration in Spanish literature. The list goes on-and-on.

I was incredibly nervous about how I would fare around people who had majored in business or came from traditional business roles. However, Yale provided me with so many resources to get up to speed: tutors, review sessions, and incredible classmates who were always willing to help me out. I started my MBA program in Yale’s pre-MBA “math camp” and ended it having taken every single analytics course the school had to offer and I earned Management Science concentration—a huge turnaround.

What does being a “Microsoftie” mean to you? To me, being a Microsoftie means you’re great at what you do and passionate about your work – but what excites you most are the products and experiences that we deliver to customers around the world. Working in HR, I’m a few degrees away from customers and I still get excited when I hear my friends and family rave about Microsoft products.

Which manager or peer has had the biggest impact on you at MSFT and how has he or she made you better in your role? My manager, Dawn Jones, has been an incredible connector. When I accepted my Microsoft offer back in 2019, I never thought I would have to spend my first-year in-role working from my apartment. Dawn has been so intentional about introducing me to people across the company and making sure that I feel included in our team. Her support consistently reminds me that strong professional relationships are vital, especially when we’re working from home.

What has COVID-19 taught you about yourself since you started working at MSFT? Cliché as this is, I’m capable of handling a lot of tough stuff at once. To do this job, I had to move across the country in the middle of a global pandemic. There was a point where my fiancé and I were sitting in an empty Seattle apartment that we leased sight unseen. We had no Wi-Fi, no possessions other than what we could fit in a suitcase each, limited funds because neither of us had worked since before business school, and nowhere to go because of COVID restrictions because we were quarantining after our flight from Connecticut. This went on for 16 days because our moving company was delayed. I had to start working at Microsoft the day after our delivery finally arrived. I was mentally exhausted and reeling from the experience, but I got through it all because that was honestly the only option. I’m looking forward to using that experience on my future kids as my “back in my day, we walked three miles to school in five feet of snow” story.


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