The English major turned IT powerhouse
Elizabeth Carson, Artsci’80, never imagined she’d leverage an arts degree into a high-powered sprint up the corporate ladder at Microsoft Canada’s Toronto offices, where she’s Vice-President of Enterprise Services.
While studying English literature at Queen’s, Elizabeth planned to become a journalist, and got a job writing business communications for a computer graphics company after graduation. That led to a stint doing internal training at the Toronto Transit Commission before being transferred to it’s IT department. Surprisingly, she loved her new role.
“My project management and communications skills worked there, because I was really a business analyst; I worked with all the user departments, finding out what they needed, procuring the technology, and then implementing it,” recalls Elizabeth.
She later moved into a project management role at GE.
“I could translate the technical things that our tech people were talking about into more businesslike language for customers,” she says.
Elizabeth spent nearly a decade working in the IT professional services industry before joining Microsoft in 2000. She now leads a team of 290 project managers, architects and consultants who provide technical support to Microsoft customers. With her combined arts and management background, she brings a unique perspective to the table.
“The way I approach problems and engage with customers may be different from that of someone with a really deep computer science background,” she says. “I’m probably not the traditional image of who somebody in my position might be … but it works.”
During a recent Montreal event entitled "Diversity & Inclusion: Why We Should All Care," organized by the Information Technology Association of Canada, Elizabeth shared her thoughts on why encouraging more women to consider careers in IT is good for business. “One of the great things about IT is that the diversity of thought, style, and approach makes teams stronger, gives you better solutions, and makes you more innovative,” she told the gathering.
While Elizabeth notes that nearly half of Microsoft Canada’s senior leadership team is female, she believes that the dearth of female candidates for IT jobs remains an industry-wide challenge. “I talk to young women about the exciting types of opportunities and the impact that you can have, because technology is a huge enabler,” she adds. “People assume you have to have a computer science degree to be in the field, but I find that just talking about my background makes people want to hear more about it.”
Because Elizabeth has benefited from having many mentors along the way, she pays that forward. “I’ve always enjoyed helping people develop their skills and careers, and I mentor both men and women,” she explains. “I give really direct, actionable feedback to help people move ahead. Developing people in your organization or across the company is something I find very fulfilling.”
Her roundabout journey from English major to IT powerhouse inspires many of the students she speaks to. “It’s important to have a plan,” she says, “but you have to be very open to the things that come your way. Then you might see your way to something that may not have been on your radar to begin with.”