By Sheryl Kay
IN THEANNALS of computer and software development technology, Soraya Bittencourt's name is prominent.
After a highly successful engineering career in her native Brazil, launching the first Latin America communications satellite, Bittencourt came to the U.S. She went on to develop several major applications for Lotus Corporation, and then joined the leadership team at Microsoft. It was there that she received perhaps her greatest international recognition for creating Expedia, one of today's most robust Web based tools.
And unlike in her native Brazil, Bittencourt found it somewhat easier in the U.S. to be an out lesbian. "The first thing I did when I was hired was to look for GLEAM, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees group at Microsoft," she says. "Yes, I was out, really out ... pushing the Brazilian samba. Microsoft float in every Gay Pride parade while I was there:'
But even at Microsoft, a company committed to diversity, says Bittencourt, things are not always picture perfect, and she ended up leaving.
In the end, it may have been the best thing that happened to her. "There are times in your life when you take a break from your day by day and think what is really important," she says. I was earning a great salary, in a great company, but somehow, I was not really happy."
At the same time, her diabetes started to catch up with her, and Bittencourt's health started to decline. Ever the problem solver, Bittencourt launched Nutrihand, an online service that helps people plan, track and report their meals, exercise and medical information (nutrihand.com). Users can determine how food and exercise affect their health, and prevent and control chronic diseases.
She followed up with Nutrihand Pro, a professional service for nutritionists to analyze clients' information, create personalized plans and then monitor those plans online. Today, she has over 1 million consumers and 4,000 dietitians using the service. "Nutrihand has given me the chance to learn more about people, to think note about what is important in life, and to do it every day," she says.