Women in Technology International - WITI
Soraya Bittencourt Group Program Manager, Microsoft
"Soraya Bittencourt has a very unique story. She was the first woman to launch a telecommunications satellite in Latin America, and participate with NASA in the recovery of two other satellites. Bittencourt also pioneered the use of lasers in the Latin America entertainment industry. She funded two corporations that are still today delivering state of the art products in international markets.
She is originally from Brazil, a very male dominated country, where women are usually teachers or nurses. Having a woman in the engineering field is extremely unusual.
During her childhood, Bittencourt was always disassembling domestic appliances to create new ones and sell to her friends and family. Her family was worried about her skills, and were wondering how a girl like that could become a good nurse.
So, against all odds and family recommendations, at 14 years old, Bittencourt joined the best technical school in Brazil, with a scholarship. At 17 she graduated as an electronic technician. She started working full-time during the day and attended engineering school at night. Today she holds an electrical engineering degree, a master's in telecommunications, a master's in computer science and almost a degree in music.
During her career in Brazil, many times she wondered if she was doing the right thing. Hearing comments like: "A woman's place is behind the stove" was part of her day to day. At 23 years old she reached the top of her career in Brazil, as well as the famous "glass ceiling." She had worked with NASA, Hughes Aircraft and Telesat for four years. She realized during that period of time that she had the right education, the right values, but she was living in the wrong country. Then the turning point in her life happened, and she decide to emigrate to America. She believed that in America, the "glass ceiling" was a little higher, and she could have more professional opportunities.
She sold everything she had, and came with a backpack to become a music student at Berkeley College of Music in Boston. It took her three years washing dishes, cleaning houses and being a baby sitter, to finally have the right papers to work again as an engineer.
After that, she became Director of software at Number Nine Computer, developer manager for Lotus Multimedia Products, and today she is a group program manager at Microsoft. Outside work, Soraya plays saxophone in a blues band. She also works with the community to help on the fight against AIDS, and in the fight for equal rights to everyone.