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Marisela Cerda

Marisela Cerda, UPWARD Seattle Chapter Leader

Marisela Cerda is an UPWARD Seattle Chapter Leader and Engineering Program Manager at Microsoft Corporation, a leading developer of personal-computer software systems and applications.

Learn more about Marisela by reading her full feature below.

Describe your career, your platform, or what makes you you?

I have worked in Technology for 20 years, specifically software development and service delivery for software services. I care a lot about diversity in tech and increasing the number of women, women of color and underrepresented communities in our field and workplaces.

I grew up in a small northern California town, a small farming town — as a kid I experienced the effects of bias from a young age, watching quietly as other kids were recognized for their accomplishments or given awards for their contributions, I grew to expect that I was invisible to many. I was greatly influenced by both of my parents who instilled a strong work ethic in me and encouraged me to always do my best.

Ultimately, it paid off — regardless of recognition or attention — I committed to doing my very best and discovered in the process a sense of self-confidence and reliance that has carried me through the challenges of being a Latina woman in Technology.

I know, in many ways, that I’ve had to develop a thick skin to be in this industry; but I stand on the shoulder of my hard-working parents, and immigrant grandparents and supportive spouse and family.

Being part of women’s communities throughout my career has been one of the highlights — the comradery and friendships that arise from shared experiences is something that I look forward to and it’s a big part of the reason I decided to join UPWARD.

Do you have any habits or disciplines that you’ve developed that helps keep you motivated?

I am a busy body by definition, but not without purpose. I’m constantly looking for ways to improve everything and it takes a lot of energy. Staying motivated for me is all about my health and how I feel. I am in bed every night by 10:30 p.m. and up between 6 and 6:30 a.m. I wear a Fitbit and work towards getting 10k steps in every day, and I’m trying to work up toward 12k per day on average.

As a kid, I loved to play tennis and I’ve returned to my love over the pandemic with a regular playtime each week. I also work exclusively off of my calendar, if it’s not on the calendar, it probably isn’t going to happen.

The most important thing though is staying aware of my body; feelings and emotions and thoughts, and being flexible when stress or fatigue creep in and address the cause. Sometimes it means giving myself an unscheduled break or going for a walk, going to coffee with a friend or listening to my favorite podcast. Breaks and free time are so important — as a family, we’ve dedicated Friday nights to movie/game night, we stay in, play games or watch a movie, eat buttery popcorn and reconnect as a family, something we all really need at the end of a long week.

What are you most proud of in your personal life and in your career?

I’m most proud of my ability to help others. I get the most satisfaction when a mentee comes back and tells me about their promotion or when someone I’ve encouraged to pursue a new path starts/finishes their goal.

The second thing I’m most proud of is holding true to my values, in business we can often look for shortcuts or get overly focused on revenue and lose sight of our values and virtues that make us who we are.

We know from data that no one advances completely on their own. Relationships are often the difference between getting noticed and promoted and getting stuck. How do you identify key individuals with whom you need to build strategic relationships? Has UPWARD been a platform to helping you build these necessary relationships?

I balance two things — the first is people who have the power or authority to make decisions that impact my upward mobility and the second are people who share similar passions and interests. Sometimes they are the same people and sometimes they are different. I think a really important question to ask anyone in your network is “who do you know that you think I should know?” I’m also always thinking about how I can be in service to others and how can I partner with and support others.

My experience has been that these relationships typically reciprocate with time.

As an UPWARD Member, what experience(s) have been most beneficial for you?

Connecting with women in business from other companies and with varying viewpoints, building a network outside of my workplace is challenging due to all of the responsibilities that our full-time jobs carry. UPWARD reminds me to step outside of my day to day to build new relationships.

What advice have you received that has helped drive you to where you are today? If you’re comfortable, please share where this advice came from.

“Leverage others.” I had a senior manager tell me one day, “think about how you can bring people together to support your ideas.” You may not always have the budget or people to do the work, but you have your ideas and the ability to influence others.

“You have more power and influence than you know.” This insight came from an external business owner who I was working with at the time and his observation was that people were looking to me to answer questions and provide guidance, above and beyond what I believed they were. Ultimately, I took away that I was not giving myself the credit I deserved. Believing in myself has made the world of difference when it comes to sharing my ideas and talents more directly.

What advice (2-3 things) would you share with others who have similar goals or is on a similar path as you?

Find your support group, we all need two or three close allies that we can turn to when we don’t know what to do, encounter new territory, perhaps even uncomfortable situations.

These individuals can be mentors, or less formal, the important thing is that there is a high level of trust and openness and that they can relate, empathize and even guide you when you need it the most.

Do you have a favorite inspirational/motivational quote that you’d like to share? 

“Si se puede” — I believe this was a quote that arose from the Labour movement lead by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta when they organized farmworkers to protest low wages and poor living conditions. They have always been a huge inspiration to me and my family — this message of “we can”, or can be done is something we live by every day.

When you’re not in “work mode”, attending calls/meetings, what would we find you doing?

Playing tennis and practicing my guitar playing skills — I even sing sometimes, but not very well. I have a huge garden that I love to work in and I can often be found hiking with my kids on the weekends.

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