Lessons Learned
Success for Trish Millines Dziko, a true IT pioneer, came with a price
Dziko video

Trish Millines Dziko came into an IT career the hard way. Without parents to depend on, she put herself through college. Once in the work world, she encountered discrimination for her youth, gender, and race. Against the odds, she finally made it to become a respected manager at Microsoft--to many, a pinnacle of success. But that's when she discovered she didn't like who she'd become.

The PC industry had shaped her into a hard-driving person with misplaced priorities, she explains in an interview for "Information Technology Leaders." "My life was about the product I shipped; my life was about technology," Dziko says. The realization prompted her to seek out ways to give back. First, she got more involved in promoting diversity at Microsoft. When that wasn't enough, she left the for-profit world entirely to start the Technology Access Foundation, helping children of color.

"Information Technology Leaders," produced by the University of Washington’s School of Business, presents multi-faceted portraits of the people filling the top IT positions at major corporations such as Microsoft, Boeing, and AT&T Wireless Services. The revealing interviews show that personal characteristics often play an important role in the unpredictable career trajectories of this industry.

Dziko is a pioneer in many respects. The New Jersey native was one of the first in her family to go to college. When she thought she wouldn't, all it took was some exposure to her mother's job--cleaning floors--to convince her otherwise. Losing her mother just before she graduated high school, Dziko, an only child, was truly on her own. But that didn't stop her. She landed a full basketball scholarship to Monmouth College, the first woman to do so.

On the advice of her advisor, she majored in computer science. This was unusual for the 1970s, but not for Dziko. "I was your typical geek in high school, but at that day and time that meant you ran the projector or tape machine and things like that," she explains.

Like many pioneers, Dziko learned by trial and error. She ran up against discrimination in her first jobs testing military technology at Computer Sciences Corps in New Jersey and Hughes Aircraft Company in Tucson, Ariz. Only in her early 20s and with no career preparation, Dziko figured, "This is how it is," and just shrugged it off. She learned a wise lesson for anyone facing questionable treatment, regardless of race: before reacting, check your own performance to make sure it's not about that.

Moving to San Francisco without a job--during a recession, no less--was "the stupidest mistake I ever made in my life," Dziko says. After two and a half years with Hughes, she was bored with Tucson. But she traded boredom for the unpleasant excitement of unemployment and living out of her car for six months. With new humility, she started teaching computer science--only to be unfairly fired. But she bounced back and landed a position at Fortune Systems, writing test scripts for UNIX-based operating systems.

There, her female supervisors saw her potential and helped her improve both her technical and management skills. This made a big impression on Dziko, who now delights in giving talented but inexperienced people a chance to prove their potential.

When Fortune Systems started to flounder and layoffs started, Dziko again made a risky relocation without a job, this time to Seattle. She had savings and stronger career survival skills, and things turned out better. At Telecalc Inc. she found her first opportunity to manage a team. They tested software that tracked calls to phone centers and analyzed the data for business purposes. Leading people gave her confidence and contacts--and soon she'd need that. Amid company layoffs, Dziko decided to go out on her own, writing software for small companies.

She courted Microsoft as a contractor; then, after proving herself on a coding project, she married in, becoming a "blue badge" employee. She recalls the team she joined back in the early 1990s: all white men, but "a bunch of geeks," complete with pocket protectors. "I fit right in," she laughs.

Soon Dziko found a role broad enough to suit her skills. As a program manager, she was involved with marketing, testing, development, user education, and support--everything from product concept to market release. "If you want to be a complete technology person, that is the best position," she says. Around this time she also co-taught an intense four-week software engineering course at MIT.

During her six years at Microsoft, Dziko moved from group to group, working on various products and programs. The last position, promoting diversity for the human resources division, came after her realization that work had taken over her life. Trying to help the company attract and keep people of color was a way to bring higher purpose to her job. Ultimately, it didn't go far enough. She realized, "You can't expect much change out of adults. But you can effect change through the next generation." In 1996, she left Microsoft to work with kids.

With the Technology Access Foundation, Dziko has found her stride. Drawing from all the life and career lessons she picked up over the years--the good and the bad--she helps children of color learn and prepare for the work world, with technology as a key tool. She dreams of a day when former TAF kids populate management positions in corporate America. So far, the foundation's internship program has given more than 100 youth IT experience.

Settling in as TAF's executive director required Dziko to shake off Microsoft's pace and mellow. Her type-A management style didn't fit a nonprofit, which operates on process and consensus.

Although she may have calmed down, she certainly hasn't slowed down. "People keep saying I'm successful, but I keep looking at myself as a work in progress," she reflects. "I have all these ideas of things I want to do. I won't be finished until I do at least half of them."

Produced By: Christopher Redner

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