AiAllies – Joanna Runesson, Microsoft

ai allies joanna runesson

Many people would assume that forging a highly successful career in the tech industry and securing a position with one of the world’s leading organizations would take years to accomplish, but for Joanna Runesson, the opportunity to join Microsoft came straight after finishing her master’s degree.

“I studied at the Stockholm School of Economics where I completed my Masters in Business and Management. So, from my studies at the time, I wasn’t really exposed to the tech Industry.” Joanna said.

“While I was at university and considering my next career step, the ‘standard’ career paths did not appeal to me. It was basically a choice between management consultancy, delivering auditing services or investment banking.  They are all great options, but I knew it was not the right path for me, so I kept exploring industries and companies with potential trainee program openings.”

Knowing opportunities don’t just fall from the sky, Joanna used her curiosity, drive, and determination to go out and find them.  

“I felt that there must be more options than what was showcased in the career fairs. I knew I wanted to have an international career, work in a fast-paced environment and learn about new business and industries. That curiosity led me to an internship at Spotify, where I was exposed to an innovative business model and culture.  It really intrigued me, and I knew I wanted more, even though I did not label it as the tech industry at the time.”

Following her time with Spotify, Joanna was contacted by Microsoft and encouraged to apply for their trainee program now known as Aspire.

“I didn’t know that Microsoft offered a trainee program at the time. You would think that it would be obvious, if you today look at the impact the tech industry have in shaping our society through digital transformation and rise of new tech unicorns, but at the time cloud or SaaS was not equal to new business. However my curiosity and studies in management drove me to explore the leadership, business and culture at Microsoft by joining the company as a trainee.”

“By staying curious I know that in every new experience there are lessons to be learned as long as you are willing to explore and try new things.”

The trainee program provided Joanna with solid foundation relating to Microsoft, the tech industry, its customers and how the organization operated across the globe through her daily work as an Account Executive.

She was able to connect with a range of professionals throughout the business, at the same time getting additional professional coaching and network of other graduates joining the company.

“The fact that I could quickly ramp up in a hands-on role and get coaching and share my experience with other recent graduates excelled the learning experience.”

After six years with the company, Joanna secured a Business Developer role in the Global Partner Organization. Her work focuses on building new strategic partnerships with  software companies that are building scalable business models on Microsoft’s cloud platform with the aim of expanding the partners business within Microsoft’s global customer base or a specific industry.

“It’s an incredibly interesting role as I get to encounter so many software companies and industries. I focus on how we can collaboratively innovate or ideate around the current or future business model to deliver more value and innovation to the end customer by combining business with tech.”

“In addition, I get to continuously learn about new technology areas and practices such as Ai, security, and different cloud delivery models catering to different industry needs or trends, such as sustainability.”

“I focus on the strategic element of our partnerships, setting the direction and alignment to make sure the structure and activities we drive valuable business outcomes for both parties.”

Taking on Challenges as a Woman in Tech

Despite the metronomic rise that Joanna has had and despite the seemingly effortless transition from student to flying professional there have, in fact, been major challenges to overcome.

However, like many of her peers working in the tech-sector also part of the AiAllies project, a strong focus on finding mentors and finding support is central to being successful, in Joanna’s eyes.

“I have walked into meetings and seen the surprise on people’s faces as they realize it is me who will be driving the business dialogue forward. They expect someone with 10-15 years industry experience to oversee these discussions. However, as we focus on how to expand their business model and value to the customer jointly with Microsoft that notion vanishes. But I would love to see more women present in these business conversations.”

“My advice to anyone being new to the industry or considering joining, would be to seek advice from your peers and seniors to form your own support group. I would also figure out what valuable perspectives you bring into the conversation as diverse thinking and skillsets are important for optimal business outcomes.”

“I know that I bring business strategy thinking to the table that complements other peers deep technical skills that drives the end customer value forward “

But having peers at the same level is only one part of a support system, having people to look up towards is key.

Deb Cupp, President of Microsoft’s Operations in the US is one of my role models. Besides leading one of our most important markets forward she previously led our industry transformation globally. I had the pleasure to meet her in person and I was amazed by her authentic way of conveying clarity and leadership in complex matters. That reminds me to stay authentic and to dare to lead.”

“Another role model is Therése Treutiger, who leads our Partnership business and Innovation efforts for the Swedish market. She drives the business forward with an outstanding positivity and does an incredible job of empowering her team daily. I’m lucky to be able to work with and learn from her leadership.”

Connecting with senior professionals, and people with skillsets and knowledge that intrigues your own interest areas, is a valuable exercise to carry out, says Joanna.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in your network or on LinkedIn to ask for advice and support. You’ll be amazed at how much help people will provide if you show that you have done your research and a show a genuine interest to learn, so stay curious!  Women might be a little more hesitant to do this, but I really think we should offer more encouragement towards women considering joining the tech industry.”

Looking back on her journey  Joanna highlights what her biggest achievement

“I’m proud that I’ve let my curiosity guide me in my career decisions daring to go into the ‘unknown’, and for keeping my integrity along the way. It has allowed me to focus on business innovation, market expansion & international relations with our strategic partners using technology as the enabler. I look forward taking this to the next level and to being a future leader making the world better, with innovation, strategy and technology.”

Connect with Joanna on Linkedin, here.

Access a wide range of accredited online training courses for free from Microsoft, here.