Brittany Modica and Haben Tilahun are Year Up Puget Sound alumni whose diligence and drive led them to internships and eventual full-time roles at Microsoft, a Year Up partner since 2007. In this Q&A, we learn about what brought them to Year Up, what motivates them, and where they are now.
Thanks for sharing your story with us today! Can you tell me a little bit about your life before Year Up and how you found out about the program?
Brittany: I grew up in poverty and was pregnant with my daughter at 16. I was managing a consignment store for children – a job I ended up maintaining the whole time I was in Year Up, right until I started at Microsoft. My mentor at the time told me about Year Up, and when I looked into it, I thought it seemed like an amazing opportunity.
Haben: I was an Uber and Lyft driver. I heard about Year Up while I was in community college, pursuing a career in mechanical engineering. I was also planning on going to an out-of-state college, but the birth of my daughter changed things.
You each have a daughter! Can you tell me what it was like to be in the program while being a parent?
Brittany: From a provider standpoint as a single mom, my main focus was always that I need to pay the bills and make sure we have a stable life — which was not what I had as a kid. When I had my daughter, I made the decision I was going to break the cycle and go against the odds. I wanted to be a businesswoman. I had all these hopes and dreams, but so many things can happen in your life that completely change your trajectory. In my case, I always knew I had the potential and the desire to be at a higher level. I did feel like all the odds were against me, but that’s what motivated me more.
Haben: Having a baby, being the breadwinner, and going to school for 8 hours were the most challenging thing I had to face. Challenging, but definitely worth it.
That’s really inspiring. I’d love to hear what your experience was like in the Data Analytics specialty. Were there any specific skills that you took with you into the internship and full-time role at Microsoft?
Brittany: Going from retail to corporate was quite a shift for me at first. Learning how to use Excel and other business insights tools has been a learning curve, but also something that’s been really helpful for me at Year Up, at my internship, and in my day-to-day job.
Haben: For me, learning skills like time management and communication was huge. I’m from Ethiopia, and we learned how to write and read British English, but learning how to speak and communicate in the corporate world is something that was challenging at first. Also, learning the importance of not being late to things, as well as learning how to speak with people at all levels of an organization, is something I will carry with me throughout my career.
That’s great that you learned so many skills that you’re continuing to use today. Can you tell me a little bit about the culture at Microsoft?
Brittany: I love how incredibly supported I feel at Microsoft. In the beginning, it was easy to feel imposter syndrome, but I knew I wasn’t going to give up. During my internship, I started connecting with people, focused on strong relationships, and had the most supportive manager. He really believed in me and was always open to giving feedback in a professional and caring way. Even though he left the company a few years back, we are still connected. Another example of the support I felt at Microsoft, was when my dad was in recovery after being in the hospital. My team picked up all the work I had, so I could take some time off to take care of him. That’s something I really appreciate about our culture. Everyone knows that things in life come up, and I’m really grateful to have an understanding and supportive team.
Haben: I appreciate how the managers advocate for me. At one point, I felt I was ready for a shift in the work I was doing, and my manager was willing to sit down with me and work through transferring to a new team where I felt like my skillset was able to be utilized the best. I also appreciate the work-life balance at Microsoft, which is really important because of my family.
How do you plan to continue lifting while you climb as a Year Up alumni at Microsoft?
Brittany: From my internship until now, I’ve been heavily involved in the new hire community. As an intern, I was looped into helping improve the new hire process and loved it because I was directly related to that community. I feel very passionate about improving onboarding, and it’s still part of my job! I spend 6-8 hours per week on the new hire and early career community. I’m actually 1 of 3 people in the whole organization leading a community that supports over 2700 individuals at Microsoft. My main goals are to make sure they have an inclusive space, a person to ask questions and reach out to, and the ability to make connections and have a positive experience overall.
Haben: Since joining Microsoft, it’s been important to me to be a person someone can speak to if they are new to the company and have questions. I was new once, too. I know what it’s like to feel like you don’t know what is going on. So, I really want to continue to share the support that I received from my managers when I first joined.
What advice to you have for someone who wants to work at Microsoft?
Brittany: “What university do you come from?” is the number one question I get asked. If you don’t have your college degree and want to work at a place like Microsoft, I think Year Up is an amazing opportunity. The program and structure provide so much support in terms of coaching and mentorship, and it will lead you to success if you put your all into it!
Haben: Stay focused and committed. It seems tough in the beginning — more so than high school! It is challenging, but if you are dedicated and ask questions, it will all be worth it. In Ethiopia, we would see the Microsoft logo everywhere. In the high school [in Ethiopia], we had five computers for 60 people…it’s been a dream coming from that to actually working for them!
Since joining the team at Microsoft, Brittany and Haben have only continued growing at the company. As of July 2023, Brittany has shifted into Microsoft’s Core Finance Team and has been promoted 3 times in her 4 years with the company. In nearly five years working at Microsoft, Haben has been promoted twice and currently holds the position of Software Engineer II. What’s next for the two Year Up alumni? Both plan to continue lifting as they climb, and each hopes to continue progressing in their respective careers with Microsoft.