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Q&A with Microsoft’s Patricia Henríquez, Data Center Operations Manager – Austria: ‘We are breaking some barriers’

From dreaming of being her home town’s mayor to becoming a leading voice of the data centre industry, Patricia Rodríguez Henríquez, Data Center Operations Manager Austria at Microsoft, and secretary of SPAINDC, shares her experience with JSA Media Consultant João Marques Lima –  as well as her views and ideas on diversity, inclusion and the future of the sector.


JML: Tell us about you and your journey. How did you get involved with the data centre world?

PRH: I have been always involved in Data Center, since the beginning of my professional career. It was not a premeditated decision, it was something that destiny puts in your way. I believe that if you work hard and put passion in all you do the opportunities will come to you, and this is what has happened to me. I am very honored to say that all the different roles have come to me at the right time. 

I perfectly remember my first job which was a huge learning experience. One good friend recommended me for the position in Madrid as a technical and sales position. This was in one of the divisions in a family company based in Barcelona focused on Data Centers solutions and services. I never could forget my first day accompanying my manager to a meeting, things of life in one of the companies where I would work years later for almost 10 years. When we left the meeting I told my manager that I haven’t understood anything and I asked him if he was sure that I was the right candidate for this position. Luckily he saw some possibilities in me, something at that time I was not sure about. It was a very inspiring time, I had the opportunity to work hand in hand with great Data Center professionals, visit many DC in Spain, and participate in relevant projects. 

After that, I joined another family-run UK company, as the responsible for the Spanish office. It was a short time only for one year, but it gave me a completely different perspective of the Data Center market, being more involved in the software and monitoring solutions. I must say that is still one of the areas that interests me the most in DC Operations. From my understanding monitoring solutions are the beginning of the rest of the concepts like automatization, proactivity, visibility, AI, etc. 

One of my reflections at that time was that, as a provider, I was allowed to visit and work with a lot of DC’s but in some way you don’t see the long term of the projects, so I realized that I wanted to have my Data Center.

It was when I joined the Spanish international Oil & Gas company Repsol, where I started to put into practice the knowledge that I had learned during the previous years working in many different DC projects. I was in charge of the DC area and also led great projects, one of them was the first step to start the Cloud journey. It was an incredible time, personally and professionally, so to leave this family was one of the most complicated decisions I have ever had in a professional environment.  

This is a sweet time, one year ago I moved to Vienna to be in charge of the Microsoft DC in Austria, we have recently launched the Spanish DC association and also being the iMasons Spanish Champion Chapter. I am always willing to be involved in any new DC challenge because this is a sector that I am passionate about. 

In conclusion, I have to admit that I feel privileged and I can not be more thankful because it has been a pleasure to be in this sector working with great professionals.


JML: What was your dream job as a child?

PRH: I was a good student, applicated and disciplined. One curiosity: I was always the student representative at school, high school, university and even at the Masters degree. I enjoy leading, coordinating and sharing. 

I think somehow it explains that I wanted to be the Mayor of my home town, something that still can be considered as my dream job. I believe that it would be an incredible responsibility, be in charge of giving the best to your community. However, I still have a lot to learn and enjoy in DC sector, so I like to bear this in mind for the long future.  


JML: Do you feel you’ve had to work harder than male colleagues to advance your career? 

PRH: I feel comfortable working in this majority male environment, indeed, I have always been surrounded by male colleagues mainly at University and now in the DC sector. However, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been challenging at some times, giving an extra mile to reach or to be considered at the same level as other colleges. 

On the other hand, women in this sector need to feel proud breaching barriers every day, something we probably are not aware of that but we should as it is incredibly important for the next generations. But yes, I think most of us have experienced the feeling that you are not the expected candidate, that you have to prove that you can do it, the personal challenge to speak up and share different ideas, and can be even worst if we consider international markets and cultures. We are in the right direction but there are still small details in our day-to-day that requires us to continue putting in some effort. 

Nevertheless, we are all human and we perform differently, so in my opinion, we need to work based on our capacities and avoid comparing, I do what I do because I believe in that. I have always defended that a diverse team is the most powerful. It is not about how hard you work, it is about how to create the best environment where all thoughts are well accepted and understood. In this regard, yes, still sometimes you need to adapt your thoughts to be better interpreted in a predominantly male environment. 

I have been very lucky and proud working in companies with D&I as a top value. We need to continue in that way, we have done a lot but still, there are barriers to put down. 


JML: What do you think needs to be done more off to attract more women and other under represented groups of our society into the data centre space?

PRH: In my opinion, it is related to education we need to start from the beginning. Unfortunately, current generations still have a lot of bias, we all have and I think this is the first step, recognize our prejudices. 

When you work with people from different nationalities and cultures, you realize that it is still more perceptible. I don’t think this is easy to sort out and definitively it is not something we can do in the short term. However, we can start working with our teams, promoting and sharing the team standard that needs to be followed under the minimum levels of coexistence and respect.


JML: What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

PRH: I think the best advice I have received professionally and personally is to smile. One of the masterclasses during my MBA was ‘how to impact with our presentations”, at that time the idea of public speaking terrified me. There were great sessions where I learned a lot and I understood the power of the smile. 

I remember the teacher telling me that one of my strengths is smiling, something I have never thought about. But for sure, smiling can create the right atmosphere and also we promote a positive mindset. I think the people who know me will recognize it, as always say that whatever happens or whatever complicated situation is better with a first smile. 


JML: What motivates you every day?

PRH: It is a big component of responsibility and motivation to be perceived as a role model for all people with whom we work, especially with my team but also for the next generations. It is important to be realistic and recognize that there are not many women in this sector, it means that we are breaking some barriers and we have to share, speak up and generate the appropriate impact by being approachable and creating a positive environment. 

We cannot forget – values, which is something important to me. I need to believe in the values of the company, put them into practice, and gain recognition for our leadership style. As people managers, it is also our responsibility to train professionals by being generous and sharing knowledge and time.

This is a great sector, and something that I enjoy in my day-to-day is the combination of management and technical roles. Although, I enjoy working hand in hand with people I also enjoy the techiest part. We have in front of us a new industrial revolution and it can not motivate me more. All new areas like IoT, Big Data, AI, etc, are going to revolution all sectors but also the Data Centers and I can not wait to see this evolution. 

I am a huge advocate for continuous improvement, I need to ask if there is a better way to do it because I like the idea of changing things and do better. Consequently, I need to have long-term challenges not always easy to implement but it also challenged me to find the correct reason and be 100% this is the right way.


JML: What advice would you give to younger women entering data centers today?

PRH: There is a lot to say, be passionate in everything you do, set an example by working hard, be empathetic, work with your teams, identify and enhance their potentials, seek excellence of the whole team. Be generous, promote diversity, constructive leadership, learn from others, with the right ambition to achieve your goals.

But it is also important to remind them that it will not be an easy path, it also requires dedication, hard work, complicated decisions, and being smart to balance professional and personal priorities well. This is one of the things that I think remains a considerable challenge for this generation, but I am confident enough that it will improve.

This is an amazing industry where women have great opportunities and we are eager to see diversity improve in our teams. So I just can encourage them to learn, enjoy, work hard, serve as a role model and make a good impact.   


JML: What do you find exciting about this industry?

PRH: Everything. We are the first step in the revolution of the new technologies supporting all types of sectors. We have in front of us an incredible change.

I think that in this sector there are two areas to take care of. First the Data Center market evolution, in order to be able to cover all the different demands and attend all the needs such as the edges or hiperscales concepts, location, the connectivity and latency, sustainable consumption and efficiency, and new technologies implementation. But all of these without ever forgetting 24×7 availability which is the most important of the requirements in this sector. 

On the other hand, we also have great opportunities to evolve the data center operations by implementing new processes, tools and technologies, because also the DC operations will be impacted by the new technologies. My favorite words at the moment are cloud, efficiency, proactivity, sustainability, availability, automation, strategy, monitoring… all of them are critical for the progress of the Data Centers. 

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