Alumna Pioneers Time-Management Tools Through Email Calendar Function
By Sara Cody
The first time Vanessa Feliberti (ENG’93) met Bill Gates, she knocked his socks off, literally. Feliberti, a self-described “early bird,” has worked at Microsoft for the past 25 years, and on this particular day, she arrived early to clean her office, expecting to have the building to herself. While exiting the elevator into the parking garage toting a massive stack of books that obscured her vision, she crashed into someone trying to enter the elevator, causing them both to go flying. Stunned, she realized she had crash-landed into Bill Gates himself.
“I’ve worked with him a few times since then, but that was the first time I interacted with him and of course I ran him over,” says Feliberti. “He was nice about it, and he even helped me pick up the books I dropped.”
Recruited by Microsoft right out of graduate school, Feliberti has spent her career working on the Exchange email platform and has witnessed the growth of email from a rare tool used only by the government and some higher education initiatives to the ubiquitous communication tool it is today. For the past 10 years, Feliberti and her team of 80 have focused on the calendar function in the email platform to create tools for time management, particularly with different time zones.
“Time is the most precious resource we have, and every person has a time problem,” says Feliberti. “In this super- connected, high-demand world, my group looks at ways our users can have more happiness and less stress, and time management is at the core of that.”
Feliberti knew from an early age that she wanted to work in technology. Math has always been a subject that came easily to her, and as a middle school student in El Paso, Texas, she joined an advanced high school math class to challenge herself more. It was there where she first heard a high school classmate talking about his plans to go into computer science because “computers were the future,” and she realized that was the path for her as well.
“I have always wanted to be in the center of change to make an impact, and that is what I love most about my job,” says Feliberti. “Email has been a part of that revolution to connect everyone on the planet and I feel so luck to be part of a team that has such a widespread global affect.”
Feliberti completed her undergraduate studies in computer science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she relished the process of late-night coding and ascribing structure and order to the abstract chaos of ones and zeros. When looking at graduate schools, she chose BU because she felt it was the perfect complement to the strong theoretical foundation of her undergraduate degree.
“I chose BU because I found it to be good balance to MIT. I knew I wasn’t academic type and I missed that connection to real world,” says Feliberti. “BU was more a global thinking of how to apply computer science, and since many of my peers were working professionals, I gained valuable experience into the real world by collaborating with them.”
Though her program was only a year long, the vision to create the next generation of engineers who use their skills to help improve society was one that resonated with her. She watched the prestige grow as her own career star rose, to this day she remains a staunch supporter of the College and its mission to create societal engineers.
“This focus on combining deep technical skills with truly challenging students to think about having a positive effect on society really resonates with me, because that is what my life and career are about,” says Feliberti. “Multidisciplinary collaboration is so ingrained in the culture and is so unique to BU that it inspires me to stay involved to help foster that growth and create more opportunities for students.”
The next generation of engineers is an important concept to Feliberti. Outreach and diversity are her twin passions in addition to her work, and she is heavily involved in a number of initiatives both through work and through the College of Engineering. Microsoft founded an education program, Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) with the goal of increasing high school student access to computer science education, which is only formally taught in one out of four schools. Feliberti teaches a high school class twice a week through this program.
“The reality is that there aren’t enough computer scientists to fill the need that exists, and the problem is that when it comes time for high schoolers to choose a career, they don’t even know it’s an option,” says Feliberti. “And the media portrays computer scientists as these pale green nerds who don’t speak to anyone all day, so that doesn’t help either. But there is so much opportunity because computer science permeates every field. What I get excited about is how I can show kids the beauty of computer science and my passion for my career.”
For the past 10 years, Feliberti and her team of 80 have focused on the calendar function in the email platform to create tools for time management, particularly with different time zones.
Being a role model to women in particular is important to Feliberti. A student in the first class she taught through TEALS five years ago studied engineering at Stanford University and just started working full time, so she sees the impact that formative experience has on younger students. At BU, Feliberti is a big support of the Technology Innovation Scholars Program, which sends engineering undergraduates into middle and high schools across the country to excite young students about the possibilities of an engineering career. She refers to the near-to-peer mentorship concept as a “genius” experience that is invaluable for both undergraduate students and the younger students they teach.
“Vanessa is a perfect example of someone who stepped up to inspire the next generation of engineers, both through her work with TEALS and her support of the Technology Innovation Scholars Program here,” says Gretchen Fougere, associate dean for outreach and diversity. “So far, she has personally sponsored the stipends of three students in TISP. It’s so great to find someone who identifies with the program so strongly and has such a direct impact on our students.”
In addition to her extensive work in outreach, Feliberti is a diversity champion for a cohort of 4,000 employees Microsoft, where she is tasked with finding ways to expand the diversity of the corporate culture at Microsoft through employee recruiting, retention and growth opportunities. The goal is to create an inclusive environment to keep up with the demands of a 21st century work place.
“As a lead inside Microsoft, I am the first woman of many things, like first Latina engineer on the Microsoft campus, first female engineering partner, so I feel fortunate to be able to help open the doors for inclusion in our society,” says Feliberti. “Speaking generally, diversity is a business problem, and as a tech company our goal to make products that apply to every single person on the planet. We need to leverage different experiences, skills and perspectives in order to have that impact.”