From the home of Sheng to the Managing Director of Microsoft ADC

Catherine Muraga is the Managing Director of Microsoft Africa Development Centre. She is part of a team that develops some of the Microsoft products used by billions of customers globally – powering their productivity and doing so securely. Photo | Pool

What you need to know:

  • She grew up in Eastlands Nairobi but today Catherine Muraga is the Managing Director of Microsoft Africa Development Centre (ADC). Catherine who has led the Microsoft ADC since its inception in 2019 is the first woman to hold that position. She is part of a team that develops some of the Microsoft products used by billions of customers globally. Catherine, who has over 15 years of experience, shares her story of growth and resilience as a woman in Tech

“I am a product of two worlds: Nairobi and Kajiado counties. My formative years were spent in Eastlands and the rest in Ongata Rongai,” she starts with a smile.

“I am the eldest in a family of five siblings, so I took to leadership naturally. Being the eldest, like in many homes, the sense of accountability and responsibility is instilled early. I learnt how to cook, babysit, shop for food, and run the home early in life.”

“Life in Eastlands taught me grit, a sense of community—our neighbors represented the face of Kenya—yet they were family, and the simplicity of life as we lived on very little, and we were content. This built in me a deep sense of gratitude,” Catherine notes with nostalgia.

Her childhood was one full of curiosity, fun moments, and occasional dashes of creativity. She says she has no recollection of being gifted toys, so her creativity was honed from an early age. “I made balls from polythene bags and stuffed them with green leaves. With my three sisters, we had animated conversations on the made-up lives of each doll in our collection, innovated from worn-out T-shirts,” she recalls.

The first woman Managing Director of Microsoft Africa Development Centre (ADC) attended her elementary school through to University here in Kenya before taking on various leadership and technology certifications from Columbia Business School Digital Strategies for Business and Oxford University Fintech program. 

Catherine has had a great career in tech-related roles and various sectors of the economy— from technology, manufacturing, aviation, and financial services.

“Over the years, there are two major things that I have come to appreciate: One is that content is king, I have been and continue to be a lifelong learner. Be it in the classroom learning, on the job, or through exchanging of experience with colleagues in the industry. Taking up stretch assignments at work or volunteering for some roles has also boosted my learning.

"Also, it takes a village to raise a child, and its key to invest in a tribe or a group of trusted individuals who continually challenge you to remain focused on your desired goals. One must, however, choose the tribe carefully as wise counsel can only flow from a thriving well!” the Computer Science graduate from Africa Nazarene University, says. 

Earlier in her career, Catherine says she benefitted from attending forums where people who had made it in their careers shared their inspiring journeys. Here, she learnt the importance of having a vision, a roadmap, and a defined timeline to achieve. Having a tribe of people or mentors to hold you accountable, she says, helps one hit the milestones.

“I have been blessed to have leaders who saw the potential and took a chance on me, some who pushed me to the deep end, and I managed to navigate the choppy waters. And others who simply took me under their wing, coached or mentored me in the various roles that I held,” the woman in her mid-40s, says.

“I have picked some very valuable lessons, such as the power of appreciating the seasons you are in. There is a season to grind, learn and gain as much knowledge as you can. And there is one where you are the subject matter expert and get consulted on issues,” Catherine who also applies the ‘Power of Slow’, in which she knows that important things take time and appreciates the process, says. 

Her patience was tested immediately after she graduated from University. “I had dreams of being a top IT leader by age 30, what I did not know or underestimated is that getting to the top office was a process. This required returning to school to acquire new knowledge, and taking up new roles,” she says.  

Another lesson that Catherine hold to heart is the ‘Power of Friends! Your Squad!’

“I cannot emphasise this enough. In the words of motivational speaker Jim Rohn: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” Catherine, who was appointed Microsoft’s Microsoft Africa Development Centre Managing Director in June 2022, says and adds: “The people you spend the most time with shape who you are. They determine what conversations dominate your attention. They affect the attitudes and behaviours you are regularly exposed to. Eventually, you start to think as they think and behave as they behave. In my career and life, it is important to constantly ask, are my friends compounding or shrinking my vision?”

The ADC is Microsoft's first-ever development center in Africa with locations in both Nairobi, Kenya, and Lagos, Nigeria

In her current job, Catherine says she continually researches what is happening in the world of technology and its application in the industry. She has also invested in learning more by going back to school, joining associations, or engaging with colleagues in the industry who are well versed in those research areas.

“One thing I would tell my younger-self is that as a lady (a minority) in the tech world, I should acknowledge the imposter syndrome voice and confront it with facts. The facts are that you have the capability to deliver on the assigned roles. Also, to take responsibility for both successful and failed outcomes. Be accountable for your decisions even if they led to poor outcomes and focus more on lessons learnt after reflecting on what went wrong,” she says. 

In her advice to young people, Catherine says that they should identify their passion, invest in it and pursue opportunities. Further, she insists one should build a community and surround yourself with a network that grows you. 

“Know when to give and when to take,” she advises. 

Asked about her plans, she says that she intends to continue driving the use of technology to create business outcomes be it locally or internationally. And to also continue mentoring women in technology; “I have actively done this for the last five years,” she concludes.