Michelle Dutton, 47, did not have a microwavable path to engineering. Her high school experience provided the opportunity to code in three languages and exposed her to the technical fields. This equipped the Philadelphia native with the tools to receive her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and her master’s degree in organizational dynamics from the University of Pennsylvania. With more than 25 years of leadership at Verizon under her belt, Dutton now serves as the vice president of Global Network Systems and Support where she leads a team of engineers that plan and administer the operations systems for the telecommunications company’s global voice data and IP networks, which currently spans more than 2,600 cities and 150 countries on six continents. She believes engineering sets the foundation for leadership and professional rigor.
Black Enterprise caught up with the Dutton to discuss her rewarding career at Verizon, the importance of STEM education and advice for the next generation of tech leaders.
How did you get involved in technology? What peaked your interest in tech?
I did not have a direct path to engineering. It was a little bit of curiosity and a little bit of happenstance. I was always advanced academically. I was bussed out of my neighborhood for middle school, so that I could attend a more advanced school, which was diverse. I wasn’t very happy there and so I found out that there was this new high school opening up in Philadelphia called the High School for Engineering and Science, which you had to test into to attend. But the real bonus there was you had the opportunity to accelerate your education and graduate a year early if you could handle the rigorous curriculum they had there. So I was advanced in math and science and was always told that I was pretty smart, and so I went for it. My agenda was really to get out of school early, so I can get on with my life—believe it or not. However, while there I learned to program computers in three languages, do engineering drawings and I was just exposed to some fabulous teachers that had earned their Ph.D.s in technical fields. I was totally blown away in high school.
I also participated in Inroads Philadelphia…they provided me with corporate mentors and some exposure as well.