It’s a long way from the neighbourhood of Little Burgundy in Montreal to the offices of Microsoft in Dallas, Texas, but Charmaine Christie-Primo’s hard work, self-belief, plus a whole lot of family love and support, gave her everything she needed for the journey. The graduate of Civil Engineering boarded a plane at Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport on July 7, 2012, en route for a new job and an exciting new chapter of her life.
“In my head, I was going to be a doctor,” says Charmaine, recalling her earliest aspirations. She was a stellar student right from the get-go at Westmount Park Elementary School, doing everything she could to make her chosen career a reality. She loved and excelled at math and science. Her drive and dedication consistently made her a top student. She won the school’s annual Book Award every year except for Grade 3 (a temporary setback that she admits made her cry). Then, after passing the grueling entrance exam, she was accepted into Villa Maria High School.
Still determined to eventually enter the field of medicine, she attended Champlain Regional College after graduating from Villa Maria, but a class in organic chemistry threw off her plans. The class demanded a lot of memorization, which did not play to her strengths. “I’m the kind of person who likes to learn a concept and then apply it,” she says. Engineering, then, proved to be a natural choice.
After entering Concordia’s civil engineering program, Charmaine continued to push herself academically, as well as in extra-curricular activities – no surprise from a self-described “social butterfly.” For two years running she was president of the Concordia chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, one of the largest student-run organizations in the world. During her tenure, the chapter earned “Best Outreach Chapter of the Year” award from the Engineering and Computer Science Association for its work at local high schools and community centers. In 2011, Charmaine became the inaugural chairperson of the newly incorporated NSBE Canada organization. Her portfolio included managing the 11 alumni, university, and high school chapters across Eastern Canada.
The last leg of Charmaine’s journey to Microsoft is perhaps the most unexpected twist. After all, what brings a civil engineering student to a computer company? In October 2011, she attended the career fair at Concordia. She would have walked right on by the Microsoft kiosk had the recruiter not insisted she stop by and chat. He persuaded her to at least leave her CV behind.
“I impressed the recruiter and was sent an email a couple of weeks later asking me to interview for one of four positions,” says Charmaine.
Fast forward several months; for the final interviews she was flown out to Charlotte, North Carolina. She worked hard to prepare for the interviews, which tested her in four main areas: technical, problem-solving, interpersonal and communication.
The story, of course, has a happy ending. Charmaine was offered a job – a rare civil engineer in an environment full of computer and electrical engineering grads – and she could hardly be more enthusiastic about it. She sees no limits to what can be achieved through determination and perseverance.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because of your background,” she says. “Everyone in the neighbourhood is so proud of me.” She flashes her characteristic kilowatt smile, which is bound to light up Microsoft, just as it has Montreal and Concordia.