Maria Fernandez Williams – CUP Member Spotlight

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?
I am in-house counsel at IBM, a company I have worked with since I graduated from law school. While this was and is rather rare, IBM recruited on campus for entry level attorneys for many years before I started. They subsequently ended that practice the year after I began and only recommenced it a few years ago. Since I have held many positions at IBM throughout the years, I do not have one area of legal speciality and I am more of a generalist.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?
I did not have a technical background when I began at IBM but I have learned a lot about the technology field over the years. Since we tend to change positions every few years that means learning new areas of the business and different technology every few years. In addition, IBM has restructured itself many times since I started. My current position as Alliances and Microelectronics counsel is highly technical one and has required me to learn about semiconductor manufacturing and nanotechnology. The learning curve when you commence a position is steep but I enjoy the challenge it brings. After so many different positions at IBM, I feel like I can conquer just about anything and I look forward to the challenge. Being successful at IBM means being comfortable with change.

What is your proudest achievement?
I want to change this to my most memorable moment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is one of my role models and prior to her nominated for the Supreme Court, I knew we shared the same High School (Cardinal Spellman) and both sat on the Board of LatinoJustice -PRLDEF. As part of the due diligence for her appointment, I learned we lived in the same housing projects (now the Sonia Sotomayor Houses) as young kids and went to the same Catholic grammar school. Shortly after her appointment, members of the LatinoJustice-PRLDEF board and I were sworn in as United States Supreme Court Bar members in a private ceremony with Justice Sotomayor. Standing in the Supreme Court building being sworn in as a member of the bar of the highest court of the United States with the first Hispanic Justice who had been nominated by the first Black President was something I was not sure I would ever see or experience.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
In addition to Justice Sotomayor who I mentioned earlier, I am currently reading and learning more about Nelson Mandela. I visited South Africa a few years ago and visited the Apartheid Museum, a museum I highly recommend. It is hard for me to imagine that sacrifices he made and the peaceful stances he took despite all that was done to him and his family. His achievements remind me that one person can make a difference - - change a county.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Either working as General Counsel of a small to medium sized company, in a non-profit leadership role or working in the President Hilary Clinton administration.

What would be your advice to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact?
Participate in non-profit/volunteer activities that both feed your passion and allow you to gain or hone valuable professional development skills. There are a number of skills I have further developed through my participation in non-profit boards. It benefits you, the community and your employer so be thoughtful and deliberate in how you approach your external activities.