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The interview with Barbara Domicelj, Microsoft Slovenia

This interview had been conducted in June before everyone left for summer vacation. For this reason and for the history that Barbara and I share (she was my mentor during the 2018/19 AmCham Mentor program), our conversation was even more relaxed and informal. It was also the first “Leaders are Readers” interview in person since Covid restrictions were put in place two years ago. We both ordered a Coke (hers was a Zero), stretched out at the café below Crystal Palace, where Microsoft Slovenia is based, and had a friendly chat about reading.


Barbara wasted no time blurting out that she had no time for reading. I was instantly relieved, as I am in a bit of a rut myself, as far as reading is concerned. My to-read list just keeps growing and this summer was particularly unproductive in terms of reading. We started chatting about various stages of life, reading’s role in society, and the time provided for reading. Barbara had always been a diligent reader, reading happily and in significant amounts. She often finishes the same book thrice or even four times, listing the Slovene books Beavers and Under a Free Sun as examples. Barbara remarked that she had noticed from her daughter that schools were no longer so insistent that children should finish their Reading Badge requirement, whereas back in our days, it was taken for granted that one would complete it. I made a mental note to pay more attention to my first grader’s reading habits. Barbara also said that there are times when she can read enormous quantities, especially during vacation.


Discussing further reading habits, Barbara pointed out that reading books from a young age – not e-books, but actual bound, paper ones – changes the growing brain. She also reads a lot in foreign languages, mostly in German and English, convinced that it offers a different perspective. Paper books are her favorite. She described them as a true bookworm as “those that smell good when you open them” and expressed the range of positive feelings that course through her when she removes the plastic wrap from a newly bought book. Nevertheless, she also has and uses a Kindle, finding it useful because it helps with translations. Approximately half of her reading time is done “in paper version” and the rest with e-readers (or even on PC). She, however emphasized that the latter makes her attention span significantly shorter.


When I asked how the coronavirus pandemic affected her reading habits, she said that while others were busy baking sourdough, she began reading in earnest again. Paloma Negra by Miha Mazzini, along with Drago Jančar’s work were on her list, both for general edification. However, the book that left the greatest impression on her recently was Whites Wash at Ninety by Bronja Žakelj. Barbara knows the author, and since she also had already lost her mother, she could identify with the book, and emotions drew her to use a significant amount of tissues while reading. Her go-to genre for relaxation is crime fiction, through which she also learned foreign languages.


One of Barbara’s favorite topics concerning professional books are how to talk about complex topics, diversity and inclusiveness, and relationships. Among the most recent books she read were also Satya Nadella’s Hit Refresh and Brad Smith’s Tools and Weapons, which both discuss how the world has changed due to technology, playing with concepts, data security, ethical dilemmas, and differences in approaches among the USA, EU, and China. What trumps what? The right to privacy or the right to security? Microsoft has a library, including e-books, full of such business content, as well as about personal growth. Barbara confesses that she must force herself to read such literature, although she realizes its importance. Books are often the gifts she receives on her birthday, which means a lot to her.

I asked her if she would like to write a book herself one day and she replied that in case she would have written a book, it would certainly be about the changed sector over the past 15 years and how technology-enabled work from home and made data-driven decisions faster than ever. Smiling, she swore that she’d spice things up with a good anecdote or two, which she has in abundance, given her experience in the field.


Barbara doesn’t just choose books for their covers, although she prefers pretty ones and happily buys them. She as well reads them, not letting them just decorate her shelves. Even if the book isn’t very good, she usually presses on at least until the halfway point, but afterward has a bad conscience for not finishing it out of pure respect for the author. Comments and reviews (e.g., on Amazon) guide her book purchases, but personal recommendations do so even more. Word-of-mouth was how Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck and Power Posing by Brené Brown made it onto her shelf. Her to-read list is kept on her phone, and she shares her books with her partner on Kindle. When I asked her about note-taking while reading, something I’m not fond of myself, she said that here and there, she would put a post-it note to mark an important part. Still, she uses thought organizers for more complex things like strategies and often thinks about what to read when she’s working out, writing her conclusions after she finishes. This reminded me of my boss, who said that his best ideas come when riding his bike. I made another mental note, this time – to exercise more.


For my next interviewee, Barbara recommended Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. And before you accuse us of veering off into completely feminist topics at the end of our chat, let us explain that it’s a book about inclusion and diversity, not men vs. women. The book talks about how different and varied the people around us are and how necessary it is to consider it when planning a new product, service, or strategy. Do you agree?

On our way out of the café, we ran into Dr. Leonardi from IBM, who had sat down for one of these reading interviews and mentioned that I recorded our chat more or less word for word and that it was an honor, given that a new school year was starting (and with it a new AmCham Book Club season), and that I perhaps should have written up this interview in a different format. I hope you readers managed to dig into a bunch of great books over the summer and that you will share your new insights with us in the new season.