Logo_digigirlz_no_textOn Wednesday the 24th of March 2010, we held the first Australian DigiGirlz Event here at The Microsoft North Ryde office.

We had over 120 attendees from 7 local schools - North Sydney Girls High School, Riverside Girls High School, St George Girls High School, Strathfield Girls High School, PLC Croydon, Ravenswood, Abbotsleigh and MLC. The students were studying between year 9 – 11, and also ranged from having very little exposure or interest in IT, to actively pursuing a career in the IT field.

As a result of attending the event, over 45 of the girls who had never considered a career in IT had changed their mind and were now considering one! Every single girl that attended said that they would recommend that their school attends next year.  As one attendee commented:

“The whole event was just fantastic! Specially when we got to talk to people working in different fields in IT. I had gazillions of questions and magically all of them were answered in a very helpful way. This really was the best excursion ever”

The success of the event is directly related to the number of people who volunteered their time to contribute to something they also believed was important! So many people within Microsoft reached out to help with this event – and in the end, we had over 30 Internal & External volunteers whom I am very grateful to.

clip_image001[5]

From the very start of the day, through the variety of activities, each girl had a chance to address their own views of what a career in IT meant, and they were challenged to find the answer during the course of the day – a great challenge that they indeed met!

“I really enjoyed the event and found that it exceeded my expectation. The food was GREAT and the staff were very welcoming and friendly. It gave us a really good insight into the industry and let us know it is not just ‘computer geeks’ that do it. I think that all students would find it extremely beneficial”

Each attendee had the chance to have a one on one conversation with real world role models who work here at Microsoft. This ranged from recent graduates, members of our MACH Hire program and up to members of our Senior Leadership team. This resonated well with each of the students and as one explained:

“I thought the best part was talking to real people about their jobs and discussing the numerous career opportunities available to women in the IT industry.”

Our Attendees also had the chance to chat with a range of University representatives, that covered current Bachelor degree students, PhD students, recent  graduates, Lecturers and Heads of IT. I would love to send a big thank you to each of these participants as they each donated their time, some flying from Brisbane and Lismore to be there on the day! Their being involved allowed the girls to ask all the hard questions about the reality of university life and tips for what they may like to study and they had a lot of questions! Thanks to Raina Mason (Southern Cross University - Women in Technology Coordinator / Lecturer), Sharon Griffith (Lecturer University of Western Sydney), Aimee Maree Forsstrom (Southern Cross University – Recent Graduate), Susan Hansen (PhD Student University of Technology Sydney), Elise Boyd (Student at University of Newcastle and MSP), Teagan Hickey (Student at University of Technology Sydney) and Patrick Haddock (Student at University of Technology Sydney).

We decided that rather than talk about some of the cool new technologies Microsoft was working on, it would be best to let the students experience it first hand. Our Local Live Services MVP Bronwen Zande ran on the hands on labs that each girl got to actively participate in. The labs gave the girls a chance to upload pictures & create a 3D PhotoSynth. The labs also featured an application specifically designed for the day by local Silverlight MVP, Jordan Knight. The application searches Flickr for any photos taken with the Event tag and Dynamically adds them to a Deep Zoom using Azure worker processes & Azure storage. Photos taken on the day can be seen here in the Application as they are uploaded: http://jak.cloudapp.net/Default.aspx?guid=764fbcd0-c15f-45f3-bda5-de3ed9081ce8.

The PhotoSynth shots featured photos that were provided in the lead up to event by a team of developers: Jordan, Andrew, Elise, Bronwen & our 2 other female MSP’s that are in other states but also wanted to help out for the event – Susan Allin and Isabelle Gramp. Here’s one made by one of the students on the day featuring the Display Centre in Microsoft Seattle: http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=80f165fb-85dd-4d0a-87df-79a0aaa3f55c

The Students raved about their experience in the “Games Room” where Ashley Jenkins with the support of female MSP Elise Boyd wowed the room with demos of Project Natal, and discussions around the exciting careers in the games industry. And it wasn’t enough! The girls have demanded more & excitingly Ashley has agreed that when Project Natal is finally released she will run another hands on Student event around this & focusing on Game development as there was just so much interest!!

Catherine Strikes a BlueSteel PoseThis event was something I have wanted to run here in Australia for some  time and it was an honour to work with the 34 internal and external Volunteers that also believed that educating the next generation as to the challenges & rewards of a career in IT can directly impact the diversity we have in our industry in future. It was an honour to represent Microsoft and be surrounded by so many women I see as Role Models every day at such an impactful event. I enjoyed every bit just as much as the students did:

“I really enjoyed it, one of the best excursions I’ve gone on. Everyone was really nice, opened my eyes to technology opportunities available for women, learnt lots of things about the IT field I hadn’t learnt before.”

Thank you so very much to everyone that was part of DigiGirlz Event – I cant wait till we run the next one!