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Today, we have the second part of a two-part blog posted by program managers in Beijing and Redmond respectively—second up, Stewart Tansley:
When Microsoft Research shipped the first official Kinect for Windows software development kit (SDK) beta in June 2011, it was both an ending and a beginning for me. The thrilling accomplishment of rapidly and successfully designing and engineering the SDK was behind us, but now the development and supporting teams had returned to their normal research work, and I was left to consider how best to showcase the research potential of Kinect technology beyond gaming.
Since Kinect’s launch in November 2010, investigators from all quarters had been experimenting with the system in imaginative and diverse applications. There was very little chance of devising some stand-out new application that no one had thought of—since so many ideas were already in play. So I decided to find the best of the current projects and “double down” on them.
But rather than issuing a public global call—which we didn’t do, because so many people were proactively experimenting with Kinect technology—we turned to the Microsoft Research labs around the world and asked them to submit their best Kinect collaborations with the academic world, thus bringing together professors and our best researchers, as we normally do in Microsoft Research Connections.
We whittled twelve outstanding proposals to five finalists and picked the best three for additional funding and support. One of those three was the Kinect Sign Language Translator, a collaboration among Microsoft Research Asia, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Beijing Union University.
Incredibly, the Beijing-based team delivered a demonstration model in fewer than six months, and I first saw it run in October 2012, in Tianjin. Only hours earlier, I had watched a seminal on-stage demo of simultaneous speech translation, during which Microsoft Research’s then leader, Rick Rashid, spoke English into a machine learning system that produced a pitch-perfect Chinese translation—all in real time, on stage before 2,000 Chinese students. It was a "Star Trek" moment. We are living in the future!
Equally inspiring though, and far away from the crowds, I watched the diminutive and delightful Dandan Yin gesture to the Kinect device connected to the early sign language translator prototype—and words appeared on the screen! I saw magic that day, and not just on stage.
Nine months later, in July 2013, we were excited to host Dandan at the annual Microsoft Research Faculty Summit in Redmond—her first trip outside China. We were thrilled with the response by people both attending and watching the Summit. The sign language translator and Dandan made the front page of the Seattle Times and were widely covered by Internet news sites.
We knew we had to make a full video of the system to share it with others and take the work further. Over a couple of sweltering days in late July (yes, Seattle does get hot sunny days!), we showed the system to Microsoft employees. It continued to capture the imagination, including that of Microsoft employees who are deaf.
We got the chance to demonstrate the system at the Microsoft annual company meeting in September 2013—center stage, with 18,000 in-person attendees and more than 60,000 watching online worldwide. This allowed us to bring Dandan and the Chinese research team back to Seattle, and it gave us the opportunity to complete our video.
That week, we all went back into the studio, and through a long hard day, shot the remaining pieces of the story, explaining how the system could one day transform the lives of millions of people who are deaf or hard or hearing—and all of us—around the world.
I hope you enjoy the video and are inspired by it as much we are.
We look forward to making this technology a reality for all! We would love to hear your comments.
—Stewart Tansley, Director, Microsoft Research Connections
I can’t imagine a more perfect theme for the 2013 Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing than “Think Big, Drive Forward.” It’s a message that speaks to me personally, as a new employee of Microsoft who has been thinking big things about my own career and driving ideas forward through events like GHC, the world’s largest annual event for technical women. Early in 2012, I had the opportunity to attend the CRA-W Graduate Cohort Workshop, an event specifically for women pursuing graduate degrees in computer science. Much like GHC, the Grad Cohort is an incredibly inspiring event with great potential for networking. It was during the research poster session that I met Rane Johnson, a director at Microsoft Research Connections, who shares my passion for promoting diversity in computing. Rane and I bonded immediately over the work I was presenting: computer science outreach and mentoring in rural Haiti. Our shared interests turned into an amazing opportunity for me to be Rane’s intern that summer at Microsoft Research.
After arriving at Microsoft in May 2012, I felt my previous big thinking was somewhat tiny. I had come to a place where everyone was passionate about technology and computing, and I was far from the only woman! Even before my intern orientation had ended, I knew that Microsoft was the place for me—I just wasn’t sure how to make it happen. Lucky for me, Rane’s passion for developing more female computer scientists made her the point person for organizing Microsoft’s presence at the 2012 GHC. As her intern, I played a key role in coordinating the logistics for our internal events, our booth schedule, and all communications to our attendees—from student scholarship recipients all the way to company executives. By the time I arrived in Baltimore, I was thinking really big and ready to drive my career forward! At every opportunity, I introduced myself to the other Microsoft attendees. As one of the individuals helping to organize things, I had a huge advantage in striking up conversations with all the amazing, talented women who volunteered in our booth. I was blown away by how supportive everyone was and how sincerely eager they were to help me take my career to the next level. By the end of the conference, I had snagged multiple informational interviews across the company, and my inbox was filled with job opportunities. It was through these incredible women, my new connections from GHC, that I found my current role as a program manager within Microsoft’s Operating Systems group.
I’ve now been a full-time employee just shy of eight months, and returning to GHC feels like the start of a great new phase of my career: from student presenter at the Grad Cohort, to an eager intern last year, to a new employee helping to recruit more female innovators. I’m looking forward to assisting those attendees who are thinking big things about their own careers, and I know that the 2013 Grace Hopper Celebration is the perfect place for them to drive those dreams forward.
—Katie Doran, Program Manager, Operating Systems, Microsoft
Going to a major conference is always fun. It’s an opportunity to see old friends and make new ones, to network with experts, and to be exposed to fresh ideas and trends. All those benefits hold true for the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) for Women in Computing, the Anita Borg Institute’s annual conference on women’s roles in computing. But for me, GHC is meaningful for another reason: it’s an opportunity for Microsoft in general—and Microsoft Research in particular—to focus on growing and retaining women in computer science and engineering. That’s why I am so pleased that more than 260 of my fellow “Softies”—including 9 executives and 22 women who will speak or lead at conference events—are joining me at GHC. This strong presence enables us to reach out to women at every stage of their technology career development, from students through established professionals, and to demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and innovation in computing.
And make no mistake: such commitment is sorely needed. Women's share of US computer occupations declined to 27 percent in 2011 after reaching a high of 34 percent in 1990. The US Department of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018 there will be 1.4 million open technology jobs in the United States. At the current rate of students graduating with degrees in computer science, only 61 percent of those openings will be filled—and only 29 percent of applicants will be women.
The need is all the more critical when you consider that the latest advances in improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing have come from technological innovations. At Microsoft Research, we recognize that such technology breakthroughs require teams that are sufficiently diverse to anticipate, respond to, and serve the needs of a changing world. To bolster women’s participation in computing, we believe in a multipronged approach based on broad industry and academic partnerships. This approach builds exposure to computer science at an early age and supports women during undergraduate and graduate studies in computer science. Equally important, it promotes collaborations with the top women researchers and rising stars, such as the work I’m presently doing with Constance Steinkuehler of the University Wisconsin-Madison. We are researching the impact of exposing female middle school and high school students to computer science through an online community that teaches computational thinking via game design. Or, with Tiffany Barnes of North Carolina State University where we are working in conjunction with Rising Stars Alliance - a community of practice for student-led regional engagement as a means to broaden participation in computing. In addition, Microsoft Research collaborates closely with Ruthe Farmer at the National Center for Women in Technology in the Aspirations in Computing and the Aspire IT programs. Constance, Tiffany, and Ruthe will speak in greater detail about these projects during my session on Innovative Solutions in Attracting More Women in Computing at GHC.
As part of our industry sponsorship, Microsoft is supporting 35 GHC scholarships. In addition, Julie Larson-Green, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Devices and Studios division, will be a mentor at the Senior Women’s Networking Lunch, and Jacky Wright, vice president of Microsoft Strategic Enterprise Services, will be speaking at and sponsoring the Women of Color Luncheon.
If you’re attending Grace Hopper, whatever your professional affiliation or career stage, please stop by our booth (an Airstream trailer decked out with the latest devices) to learn about opportunities at Microsoft. Be sure to take part in our scavenger hunt—which offers Xbox and Kinect prizes—and the Dance-Off Challenge at the closing party we co-sponsor with Google each year. Through partnerships with businesses, organizations, and individuals, we hope to grow the next generation of women in computing. Let’s bridge the gap to future innovation together, through diversity and creativity!
—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections