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October, 2013

Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

October, 2013

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Thinking big about women in computing

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    Grace Hopper Conference 2013 - Celebration of women in computing.

    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.Rane Johnson and Katie Doran

    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

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Time to swim upstream

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    I’m a middle-aged, white male who works in the tech industry; lucky for me, I get to “swim with the current.” I work in a culture that has been optimized for me. Many others in the field of computing aren’t so fortunate; they find themselves in a work environment that is indifferent to them (if not downright hostile), placing barriers in the way of their career advancement. It should be no surprise that most of the people in the tech industry are just like me, since we—often unintentionally—tend to hire and promote people who are most like us. Here’s the thing though: the resulting monoculture is bad for the industry and the individual companies that participate in it. It’s bad for our customers, for the field of computing, and bad for those who would like to have a successful career in technology but find the deck stacked against them. 

    Women in computing matters. Innovate to impact the world.

    As the general manager of Microsoft Research, I work daily with my colleagues to advance the state of the art in research. What this really means is that we work to drive innovation, and I’m well aware that statistics show that the presence of women increases technical teams’ collective intelligence. And I’m pleased to note that fostering a diverse workplace is an important commitment at Microsoft, a commitment we back up with scholarships and internships for young women who are interested in computing careers.
     
    But corporate commitment alone isn’t enough. There has to be personal recognition of the need for change—and the problem with swimming with the current is that you are often not aware that the current is carrying you along—or that it even exists in the first place. That can make it hard to appreciate the struggles of those who are forced to swim against it. On one level, I get it—I know that the game is rigged in my favor, and that it’s wrong, and I sincerely want to make it right. On the other hand, I need help in understanding what needs to change to make it right.
     
    This week I’m in Minneapolis, attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, an annual gathering of women at all stages in their careers in the field of computing, along with the leadership of the field (both women and men). In fact, I’m just one member of Microsoft’s 260-strong contingent, which includes senior executives Julie Larson-Green, Jacky Wright, Rick Rashid, and Jennifer Chayes.

    For me, the Grace Hopper Celebration is an opportunity to have a discussion about how we can ensure that women in our field get to participate fully, advance their careers, and work in an environment that respects them as individuals as well as for their unique and important contributions. It’s a chance for me to voice support, both on my own and Microsoft’s behalf, for initiatives that advance these goals. But it’s also a chance for me to learn about my own blind spots and increase my awareness of things that I can be doing to help women reach for their dreams. It’s important to me to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

    I also have another important opportunity and role this year at Grace Hopper: proud father. My twin daughters recently graduated from college and are both now working in the field of computing. I’m thrilled that they are attending the Grace Hopper conference this year. It’s a privilege for me to watch and support them as they launch their own careers and begin to build their own network of colleagues through events such as this one, and it gives me one more reason to “fight the good fight” to make things better for women in our field.

    Kevin Schofield, General Manager, Microsoft Research

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    Bringing the heavens into the schoolhouse

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    In the five years since Microsoft Research initially launched the WorldWide Telescope (WWT), the product’s many features have been put to a variety of uses. Today in Chongqing, China, we saw yet another first for WorldWide Telescope: the unveiling of the first WWT-driven planetarium in China. The 8-meter dome installation is at the Shixinlu primary school and is powered by six high-resolution projectors. This installation enables students not only to see and study the stars and the universe in an immersive planetarium setting, but it also allows them to create their own tours of the heavens and have them displayed on the dome.

    The first WWT-driven planetarium in China was unveiled at the Shixinlu primary school in Chongqing.
    The first WWT-driven planetarium in China was unveiled at the Shixinlu primary school in Chongqing on October 23.

    I represented the WorldWide Telescope team at the grand unveiling of the dome, and as I did so, I was struck by the impact our small research project has had around the world. Even more so, I was in awe of the vision of Dr. Chenzhou Cui from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who saw the potential of teaching and inspiring students via a planetarium placed directly in the school and who collaborated with Microsoft Research Asia to implement this vision via WorldWide Telescope. Dr. Cui and Mrs. Kailiang Song, the director of the school, worked tirelessly to get the installation built and running in six months and to provide a great environment for WWT. And above all, it is great to see the potential for many more students to gain a better understanding of astronomy by being immersed in the stars.

    Dan Fay represented the WorldWide Telescope team at the dome's unveiling.
    Representing the WorldWide Telescope team at the dome's unveiling, Fay was awed by the vision of Dr. Chenzhou Cui from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who recognized the educational potential of WorldWide Telescope.

    The ability to use WorldWide Telescope in a multi-machine and multi-projector setup to display on planetarium domes is one of the features included in the Windows desktop client. The WWT client is freely available at www.worldwidetelescope.org.

    Dan Fay, Director of Earth, Energy, and Environment; Microsoft Research Connections

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