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In a blog last week, I alluded to an important upcoming announcement. Well, here it is: I am pleased to announce that our second annual International Women’s Hackathon will take place on university campuses around the globe from April 24 to 27, 2014. Last year’s event spanned 14 campuses in seven countries, with more than 600 university women participating. We’re anticipating even bigger numbers this year!
We launched the International Women’s Hackathon to encourage, support, and retain women pursuing the computer sciences at the university level. This event, largely promoted by word-of-mouth, empowers young women to become leaders in computer science, informatics, and electrical engineering. By providing a fun and safe environment in which to explore computing, the hackathon encourages and supports young university women around the world, preparing them to create technology innovations that will help meet worldwide challenges in such areas as improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing. The presence of women in technology is essential to innovation. When confronted with a problem, we each encode our perspectives and then apply our particular heuristics to explore new and better resolutions. Diverse teams often outperform homogeneous teams (even those composed of high-achieving individuals), because diversity of perspective and problem-solving approach trumps individual ability. Research has identified the diversity of work teams as one of the key influences in the innovation process—and without question, a diverse team needs women. As I travel around campuses, I hear the same concerns repeatedly from women in computer science courses:
This is why the International Women’s Hackathon is so important. It provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches. To ensure that this year’s hackathon meets the needs of university women, we have enlisted the help of recent winners of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. These gifted young women have helped us organize the challenges, reassess the rules and regulations, and upgrade the toolkit. So here’s a big thank you to the leads and planning committee members: Leads:
The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches.
We are excited to have this year’s challenges sponsored by the following nonprofits: UN Women, Hindsight Group, Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, and Teens Against Distracted Driving. Hackathon participants will design a software application that meets one of two challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving. I am also pleased to announce our partnership with the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. We will be front and center during the festival, with women students from local universities hacking live on stage while we connect via Skype to the hackathon events taking place on university campuses all over the world. I will announce more information about the hackathon in January, including details on special speakers and unique events, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I hope that many of you will take advantage of this opportunity: you can organize teams and register for the event now.—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research ConnectionsLearn more
Every December I get together with 20,000 like-minded researchers in San Francisco to discuss how to preserve the habitat of Homo sapiens. I concede it’s a self-serving goal, but I’m okay with standing to benefit. Our conversation invariably burrows into subtopics of how the Earth works as a complex system because scientists agree: you can’t preserve a habitat until you understand it, and we need to make some progress on that front.
Enter Tony Hey, brandishing the Fourth Paradigm, a guidebook for working effectively in the burgeoning field of data-intensive science. I like to paraphrase the main premise of this new paradigm as follows: “Good for you, scientists, you’ve figured out how to get vast quantities of new data to help you better understand the Earth; but alas, you still need to build the analysis engines to actually make sense of the data!” Cue Microsoft Research and its contributions at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco from December 10 to 13. That’s the get-together I mentioned above.
What will we—Microsoft Research—be doing on the trade show floor of San Francisco’s Moscone Center? Two things. First, we’ll be finding out what scientists are working on and what technical challenges they face in their work. Second, we’ll be offering them technology tools and resources to help them meet some of those challenges. In that pool of technologies, one of our best contributions this year comes via the Windows Azure for Research project, a grant program that presents researchers with a year of free cloud-computing resources. Windows Azure, the Microsoft public cloud platform, offers scalability, immense computational power needed to analyze big data, redundancy, freedom from IT maintenance tasks, many virtual machine options including categories of Linux, and quick-install website templates to help them share out results. At AGU, we will also present:
We will also be explaining how we help teachers and scientists use and develop world-changing technologies through grants, fellowships, and internships. As always, we’ll be happy to share our ideas on data-system confederation, data publication, and data sharing. We will also provide short talks on selected geoscience topics such as estimating snowpack water storage in the Hindu Kush by using computers and remote sensing, and how to get your code running on a Linux Virtual Machine in the Microsoft cloud. So that’s where we’ll be, from December 10 to 13, asking questions, explaining our tools and resources, and helping scientists make technology really work for them. And we love it. Nothing compares to the feeling of finding a scientist who needs something that we have and, even better, surprising him or her by explaining it’s available at little to no cost, aside from their time investment to learn the ropes. If you plan to attend the AGU Fall Meeting, please stop by our booth. But even if you aren’t going to be in San Francisco, you can find an overview of the tools and technologies described above on the AGU events page on the Microsoft Research website. And while you’re checking out these resources, you might be tempted to ask (as curious scientists do), “What’s in this for Microsoft?” That’s the easiest question of all, because when it comes to trying to preserve the habitat of Homo sapiens, the benefits of success are self-evident.—Rob Fatland, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research ConnectionsLearn more
I feel especially fortunate to be here in Melbourne, Australia, to participate in the launch of the Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces. This is a joint research center between the University of Melbourne and Microsoft Research, in partnership with the state government of Victoria and Microsoft Australia. The center will explore applications of natural user interfaces—better known as NUI—in social situations. It will be the world’s first joint research center dedicated to studying and perfecting the social applications of NUI.
As regular readers of this blog know, NUI enables us to interact with technology by using natural human capabilities for communication and manipulation of the physical world. The best-known examples come from the gaming world, where, for instance, Kinect for Xbox 360 uses natural gestures, voice commands, and body movements to slay villains or sink a putt. And ever since the release of the Kinect for Windows software development kit in 2011, developers have been finding novel applications of NUI beyond the universe of Halo 3: for example, to view medical images during surgery. The Social NUI Centre will promote interdisciplinary research that spurs the development of applications to facilitate communication, collaboration, and social interaction in the home and workplace; in public spaces such as museums and events; in formal and informal educational setting, including classrooms and online courses; and in the delivery of healthcare. I am looking forward to the Social NUI Centre opening the floodgates to new innovative social uses of NUI. The potential is limited only by our imagination.As the world’s first joint research center devoted to social NUI in Australia, this initiative stands as a testament to the University of Melbourne’s academic prowess and the government of Victoria’s commitment to high quality IT research. We expect the Social NUI Centre to create new social NUI applications and to serve as a testing ground for NUI technologies developed by Microsoft Research, as well as to provide internships for University of Melbourne doctoral students and extend Microsoft Research’s collaboration with University of Melbourne faculty and students. —Tony Hey, Vice President, Microsoft Research ConnectionsLearn more