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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.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Learn what’s hot in computing research

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    Tune in to the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit

    If you are interested in learning about some of the new technologies that Microsoft Research has developed, please join our live, online coverage from the 2014 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit on July 14, 09:00 to 17:30 Pacific Time.

    The Faculty Summit is an annual event—this marks our fifteenth year—that brings 350 elite academic researchers to Microsoft’s world headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Here they explore the latest directions and hottest trends in computing with Microsoft researchers from our labs around the world. Our live stream from day one of the summit will bring you selected keynotes and a trove of engaging, thought-provoking interviews with top researchers. And it’s not just a passive experience, as you’ll have the opportunity to pose questions directly to the interviewees.

    This year’s opening keynote comes from Harry Shum, executive vice president of the Microsoft Technology and Research group. As the person responsible for driving Microsoft’s overall technical directions—including strategy, policy, and R&D—Harry has a unique perspective on the future of computing. We think you’ll benefit from hearing what he has to say.

    After Harry’s keynote, join us for our Research in Focus interview series about cutting-edge developments in online education, computational biology, and the miniaturization of computing devices. You’ll also learn about the research that went into designing Cortana, advances in using biofeedback to improve performance, and new computerized aids for people with paralysis. 

    It’s a full day of insights into what’s next in computing. So save the date, because you won’t want to miss this webcast.

    —Harold Javid, Faculty Summit General Chair, Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2014

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Supporting technology’s rising stars in the UK

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    The United Kingdom has faced some tough economic times in the past 10 years, but the technology industry has remained strong throughout. The tech sector has played a key role in helping the economy bounce back from the recessions of 2008–2009 and 2011–2012. Nationwide, IT industry employment grew 5.5 percent between 2009 and 2012 and rose 20 percent in London (more than three times faster than the sector average) since the recession. Today, more than 1.3 million people work in the UK technology sector, and the industry is expected to grow more quickly in London than in the Silicon Valley in the next decade.

    Participants of the workshop, Tips and Tools for Scientific Research Success, at the Microsoft Research Cambridge lab
    Participants of the workshop, Tips and Tools for Scientific Research Success, at the Microsoft Research Cambridge lab

    The tech industry has traditionally been a male-dominated field. The huge growth in the field would seem to be a natural incentive for young women to join their peers in the computer science classroom—especially since female students now account for 55 percent of the enrollments in higher education in the UK (HESA 2013). Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. Fewer than 3 percent of the UK’s 403,000 higher education graduates in 2013 received computer science degrees. Women accounted for a meager 17 percent of that number (HESA 2013).

    In an effort to encourage more women to stay in computer-related PhD programs and understand the opportunities in this field, Microsoft Research offered a workshop on Tips and Tools for Scientific Research Success at its Cambridge lab, June 16–18, 2014.

    Following the example of successful programs created by CRA-W Graduate Cohort and Future Science Leaders at Oxford University and the British Royal Society, the course aimed to educate attendees about Microsoft research tools, equip them with advice from experienced researchers about the opportunities of being an early-career researcher, and inspire them with examples from Microsoft Research that show the potential of computer science to change the world.

    The event started with a day devoted to cloud computing and its potential for research. Participants could get hands-on experience with Microsoft Azure and create WordPress blogs and data-driven websites in no time. They experienced the power of Microsoft Azure for big data processing, sharing research data, deploying cloud services, and using Excel with Power BI to slice, dice, and visualize data. They learned how the Microsoft Azure for Research program could help researchers with their work, even if they decide to start their own business.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Kenji Takeda, and Clare Morgan of Microsoft Research greeted participants at the Microsoft Azure for Research training that kicked off the workshop.
    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Kenji Takeda, and Clare Morgan of Microsoft Research greeted participants at the Microsoft Azure for Research training that kicked off the workshop.

    Attendees gained a better understanding of the tools Microsoft Research provides to help researchers (including Sand Dance, GeoS, CodaLab, ChronoZoom, and WorldWide Telescope) and of the opportunities available in working in an industry research lab. For example, Principal Researcher Don Syme (Microsoft Research Cambridge) told the story of how F#, the cutting-edge functional programming language, jumped from being a project in the lab to part of Microsoft’s mainstream language portfolio.

    To help assure their ongoing success, workshop participants have been paired up with Microsoft Researchers in Cambridge, who will serve as informal coaches to provide guidance and advice in their first and second years of PhD study.

    "A hands-on workshop to experience firsthand the mighty power of Microsoft Azure; an exciting lineup of talks discussing cutting-edge research; an inspiring induction to being skilful researchers; most importantly, an ever so valuable one-to-one interaction session with a mentor from Microsoft Research Cambridge. A truly interesting and thoroughly engaging event—a genuine inspiration to becoming champion researchers in Industry Research Labs."
    —Kavin Narasimhan, PhD student at Queen Mary, University at London

    We look forward to helping these talented researchers grow throughout their careers. We’ll be running another workshop in the fall, so please let us know if you’re interested by emailing us at MSRWIC@microsoft.com.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research

    Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research

    Simon Mercer, Director of Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft Research

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    “Beauty of Programming”—delighting in the art of coding

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    2014 Beauty of Programming contest

    What is the “beauty of programming”? In our eyes, it is the act of creating a program that is in itself beautiful—a program that uses sophisticated algorithms to solve real problems, meeting the user’s needs while ensuring the best experience in the least amount of time.

    Every spring for the past three years, aspiring young programmers in China have had the chance to explore this coding ideal though Microsoft’s and IEEE’s annual Beauty of Programming (BOP) contest. Part of our ongoing effort to inspire future IT leaders, the 2014 BOP event drew more than 18,000 talented contestants and generated a wealth of innovative programs.

    The contest finalists gathered in Microsoft Research Asia’s sky garden.
    The contest finalists gathered in Microsoft Research Asia’s sky garden.

    Throughout the year, Microsoft Research Asia representatives visit numerous university campuses to showcase our latest technology and, coincidentally, to promote the BOP contest. This spring, we visited 21 schools in 12 cities throughout China, motivating young computer programmers to enter the contest and demonstrate their extraordinary skills. The 18,000 contestants in the 2014 BOP contest represented 150 universities and, for the first time, included students from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

    This year’s BOP event introduced a new, more efficient way to judge the contestants’ programming skills. Instead of relying on Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) contest forms, as we had in the past, we evaluated the contestants during the early rounds by using Code Hunt, an online game that challenges contestants to demonstrate their coding skills while solving intriguing puzzles.

    Two contestants (left) explain their demo to a researcher (right).
    Two contestants (left) explain their demo to a researcher (right).

    The event started with a qualification round, followed by a preliminary round, a three-hour semifinal round, and then a final round. Fifty-six students, representing 25 universities, made it to the final round, where they undertook an urban informatics challenge designed by Microsoft researchers in collaboration with City Next, the Bing Maps team, and the Microsoft Azure team. This challenge was extremely timely, as urban informatics has attracted much attention recently. The young finalists had a choice between creating an urban analytics application based on real-word data from the city of Yangzhou or forecasting the mid-afternoon air quality index based on historical and current air quality and meteorological information.

    Jonathan Tien of Microsoft Research Asia, center, is flanked by first-place winners Xiangyan Sun (left) and Shan Wang (right).
    Jonathan Tien of Microsoft Research Asia, center, is flanked by first-place winners Xiangyan Sun (left) and Shan Wang (right).

    Xiangyan Sun from Fudan University in Shanghai and Shan Wang from Tsinghua University in Beijing earned first place. Working as a pair, they used historical, four-hour air quality data, along with temperature and meteorological information, to forecast a twelve-hour air quality index using support vector machine (SVM) classifier technology. Sun enthusiastically spoke about the impact of the BOP event. “I felt really happy during the contest and excited to be coding under a 12-hour deadline, while enjoying the experience of pair programming. Many thanks to Microsoft for providing such an invaluable opportunity.”

    Although the 2014 Beauty of Programming contest has ended, the contestants’ passion for computer programming remains, as do opportunities for those nine students who received awards during the event. These talented young people will be eligible for Microsoft internships—a win-win outcome, in that Microsoft can benefit from the expertise and enthusiasm of these aspiring young IT developers, while the students receive opportunities to work on innovative projects and further experience the beauty of programming.

    Beauty of Programming 2014 contestants and event organizers from IEEE and Microsoft
    Beauty of Programming 2014 contestants and event organizers from IEEE and Microsoft

    We at Microsoft Research are delighted to have co-sponsored of the BOP 2014 contest and to have witnessed the talented participants’ sophisticated algorithms on urban informatics. The passion and potential exhibited by these enthusiastic contestants will inspire and motivate Microsoft and the BOP contest well into the future.

    Guobin Wu, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia
    Xin Zou, Principal Development Manager, Bing

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