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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

    Hopping to Minneapolis to celebrate women in computing

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    Innovate to impact the world.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.

    At the Microsoft Research booth—an Airstream trailer—GHC participants can check out the latest devices and learn about opportunities at Microsoft.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

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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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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Data mining competition takes center stage in Chicago

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    Microsoft Research Connections was proud to sponsor the 2013 KDD CupIn keeping with our mission to collaborate with top academic and scientific researchers to foster innovations in scientific inquiry, Microsoft Research Connections was proud to sponsor the 2013 KDD Cup, arguably the world’s best-known competition in data mining. The winning teams were announced at KDD 2013, the 19th annual conference of ACM SIGKDD (the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining) which took place in Chicago in August. KDD is the premier event for researchers grappling with today’s data deluge, as it’s the only conference spanning big data, data mining, data science, and analytics and all the related algorithms, foundations, applications, and practices.

    2013 KDD Cup challenge winners, Team Algorithm, from National Taiwan University
    2013 KDD Cup challenge winners, Team Algorithm, from National Taiwan University

    The 2013 KDD Cup challenge focused on the ability to search literature and to collect metrics around publications—a capability that is essential to modern research, as academic and industry researchers increasingly rely on search to discover what has been published and by whom. The competition made use of a data set of 250,000 authors and 2.5 million published papers. The dataset was broken up into a distinct labeled training set, a validation set for the leaderboard, and a test set. The competitors faced two tasks: first, a prediction task to determine whether an author had written a paper, and second, a name disambiguation task to identify duplicate author names in a dataset with name variants.

    These tasks go to the heart of one of the main challenges of information extraction and curation in any people-centric dataset: resolving people-name ambiguity. In the scholarly publishing world, many authors publish under several variations of their own name, and to add to the complexity of discovery, different authors might share a similar or even the same name. As a result, the profile of an author with an ambiguous name tends to contain noise, resulting in papers that are incorrectly assigned to him or her. The KDD Cup task challenged participants to determine which papers in an author profile were truly written by a given author. Read the full parameters of the challenge.

    The competition was fierce, with more than 800 teams from more than 40 different countries developing approximately 12,000 data-mining models over the course of a few months. The winning solution, created by Professor Chih-Jen Lin and Team Algorithm from National Taiwan University, was the product of outstanding teamwork: eighteen students and three teaching assistants actually designed a graduate course around the competition. Other winners included teams from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Moscow State University, and FICO. Winners presented their solutions at a KDD Cup workshop and poster session at the conference. Moreover, solutions created for the competition resulted in 10 research papers that are available through the KDD Cup 2013 Workshop proceedings.

    KDD Cup poster session participants at KDD 2013
    KDD Cup poster session participants at KDD 2013

    On behalf of Microsoft Research Connections, I would like to thank the key collaborators who helped make this competition a success. The Microsoft Research Connections proposal for the KDD Cup challenge was selected after careful deliberation by 2013 KDD Cup chairpersons Claudia Perlich and Brian Dalessandro of Media6°. Partnering with me in designing the contest rules and evaluation criteria were Professors Martine DeCock of Ghent University and Senjuti Basu Roy of the University of Washington Tacoma, along with Ben Hamner and Will Cukierski of Kaggle. Swapna Savvana and Yitao Li from the University of Washington Tacoma helped with the logistics of the contest execution.

    So congrats to the KDD Cup winners, and kudos to everyone who accepted the challenge. The many outstanding solutions showed great creativity, which is exactly what we’ll need as we move forward in this new world of data-intensive scientific inquiry.

    —Vani Mandava, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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