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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

    Hopeful for the Future of Women in Computing

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    Sitting on a plane heading back to the Pacific Northwest, I’m reflecting on the week I just spent in Minneapolis—a week of inspiration and impact at the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing. I’m thinking about the pertinence of this year’s GHC theme, “Think Big, Drive Forward,” and how our 260-strong contingent of Microsoft employees carried that message forward. Wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the word “Innovator,” my fellow Softies and I strove to support and inspire the next generation of women computer scientists.

    Aspirations in Computing Dinner Celebration at Grace Hopper.
    Aspirations in Computing Dinner Celebration at Grace Hopper.

    It was invigorating to hear from Microsoft leaders Julie Larson-Green and Jacky Wright, as they, along with Maria Klawe, a Microsoft board member and president of Harvey Mudd College, informed conference attendees about career paths, technical leadership, and the future of women at Microsoft. Seeing young professionals’ eyes light up upon hearing that women comprise 29 percent of our senior leadership team, I could sense a renewed interest in careers at Microsoft.

    Microsoft’s senior technical women and executives also held closed-door sessions for the company’s GHC attendees, encouraging them to drive their careers forward and be the new spirit of our company. This message took on even greater resonance, among both the Microsoft and general attendees, when it was announced that Microsoft had just been named the most inspiring American company by Forbes magazine

    While such accolades are great, we know that for our company to continue to lead technological innovations and succeed in our transformative vision of “One Microsoft,” we will need more gender diversity on our research teams. Moreover, we can build those diverse teams only if the female talent is available, which means that we need to increase the number of women who are pursuing advanced degrees in computer science. We need to take direct action, like that of my fellow researchers—A. J. Brush, Jaeyeon Jung, Jaime Teevan, and Kathryn McKinley—who spent the conference helping PhD attendees prepare their poster presentations, find their dream jobs, publish their research, and pursue career opportunities.  

    But attracting more women to computing is an enormous task, one that is beyond the capabilities of any one company alone. Fortunately, the country’s top computer science institutions have banned together in the National Center for Women & Information Technology Academic Alliance (NCWIT AA), a broad partnership that includes academic, nonprofit, government, and industry members. These institutions will help us truly grow the pipeline of women innovators, which is why Microsoft Research is pleased to offer them project start-up assistance through the MSR NCWIT AA Seed Fund. The seed funds are designated for initiatives that recruit and retain women in computing and IT.

    My favorite part of the conference is spending time with the winners of the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award. This award recognizes female high school students who have the potential to become amazing computer scientists. These young women run summer camps to excite middle school girls about computer science through Aspire IT. We were excited to support this year’s camp leaders with Surface devices and Kodu Touch, which exposed young women to game development. On Wednesday we hosted a special session with past winners and Microsoft executives, and on Friday night we honored 60 winners across the United States at meet-up sessions in 12 of our Microsoft retail stores.

    Pictured from left to right: Kinect aspiration winner Rochelle Willard from USC, Rane Johnson and Rico Malvar from Microsoft Research.Pictured from left to right: Kinect aspiration winner Rochelle Willard from USC with Rane Johnson-Stempson and Rico Malvar from Microsoft Research.

    On Saturday, we ended the conference by challenging attendees to “think big and drive forward” change in disaster response during the Grace Hopper Open Source Day. Free and open source software (FOSS) usage is becoming widespread, but learning how to contribute to an existing FOSS project or to release a new open source application can be daunting. Open Source Day enabled participants to spend time coding for an existing FOSS project or to get help starting their own community-developed software project. Our Microsoft Disaster Response Team led a group of young women working to create open source applications for disaster response.

    This year’s GHC inspired not only me, but 4,600 other attendees, exciting us all to change the future of technology and women in computing. If every attendee would encourage and mentor just one budding female computer scientist, we could almost double the number women studying computer science today at US universities. I am extremely optimistic we will make a difference, and I can’t wait to see the technology innovations that women will drive.

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

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    Windows Azure for Research at UNICAMP

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    In today’s world of data-intensive scientific research, cloud computing offers immense value. Here in Brazil, for example, researchers are working on a variety of environmental and urban studies projects that demand a highly scalable and flexible resource infrastructure—exactly what cloud computing on Windows Azure offers. So here’s some good news for Brazilian researchers: on October 15 and 16, Microsoft Research Connections, in collaboration with the Institute of Computing at UNICAMP, is offering a free two-day class on using Windows Azure for data-rich investigations.

    Windows Azure for Research Training in Brazil

    It’s hard to overestimate the importance of cloud computing in modern research. As Professor Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, scientific director of FAPESP, observes:

    Cloud computing is becoming more and more common in science. The possibility to use a large number of processors and large storage is now offered by a number of services, and researchers in all areas are learning how to make the best of it. The adaptation of code usually takes some time, but the benefits in processing power tend to compensate for the additional work, especially considering that the capital costs are strongly reduced. Advanced training on the use of cloud computing for the use of broad platforms can be extremely valuable to researchers, especially for young investigators.

    Ricardo da Silva Torres, director of the Institute of Computing, UNICAMP, adds his endorsement of cloud computing and the upcoming Windows Azure training:

    The Azure training workshop at the Institute of Computing (UNICAMP) is a great opportunity to get in touch with cutting-edge technologies and, at the same time, to establish novel collaborations with experts interested in cloud-based solutions. We expect to offer a fruitful environment for discussion not only on practical aspects on the use of cloud technologies, but also on possible research venues to be considered in future proposals.

    The Windows Azure for Research Training class will be presented by trainers who specialize in Windows Azure for research. Attendees will be able to access Windows Azure on their own laptops during the training and, for evaluation purposes, for up to six months after the event. Your laptop does not need to have the Windows operating system installed, because Windows Azure is accessed through your Internet browser.

    The course is intended specifically for active scientists who are interested in coding in a modern computing context, as well as for computer scientists who are working with such researchers. This is a hands-on class, so some ability to program in a modern language is useful, but the course is suitable for researchers who are using any language, framework, or platform.

    The UNICAMP session is the second of 25 classes scheduled for sites around the world, and it is a key part of the broader Windows Azure for Research initiative, which also offers sizable grants of Windows Azure resources through an open global bi-monthly RFP (Request for Proposals) program. On October 17, we will host a session at UNICAMP from 9:00 AM until noon, during which researchers interested in submitting proposals to the Windows Azure initiative or to the special Brazilian MSR-FAPESP Institute RFP will have a chance to discuss the cloud aspects of their proposals with our team.

    I hope to see you in Campinas!

    —Juliana Salles, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    eScience and Cloud Computing in Beijing

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    I'm in Beijing for the tenth annual Microsoft eScience Workshop, which runs from October 22 to 25. As in the past, the workshop takes place at the same time and in the same location as the IEEE International Conference on eScience. No coincidence, of course—why not take advantage of all that collected eScience brain power?

    Explore the latest challenges in research and the benefits powered by Windows Azure

    This year’s workshop is future-looking. With as many as 100 college students in attendance, the workshop will feature special introductory sessions led by top researchers, giving the students the opportunity to learn about the latest results and challenges in broad areas of scientific investigation. Among the topics the workshop will cover are environmental studies, bioinformatics, climate change, and new results in data modeling. I am particularly excited to see that the burgeoning field of urban computing is on the agenda of this year’s program.

    The workshop is future-looking in another way. Cloud capabilities have matured to the extent that they offer, in some instances, the most effective way for scientists to scale out their computations and collaborate on data and discovery. To better understand these in the context of Microsoft’s cloud, Windows Azure, we have been collecting cloud-based tools to support scientific research and are now prepared to share what we have learned. Following the Microsoft eScience Workshop, we will hold a Windows Azure for Research training class—the first in China—on October 25 and 26.

    This two-day course, presented by specially trained Windows Azure experts, is designed to help researchers learn the skills they need to apply cloud computing in their current and future investigations. Attendees will be able to access Windows Azure on their own laptop during this hands-on training, regardless of what operating system that laptop is running, because Windows Azure will be accessed through the Internet browser.

    The class is part of the broader Windows Azure for Research Initiative, which is a program designed to help the research community leverage cloud computing to handle the challenges of data-intensive science. As my colleague Dennis Gannon, director of cloud research strategy at Microsoft Research Connections, said just last month:

    Science is at an inflection point where the challenges of dealing with massive amounts of data and the growing requirements of distributed multidisciplinary collaborations make moving to the Windows Azure cloud extremely attractive. This is true for the individual researcher who does not want to manage local physical infrastructure and for large teams that need to share their discovery resources and services with the larger research community.

    You can find details about the Windows Azure for Research initiative in Dennis’s blog. As Dennis explains, in addition to the training classes, the initiative includes the Windows Azure for Research Awards Program, which offers sizable grants of Windows Azure resources for individual projects or for community efforts to host scientific data and services. We will be accepting proposals continuously and making awards six times a year. By the way, lest there be any confusion, the Awards Program is open globally, not just in China.

    I’m convinced that cloud computing can help resolve the computational and data challenges of today’s research, and I invite you to experiment with “cloud power” at Windows Azure for Research.

    Tony Hey, Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections

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