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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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
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 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