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Inspiring the girls of today to become the programmers of tomorrow – how 15-year-old Lili Názer became a developer

At just 15-years-old, Lili Názer can already be described as a veteran developer, having created several smartphone applications and games. Originally wanting to be a doctor, she found her calling in programming, and is now mentoring other girls that are interested in IT, during occasions such as Microsoft’s DigiGirlz events.

The purpose of the DigiGirlz initiative is to introduce young girls to the world of programming and software development, while inspiring them to pursue their passion for technology. This is particularly crucial, given that research has shown that young girls in Europe tend to disengage from science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects by the age of 15, due to numerous factors such as the lack of role models in these fields.

We were fortunate enough to chat to Lili before the DigiGirlz event kicked off, to see what inspires her, drives her forward, and what her future will hold.   

When did your interest in programming begin?
It happened accidentally. A few years ago, I couldn’t register for any summer camps for numerous reasons. Then, at the beginning of summer, most camps were already full up, so the only one I could still go to was a robotics camp. Before that I hadn’t even heard about such a thing, so that was the first time I came into contact with programming.

It looks like you enjoyed it!
Yes I did. After it was over, I looked for similar opportunities, so in 2016 I attended the first session of the coding training Skool program, where I met my current mentor. At that time I had been preparing for a completely different career, and wanted to be a surgeon or medical researcher. Then I started to get interested in languages, and I thought I wanted to work as an interpreter. Programming opened my eyes. I realised that through it, I could become involved in practically any industry or profession. This opened up a whole range of new fields and opportunities for me.

What were some of your first creations?
I developed my first simple game when I was 11, and then I wrote my first application for the UPC Future Makers competition, about two years ago. That’s the Daily Take Me application, a family organiser that helps you plan your schedule, where family members can see where they have to go and when – who is picking up the children from school and other similar things.

Studies show that girls of your age are generally not in STEM careers, perhaps because they feel, or are told, it’s not the right choice. Have you come across these attitudes at all?
I have, but luckily people didn’t try to talk me out of it. On the other hand, it was precisely in connection with the Daily Take Me app that media articles kept referring to me as some kind of ‘wonder girl’ who develops apps. But I don’t really identify with that, because there’s nothing so special about it. My little sister collects erasers, and I develop apps – that’s all there is to it. There’s nothing about it that would make it unsuitable for girls.

There is a misconception about programming though: many people think that it’s only something for maths geniuses. This just isn’t true. Of course, there are parts where you need maths, but it’s really just another kind of language, so if you are creative with languages and have a sensitivity for them, programming won’t be a problem either. I go to special maths classes at school, but now I am also planning to specialise in languages. It needs a lot of organising, but I like it when I have a lot to do. The only problem is that we don’t have enough IT classes.

Girls looking at laptop screen

What programming languages do you work with?
At first I used a system called Scratch, which lets you put command blocks next to each other in a fun way. Now, however, I write code, and develop in Python, but I would also like to learn Javascript and C++.

You said you are competitive. Have entered competitions?
Yes, I won the Future Makers competition in my age group in Hungary, and qualified to the international finals in Dublin. After that I developed an app called Granny’s Pills, a virtual medicine box which I submitted to the Technovation competition for girls. I got to the semifinals, but I wasn’t able to reach the finals in America unfortunately, but that didn’t discourage me. I’m in a team that’s competing this year too, and we are now putting the finishing touches to SmilingTooth, the app we’re submitting there. Two years later I was actually asked to be a jury member in the Future Makers contest, and it was very interesting to see things from the other side.

Tell us a little about these two apps.
Granny’s Pill helps if grandma or grandpa forgets to take their medicine. You can set the types and number of medicines you have to take, and the app sends a reminder, which also includes a photo of the medicine, so you can avoid accidentally taking the wrong tablet. You can also set the contact information of a family member who receives a message too, even if they have taken their medicine and forgotten about it. SmilingTooth is an application that helps small children brush their teeth in a playful way.

Girl standing, talking to an audience

There’s a pattern in the functionality of these apps. Was this a conscious thing?
Yes, absolutely. I usually look for solutions to community or social problems. I have a soft spot for aiding the elderly and solving the problems that affect them, but I also feel that it’s important to take action against food waste. We even deal with subjects like selective waste collection and climate change, because these will be my generation’s problems entirely. We will be living in it.

SmilingTooth is still under development, but Granny’s Pills is already available. What happened to this app in the end?
Thanks to a Microsoft project last summer, I took part in a week-long event in Athens where everything was about artificial intelligence. There were 100 girls there, from 10 countries. During the day we went to lectures and workshops, but we also had time to network and make friends. It was a great experience. There was a challenge on the last day – we had to program things such as artificial intelligence, facial recognition software and a chat robot. We all then became Microsoft Artificial Intelligence Ambassadors.

What does that entail?
For starters, I talked about my experiences at DigiGirlz in April, and also helped the participants. I have also mentored Technical University students at Prezi.

You’re mentoring technical university students?
Yes, they were a bit surprised, but they were open too, they asked lots of questions, even about things that I hadn’t done yet, but we solved problems together. I have even been shadowing at Prezi, which lets me observe the specialists there at work.

Artificial intelligence is a very active field. Would you like to work with it in future?
Yes, it is really interesting. I’ve read a lot about it, and I’ve even listened to several podcasts. I think we are only scratching the surface of the possibilities that lie within artificial intelligence, but this is what makes so exciting. It is a constantly developing field, so I may be doing something that does not even exist yet today. I also want to keep on developing apps, and I think mixed reality is also very interesting. However, I find AI extremely exciting, mainly because a few years ago we didn’t even know that it would exist, and it is now opening doors to things that are completely astounding. For example, I heard about an AI in a podcast that collects information from brain cells.

Girls standing in front of classroom

Have you received offers from IT companies?
I’ve had a couple of offers. For example, people from Oracle Young Talent contacted as a result of an article in NLCafé, saying they would support me, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them. I was also once able to meet the Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, when he was visiting Hungary.

What was that like?
An event was organised for the Skool participants at the Technical University. We were developing a small game, and he simply walked in and sat down next to me. I was able to talk to him, but I was still shy! I told him about the Daily Take Me app, which really caught his attention. He is an amazingly charismatic person.

Would you like to work for Microsoft?
Of course, if things go that way, but I am not there yet! I would like to try myself out in companies here in Hungary, and I hope I’ll be able to gain experience abroad too. It would be really good to attend more workshops and events so that I can develop more.

How much time do you spend in front of the computer?
It depends on what time I get home. I am an official competitor in the UTE fencing division where I compete with the foil. This means several hours of practice a day. I owe my coach Gábor Kreiss a lot for his supportive attitude, and he accepts that programming is also a part of my life. It is difficult for people in competitive sports to get balance their lives. After training, I usually spend one or two hours coding every day, and all of my other activities take about four hours. This includes studying, and we have to write and submit a lot of things online.

What advice would you give to girls who are interested in the STEM subjects, but have possibly come up against negative stereotypes and rejections?
I know many girls who, if they are told something is “not for them”, would make it theirs just to prove people wrong. The point is that you should believe in yourself, believe that you are capable, irrespective of gender, and you shouldn’t let other people’s opinion have a negative effect on it. But it is important to hear the positive messages, which the incubator programs can help a lot with, just like Skool, company events, and DigiGirlz too. I also think that balance is very important. I don’t stay in my room all the time – I try to make sure that my everyday life is balanced.

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Microsoft backs women tech entrepreneurs with global expansion of IdeaGen and Women in Cloud

Since its formation two years ago, Women in Cloud, a community-led initiative built to empower women-led technology businesses to drive growth through cloud solutions and services, has become a leading community and resource for women innovators all over the world. A key initiative within the Women in Cloud community is the Microsoft Cloud Accelerator Program, an immersive 6-month program designed to help women-led companies start and build their businesses through Microsoft and its cloud distribution channels.

Today, as we kick-off the second accelerator cohort of women entrepreneurs in the greater Seattle area, I’m proud to announce that Microsoft, in partnership with IdeaGen and Women in Cloud, will extend the reach of its Accelerators to eight additional countries, with programs planned for: Canada, France, Germany, India, Kenya, South Africa, the UAE and the UK. The program will also expand within the United States with a cohort in New York City launching September 2019 with another to launch in Chicago later in Fall 2019.

This scale will provide women-owned technology companies all around the world with access to the cloud, mentorship, networking communities and resources to bring women-led innovations to market. Through a multi-million-dollar, multi-year investment from Microsoft, it is our goal that with this expansion and continued scaling, this program can help generate $1B in cloud opportunity by providing accessible cloud technology to more than 1,000 women-led tech companies over the investment period, enabling them to scale their businesses for sustainable economic growth in all corners of the world.

We’re excited to build on the program’s previous success. To date, the Women in Cloud Accelerator has provided opportunities to 30 women-owned companies (12 Seattle area participants in the first cohort), accelerating businesses such as Stylyze, Meylah, Genneve Health, and Automaton, while developing more than $30M of Cloud pipeline at its start.

Since launching Microsoft for Startups, Microsoft’s vision has been to deliver access to transformational technologies like cloud and AI and go-to-market and community benefits that help startups grow their customer and revenue base. As a part of that commitment, we support the acceleration of opportunities for diverse and underrepresented startups and entrepreneurs in a myriad of ways such as partnerships with groups like Backstage Capital, Black and Brown Founders, The Riveter, and WTIA’s Founder Cohort Program, as well as launched programs like M12’s Female Founders Competition.

As a woman and a leader at Microsoft, I’m proud of these initiatives, many of which have been established and are supported by women leaders within our organization. I am encouraged by our continued commitment to providing inspiration and mentorship for both women in tech and those just starting to develop interest in the industry. While there remains much to do, we at Microsoft believe that we will only be able to address our toughest technology challenges when we embrace diverse perspectives. To build this diversity, it’s critical to have a varied partner ecosystem and one that actively supports women entrepreneurs.

We can’t wait to see what innovation this partnership will foster – members of women-led companies are encouraged to apply here. We are currently accepting applications for our Chicago cohort, and will be opening applications for our global cohorts soon.

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Registration now open for Girls Make Games summer camp

Launched in 2014, Girls Make Games provides a service that’s near and dear to our hearts here at Xbox: inspiring the next generation of designers, creators, and engineers to change the world. As an organization, Girls Make Games aims to increase gender diversity in the both the video game industry and in STEM fields. To that end, the team offers a series of summer camps, workshops and game jams that have reached over 6,000 girls in 52 cities worldwide, and they’re growing every year.

We are very proud to have been supporting them from the start, and we’re even more excited to share that we’ll be hosting another camp on the Xbox campus this summer.  The camp will run from July 8 to July 26 and will allow girls 8-17 to learn about designing, programming, and pitching their own video games. The Girls Make Games team says the camp’s attendees “will work in teams to create fully functional games while meeting and interacting with video game industry professionals in the region.”

Girls Make Games Summer Camp

Girls Make Games Summer Camp

We’re also happy to announce that there will be scholarship and financial aid opportunities for summer camp participants. During the camp, attendees will learn about the many different roles that bring a video game to life, including Game Design, Game Art, Level Design, Narrative Design, Audio Engineering, and Game Music. We’ll also be partnering with our neighbors at Nintendo with shared activities for girls attending either the Xbox and Nintendo camps.

So, if your daughter, niece, neighbor, or friend is interested in attending the Girls Make Games summer camp here in Redmond or at any of the other camps nationwide, check out the Girls Make Games website to register or learn more information.

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Microsoft celebrates Pride, takes action for equity and visibility

Fifty years ago, on June 28, LGBTQI+ patrons and allies at New York City’s Stonewall Inn stood up for justice demanding an equal life free of persecution. This year, as more than 4,000 Microsoft employees march in Pride parades in more than 60 cities and 30 countries around the world, we invite you to join us in pushing inclusion forward.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, we’re taking action for equity by donating to LGBTQI+ nonprofits. Plus, we’re releasing limited-edition products designed with and by the LGBTQI+ community.

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Microsoft has a history of LGBTQI+ inclusion

For us, Pride is an opportunity to reflect on our past and galvanize for action. We started our inclusion journey early in the company’s history, introducing sexual orientation in our non-discrimination policies in 1989. In 1993, we were one of the first companies in the world to offer employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners. In 2004, we added gender identity to our Equal Employment Opportunity statement and started providing gender affirming healthcare services. Since 2005, Microsoft has attained a top  score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, which indicates that Microsoft is establishing and applying policies to protect the LGBTQI+ community.

Our journey is just beginning

Today, Microsoft operates in over 120 countries, most of which still don’t provide legal protections for LGBTQI+ individuals. This year, Microsoft’s Pride campaign is all about the actions that our employees and customers are taking to advance inclusion. GLEAM (Global LGBTQI+ Employees and Allies at Microsoft), our LGBTQI+ resource group, worked with many of our teams to develop products to create visibility into the LGBTQI+ community.

In designing this year’s Pride campaign, LGBTQI+ designers and allies at Microsoft reflected on the LGBTQI+ rights movement of the 1970s. Dozens of LGBTQI+ community members and their allies submitted designs for campaign buttons displaying everything from personal statements to political slogans. These buttons reflect actions that people at Microsoft are taking and are encouraging others to take.

Microsoft is releasing all the button designs as a downloadable archive so everyone can use them, add to them and share their Pride with everyone, wherever they are.

Several Pride-related buttons

For the first time, we’ve also created limited-edition products and curated content to show our continued support for the LGBTQI+ community.

  • Surface – Inspired by the rich and varied tapestry of the LGBTQI+ community, make a more colorful impact with the limited-edition Surface Pro Pride Type Cover and Pride Skin available in the US, Canada, Australia, and the U.K. (only Type Cover).

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  • Windows PrideWindows – This Windows 10 special-edition theme was inspired by the many LGBTQI+ flags. Download the Windows Pride theme pack from the Microsoft Store.
  • Mixer – Discover Pride on Mixer with dedicated streams from select partners, unique stickers, and exclusive programs. Tune in on June 30th to live stream the Seattle Pride Parade!
  • Bing – Learn more about Stonewall on Bing with uniquely curated content featuring LGBTQI+ Bing Prideactivism dating back to 1969 with this quiz. And see Pride take over the Bing homepage in select countries around the world.
  • Office – Show your Pride colors with the exclusive Office theme and unique Pride templates for PowerPoint.
  • Skype – Celebrate Pride with Skype’s new LGBTQI+ flag emoticons, stickers, and more.
  • Xbox – Show your colors and celebrate your love of gaming with the Xbox Pride Sphere Pin available at xbox.com.Xbox Pride
  • Microsoft Rewards – Support LGBTQI+ youth in crisis by donating to The Trevor Project in June, and we’ll match it. Not a Microsoft Rewards member? Join today and we’ll give you $1 free to donate.
  • Microsoft Store – Visit your local Microsoft Store to take part in a Pride celebration, march with us, or learn more at educational workshops, events, and other activities.

Actions speak louder than words!

We’re donating $100,000 to the following nonprofits in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and the United States to celebrate and support their work on LGBTQI+ equity:

  • Established in 1985, ACON is Australia’s largest health promotion organization specializing in HIV prevention, HIV support and LGBTQ health.
  • Egale works to improve the lives of LGBTQI2S people in Canada and to enhance the global response to LGBTQI2S issues. They do this by informing public policy, inspiring cultural change, and promoting human rights and inclusion.
  • Mermaids is the only U.K.-wide charity working to support transgender or gender non-conforming children, young people, and their families. Their goal is to create a world where gender-diverse children and young people can be themselves and thrive. Mermaids promotes education and awareness, and offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences to those in need.
  •  The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning young people under 25.

We’re also happy to announce that LGBTQI+ nonprofit, Destination Tomorrow, was awarded a grant from the Microsoft Store to support their inclusion efforts for people of color. See what happened when we took action to help them thrive.

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We invite everyone to join us in taking action for equality. Microsoft Pride 2019 products launch today! Follow along with our stories all month and learn more about actions you can take for equality by joining the social conversation using #MicrosoftPride.

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AI boot camp aims to draw more teen girls into computer science

As an engineering student at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1990s, Didem Un Ates was one of only five women in a graduating class of 180. Today, she’s on a mission is to drastically change those numbers.

Un Ates is part of a Microsoft team that launched “Alice envisions the future,” a boot camp for girls focused on artificial intelligence. The first event in Athens – packed with keynote speeches, panel discussions and hands-on workshops – helped spark the passion for AI in 160 girls from 16 countries.

After witnessing the success of the inaugural event, the team took the show on the road, first to London last October, and then to New York in March.

Registration is now open for two more “Girls in AI” hackathons for girls 14 to 18, which are scheduled for next month:

Registration is free and attendees do not need a laptop or any experience with coding – just a curiosity about AI and a creative mind. The first 80 students to register will be accepted.

About 50 girls between attended the “Girls in AI” hackathon in New York, tackling subjects ranging from human-centered design and AI ethics to machine learning.

Un Ates said the transformation over the course of the weekend can be astounding. Girls who may come into the program shy, timid and hesitant of delving into advanced technology such as AI can leave the program with an entirely different mindset.

“They may have heard of AI, but they don’t exactly know what it means or what a hackathon means. But by the end of Sunday, there are all these super-excited, confident individuals who cannot stop talking about how they are going to  build a business out of their project,” said Un Ates, senior director of customer care intelligence for the Microsoft Business Applications Group, Cloud & AI.

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Winning teams from the hackathons are eligible to enter Microsoft’s AI for Good Idea Challenge, an international contest for developers, students and data scientists who use AI to tackle some of society’s greatest obstacles. The deadline for entries is June 26.

Un Ates says she is devoted to evangelizing STEM education – and artificial intelligence specifically – because of the dire underrepresentation of women in the field.

“Only 12% of artificial intelligence and machine learning experts are female,” Un Ates noted. “And we have the opportunity to change that.”

According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, in 1985 women accounted for roughly 37% of all computer science undergraduate students. Today, that number is 12%. According to a recent WIRED & Element AI study, only 12% of machine learning researchers are women.

Un Ates said it’s important that women are well-represented in computer science both because of the perspective they bring to the field and because of the job opportunities the field can offer.

And that is exactly what Microsoft’s “Girls in AI” hackathons are designed to accomplish. According to the team’s event website, the curriculum gives teenage girls “the chance to utilize AI and machine learning techniques to tackle global challenges in a holistic manner.” The two-day event will give attendees an understanding of design thinking, strategy and business model development, ethics, social responsibility and pitching skills.

The “Alice Envisions the Future” hackathon program is just one of the ways Microsoft working to get more girls and young women involved in computer science. Microsoft also offers DigiGirlz Days, one-day events designed to provide girls with a better understanding of what a career in technology is like, and DigiGirlz High Tech Camp, a program developed 19 years ago to help dispel stereotypes in the high-tech industry.

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Ways to encourage girls to keep pursuing STEM this Women’s History Month

In 2018, we conducted a study in collaboration with Dr. Shalini Kesar called Closing the STEM Gap. Our findings revealed that 31 percent of girls believe that jobs requiring coding and programming are “not for them.” In high school, that number jumps up to 40 percent. And by the time they’re in college, 58 percent of girls count themselves out of these jobs.

We also discovered that girls who know a woman in a STEM profession are substantially more likely to feel empowered when they engage in STEM activities (61 percent) than those who don’t know a woman in a STEM profession (44 percent). Unfortunately, most girls don’t have any female role models in STEM to look up to. So it’s no surprise that, when asked to describe a typical scientist, engineer, mathematician, or computer programmer, 30 percent of girls say that they envision a man in these roles. As do almost 40 percent of adult women—and 43 percent of women in STEM and tech fields.

You may be asking: How do we reverse these trends? One of the most important first steps is introducing girls and young women to positive female role models in STEM fields. But it doesn’t end there. An even bigger impact is possible when those women offer encouragement.

Enter: Microsoft EDU’s WomEncouragement Series.

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we’ve created a series of downloadable posters featuring advice and encouragement from women who are paving the way in STEM and opening doors for future generations of girls to step through and succeed.

 

 

These are free to download and print so young women and girls can hang them up in their rooms, in their lockers, on their mirrors, or in their classrooms — anywhere they need a dose of positive inspiration!

But we couldn’t pull off this project without our education community! We’d love to hear from you, too. Send us your own words of encouragement and we might turn them into a poster or share them on our social channels!

Technology jobs are among the fastest growing in the country, but only 24 percent of computer scientists are women. As educators, when we encourage girls to pursue STEM, we double the potential to change the world for the better and help ensure ALL young people are future ready.

Are YOU ready to help make a difference?

Other resources you can use to help close the gap or inspire girls, and all students, to love STEM:

  • Get the free STEM action guide. You’ll find easy things education leaders, teachers, and parents can do today to help inspire girls to stay in STEM and #MakeWhatsNext.
  • New! Earn a Girls-in-STEM badge when you take this Microsoft Education Community course that shows how you can turn research into action and engage all students to love STEM.
  • New! Learn from education experts and teachers to get tips and resources to encourage and engage all students in computer science. Education. Download our free guide to inclusive computer science education now.
  • Participate in a free Microsoft Store DigiGirlz workshop near you through April. Each store will host 2-hour workshops that include presentations from guest speakers along with live Q&As, hands-on coding, and other STEM activities. Workshop topics will cover Women in Gaming, Aviation, Space, Coding, and Business!
  • Check out this gender equality MEC lesson to complete with your students.
  • Sign up for a Skype Collaboration with a woman in STEM and introduce your students to their new favorite role model!
  • Check out how these amazing female code creators who use STEM and CS to save endangered species, create art, fashion, and animated Pixar movies!
  • Discover female Nobel laureates, women who have broken boundaries to change science in their fields. Find out how to connect students with female pioneers in the Women Who Changed Science experience
  • Join the #MSFTEduChat global TweetMeet at 10AM PT on March 19th. The topic is #MakeWhatsNext in STEM, all about empowering young women to pursue careers in STEM to help close the gender gap. This is a great opportunity to engage with educators in over 11 languages globally on this topic!
  • Learn how EVERY Individual’s Actions Can Make a BIG Impact with Dr. Jane Goodall in a special Skype in the Classroom broadcast on April 2nd & 9th.
  • Explore the Girls & CS resource pages for even more ideas on how to introduce your female students to STEM and encourage them to stay with it.
  • From Microsoft on the Issues: How girls from diverse backgrounds have the lens computer science needs.

Closing the STEM gap matters for everyone. More diversity in thought, background, and experience creates more innovation. Innovation is what will help us solve today’s most pressing problems. Together, we can help keep girls inspired and encouraged to pursue a career in STEM.

Spread the support by sharing your words of encouragement or any posters you display using #MicrosoftEDU and #MakeWhatsNext. Then, visit aka.ms/girls-in-stem to learn more.


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Encouraging girls to stay in STEM and #MakeWhatsNext

Two girls at computer
Girls program together at a Boys & Girls Club in Menasha, Wisconsin.

As the head of Microsoft Philanthropies and the first female attorney hired at Microsoft, I’ve experienced firsthand the amazing potential for change when girls and women are empowered to create and innovate.

Take Aishwarya Manoharan, a student of computer science and informatics at the University of Washington. When Aishwarya was growing up, she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do, but she was fairly certain her future wouldn’t revolve around computers. It’s no wonder: She thought that working with computers was for men, and computer science meant sitting in front of a laptop typing code by yourself – not exactly an appealing prospect for this outgoing young woman, who also plays tennis and loves to bake.

College student Aishwarya Manoharan
“My burning drive is to somehow change the world for the better, whether it is small or big,” says Aishwarya Manoharan. “If I can help even one person realize their potential to better the world through the medium of technology, information and computer science, then I have reached my goal.”

But when Aishwarya took the Microsoft TEALS AP Computer Science class her junior year of high school, she realized her image of programming was wrong when she saw other girls getting excited about computer science. That was when Aishwarya met her volunteer teachers, including Arti Gupta, a software development engineer at Microsoft, who became Aishwarya’s mentor. The confidence Aishwarya gained from TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools), and especially Arti’s support, has helped Aishwarya when she feels like she doesn’t belong in her university classes that are overwhelmingly male and Caucasian. She says, “Remembering Ms. Gupta’s belief in me reminds me that I’m in the right place.”

Computing and technology hold the promise of opportunity for so many girls. And, while progress has been made to get more girls introduced, supported and successful in computer science from kindergarten to career, we still have work to do. The path to a computing-related career needs to be inclusive and provide the right support at the right times, so that girls and women feel encouraged and welcomed. Collectively, our companies, products and innovations will suffer without the perspective that girls and women bring – technologies will inevitably emerge with unintentional bias and limited insight into the diversity of people who will use and depend on them.

Today, girls and students of color represent 65 percent of the entire U.S. population, yet only 28 percent of high school students who take the AP Computer Science exam are girls, and only 22 percent are students of color. The reasons girls lose interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and computer science are many: from a lack of role models and support, to a general misperception of what STEM careers look like in the real world, and how these skills can help unlock their wildest ambitions. Without more female influence in STEM fields, we risk having hundreds of thousands of jobs left unfilled, not to mention half of our talent left untapped.

This is why it is urgent that computer science education be more inclusive. We need to show girls, and all students from diverse backgrounds, that they, too, can embrace the art and creativity of computers and be the builders, inventors, problem-solvers and computer scientists solving tomorrow’s challenges. This requires us all to take action:

  • Make computer science count. This policy is the single biggest way to help computer science reach more girls. Since 2013, when Microsoft began its work with Code.org’s Advocacy Coalition, the number of U.S. states that have made computer science count toward required credits in math or science for high school graduation has grown from nine to 45. Montana became the latest state this week.
  • Provide access to female role models with diverse backgrounds. Many female Microsoft employees volunteer for our DigiGirlz program, designed to introduce girls to the career opportunities available in technology fields. To date, we have offered more than 54,000 girls the opportunity to explore and become active thinkers, creators and doers in STEM.
  • Focus on access and inclusion. We do this by partnering with local nonprofits to bring culturally relevant approaches to computer science to local communities. In the U.S., more than 1,400 tech professionals volunteer with TEALS in schools, serving 16,000 students, 33 percent of whom are young women. Abroad, groups like Shared Path in Australia brings tailored digital skills training to indigenous Australians, and Laboratoria in Latin America, a female-led organization which has trained over 1,000 young women to become web developers and designers by mimicking actual work scenarios.

Today on International Women’s Day, join us by taking action and help inspire the next generation of girls to stay in STEM and #MakeWhatsNext:

  • By taking these steps and joining in collective action, we can create a more inclusive computer science pipeline for women, provider greater access to economic opportunities for people of all backgrounds, and drive more innovation, starting today.

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The Jacksonville teacher with a time machine

Proof point: years ago, Ms. Northern had an idea to combat the dropping graduation rate at Raines.

“I had the idea to start with the end in mind,” Ms. Northern says, her careful cadence of words drawing her audience in. “So we held a baccalaureate at the beginning of the school year. We ordered the caps and gowns for everyone. I don’t care if they were an F student or a C student—they all had a cap and gown. Then we marched.

“Guess where I was during the ceremony?” Ms. Northern asks India.

“Where?” India says.

“Behind the video camera,” answers Ms. Northern, grinning.

“Of course you were, Ms. Northern,” India says. “Of course you were.”

That year, the graduation rate saw the uptick that the administration and Ms. Northern were hoping for.

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India was the kind of student that teachers want to duplicate, according to Ms. Northern. “If you gave her a project, she would see that project through from beginning to end. Then, she’d talk the other students into believing that they could accomplish it as well.”

And now, she’s pleased that India has come back, proud that she’d consider what Raines and the people who’ve been a part of her life have done to help her.

“She’s not only looked back, but she’s embraced her history,” Ms. Northern says. “And for that, I am so proud.”

Since junior high school, India dreamed about going to a four-year college. She had her mother’s unwavering support, and they would do whatever it took to get her there, but India would have to figure out the steps. No one in her family had done it before.

“That’s one of the struggles I think can be intrinsic to some kids coming from single-parent homes like I did,” India explains. “Maybe they’re dependent on food stamps or government assistance. Maybe they have to work while in college, whereas somebody else can just focus on going to school. They just have different challenges than some people would. They need help to figure out that path.”

That’s where Ms. Northern stepped in.

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Black History Month: A time to lift each other up

As a child of “First to’s” (First African-American to command the U.S. Army Old Guard, First African-American to be selected National Elementary School Principal of the Year by President Bill Clinton), my family is deeply steeped in the history of African-American culture and civil rights in the United States, emanating from northern cities (Philadelphia, Pa. and Gary, Ind.) and the deep south (Hayneville, Ala.). I have been raised with a belief in the verse that “to whom much is given, much is required,” and a commitment to give back to our society, honoring those who paved a path forward for us.

When I look around our country today, I am so pleased to see how diversity and inclusion have moved from a concept to an expectation, embedded in every industry and sector of our society. I see leaders speaking up and actively listening to the feedback on what it takes to create diverse and inclusive environments. Mostly, I see regular citizens showing up, rediscovering their voice, sharing their stories, and demanding inclusion and equality – not just for people of color, but for groups of all kinds.

Every February during Black History Month, a 28-day window provides an opportunity for our nation, our company, and each of us to pause and take stock of the condition and progress of Black people and other minority populations. We can celebrate the achievements and contributions of so many and, at the same time, lament the increase in violence and hate crimes, inflammatory discourse in our political arena and sense of increasing polarization across our country.

At Microsoft, we have made the long-term commitment to build and sustain a culture that fosters an inclusive working environment, which will enable our employees to do their best work and serve the diverse needs of our customers around the world. We also are committed to engaging in and advancing diversity and inclusion conversations in communities where we believe we can help empower people.

Black History Month presents us with an opportunity to engage in diversity and inclusion dialogues across all minority groups.

  • At Microsoft, we kicked off the month with our Blacks at Microsoft (BAM) chapter ringing the Nasdaq bell on Wall Street for the second consecutive year. As a direct result of the impact our team had last year, Nasdaq has created its own employee network called GLOBE – Global Link of Black Employees.
  • Next week, I will share the stage with civil rights activist, Reverend Jesse Jackson, at the Wall Street Project, which strives to ensure equal opportunities for culturally diverse employees, entrepreneurs and consumers.
  • Reshma Saujani, who founded Girls Who Code with the single mission of closing the gender gap in technology, will be speaking with Microsoft employees later this month.
  • We celebrate the passionate young gamers who demonstrated to everyone, that a level playing field is possible with the help of their friends, family and adaptive technology.
  • At the upcoming BAM conference, we will recognize the pioneers who started the affinity group 30 years ago – the first employee group of its kind.

I count myself incredibly fortunate to work at a company that embodies many of the principles my parents instilled in me, which have stood the test of time as we continue to engage in the diversity and inclusion dialogue: set the bar high and exceed it, approach the world with a service mentality and, above all, lift each other up.

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Peggy Johnson announces M12 Female Founders Competition winners

Earlier this year, our corporate venture fund, M12, took an important step in helping identify promising women entrepreneurs and accelerating their access to capital. Partnering with EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group, we launched the Female Founders Competition, awarding $4M to two women-led companies building innovative software solutions for the enterprise.

Those following this industry are well aware of the hard truths women founders face when seeking funding: just 17 percent of all startups boast a single female founder; and of that small percent, only 2.2 percent of total global venture capital funding went to female founders over the past two years. While the numbers clearly indicate there’s a need to do more, many investors struggle with where to start.

There are plenty of women entrepreneurs focused on solving enterprise technology challenges, but we needed a better way of finding them. With the previous success in sourcing incredibly promising portfolio companies from our Innovate.AI competition, we decided to try a competition again, but this time focused on surfacing female founders. And the results spoke volumes.

We received hundreds of submissions from female founders building enterprise solutions that spanned a multitude of industries and countries. This competition, while a small step to shift how we sourced deals, not only showed us that there is more than one way to effectively discover talent and expand networks, but it’s our responsibility as venture capitalists to begin leveling the playing field so those companies receiving funding are a truer reflection of the world in which we live.

Today, it’s my pleasure to share the results of the Female Founders Competition, and the stories behind the two incredible women whose companies will now join our portfolio.

Acerta

Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta, began her journey as a software engineering student at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where she developed an interest in robotics and autonomous vehicle systems. While working on a research project with Sebastian Fischmeister, a professor at the university, she became fascinated with recent developments in connected and autonomous vehicles, sparking a career that led her to work with and learn from automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and Tier-1 manufacturers before returning to her roots in research. Cutulenco, Fischmeister and another colleague, Jean-Christophe Petkovich, would go on to create Acerta, using machine learning to provide real-time malfunction detection and failure prediction in vehicles. To commercialize their work, Cutulenco spent time in local incubators and attending business and sales courses before securing Acerta’s participation in the Techstars Mobility accelerator in Detroit. Just over two years later, Acerta has grown from a team of three to nearly 20, with Greta recently being named to Forbes 30 under 30 for Manufacturing and Industry, the company gaining traction with some of the largest auto manufacturers as customers, and now becoming a winner of the Female Founders competition.

“We are thrilled for the opportunity to work with M12, EQT Ventures, and SVB Financial Group,” said Cutulenco. “The funding and ongoing support will bring a big boost to the company’s long-term growth.”

 Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta

Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta

Mental Canvas

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas, trained as an architect before becoming a world-class computer scientist specializing in computer graphics. Her appreciation for, and expertise in these two disciplines inspired her to create the core technology behind Mental Canvas, which reimagines sketch for the digital age by augmenting it with spatial strokes, 3D navigation, and free-form animations. As supported by its early customers, Mental Canvas is a platform that addresses a wide and varied market, with early customers spanning a variety of industries from architecture, concept development for movies, animation and games, product design, education, and scientific illustration. Dorsey is also a professor of computer science at Yale University, and previously was on the faculty at MIT, where she held tenured appointments in the departments of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science and Architecture. She is an inventor on more than a dozen awarded and four pending patents, and for the past two years, has devoted herself full-time to her vision of enhancing visual communication by fundamentally elevating the way people draw.

“It is a great honor to be recognized in this way,” said Dorsey. “Of course, we are pleased with the funding, but even more, we are thrilled by the recognition and affirmation this prize provides. It says to me and our team that the technology Mental Canvas is developing to bring sketch into the digital age is groundbreaking and impactful. We look forward to working with M12, EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group to make our company’s vision a reality.”

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas

This afternoon, I’ll join the next generation of female leaders at a forum focused on building and nurturing this community and preparing them for what’s next. While it’s a great way to welcome our winners to the M12 portfolio, it’s also an opportunity to continue this journey – one that is very personal to me – of doing our part to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.

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