Year in review

So another fiscal year ends at Microsoft and instead of having a New Year’s Resolution on January 1st, I like to create my Microsoft New Year’s Resolution on July 1st! This year I have committed to my family, friends and close colleagues:

  • To travel less and be around more
  • Continue to be committed to changing the world but take it on in manageable pieces
  • No working on weekends
  • Disconnect when on vacation and  to take more vacations
  • Become a better paddle boarder and kayaker
  • Blog more regularly
  • Volunteer at a manageable level
  • Have more ladies weekends
  • Better tell the Microsoft Research story around the world and what we are doing and how folks can better work with us

In addition, I have gotten a haircut and it’s a new Rane, what do you think?


I think you can see a theme here. So after ten years at Microsoft and closing my first year with Microsoft Research, I continue to be drinking the cool aid as my husband says. As I tell all my family and friends, I feel like I have the best job in the company and who can go to bed every night knowing you are doing something that will make impact in the world and possibly change lives. It is so exciting to be working for an organization that is finding the cure for HIV through anti-spam algorithms, using the power of computer science to map the sugarcane gnome and using technology how can we better enable citizen science when it comes to endangered species and the environment. So many cool discoveries and innovations. It is almost unbelievable to me that I get to work with the top academic experts around the world to build a tool that bridges the gap between sciences and humanities and helps students all over the world to understand the history of everything better. Check out if you haven’t yet. In addition, having the ability to create the strategy and how we as an organization outreach and grow the pipeline of women innovators in technology there is never a dull day. You can see this new strategy and what we are doing at As part of this work, I am pleased to have the opportunity to work with famous social scientist and Microsoft researcher Dr. danah boyd and six top researchers on how we look at technology and the human trafficking of minors in the United States, see my blog post below and this video:

This year I have had the opportunity to meet and work with the most amazing people with the most amazing backgrounds and stories. Just a couple of ladies who are changing the world, if you don’t know I must tell you about:

  • Lucy Sanders, CEO of the National Center for Women in Technology is one of the busiest women I have ever met. She has had the most amazing career and is doing everything possible to grow more women in technology and she knows everyone!   She is a Bell Labs Fellow with 5 patents, has been inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame and recently was named by the U.S. secretary of Commerce to serve on the department’s Innovation Advisory Board. Her energy and passion is contagious.
  • Telle Whitney, CEO of the Anita Borg Institute and was the co-founder of the amazing Grace Hoppers Conference (the largest conference for women in computing in the world).   She has moved Anita Borg Institute from a small NGO of a few employees on grant funds to more than 25 employees being self-sufficient and thriving!  She serves on the advisory boards of Caltech’s Information Science and Technology, California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, and Illuminate Ventures. She has won so many awards similar to Lucy and I have to highlight that she was named in 2011 to the Fast Company Most Influential Women in Technology List. She constantly keeps me on my toes!
  • Just recently I have had the pleasure to get to know Catherine Didion. She is a Senior Program Officer at the National Academy of Engineering, where she is responsible for      Diversity of the Engineering Workforce program.  She is the driving force behind the efforts to enhance the diversity of the engineering workforce at all levels including the diversity of those being prepared to enter the future workforce. In March of 2007, she became the Director of the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Just like the ladies above her she has won so many awards and sits on so many committees and is constantly growing my knowledge and capabilities.

I wish I had the time and space to list the hundreds of amazing men and women in NGOs, academia and government I have worked with this year and will continue to work with in collaboration in 2012-2013. I truly hope we can move the dial this year in exciting more girls into the field of computing. If you were not aware, there are only 1800 women graduating with a BS in Computer Science in the United States every year with a total of approximately 10,000 total.  While today there are 200,000 more degrees being handed out to women than men in US colleges,

Why is this such a big problem, some people ask me?  Let’s think about it for a second, technology influences all aspects of our daily lives and every discipline under the sun.  If it is healthcare, environment, finance, education, manufacturing, retail, volunteering in the community, and the list goes on there is some type of technology component.  There have been thousands of books written on the differences of men and women.  How we manage differently, think differently, are wired differently, this list too goes on and on.  If you are a fan or not we have to admit a lot of what is stated in “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” is true.  So given that, how can we truly be innovating if there are not enough women helping build the future innovations and technologies that will make our lives better, more efficient and more effective.  If there are not women in teams to ask different types of questions and look at making the solutions in different ways and understanding the needs of their audience that they belong to?   There is so much we can go and I hope to do with the best minds around the world to make a dent in this area.

Jumping subjects, what has been much amusement for me this Summer is my two fantastic PHD interns, Katie and Meagan.  I had the opportunity to meet Katie at the CRA-W Grad Cohort where she gave a fabulous poster session that excited me to her potential.  Katie hails from University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is very passionate about computing and education, what is dear to my heart!  She joined our ChronoZoom team to investigate if data visualization of BIG DATA can be a better teaching and learning experience for students and help them to better conceptualize data and information and learn 21st century skills better.  She will also partner with me and Microsoft researcher Steven Drucker to examine more longitudinal use of a visualization within a classroom setting. While Meagan come from University of Wisconsin-Madison will be here for a 6 month internship, working with me and in partnership with  Alex Games from IEB.  Meagan will be focusing on studies of youth learning with 2 Way-TV, and of studies of student engagement  in STEM with Dakota.  In both cases, she will also do a deep investigation on Girls and Learning and helping us better reach Girls in STEM through XBOX, Kinect and Kodu. These ladies are brilliant, fabulous and will definitely change the world!

Katie has taken the bull by the horn and has helped me (really took the lead) in supporting two great programs that will enable young women and minorities to pursue careers in computing.  Katie organized two days at Microsoft for these young computer scientists to experience what it is like to pursue a career in technology and what is possible with computer science.  The students met with interns, heard from executives and visited the Microsoft Home of the Future.  The first group was sponsored by Pacific University, G2CS: Girls Gather for Computer Science ( excite young girls across the state of Oregon to computing.  The young women learn about computer science careers, learn to code and do several different types of computing activities.  The second group came from University Washington where they have a great program called the Math Academy ( where they help high school students get the math skills necessary to be able to pursue a degree in computer science and have the skills necessary to be able to apply to universities.

So as you can see it has been a fabulous year and I look forward to sharing with you the amazing people, stories and activities to come in 2012-2013.  Stay tuned and please share any stories, articles, publications and information you think I would be interested in to make a difference in education and growing young women in computing!

Summit Promotes Women in Computing

Summit Promotes Women in Computing  In May I had the opportunity to attend  the NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology) 2012 Summit on Women and IT, and what an amazing three days it was! The annual NCWIT Summit is a celebration of girls and women in technology, but above all, it’s an opportunity for leaders from education, industry, and government to explore avenues for recruiting and retaining women in IT roles.

For me, this year’s summit has not only been a tremendous resource for new ideas, it also provided a prime opportunity to promote Microsoft’s commitment to increasing women’s presence in computing. Microsoft has been a NCWIT sponsor since 2004, and an investment partner since 2006. In 2009, an additional Microsoft gift brought the company’s funding for NCWIT to US$2 million since 2005, an indication of our dedication to strengthening the U.S. IT workforce with an expanded, diverse pool of talent.

As further evidence of the company’s commitment, I am excited to report that we released our new Women in Computing website in conjunction with the summit. This site not only offers information about free tools, programs, and opportunities to support women in computing, it also summarizes our educational initiatives—which extend from grade school to graduate studies to faculty fellowships—and includes inspirational stories of women who are helping to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems through careers in computer science and technology.

The summit also gave me a chance to highlight our involvement in the launch of NCWIT’s Sit With Me campaign. This launch took place on March 9, International Women’s Day, and Microsoft marked the occasion by holding 50 events that spanned the globe, all celebrating women in computing. In addition, Microsoft Research labs around the world have begun to launch Sit With Me campaigns to grow the next generation of female researchers and inventors. Microsoft is also an active participant in the NCWIT Pacesetters program, in which senior leaders from corporations and universities commit to increasing their numbers of technical women.

One of the summit’s high points for me was assisting Microsoft Staffing Director Sean Kelly in presenting the first-ever NCWIT Pioneer Award, given to women who have forged new trails for women in computing. The recipients were Patricia Palumbo and Lucy Simon Rakov, two trailblazing programmers who helped the United States explore outer space and paved the way for women in computing. Read about their amazing careers.

The summit also recognized the Chicago-area recipients of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing, which honors female high-school students for computing-related achievements and interests. Microsoft Research is pleased to be a sponsor of this important program, and I was excited to meet two inspirational young women who want to change the world in their pursuit of a career in computing. They will both join us at Microsoft as interns this summer.

In addition, I was thrilled to join with Christine Alvarado (of Harvey Mudd College), Maureen Biggers (of Indiana University-Bloomington), and Margaret Burnett (of Oregon State University) to honor the 2012 recipients of the Microsoft Research funded Academic Alliance (AA) Seed Fund awards. This program provides AA members with funds to conceptualize and implement promising practices for recruiting and retaining women in computing at the higher education level. And since Microsoft is an active member of the Academic Alliance, my colleagues and I were busy participants in Alliance meetings at the summit.

One might think I’m exhausted after all these activities, but the summit has been so uplifting that I find myself energized. This has been truly an inspirational event. Now I just have to get some of that great Chicago pizza before I head back to the Northwest.

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

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Inspiring Students in our Backyard

Students from Kent Technology Academies enjoy a day of computing innovations at Microsoft Research.

As Microsoft’s “point person” for increasing women’s participation in computing, I am passionate about attracting talented young women to careers in computer science. Perhaps you’ve seen these statistics, which underscore the need:

  • The percentage of computer science graduates who are women has declined from 37 percent in 1985 to 18 percent in 2009. (Source:
  • High school girls comprise 56 percent of Advanced Placement (AP) test-takers across all subjects, but only 19 percent of AP computer science test-takers. (Source: The College Board, AP National Summaries, 1999–2009)
  • By 2018, there will be nearly 1.4 million computing jobs in the United States, but at the current graduation rates, only 29 percent of those jobs could be filled by American graduates. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment by detailed occupation, 2008 and projected 2018.)

We know that young women want meaningful careers—vocations that make a social and economic impact—and I believe they understand how deeply technology influences our modern lives. However, many may not recognize how careers in computer science can advance societal improvements. We think it is important that they realize that computer scientists support and develop tools, services, and devices that can change the world for the better—and also that they understand the necessity of taking advanced science and math courses to prepare them to help change the world as a computer scientist.  Fortunately, there are organizations, companies, and universities throughout the United States implementing programs to interest the next generation in computing careers. My Microsoft colleagues and I have had the opportunity to participate in some of the great programs here in the Puget Sound (Washington) region. Here’s a quick overview of three of these programs that expose young women to the potential of careers in computing. A Word to the WiSE The 2012 WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering) Conference, for which Microsoft Research was both a participant and a sponsor, took place on February 25 at the University of Washington. Cathyrne Jordan, the director of WiSE at the University of Washington, and her team brought together women from industry, universities, community colleges, and high schools throughout the Pacific Northwest for a day of exploration, discovery, and empowerment. The event was the twenty-first annual WiSE conference, and like its 20 predecessors, it encouraged female students to continue their studies in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects and worked to build the attendees’ self-confidence, ease their transition from school to work, and provide greater awareness of career opportunities in engineering and science. Inspirational keynote presentations were followed by industry-related workshops, a resource fair, soft-skill training sessions, and preparation for graduate school. Professional engineers and scientists facilitated workshops where students could learn about opportunities in specific fields and receive valuable mentoring. I had the opportunity to speak with all the high school students attending WiSE who are part of the Making Connections Program and answer their questions about computer science’s role in solving world problems. It was exciting to see how the event changed the young women’s perceptions of STEM subjects and to witness their enthusiasm about preparing for computer science studies in college.

Getting Witty at NCWIT Competitions The National Center for Women & Information Technology, better known as NCWIT, is a nonprofit coalition that works to increase diversity in IT and computing. An important component of this effort is the national and regional affiliate competitions for the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. These competitions honor young women at the high school level for their computing-related achievements and interests. Awardees are selected for their computing and IT aptitude, leadership ability, academic history, and plans for post-secondary education. This year, NCWIT will host 31 award events, recognizing 624 young women across the country, and Microsoft Research is excited to sponsor all the affiliate regional events.

Last Saturday, several of my colleagues participated in the Washington regional event, which honored 20 Aspiration Award winners in Washington State. We were pleased to partner with Ed Lazowska of the University of Washington in support of girls’ interest in computer science and to have Microsoft’s own Cheryl Platz discuss the role of computing in the Puget Sound region. In addition, Microsoft researchers joined representatives from Google and HTC in a panel discussion of careers in computing. The young women viewed demos and heard from university computer science students about the work they do in school. The enthusiasm generated is apparent in these quotes from young women who attended the event:

  • “Because of this award, I am less shy with my passion. Now I enjoy showing off my computing talents and sharing them with others.”
  • “This event made me feel amazing. It made me want to do even more with computing.”
  • “This award has inspired me to further my education in computer science.”

I am pleased to have the opportunity to be the keynote speaker for the Northwest Regional Women in Computing Celebration 2012 on April 14 in Portland, Oregon. Watch for a future blog I will write about this experience after the event. Kent Get Enough of this Program Lastly, I want to update you on a program I blogged about a few months ago: our partnership with the Kent Technology Academies, where we are working to generate enthusiasm among Kent students—both female and male—for careers in STEM. We initiated the partnership the Friday before the beginning of Computer Science Education Week in December 2011 with a day-long event that was designed to reach every seventh- through twelfth-grader at Kent’s two tech academy campuses. Our primary goal was to help students understand that computer science can help solve many of the most difficult problems in the world and to excite them about the interesting career opportunities in STEM. On March 22, 2012, we hosted all the seventh- and ninth-grade students at Microsoft Research headquarters to show them computer science in action and encourage them to attend more advanced science and math courses next year. The students heard from a panel of Microsoft Research leaders, including Peter Lee, Tony Hey, and Lili Cheng. Then they had the opportunity to engage in hands-on research demonstrations and to join the Epiphyte Research Project led by Donald Brinkman.

Kent students learn about the potential of natural user interfaces.

Here are a few of the comments from the Kent students:

  • “Today was fabulous. It blew my mind what you can do in computer science!”
  • “I thought programming was boring, but to make cool things like you showed, I can’t wait to learn more!”
  • “I am so going to take more advanced math and science classes in high school now!”
    And my favorite:
  • “I want to be a computer scientist now!”

These three programs help inspire the next generation to change the world through computer science. Seeing participants’ enthusiasm, their increased confidence, and their passion to learn more, I know we’re headed in the right direction. I’m confident that by working with universities and organizations like those described above, we will make notable progress. In the coming years, I look forward to seeing the number of female computer science graduates surpass those of 1985. Visit this blog again in late April to read about more programs and organizations working with Microsoft Research to inspire women to pursue careers in computing.

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

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