advice, concussion, Girls and Technology, Organizations, TBI, Travel, Volunteer Work

Back to Changing the World or Not?

The old saying, “If I knew then what I know now”, echoes in my mind.

I would have not gone to the Hackathon in LA back in 2013 and when my doctor said I must rest. I would have had my husband hide my cellphone, laptop and taken it easy.  Instead, for the next six months, I still went online on my phone doing emails and answering what I thought were crucial emails and calling colleagues on how to execute important projects.

Of-course looking back none of it was more crucial than my health, I wasn’t saving lives, things could have waited.  Others within Microsoft would’ve taken the slack.  However, my ego was hard to reign in.  I thought what I was doing was so critical and no one else had the expertise and needed my coaching for things to be completed exactly the way I thopught they needed to be done.

Many of us think we can just ‘tough it out’ and work through cold, illness, etc.  What ‘toughing it out’ did do was postpone my recovery. Failure to heed my body’s warning signs caused dizziness, migraines, memory loss, executive function and slowed my multi-tasking abilities.  I now had to do eye therapy and my ability to focus  (switching from looking close and away) diminished to the ability of an eight-year-old and required me to relearn my focus and get glasses for the first time in my life.

So, after six months of eye therapy, no driving (Five years later, I still lack the confidence to drive and am only slowly adding in daytime driving for short distances.  But last month I did do my first long 200 mile drive from Bend to Newport, Oregon ), no television, no computer, no reading, no alcohol, no caffeine, no high intensity exercise, constant migraine headaches, dizziness, nausea, word searching, memory loss, six more black out concussions and lack of balance.  Then one day I awoke with a clearing in my head I had not felt in 6 months.  I went to the neurologist, she did some tests and said I think you are okay to go back to work but you must take it slow!  Do not jump fully in and do not take too much on you have been resting your brain for 6 months you need a slow transition back to work.

I did not realize her definition of slow was very different from mine.  Compared to the way I used to work, 12-18 hour days, I was only working 10 now.  Instead of traveling 3 weeks a month, I started with just a few days a month.  But as the months drove on, I was feeling more and more like myself again.

There was so much work to be done in diversity in computer science, combating human trafficking, committees for the White House Office of Technology Policy on computer science education for underrepresented groups and technology implications of human trafficking, hackathons, hacks for good, conferences, keynotes, panels, guest lectures, publications, projects with UN Women, NCWIT, ABI, CRA-W, ACM-W and the making of Dream Big (movie featuring young women in computer science changing the world), that I started back to my 16 hour days, and my crazy travel of three weeks a month.

Rane moderating Big Dream Panel at the Napa Valley Film Festival

Taking on diversity and Computer Science efforts at top universities around the country heading to India, Korea, UK, Brazil, Singapore, and across the United States.  In a previous blog post, you saw our film was featured at the Napa Valley Film Festival and was being shown all over the world.  I was so excited about the progress!  Also, the fact that Microsoft and Microsoft Research’s efforts were highlighted in many of the top publications (i.e. Slate, NPR, Huffington Post), I couldn’t but help agreeing to serve on nonprofit boards needing our help and expertise, at one point I was on thirteen boards.  My hubris and type A drive which had carried me so far was a hindrance to my healing.

At every free moment, I was working on some project with one of the many non-profits (as you know I am a get shit done person and not just a sit and advise type person).  In my spare time, I was at home trying to transform my local community (Bend, Oregon) by supporting more STEM efforts, starting a scholarship for under-represented groups in computer science and engineering at OSU-Cascades, helping entrepreneurs, volunteering with the tech community and local youth, mentoring and teaching a course called ‘Ethics and Computer Science’ at OSU-Cascades. I could feel the exhaustion coming on but I thought to myself “just one more conference and then I will take two weeks off and be fine.”

I am here to tell you, we are not robots and you can continue to ignore the signs your body gives off but if you don’t listen it will force you to listen.  As Type A workaholics, passionate and ready to take on the world are bodies are resilient but not that resilient!  You cannot ‘tough it out’ you must pause when your body needs a pause even if it is just a mental health day from work.

So, on May 23, 2015, while attending a conference on behalf of Microsoft I had just finished several sessions and presentations at Day one of the NCWIT Conference in Hilton Head.  I had a dinner meeting with Mayim Bialik (Big Bang Theory-that was so cool!) discussing our film and her possible support and how Microsoft could possibly support a new Girls in STEM TV series she was going to kick off.  We returned to the hotel and I saw several of the researchers I was working with on a number of projects at the bar talking asking me to come join them.

After discussing theories, projects, new opportunities and changing the world of computer science it was reaching midnight and time for me to head for bed.  I was tired and started to feel a pain in my side (later I would figure out that would be a sign that I would blackout soon) but I ignored it and kept on.  As I walked away from the bar area to the elevators, the next minute I know I awoke in someone’s arms, with so many people surrounding me, all dazed and confused as I try to get up.  There was shouting, “Rane don’t move you’re bleeding and bleeding a  lot.”

Suddenly, EMTs are walking briskly toward me as my eye sight slowly comes back from a fog of gray and blurs.  “Ma’am you blacked out and hit your head, you have a good side gash on your head, can you just lay back we are going to put you in a neck brace and start an IV?” said the nice EMT gentleman.  One of my research friends from Harvey Mudd University began telling the EMT what had happened and he had her and a staffer from NCWIT follow the ambulance to the Emergency Room (thanks Catherine & Colleen).

Rane in emergency room sending selfie to her husband to calm him down, trying to make it look not so bad.

I had thrown up a few times in the ambulance (sorry Mr. EMT guy- all over him) and still could not comprehend what was going on. While waiting for the doctor, my colleagues called my husband and tried not to scare him with me being in the emergency room again and blacking out after hitting my head.  Once they were done, then I was taken for MRI, CT Scan, stitches and forced to stay awake for a few hours to ensure I wasn’t going to go to sleep and never wake up again.  I finally got back to the hotel at 4AM looking like a semi-truck hit me, it took me an hour to wash all the coagulated blood out of my hair. I went to sleep and at 10am I awoke to call the airline and get a flight back to Bend, Oregon to go to my neurologist.  I flew out with frustration, here we go again.  With a horrible migraine, nausea and dizziness, I headed to the airport to what would be a multi leg eight-hour (the take offs and landings were excruciating with another concussion) flight before I finally got back to Bend and into the arms of my husband. It was also so humiliating for an extremely independent person to be whisked on and off the planes on a wheel chair as people looked at me like oh that poor young woman. Talk about a humbling experience.  I was beaten down.

This resulted in the next several years of trying to figure out why I was blacking out, thirteen more concussions resulting in me having traumatic brain injury and fighting the insurance company for my long-term disability.  Who would know the benefit you pay into hoping you will never have to use would be so difficult to obtain.  Once you need this benefit, how difficult it is to get it, even harder to keep it and then battling their doctors, lawyers, appeals and lawsuits to get the money and benefits you need, deserve and have earned. No one explains how you need to fill out all these forms and one little error can make your benefits never happen.  Having to go on unpaid medical leave due to this (I will have an entire blog dedicated to this subject later in my blog series to help those dealing with long-term and short-term disability claims, so you know what to do to get the benefits you deserve).  I would move from one doctor visit a year with my primary care for annual physical and flu shot to multiple visits a week with the following healthcare providers: Neurologist, Vasovagal Specialist, Optometrist, Vestibular Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Neurofeedback Psychologist, Psychologist, Acupuncturist and Chiropractor.

I didn’t realize how life threatening it could be for you if you tried to just push through the pain.  I plead with you if you have a concussion to please take the needed time off and screen time off! I learned the hard way and trust me you don’t want to go through this.  During this process, I had to get character letters from friends and colleagues about the Rane before and the Rane after all these concussions for the lawyers and it was painful to read the new person I had become.  As I researched what was wrong with me, I realized we still don’t know much about the brain and especially concussions. I read and listened to everything I could on TBI and concussions.   I will spare you with the peer review scholarly research publications (they are quite dry, interesting but will put you to sleep) but here are my top three books for you to read if you or a family member is dealing with this issue.  Next week, my blog will be on lessons learned on how  Type A’s can rest your brain.

  1. Super Better by Jane McGonigal
  2. Mindstorms: The Complete Guide for Families Living with Traumatic Brain Injury by John W Cassidy
  3. Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A Guide to Living with the Challenges Associated with Post Concussion Syndrome and Brain Trauma by Barbara Albers Hill and Diane Roberts Stoler
Girls and Technology

Celebrating International Women’s Day

Raneheadshot2014 Despite all the efforts, wide gender imbalance still exists in innovation worldwide, with number of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields decreasing from secondary school to university, laboratories to teaching, and policy making to decision making.

At the same time, most developed countries are forecasting an alarming shortfall in the number of skilled people to fill these jobs. The International Telecommunications Union predicts that 90 percent of future professional positions will require information and communications technology skills as well as a solid background in science or technology. Developing women’s competencies will widen the pool available to perform these tasks, while opening opportunities for women to pursue their dreams.

iwdThis is why Microsoft believes in the importance of diversity to drive innovation and the need to enable women all over the world to become producers of tomorrow’s technology. I am excited to join Microsoft executives Lori Forte Harnick and Margo Day, as we partner with U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center, United Nations Office for Partnerships and UN Women, for the 5th Annual International Women’s Day Forum: The Empowerment Bridge: Building Economic Empowerment for Women and Girls, held in New York City Wednesday and Thursday.

This event is particularly important to me, being a first-generation Vietnamese American. I was an immigrant at-risk youth who was emancipated at age 14. It was an interest in science, engineering and technology that helped me grow out of poverty and become a leader in the field. To see young women around the world embrace this field and create solutions that will make a difference inspires me every day and excites me to represent Microsoft as we partner with amazing organizations to enable every girl in the world reach their full potential.

I am excited to work with Lori, who leads Microsoft’s global work on corporate social responsibility as general manager for Citizenship & Public Affairs. She will kick off the event with Marc DeCourcey, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Corporate Citizenship Center. Personally and professionally Marc has seen how lives and entire communities are transformed when women are empowered. Through his work with the Red Cross and currently with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, he understand the value of business, nonprofits and governments all coming together to improve lives.

Lori’s passion to help students all over the world makes her perfect for this event. Not only does she lead Microsoft’s social responsibility and service, legal and public policy arm, she serves on a number of boards and an advocate in the community. I love that she is an active volunteer for Global Give Back Circle, which integrates mentoring, private sector engagement, government and local community support to help at-risk girls in Africa complete their education, gain employable skills and transition into the workplace.

Lori will be speaking about sustainable development goals and the role of the business community during a panel Thursday. She has been mentoring Egypt-born Raneem Medhat as part of Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative. “She is a few months away from graduating university with a computer science degree,” Lori says of Raneem. “It is really interesting to work with her at this juncture in her life.”

Also, as part of the event, Microsoft’s Vice President of U.S. Public Sector Education Margo Day will have a discussion about accelerating STEM education with Anna Maria Chávez, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts USA and Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s chief of staff. It will be an inspiring and action-filled session, with one of my favorite broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien of CNN moderating.

Margo is perfect for this discussion not only because she is leading our work in education across the country, but in September 2011, she stepped away from her role at Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners to focus her passion and energy on raising funds and awareness for the Kenya Vulnerable Girls Education Project and Child Protection, partnering with World Vision, an effort that built schools and deepened community advocacy for education.

We will end the day with a screening of “Big Dream” and a panel discussion with the director, and a student from the film, as well as partners UN Women and Global Girls Collaborative Project.

Underwritten by Microsoft, “Big Dream” follows the intimate stories of seven young women who are breaking barriers and overcoming personal challenges to follow their passions in science, math, computing and engineering. Much like International Women’s Day itself, the hope of the film is to show young women all over the world that computer science is creative, collaborative and impactful ― and they can be producers of the solutions that will solve the world’s greatest challenges.

Learn more on how you can enable women around the world:

Host a free screening: Big Dream Movement
Learn: Free CS online learning for girls
Find resources: UN Women Empower Women
Find STEM organizations near you: National Girls Collaborative Project, US Chamber Commerce Foundation
Watch the State Department’s American Film Showcase

Girls and Technology, Inclusion

Scholarships to Increase Gender Diversity in Computer Science

Women are woefully under-represented in computing fields. I know; you’ve heard me say this before, but the statistics bear repeating: In 2014, women made up less than 20 percent of those graduating with computer and information science degrees, despite the fact that women overall accounted for more than half of all baccalaureate graduates.

This dearth of women pursuing computing degrees is doubly unfortunate. First, it deprives the economy of much-needed talent: the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that, at present rates, only 39 percent of the estimated 1.2 million computing-related jobs in 2022 will be filled by computing graduates. Second, women bring a unique perspective to male-dominated computing fields, providing the team diversity that executives value.

Microsoft Research is committed to increasing women’s presence in computing, which is why we established the Graduate Women’s Scholarship. These scholarships offer vital support to female computing students during their second year of graduate studies: a US$15,000 stipend plus a US$2,000 travel and conference allowance—resources to help the recipients gain visibility in their departments, acquire mentorship, and cover the ever-growing cost of graduate programs.

Here are the winners of the 2015 Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship:

  • Alexandra Schofield, Cornell University
  • Hannah Gommerstadt, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Jane E, Stanford University
  • Jiaqi Mu, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Kaitlyn Becker, Harvard University
  • Kellie Ottoboni, University of California, Berkeley
  • Lisa Gai, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Olga Zamaraeva, University of Washington, Seattle
  • Sulekha Kulkarni, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Wenjie Xiong, Yale University

In addition to the Graduate Women’s Scholarships, Microsoft Research is proud to support the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund, which provides U.S. academic institutions with funds (up to US$15,000 per project) to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computer science and information technology fields of study. Learn more about the Seed Fund and the recently announced 2015 award recipients.

Congratulations to all the winning programs and students. We look forward to great things from 2015’s women in computing.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research

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Girls and Technology, Organizations

Diversifying Computer Science

Smart managers have long recognized the importance of diversity in the workplace. They know from experience what empirical research has shown: diverse teams outperform those made up of individual “all stars,” particularly when it comes to innovation.

The value of diversity is why Microsoft Research is pleased to join with other groups across the company to support the 2015 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing (the Tapia Conference), the Association of Computing Machinery’s premier diversity event. The Tapia Conference brings together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, researchers, and computing professionals of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

This year’s theme, “Diversity at Scale,” celebrates efforts that move beyond conversation and study into full implementation of diversity in all aspects of computing. Befitting our commitment to this goal, Microsoft attendees are a culturally and professionally diverse group of women and men representing different ethnicities, nationalities, and computing careers, including researchers, engineers, interns, and business executives.

Among the Microsoft leaders playing prominent roles in the conference are Microsoft Vice President Jacky Wright, who will deliver a keynote address on the power of data, and Jennifer Chayes, director of our New England and New York research labs, who will be participating in a fireside chat on big data. In addition, a number of Microsoft employees—including Jessica Lingel, Bhavini Soneji, and Fernando Diaz—will join me in supporting the career mentoring workshops, plenary sessions, poster presentations, and career fair.

Participants of the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School
Participants of the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School

Personally, I’m most excited about the poster session presentations from the diverse undergraduate students who attended the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School (DS3). Designed to encourage participation from New York City area college students who are women, minorities, and individuals with disabilities, DS3 is a hands-on, eight-week introduction to data science. DS3 includes coursework in data science, taught by leading scientists from Microsoft Research’s lab in New York. The students study tools and techniques for acquiring, cleaning, and utilizing real-world data for research purposes, and are introduced to concepts in applied statistics and machine learning. DS3 students also participate group research projects, two of which will be represented at the poster session:

  • An Empirical Analysis of Stop-and-Frisk in New York City looks at the social cost of the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk program and develops a simple predictive model to aid officers in making better decisions about whom to stop and under what circumstances.
  • Self-Balancing Bikes explores a simple re-routing scheme to improve the availability of bikes while simultaneously reducing operating costs in the United States’ largest bike-sharing program.

If you are a college student from the New York area, you are welcome to apply for the 2015 Summer School. We will be accepting applications soon, online.

On the last day of the conference, I’ll join academic and industry leaders for a one-day summit where we will map out strategies for graduating more students who are ethnic minorities, women, and people with disabilities in the field of computing. We will also discuss methods for increasing their rate of advancement once they have entered the workplace. I’m looking forward to brainstorming some great initiatives for attaining diversity at scale!

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research

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Girls and Technology, Inclusion

Supporting UK’s Rising Stars in Computing

The United Kingdom has faced some tough economic times in the past 10 years, but the technology industry has remained strong throughout. The tech sector has played a key role in helping the economy bounce back from the recessions of 2008–2009 and 2011–2012. Nationwide, IT industry employment grew 5.5 percent between 2009 and 2012 and rose 20 percent in London (more than three times faster than the sector average) since the recession. Today, more than 1.3 million people work in the UK technology sector, and the industry is expected to grow more quickly in London than in the Silicon Valley in the next decade.

Participants of the workshop, Tips and Tools for Scientific Research Success, at the Microsoft Research Cambridge lab
Participants of the workshop, Tips and Tools for Scientific Research Success, at the Microsoft Research Cambridge lab

The tech industry has traditionally been a male-dominated field. The huge growth in the field would seem to be a natural incentive for young women to join their peers in the computer science classroom—especially since female students now account for 55 percent of the enrollments in higher education in the UK (HESA 2013). Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Fewer than 3 percent of the UK’s 403,000 higher education graduates in 2013 received computer science degrees. Women accounted for a meager 17 percent of that number (HESA 2013).

In an effort to encourage more women to stay in computer-related PhD programs and understand the opportunities in this field, Microsoft Research offered a workshop on Tips and Tools for Scientific Research Success at its Cambridge lab, June 16–18, 2014.

Following the example of successful programs created by CRA-W Graduate Cohort and Future Science Leaders at Oxford University and the British Royal Society, the course aimed to educate attendees about Microsoft research tools, equip them with advice from experienced researchers about the opportunities of being an early-career researcher, and inspire them with examples from Microsoft Research that show the potential of computer science to change the world.

The event started with a day devoted to cloud computing and its potential for research. Participants could get hands-on experience with Microsoft Azure and create WordPress blogs and data-driven websites in no time. They experienced the power of Microsoft Azure for big data processing, sharing research data, deploying cloud services, and using Excel with Power BI to slice, dice, and visualize data. They learned how the Microsoft Azure for Research program could help researchers with their work, even if they decide to start their own business.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Kenji Takeda, and Clare Morgan of Microsoft Research greeted participants at the Microsoft Azure for Research training that kicked off the workshop.
Rane Johnson-Stempson, Kenji Takeda, and Clare Morgan of Microsoft Research greeted participants at the Microsoft Azure for Research training that kicked off the workshop.

Attendees gained a better understanding of the tools Microsoft Research provides to help researchers (including Sand Dance, GeoS, CodaLab, ChronoZoom, and WorldWide Telescope) and of the opportunities available in working in an industry research lab. For example, Principal Researcher Don Syme (Microsoft Research Cambridge) told the story of how F#, the cutting-edge functional programming language, jumped from being a project in the lab to part of Microsoft’s mainstream language portfolio.

To help assure their ongoing success, workshop participants have been paired up with Microsoft Researchers in Cambridge, who will serve as informal coaches to provide guidance and advice in their first and second years of PhD study.

“A hands-on workshop to experience firsthand the mighty power of Microsoft Azure; an exciting lineup of talks discussing cutting-edge research; an inspiring induction to being skilful researchers; most importantly, an ever so valuable one-to-one interaction session with a mentor from Microsoft Research Cambridge. A truly interesting and thoroughly engaging event—a genuine inspiration to becoming champion researchers in Industry Research Labs.”
—Kavin Narasimhan, PhD student at Queen Mary, University at London

We look forward to helping these talented researchers grow throughout their careers. We’ll be running another workshop in the fall, so please let us know if you’re interested by emailing us at MSRWIC@microsoft.com.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research
Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research

Simon Mercer, Director of Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft Research

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