A Hackathon Designed By Women, For Women, To Solve The Gender Gap

KoreaHackathon

This week, I was pleased to have Fast Company do a feature story on our Microsoft Research International Women’s Hackathon. The article was written by Jessica Leber. To read the article visit FastCompany.  You will need to scroll down to get to the article.

Women Around the World Hack for Good

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I was honored to provide an article to one of the leading Education Technology magazines, EdTech.  To share with them the results of our International Women’s Hackathon.  To read the article visit EdTech.

Inviting Girls Around the World to Dream Big!

On March 8, we celebrated International Women’s Day. Every year on this date, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. Women’s equality has made positive gains, but plenty of inequality still exists. International Women’s Day commemorates the social, political, and economic achievements of women, while focusing world attention on areas requiring further action. “Inspiring Change” was the theme of the 2014 celebration, and the goal was to encourage advocacy for women’s advancement everywhere in every way. Promoting women’s equality requires courageously challenging the status quo and vigilantly inspiring positive change. In conjunction with International Women’s Day, Microsoft profiled the work of five female employees—whose efforts are representative of the work of countless other Microsoft women—in empowering girls’ and women’s involvement in science, research, computing, and engineering.

Big Dream: encouraging girls to pursue a future in science and technology

Just two days after International Women’s Day, the fifty-eighth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) kicked off at United Nations Headquarters in New York. CSW is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is the principal global policymaking body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. This year’s CSW theme was access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science, and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work. At CSW, I had the privilege of presenting Microsoft’s Big Dream Movement—an exciting new effort to involve more girls in science and technology—on Friday, March 14, during the UN Women Session, “ICT for women’s economic empowerment and poverty alleviation.

The Big Dream Movement connects organizations, academia, and resources to girls around the world to help them pursue a future in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. The movement is anchored by Big Dream, a documentary film that follows the stories of seven young women who are breaking barriers and overcoming personal challenges to follow their passions in STEM fields. From small town Iowa to the bustling streets of the Middle East, Big Dream immerses viewers in a world designed by and for the next generation of girls. Our hope is that this inspirational film will excite young women, their families, and friends to the possibilities inherent in science and technology.

Watch the Big Dream trailer

Microsoft is pleased to be underwriting this film and to be partnering with the following organizations to make the Big Dream Movement a reality around the world: UN Women, ITU (the International Telecommunications Union), UNESCO, the European Commission, Zen Digital- DLI, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Girls Collaborative Project, the Girl Scouts, the National Center for Women in Technology, the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), ACM-W, IEEE-Women in Engineering, and Black Girls Code. We are pleased to have the following on our leadership team: Jennifer Breslin UN Women; Gary Fowler, ITU; Saniye Gülser Corat, UNESCO; Cheryl Miller, Zen Digital- DL and the EU Commission; Lucy Sanders, NCWIT; Telle Whitney, ABI; Kimberly Brant, Black Girls Code; Janice Cuny, the National Science Foundation; Karen Peterson, National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP); Kristen Grennan, Global Girls Scouts; and Valeria Barr, ACM-W.

During the UN Women Session at CSW, on behalf of Microsoft I took part in a wide-ranging discussion of what must be done to attract more women to STEM fields. Session participants agreed that it is time to change the message and help women become producers instead of consumers of technology, and to empower women to help create the solutions for the future. We encouraged the 45 member states elected by ECOSOC to participate in the Big Dream Movement. Throughout the coming year, the movement will publicize the many “best-kept secrets”—those amazing organizations, academic institutions, researchers, professors, and companies that have programs and tools to help expose women to STEM. We will also educate young women about the career possibilities and the impact they can make by pursuing careers in STEM fields.

This summer (northern hemisphere), our website, BigDreamMovement.com, will go live, providing a portal for you to learn about programs and tools that promote computing and STEM. Then, starting in the fall, we plan to show Big Dream at events all over the world. Panel discussions will follow immediately after the screening, during which local students will talk about their experiences in STEM. Local organizations will also be on hand to talk with students and parents about STEM opportunities in the community. And the aforementioned website will include a worldwide registry of organizations that provide STEM opportunities to girls, so that anyone can find local resources and programs. At the end of 2015, we will hand over all of the assets to UN Women, which will connect women around the world and keep the movement thriving through the Knowledge Gateway for Women’s Economic Empowerment.

In the meantime, we encourage you to SKYPE BigDreamMovement and leave a personal video message. If you’re a professional woman or man, describe your Big Dream and offer advice to young women wanting to pursue a future in STEM. If you’re a young woman, tell us what is your Big Dream is and how a future in STEM can help you get there.

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

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Growing More Women in Computing in the UK

So I was honored last week to write a guest blog for the UK Software Sustainability Institute.  They are a national organization in the UK that focuses on cultivating world class research with superior software solutions.  They bring the best computer science has to offer to all of the various disciplines in the research world that needs software to empower and accelerate their research.  When speaking to their Deputy Director, Simon Hettrick, he highlighted the importance of having more women in the field and what could their organization do to highlight the challenges and enable a better environment in which women could thrive.  I was so excited to share our thoughts, the data, the research and our work with his organization.  Here is a link to the blog post- check it out.

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Grants and Scholarships to Assist Growing More Women in Computing

As many of you know—especially if you’ve been reading my blog posts—the participation of women in computer science continues to decline. Last year, women accounted for only 14 percent of computer science college graduates in the United States, according to the Computing Research Association. That’s down from 37 percent in 1985, despite US Department of Labor statistics that show computing to be among the fastest-growing career fields, with a shortage of qualified candidates to fill available openings. In addition, studies reveal that executives value the variety of perspectives that comes with team diversity, yet another reason for needing greater female participation in computing fields.

Innovate to impact the world.

As a technology company and innovation leader, Microsoft is passionate about increasing the participation of women in computing. To do so, we must attract more female students to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. To maintain their interest in STEM programs, we can increase young women’s exposure to the myriad opportunities in computer science and provide them with support during their undergraduate and graduate STEM studies. This is why Microsoft Research is proud to support the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund and to fund the Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship.
The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) is a non-profit community of more than 500 universities, companies, non-profits, and government organizations nationwide working to increase women’s participation in computing and technology. NCWIT helps organizations more effectively recruit, retain, and advance girls and women in K-12 through college education, and from academic to corporate and startup careers. The NCWIT Academic Alliance brings together nearly 750 distinguished representatives from academic computing programs at more than 275 colleges and universities across the country—spanning research universities, community colleges, women’s colleges, and minority-serving institutions. In 2007, Microsoft Research initiated the Seed Fund in partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance. The NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund provides US academic institutions with grants (up to US$10,000 per project) to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computer science and information technology fields of study. Through 2013, the Seed Fund had awarded US$465,450.
In partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance, we are pleased to announce the 2014 winners:

  • College of St. Scholastica (Jennifer Rosato) Promoting Female and Diverse Student Retention through Faculty Use of a Growth Mindset Approach This project will provide professional development for faculty at The College of St. Scholastica, helping them to instil a growth mindset among women and minority students who are majoring in computer science and associated concentrations, as well as fostering the continued interest of students taking pre-engineering courses.
  • Georgia Gwinnett College (Sonal Dekhane, Kristine Nagel, and Nannette Napier) Georgia Gwinnett College Women in IT Boot Camp A weeklong workshop, the boot camp will give 24 promising female IT sophomores an opportunity to get a head start in programming.
  • South Carolina Technical College System (Stephanie Frazier and Salandra Bowman) SCTCS Triple A Academy The academy will immerse 10 to 14 female students—each of whom is enrolled in a certificate, diploma, or degree IT program—in a one-week program that promotes ability, acuity, and audacity (the triple As) in IT-related fields.
  • Tufts University (Benjamin Shapiro) Engaging Women in Computing through Musical Instrument and Performance This unique project will design a curriculum and an accompanying set of hardware and software tools that teach computational thinking and engineering through the design and construction of tangible, programmable electronic musical instruments that youth can use for live performances.
  • University of Arizona (Gondy Leroy and Paulo Goes) Tomorrow’s Leaders Equipped for Diversity The university’s department of management information systems (MIS) will team with industry to make computer science and MIS students aware of diversity issues, with a special focus on gender, preparing the students to be leaders and managers who are equipped to both counter the problems and leverage the benefits of diversity.

In addition, we know that a woman’s first two years of computer science graduate study are the most critical. During this time, she must determine her area of focus, increase her confidence in the field, enhance her capabilities in publishing and research, and build her network. This is why Microsoft Research created the Graduate Women’s Scholarship, which provides a US$15,000 stipend, plus a US$2,000 travel and conference allowance, to women in their second year of graduate study at a US or Canadian university. The scholarship helps recipients gain visibility in their departments, acquire mentorship, and cover the burgeoning cost of graduate programs.
We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2014 Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship:

  • Anne Holladay, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Claire Chow, University of Notre Dame
  • Yunmeng Ban, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Sruthi Polali, Rice University
  • Nan-Chen Chen, University of Washington
  • Ghazal Fazelnia, Columbia University
  • Tesca Fitzgerald, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Angelica Ruszkowski, University of British Columbia
  • Brooke Fugate, University of Pennsylvania
  • Elizabeth Mamantov, University of Michigan

Congratulations to all the winning programs and students. We look forward to great things from 2014’s women in computing.
Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections   Learn more

Innovating for the future: second annual International Women’s Hackathon

Well, here it is: I am pleased to announce that our second annual International Women’s Hackathon will take place on university campuses around the globe from April 24 to 27, 2014. Last year’s event spanned 14 campuses in seven countries, with more than 600 university women participating. We’re anticipating even bigger numbers this year!

Women in computing matters—International Women's Hackathon

We launched the International Women’s Hackathon to encourage, support, and retain women pursuing the computer sciences at the university level. This event, largely promoted by word-of-mouth, empowers young women to become leaders in computer science, informatics, and electrical engineering. By providing a fun and safe environment in which to explore computing, the hackathon encourages and supports young university women around the world, preparing them to create technology innovations that will help meet worldwide challenges in such areas as improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing.
The presence of women in technology is essential to innovation. When confronted with a problem, we each encode our perspectives and then apply our particular heuristics to explore new and better resolutions. Diverse teams often outperform homogeneous teams (even those composed of high-achieving individuals), because diversity of perspective and problem-solving approach trumps individual ability. Research has identified the diversity of work teams as one of the key influences in the innovation process—and without question, a diverse team needs women.
As I travel around campuses, I hear the same concerns repeatedly from women in computer science courses:

  • Male classmates underestimate their technical abilities and relegate them to project management roles in group projects.
  • There is a lack of women on the computer science faculty, which leaves them feeling that they have no good role models.
  • They question whether they can fulfill their desire to solve big challenges by working in a field that seems to discount their talents.

This is why the International Women’s Hackathon is so important. It provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches. To ensure that this year’s hackathon meets the needs of university women, we have enlisted the help of recent winners of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. These gifted young women have helped us organize the challenges, reassess the rules and regulations, and upgrade the toolkit. So here’s a big thank you to the leads and planning committee members:
Leads:

  • Halie Murray-Davis, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
  • Jinisha Patel, New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • Safia Abdalla, Northside College Preparatory High School

Committee members:

  • Ashika Ganesh, West Windsor Plainsboro High School North
  • Aishwarya Borkar, San Jose State University
  • Diem-Nhi Tran, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Heather Huynh, University of Georgia
  • Kylie Moden, Trinity University
  • Nishtha Oberai, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Veronica Wharton, Rochester Institute of Technology

The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches. The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches.

We are excited to have this year’s challenges sponsored by the following nonprofits: UN Women, Hindsight Group, Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, and Teens Against Distracted Driving. Hackathon participants will design a software application that meets one of two challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving.
I am also pleased to announce our partnership with the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. We will be front and center during the festival, with women students from local universities hacking live on stage while we connect via Skype to the hackathon events taking place on university campuses all over the world.
I will announce more information about the hackathon in January, including details on special speakers and unique events, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I hope that many of you will take advantage of this opportunity: you can organize teams and register for the event now.
Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections
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Exposing more students to Computer Science, it’s time for “An Hour to Code”

It’s time to revise the traditional “three Rs” of education in the United States. In addition to “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic,” we need to add computer science. Yeah, I know it doesn’t even contain an “r,” but computer science is just as important as those fundamental “r” skills. And that brings me to the topic of this blog: Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), an annual US event that stresses the need to teach computer science basics to every student. This year, CSEdWeek runs from December 9 to 15.

I am especially excited to work in partnership with Code.org, a new non-profit organization that initiated one of CSEdWeek’s prime events: the “Hour of Code.” The event aims to introduce 10 million students of all ages to computer science ideas and tools—and to let them try coding for one hour—while also demonstrating to parents, teachers, and policymakers how accessible coding can be. And at a deeper level, we hope it will drive demand for expanded computer science courses and activities in secondary schools.

As part of CSEdWeek, I am in central Oregon at the Culver Middle School and Culver High School on December 12th and 13th, introducing students to programming through an hour of coding by using TouchDevelop, a free Microsoft Research mobile application development tool. I’ll also host an all-school assembly later in the month on “How Computer Science Can Solve the World’s Greatest Challenges.”   In addition, I get to spend a day devoted to my greatest passion: sparking young girls’ interest in computer science. I will meet with 93 Culver Middle School girls, introducing them to computer science research and the importance of user experience design. Too many young people only hear about the difficulty of programming; I strive to show them the art, creativity, and satisfaction involved in making an application that meets the end user’s needs. They’ll learn about the storyboarding process and how to design an application, and then they’ll help create the user interface for Games Learning Society, a research project I’m working on with Constance Steinkuehler at the University of Wisconsin. I will also give them a preview of a program we will announce this week—so stay tuned to learn about great partnerships and an event that will entice even more young women to pursue computer science careers.

rane with kids at kent school

Despite the excitement of CSEdWeek, my commitment to and passion for what it represents doesn’t begin and end during this week. Early last week, I met with 75 high school students from the Auburn (WA) Mountainview High School IT Academy Program and shared Kodu, .NET Gadgeteer, WorldWide Telescope, and other Microsoft Research technologies with them. They also learned about the exciting future of computing from bright young Microsoft employees who are in an accelerated career development program.

Later in the month, I will head to Redmond (OR) Middle School to conduct a TouchDevelop programming event with all of the students and to introduce middle school girls to user experience design. And I’m not alone in this outreach effort; several of my Microsoft Research colleagues are also volunteering at elementary, middle, and high schools to excite students about computer science. Judith Bishop is in South Africa to expose students to TouchDevelop, and Arul Menezes, Krysta Svore, and Peli de Halleux are visiting Seattle-area middle and high schools to help students experience an hour of coding.

Why is coding so important? The digital age has transformed how we work and live, making computer science and the technologies it enables central to our daily lives. By 2020, an estimated 4.6 million computer-related jobs will be available for those with skills in computer science—jobs that will address such issues as climate change, healthcare provision, and economic development. Unfortunately, many educational institutions in the United States have not been able to keep pace with technological advances, leaving students without fundamental computer science skills: of the more than 42,000 high schools in the United States, fewer than 3,250 were certified to teach advanced-placement computer science courses in 2013. Only 14 states count computer science courses toward a student’s graduation requirements in math and science, and no states require a computer science course as a condition of graduation. This must change if we want students from the United States to have future career opportunities in global computer science fields.

By the way, you don’t have to work at Microsoft Research to be part of this effort: to learn about more free tools you can share with students to interest them in computing, visit Research tools.
Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections
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World Kindness Day- Practice Random Acts of Kindness This Week

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelo

Today is World Kindness Day.   It was introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, a group of nation kindness NGOs.   Many countries like Canada, Japan, Australia, Nigeria, UK, India, Italy, United Arab Emirates and Singapore officially observe the day.   On this day, there are many events celebrated like: THE BIG HUG, handing out Kindness Cards, Global Flashmob, which was coordinated by Orly Wahba from USA which was held in 15 countries and 33 cities with its images of the event making the big screens in New York City.  Even though we don’t officially observe the day in the United States, I wanted to take the time for us to pause and think about kindness.

Maya Angelo has my favorite quote that I usually kick off every presentation I do  and daily I try to make sure every person I come in to contact with feels valued, important, cared about and their opinion matters.   Sometimes the grind of everyday life we forget the importance so slowing down and saying hello to our neighbor, our cubical mate next door or how the last conversation made the person you were interacting with feel. With all you hear on the news is the world today is full of dysfunction, conflict, and disasters its hard to stay positive or think there is any kindness left.  But what we can count on is inherently we are kind people and there is a lot of kindness in the world.  The Giving USA 2013 report was released in July. The good news is that the total contributions in 2012 increased to $316.23 billion. According to the report, the specific increases are:

  • 3.5% increase in total estimated U.S. charitable giving
  • 3.9% increase in giving by individuals
  • 4.4% increase in giving by foundations
  • 12.2% increase in giving by corporations

As a country we are one of the most giving people when it comes to people’s time, talent and money.  I was honored to participate in our Microsoft Annual Giving Campaign where employees supported over 18,000 organizations and raised over $94 million and by the end of the calendar year should reach $108 million.  Kindness is not just about giving money and time to organizations but its also about how we make each other feel.  Research has shown that if you feel appreciated, valued, kindness from your boss and fellow peers you will be more productive and happy.  Check out this great Ted Talk by Shawn Achor- http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html to get you in the mood to be more kind today.

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You can still have a virtual hug!  Continue to be kind.

Working for a technology company,  having the ability to work remotely and taking advantage of the latest gadgets is fantastic.  But it also requires us to think about our personal in-person interactions even more, since they are so few.  Today, we are constantly online and engaged in virtual conversations. We tend to feel more comfortable sending an email than walking down the corridor to talk to a colleague or pick up the phone. I don’t know how many times I have been in a restaurant and seeing couples and children with their parents texting each other than talking.  As wonderful as Facebook, Skype and Twitter keep us in touch and up to date on the latest happenings in life, they also take away from that personal engagement and that feeling of appreciation and love we have for each other.  Nothing beats a conversation with an old friend that you haven’t talked to in a longtime or when you meet a person for the first time in a coffee shop and strike up a great conversation and feel that instant connection.

One of the things I love to do each week is just one random act of kindness like buying a cup of coffee for the next person in line, getting a meal for a homeless person, or volunteering to help grade papers for a teacher at the local school.  Too many times we over think and make doing something nice too much work to include in our busy lives.  One of the website I love that can give you great ideas: http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/. Check it out and try something.  Also, another  great Ted Talk to get you in the mood today and this week: http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_zittrain_the_web_is_a_random_act_of_kindness.html.

Lastly, I want to leave you with 10 things you can do today to participate in World Kindness Day:

  • Show someone you know gratitude- send him/her a quick email to thank him/her or pick up the phone and call him/her or better yet get him/her a coffee and tell him/her why you are grateful to know him/her
  • Replace judgment, no one likes to be judged
  • Walk in someone else’s shoes and try to understand where they are coming from
  • Hold back criticism and try encouragement
  • Recall how someone made you feel really good and what can you do in return
  • Surprise someone you know with a kind note
  • Turn off your devices tonight and have a conversation with your significant other or children
  • Write down 10 things you are thankful about and if you listed any person, let him/her know
  • Do one random act of kindness for someone you don’t know today
  • Give yourself a break and be kinder to yourself, we are our worse critic.  Appreciate the great work you do.

Have a wonderful World Kindness Day and Pay it Forward!

Hopeful for the Future for Women in Computing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hopping to Minneapolis to celebrate women in computing

impact    Going to a major conference is always fun. It’s an opportunity to see old friends and make new ones, to network with experts, and to be exposed to fresh ideas and trends. All those benefits hold true for the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) for Women in Computing, the Anita Borg Institute’s annual conference on women’s roles in computing. But for me, GHC is meaningful for another reason: it’s an opportunity for Microsoft in general—and Microsoft Research in particular—to focus on growing and retaining women in computer science and engineering. That’s why I am so pleased that more than 260 of my fellow “Softies”—including 9 executives and 22 women who will speak or lead at conference events—are joining me at GHC. This strong presence enables us to reach out to women at every stage of their technology career development, from students through established professionals, and to demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and innovation in computing.

And make no mistake: such commitment is sorely needed. Women’s share of US computer occupations declined to 27 percent in 2011 after reaching a high of 34 percent in 1990. The US Department of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018 there will be 1.4 million open technology jobs in the United States. At the current rate of students graduating with degrees in computer science, only 61 percent of those openings will be filled—and only 29 percent of applicants will be women.

The need is all the more critical when you consider that the latest advances in improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing have come from technological innovations. At Microsoft Research, we recognize that such technology breakthroughs require teams that are sufficiently diverse to anticipate, respond to, and serve the needs of a changing world.

To bolster women’s participation in computing, we believe in a multipronged approach based on broad industry and academic partnerships. This approach builds exposure to computer science at an early age and supports women during undergraduate and graduate studies in computer science. Equally important, it promotes collaborations with the top women researchers and rising stars, such as the work I’m presently doing with Constance Steinkuehler of the University Wisconsin-Madison and Tiffany Barnes of North Carolina State University. We are researching the impact of exposing female middle school and high school students to computer science through an online community that teaches computational thinking via game design. In addition, Microsoft Research collaborates closely with Ruthe Farmer at the National Center for Women in Technology in the Aspirations in Computing and the Aspire IT programs. Constance, Tiffany, and Ruthe will speak in greater detail about these projects during my session on Innovative Solutions in Attracting More Women in Computing at GHC.

As part of our industry sponsorship, Microsoft is supporting 35 GHC scholarships. In addition, Julie Larson-Green, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Devices and Studios division, will be a mentor at the Senior Women’s Networking Lunch, and Jacky Wright, vice president of Microsoft Strategic Enterprise Services, will be speaking at and sponsoring the Women of Color Luncheon.

airstream

At the Microsoft Research booth—an Airstream trailer—GHC participants can check out the latest devices and learn about opportunities at Microsoft. If you’re attending Grace Hopper, whatever your professional affiliation or career stage, please stop by our booth (an Airstream trailer decked out with the latest devices) to learn about opportunities at Microsoft. Be sure to take part in our scavenger hunt—which offers Xbox and Kinect prizes—and the Dance-Off Challenge at the closing party we co-sponsor with Google each year. Through partnerships with businesses, organizations, and individuals, we hope to grow the next generation of women in computing. Let’s bridge the gap to future innovation together, through diversity and creativity!

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

 

Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation of Women

Although computer science is poised for exponential job growth over the next several years, there’s a glaring lack of women entering the field. Since 1984, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women has steadily declined, to the point where today only 13 percent of computer science graduates are female.

As I speak with young women around the world, I continue to find that their disinterest stems from a lack of familiarity with the exciting and impactful career possibilities in computing. The obvious remedy is to expose more young women to the professional opportunities in computer science. This has been my personal mission, and I am pleased to be surrounded by amazing young women who evangelize computer science as a field in which women can make their mark.

she++ logoOne such “evangelist” is Microsoft intern Ayna Agarwal, a student at Stanford University. In January 2012, Ayna co-founded she++, a community that seeks to inspire women’s involvement in computer science. she++ sponsored Stanford’s first conference on women in technology in April 2012, an event that attracted more than 250 attendees and hosted a lineup of inspirational women engineers, including employees of such Bay Area tech firms as Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and Pinterest. After positive feedback from attendees, mentors, and the press, the she++ conference has become an annual event at Stanford, one of many initiatives that she++ sponsors in its effort to create momentum for female technologists.

I was extremely excited to join with Ayna to co-host Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation—she++ and Microsoft Research, on August 28. This event featured two panels: the first comprised of female interns who are on the forefront of the next generation of computer scientists, and the second consisting of top technical women from Microsoft who are driving innovation and change across the company.

Katie Doran (far left) hosts the panel of interns: Ayna Agarwal, Priya Ganesan, and Amy Lin (pictured left to right) Katie Doran (far left) hosts the panel of interns: Ayna Agarwal, Amy Lin and Priya Ganesan (pictured left to right)

You can now view the event on-demand. And while you’re in video-watching mode, you might want to take a look at the she++ documentary video and the Microsoft Research Bridging the Gender Gap video, both of which highlight  efforts to increase the presence of women in computing. In addition, I encourage all you girls (and boys) to try out these free tools that can teach you how to program and help you explore computer science: Kodu, Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer, Pex for Fun, and TouchDevelop.

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

 

I was extraordinarily excited to join forces with Microsoft Research to bring together generations of female programmers to share their stories, and I hope that the on-demand video of “Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation” will expose even more young women to the tremendous possibilities in computer science.

Pictured from left to right, Ayna Argarwal, Rane Johnson, and Katie Doran led the event, “Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation.” Rane joined the event virtually with the BEAM robot.  Pictured from left to right, Ayna Argarwal, Rane Johnson, and Katie Doran led the event, “Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation.” Rane joined the event virtually with the BEAM robot.

Three years ago, I entered Stanford as a dreamer, planning to change the face of global health through veterinarian medicine. However, I soon tired of the preparatory science classes and of feeling tethered to the vet hospital. I still wanted to have big impact on the world, but I wasn’t sure how.

Then I took my first computer science class and fell in love with the problem-solving mindset. Moreover, I soon realized that technology had the ability to touch the lives of millions, offering new communication and productivity tools and entertaining toys, serving as a means to unravel the biggest crimes, providing protection via mobile phones in developing countries—the possibilities are endless.

I became convinced that the full potential of tech is yet to be discovered. Yet a couple months prior to that first class, I had no idea that computer science was even a discipline, or that large companies and startups were built entirely around bringing technology to life. I had never even conceived of the possibilities.

I realized that my ignorance about computer science derived in large measure from the lack of role models sharing their stories. So I created she++ to be a community of voices of those technologists: the ones who are breaking the boundaries and incorporating their interests into the field.

she++ soon evolved into a personal mission to embolden and enrich the possibility of technology. I aim to provide an inspiration for all types of people, with every interest, encouraging them to take a peek and enroll in their first programming class. The future of the world lies in tech, and we need more people, with unique perspectives, than we’re training today to work in the industry. I hope that the joint Microsoft Research and she++ event entices girls everywhere to take their first programming class—and to realize they can have big impact in this world with technology.

—Ayna Agarwal, student at Stanford University and summer intern at Microsoft

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Fun with programming

Concussion puts making a difference on pause

Hi folks, it has been a longtime since I have posted a blog and been online due to a concussion I had on February 23, 2013. I would like to take the time to help people understand concussions better and they are not something to ignore!

As the typical Rane, who thinks she is a robot that is indestructible, I got up from the 2 foot diameter puddle of blood on my hardwood floor and begun to tell my husband everything is just fine at 2 in the morning, as he thought someone was breaking into our home and kicking down our back door from the loud boom of me hitting the floor.  He cleaned me up (thank you Greg) and as I ran to the toilet to hurl a few times, I tried to convince him I was fine and we should just go to bed.  After keeping me a wake for a long while and ensuring I was not going to go to sleep and never wake up.   (for those who do not know, if you go to sleep after a concussion you have a good chance of not waking up again, so don’t do it!) He finally let me go back to sleep and head to the emergency room in the morning.   In the morning, I was ready to ignore the hospital idea and  jump on another plane and fly off to go change the world and grow women computer scientists.  My husband forced me to slow down, head to the emergency room and ensure everything was okay before I take on my next activity.  There, I found out I needed 9 stitches and that I had a concussion and should stay home and not do anything for the next few days.   I did not realize the sensitivity of your brain and continued on as business as usual, ignoring the doctor.  DO NOT DO THIS FOLKS!!!  I ended up making myself worse and could have healed a lot faster if I would have listened to him in the first place.

 Women Hack to solve Human Trafficking issuesI raced to the airport and headed to our first ever International Women’s Hackathon being launched in 7 countries and 14 locations around the world.  (Thanks to my husband driving me, later I would find out that I would not be able to drive for five months due to my lack of balance, memory and vision.)   It was a fantastic hackathon with over 600 young women all over the world programming to make a difference in proactively helping victims of human trafficking.  I on the other hand was not doing well with blurred vision, massive migraine headache and coming close to blacking out a few times.  I continued to move forward and then head to the Michigan Women in Computing Conference where I was the keynote speaker.  When I got about half way across the United States, my brain felt like it was going to explode and about 100 knives were being stabbed in my head.  I arrived in not too good shape but was taken good care of by the Michigan State University Team (thanks Laurie Dillon).  I gave the keynote and then flew back to Bend, OR to go get a CT Scan and MRI.  I then found out I had post-concussive syndrome (PCS) and if you don’t listen to your body you can’t try to solve the world’s greatest problems in computing because you have to focus on your health.  I knew nothing about PCS.

Post-concussive syndrome (PCS) is a set of symptoms that continues for weeks, months or even a year or more post a concussion.  It is a mild form of traumatic brain injury resulting in migraine headaches, difficulty concentrating, chemical imbalances in the brain, vision challenges, emotional and behavioral issues.  There is no treatment for PCS symptoms can only be treated  by medications, physical, vision and behavioral therapy and time.  In my appointment with the doctor, I could not balance on one foot, I failed memory tests and I was in the most excruciating pain from a migraine headache.  I learned I would now need to stop working, no more television, no more smartphone, no more computer, no more reading, I couldn’t drive, no more wine, no more caffeine and that I MUST REST– no ands ifs or buts.  For the first week, I could do nothing but lay in bed and then the next five months would result in only walks with my dog, listening to books on CD and knitting.  I spent the next four months with a migraine headache 24 hours a day 7 days a week.   My vision tracking dropped to a level of an 8-year-old.   If I had listened to the doctor in the first place it could have resulted in only a few weeks of recovery instead of five months.  DO NOT IGNORE doctor’s advice when you have a concussion it is serious!

I then got to spent the next four months spending time with three different doctors to try and get back to normal.  Learn to mediate, relax and calm the mind- an impossible endeavor for a Type A person.  I was surprised to learn there is still so much we don’t know about concussions and a lot of it is still a guessing game.  It also made me realize how illogical we humans are when it comes to our brain.  When we break an arm and leg we know we must rest it, not use it and give it recovery time, but with our brains we don’t ever rest it.  When you hurt your brain it needs to rest.  Resting your brain means no visual stimulation, no mental stimulation, plenty of sleep and rest, meditation is critical and necessary to heal.  Learning to slow down was very difficult but critical for me to finally heal and be able to go back to work.  Once I could read again, a few interesting books and research I read that may be interest to you, to help you through the siiutation if you get a concussion:

So now that it is all said and done and I am back to work, what I am I doing to ensure I don’t re-injure myself or what have I learned from this experience that may help other TYPE As or folks who have a concussion?

  • When your body needs to rest, if you won’t rest, it will force you to rest.
  • Life is too short to ignore your health and if you’re not healthy you can’t solve all the world’s greatest problems.
  • Your brain needs the same respect, rest and support you give any body part you sprain or break.
  • You can’t ignore the importance of work-life balance.
  • Don’t put work, volunteerism before family because in the end all you have is your family! (Thank you Greg, Pam, Gordon, Anne and Claudia for helping me through the last 5 months!)
  • Your not as important as you think you are, the world will move on, work will get accomplished and people will get things to work even when you aren’t around.  (Thank you to my amazing co-workers who stepped up and took so much of my work on!)
  • What you think must get done yesterday, can wait till tomorrow, even a few months.
  • Sometimes working slow is much better than multi-tasking and working fast!  (READ THE SLOW FIX!)
  • Lastly, I have a three-legged stool.  One represents global impact, one represents local impact and the last my family and self.  They must be in balance or I will fall off the stool.  If projects, opportunities & relationships don’t keep the three legs in balance then I must learn to say NO when one leg begins to become too long.  You can’t have a leg too long or you will fall off your chair.  It’s okay to say no, sometimes it is even expected!

I am truly happy to be back and I hope you look forward to the many blogs to come this year as I continue my passion to grow more women in computing!  At the same time I hope this blog helps you to take time to stop and smell the roses and take care of yourselves as you go on and take on so many challenges in your lives.

Innovators Wanted-Help The President!

I WANT YOU…. Anyone who grew up in the United States, as I did, is familiar with the famous World War II recruiting poster of Uncle Sam exhorting young Americans to enlist in the armed forces. (No, I wasn’t alive then, but the poster is an icon.)

I WANT YOU Uncle Sam Poster

 

Well, Uncle Sam is calling again, not for men and women under arms, but for recent graduates, top researchers, and great innovators—in short, for creative young people who want to be agents of change in the digital world. On February 5, the White House announced round 2 of the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program, a unique effort that brings incredibly talented go-getters from the private sector to work for 6 to 12 months with top government innovators to solve challenges of national importance. PIF projects are selected based on their potential to save lives, save taxpayer money, and fuel job growth.

Presidential Innovation Fellows

I am pleased to be working with the Office of Science and Technology Policy Team (OSTP) in helping to announce this second round of Presidential Innovation Fellowships, especially since the program complements my passion—familiar to regular readers of this blog—to grow the number of women and minorities in computing. The inaugural round of 18 Presidential Innovation Fellows worked on five projects and did a fantastic job, but, astonishingly, the group lacked diversity, even though the United States is renowned as a “melting pot” of cultural and ethnic diversity. For round 2, the OSTP wants to do a better job of reaching a diverse audience.

This second round of the PIF program include nine projects:

Disaster Response and Recovery: Collaboratively building and “pre-positioning” needed tech tools ahead of future emergencies or natural disasters, in order to mitigate economic damage and save lives.

MyUSA: Simplifying the process of finding and accessing information and government services that are right for you. Helping US businesses access the information and services that will help them grow, hire US workers, and export to foreign markets.

RFP-EZ and Innovative Contracting Tools: Making it easier for the US government to do business with small, high-growth tech companies, and enabling the government to buy better, lower-cost tech solutions from the full range of US businesses.

Cyber-Physical Systems: Working with government and industry to create standards for a new generation of interoperable, dynamic, and efficient “smart systems”—an “industrial Internet”—that combines distributed sensing, control, and data analytics to help grow new high-value US jobs and the economy.

Open Data Initiatives: Accelerating and expanding efforts to make government information resources more publicly accessible in “computer-readable” form and spurring the use of those data by entrepreneurs as fuel for the creation of new products, services, and jobs.

MyData Initiatives: Empowering the people of the United States with secure access to their own personal health, energy, and education data.

Innovation Toolkit: Developing an innovation toolkit that empowers the US federal workforce to respond to national priorities more quickly and more efficiently.

21st Century Financial Systems: Moving financial accounting systems of US federal agencies out of the era of unwieldy agency-specific implementations to one that favors more nimble, modular, scalable, and cost-effective approaches.

Development Innovation Ventures: Enabling the US government to identify, test, and scale breakthrough solutions to the world’s toughest problems.

If you are looking for an opportunity to make a difference, here is a chance to influence millions of lives by thinking outside of the box and building truly innovative solutions. Presidential Innovation Fellows have a unique chance to serve their country and influence change on a truly massive scale. The White House will be accepting applications from February 5 through March 17, looking to put together dynamic, diverse, and innovative project teams that will produce tremendous results for the residents of the United States.

PIF applicants need not have deep technical programming skills; rather, they require an ability to think creatively, be an agent for change, and to recognize opportunities where technology can solve problems. I am asking all of you in the academic community to reach out to recent graduates and alumni that you believe can influence positive change and envision innovative solutions. And don’t count yourself out, as this could be the sabbatical of a lifetime. If you are interested in learning more and applying, please visit Presidential Innovation Fellows.

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

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Women across the world Hack to help victims of Human Trafficking

According to the Department of Justice, 40 percent of all human trafficking incidents opened for investigation between January 2008 and June 2010 were for sexual trafficking of a child. The majority of these children who are bought and sold for sex are girls between the ages of 12 and 14. Eighty-three percent of victims in confirmed sex trafficking incidents were identified as U.S. citizens.

The Internet is playing a central role in the rising numbers of American children sold for sex. With the Internet, the trafficker and the buyer have full anonymity and discretion in their sale and purchase of the child.

Given that Internet technology is being used for exploitation and trafficking, how might the tools and opportunities of the Internet also be used for the protection and defense of victims? How might a victim of trafficking be able to access the Internet to find her freedom?

This is one of four questions that students at university campuses around the world—including University of Washington, University of Southern California, University of Texas at Austin, Iowa State University, Colorado School of Mines, University of Sindh in Pakistan, University of Melbourne in Australia and universities in Colombia, Brazil, and Kenya—will have an opportunity to answer when they participate in the first-ever, international women-only hackathon this weekend, February 22–24.

Sponsored by Microsoft Research Connections, Microsoft Imagine Cup, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), the Association for Computing Machinery Committee on Women in Computing (ACM-W), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Women in Engineering (IEEE-W) and Skype, the International Women’s Hackathon is a crowdsourcing event aimed at helping young women feel confident about their computer science capabilities and excited by opportunities to solve global problems. Young women will have the opportunity to create mobile, web, and social media applications as well as games to help support social issues related to women. Young women will be able to be the innovators to support three great nonprofit organizations: FAIR Girls, HumanRights4Girls and the Hindsight Group.

Bridge the Gap Video

As the Principal Research Director in Microsoft Research Connections, I focus on how we grow more women and under-represented groups in computing. For Microsoft to be the most innovative company driving technology innovations for the next 10 years and into the future, we must have diverse teams solving the world’s greatest problems by using computing. When I look back to my college experience as a mechanical engineering student taking courses in electrical and computer science engineering, I remember looking for opportunities that would enable me to make bigger impact in the world. I remember myself and my fellow women engineers looking for research opportunities that would enable us to solve more global problems and problems that also related to social issues. That is why I got involved in robotics and mechanical limbs research.

Now, 15 years later, I see the same themes as I visit campuses in the United States, Korea, and various European countries. As I Skype with young women from the Middle East, India, Latin America, and Australia, I routinely hear, “I want to make an impact and solve big world problems. Can I really do that in computer science?” In addition, I hear these young women questioning their capabilities and expressing a lack of confidence in entering hackathons and computing competitions. This is why we are launching this International Women’s Hackathon: to help young women build their confidence, their capabilities, and their networks and to help them see that they can have a significant impact in the world through computing. That they can build solutions to help victims of human trafficking get out of exploitative situations and help ensure that younger girls do not fall prey to the same exploitation.

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Hacking to build diverse teams of technological innovators

Technology can play a key role in finding solutions to big problems. First, we have to build diverse teams of innovators to lead the way. Hackathons provide a great opportunity for anyone to experience coding and see how technology can be used to address serious issues. As I contemplate my New Year’s resolutions, I hope to do all that I can to encourage everyone who has an interest in computing to participate in a hackathon—as either a hacker or a sponsor.

Microsoft Research was pleased to be a sponsor and supporter of Americas Datafest, a hackathon that took place in November 2013. The hackathon was organized by Teresa Bouza, Deputy Bureau Chief of EFE and Knight Fellow at Stanford University. Teresa believes that the rapid spread of mobile broadband has the potential to help us address the challenges facing society in a data-driven manner. To explore this potential, she brought together programmers, engineers, journalists, NGOs, data scientists, and others for a weekend of intense, multi-city collaboration to address important issues related to migration in the Americas.

The hackathon demonstrated that technology experts, working in partnership with subject matter experts, could generate creative and promising ideas that can make a difference. We know that events like these not only help grow the next generation of diverse computer scientists and innovators, but also communicate the message that technology can help solve the world’s greatest problems.

I’d like to hand this over to Teresa to discuss the event in more detail.

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

 

Before I begin, I would like to say a few words about the issue we wanted to address with Americas Datafest. While immigration to the United States may be the most visible aspect of migration in the Americas, human flows throughout the region are complex and evolving. For example, Mexico is becoming a destination country, thanks to its growing economy and there are significant patterns of population movement within Latin America.

The idea behind the hackathon was to inspire contestants to build apps that make public and crowd-sourced data accessible and useful for migrants. We also wanted to create tools that facilitate outreach and data collection by NGOs and researchers. Ultimately, such efforts can provide evidence to inform immigration policies across the region. I invited subject matter experts from the United Nations, the World Bank, and NGOs in the United States and Latin America to submit challenge topics, which our participants then used as a basis for brainstorming project ideas.

The event was held simultaneously in 20 cities across 11 countries and each location nominated two top teams for our global awards. Their projects covered a diverse range of ideas. Harvard students focused on facilitating immigrants’ integration. Other students from the United States, Venezuela, Mexico, and Brazil built tools that can help migrants in general, whether they move domestically or abroad.

Health was another prominent subject. The team at Fusion, the new joint venture between ABC News and Univision, created a project that will allow the TV network’s audience to gather their personal data to improve their understanding of their own health; the aggregate data can be used to examine the major health issues within the demographic. Like this project, many of the projects can be adapted for other parts of the world.

The winning projects were:

¿Dónde estás?: A measurement and mapping tool to search for Central American migrants in Mexico

Health24: An application that helps migrants receive basic diagnoses and correctly identify and use over-the-counter drugs

Invio: A secure and easy-to-use mobile application that gives immigrants control over how and to whom their remittances are distributed

Migratio: A safety-focused database of migrants that includes tracking and geomapping features

Salvaviajes: An SMS/web communication platform for crowdsourcing alerts on migration-related issues within Central America and southern North America.

Teresa Bouza, Deputy Bureau Chief at EFE, and Knight Fellow, Stanford University

 

Readers may be interested to note that the Microsoft Research International Women’s Hackathon 2014 is scheduled to take place April 25 to 27, 2014, on university campuses around the world and live at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. At this year’s event, participating women students have the opportunity to design a software application to address one of the following challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving. For more information or get involved, visit International Women’s Hackathon 2014.

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