“There will be some amazing things happening in the future, and your generation is the one that will help shape it.” These were Microsoft UK CEO Cindy Rose’s opening words as she addressed an auditorium of Year 8 and 9 girls at Microsoft’s DigiGirlz event on Tuesday.
DigiGirlz is a Microsoft event which schools can apply to, which falls under its #MakeWhatsNext initiative, which aims to inspire more young girls to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Held at Microsoft Research Cambridge, the event saw 65 girls from seven UK schools join Rose and other Microsoft representatives for a day dedicated to inspiring girls and young women to follow their passion for technology.
The tech industry as a whole is made up of around only 17% women, and this imbalance is also seen in tech careers that exist in companies outside of the industry. With Microsoft’s own research also showing that girls tend to disengage from science, technology engineering and maths (STEM) subjects around the age of 11, Rose’s message comes at a crucial time.
Describing how the fourth industrial revolution is already underway with the advent of Big Data, the cloud, IoT and AI, Rose stressed the need for digitally skilled workers in the future, and how jobs and careers in technology were for more than people just interested in maths or science:
“I never thought I’d be running a tech business, and yet here I am,” Rose – who started her career as a lawyer – told the audience. “I can’t imagine doing anything more creative, and I want to stress that the tech field is for everyone. We need energetic, creative people from different backgrounds.”
In addition to various talks, including one on innovation by Microsoft researcher Haiyan Zhang (who designed a watch to help one woman with Parkinson’s,) attendees also spent their day split into groups, designing accessibility-focused products, using Micro:bit boards.
The girls presented their ideas to panel of judges which included Rose, Zhang, and Richard Potter, CTO Microsoft Services, who evaluated the projects based on a combination of their presentations, their social impact, and ingenuity. One girl stated that she “…enjoyed meeting people who have changed other people’s lives for the better,” while another shared that her group’s project “…inspired me to see that women – not just men – can achieve things.”
From cameras that could read for you, to wearable sensors that vibrated when your doorbell rang, the ideas presented showed an encouraging glimpse into the passion of today’s children for using technology to improve the world. Among the category winners was an idea for a talking microwave with a built-in chatbot, an app which reads food labels to help people with dyslexia, and another app which translates sign language into text.
“There are some really budding technologists here, and I was really impressed with the quality of teamwork and collaboration,” Rose shared as the day drew to a close. “I want to open your eyes to the fact that this is a very creative career choice, and we need more women in this space. You get to do things that change the world, and it’s very inspiring.”