Yvonne Brill invented satellite propulsion. Sarah Mather developed the underwater telescope. Ada Lovelace created the first computer algorithm. They were all women inventors, two words that many people don’t put together in a sentence very often.
On March 8, International Women’s Day, it’s not only right to remember these and other female heroes, it’s just as important to encourage young women to know they can and should be among the next generation of inventors.
That’s why Microsoft is celebrating International Women’s Day by inspiring young women around the world in its #MakeWhatsNext campaign. A new video from Microsoft shows the lack of awareness girls today have about women inventors and reminds them to celebrate those women’s accomplishments and be encouraged to follow in their footsteps.
Microsoft, as part of its longstanding efforts to encourage girls to build technology skills and learn about careers in technology, is also offering free resources for girls to learn to code and meet female role models at DigiGirlz events happening around the globe, and is also offering free online coding tutorials to make strides in closing the considerable gender gap in computer science education and the tech industry at large. In addition, Microsoft is announcing a new patent program focused on inviting select young female inventors to receive support from the company’s patent law resources to help them file for a U.S. patent.
These efforts are part of Microsoft’s broad commitment to computer science education, with programs and resources offered through Microsoft Philanthropies YouthSpark initiative to increase access for all youth to learn computer science, empowering them to achieve more for themselves, their families and their communities.
Helping to make sure the next generation of inventors and creators are diverse is crucial, says Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft executive vice president, Human Resources.
“If we’re going to build products for everyone on the planet, we need to represent everyone on the planet,” Hogan says. “And that means having many more women who can help influence and build our products and services.”
Most tech companies, Hogan says, “see the real business case for diversity, and that means we need to make sure we’re supporting programs that interest and inspire girls at an early age. We need to make sure we’re building and filling the pipeline at all levels of education – from early education through to university programs.”
Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of Business Development at Microsoft, is a staunch advocate for girls to learn about coding and technology in order to create new products.
Johnson was an engineer for General Electric’s Military Electronics Division, and also served as executive vice president of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. before joining Microsoft in 2014.
“It’s not just about corporate social responsibility – applying a female perspective to what a company creates can ultimately impact the bottom line,” Johnson says. “In order to get more women in a place to drive that value, we need to support early and provide opportunity often.”
Julie Larson-Green, a renowned leader in user interface design, and Microsoft Chief Experience Officer for the Office Experience Organization, says that technology is “disrupting every industry, making computer science skills critical for young women in order to make the impact and get the leadership roles they deserve.”
For more than two decades at Microsoft, Larson-Green has envisioned and delivered innovative technology advancements such as the Office “ribbon,” which delivered contextually relevant menu interfaces. She is also a pioneer in product development and engineering, and oversaw the transformation of the Windows organization to focus on building Windows for the end-to-end customer experience.
Larson-Green says that knowing how to code “opened so many doors for me. Now that technology underpins nearly everything in our lives, it’s important for everyone, particularly young women to have an understanding of the coding basics because these skills will be invaluable in any career they pursue.”
Christina Chen, general manager of Emerging Devices Experiences at Microsoft, says “Because I know how to code, I understand how different pieces of technology can fit together. I’m able to connect them to each other to create new experiences. I believe even the simplest improvements in technology can change people’s lives.”
Julie Seto, who describes herself as a “passionate usability advocate,” leads a team of software engineers at Microsoft who plan, design and develop the user experience for Office mobile applications on multiple devices.
“My engineering background allowed me to link together a lot of my interests and passions,” she says. “For example, in college I loved physics, music was my hobby, and I was looking for a career related to medicine so that I could help people.”
Before coming to Microsoft, she worked at the National Center for Audiology, a research center that, among other things, tested hearing aids and developed new hearing aid technology.
Her work on the Microsoft Office team includes working “on digital assistants and voice commanding. I was able to leverage my background in audio processing to work on the cutting edge of modern productivity,” Seto says. “A technical background can open up many doors for young women and be the glue that links their interests so that they can build a career they are passionate about.”
Building a career based on passion, based on loving what you do, offers the best chances for true success – and innovation.
“Coding has taught me an iterative approach to problem solving and sharpened my critical thinking, skills I use every day on my job, even when I am not coding,” says Sumit Chauhan, general manager of Office engineering, Office Experience Organization.
When she started to learn to code, Chauhan says she was “unaware of the limitless possibilities it would open up for me and the impact I could have from (a) small town (in) India all the way to shaping Office Engineering.
“I wish I had the opportunity that young girls today have, to learn how to code early on in their lives,” she says. “Going forward, it’s going to be just as important as reading and writing, an essential skill no matter what field you decide to pursue later on in life.”
Lead image: Girls at We Day Seattle in 2015, an annual gathering that celebrates young people and encourages them to change the world. The event is sponsored by Microsoft Philanthropies YouthSpark.