From drones to smart plants: Guada Casuso lets ideas take flight by cultivating her obsessions

The Microsoft engineer chases her passions and makes more space for women in tech, all while envisioning a future where AI could save the world

Despite the chilly weather, Guada Casuso was on a mission to find the perfect day to fly her DJI Mavic drone. In an open field not far from her Microsoft office, she set the four-propeller device on the ground and grabbed her phone, which would act as the controller. She was already anticipating the killer video footage she hoped to get—the sky was even cooperating, without a cloud in sight.

She was almost giddy, as she often is when it’s time to fly, teach, or talk about drones. But Casuso, a commercial FAA-certified remote pilot and a principal technical program manager at Microsoft, got serious when it was time for launch. “Putting a drone in the sky over houses and people is serious,” said Casuso, who reminds pilots to respect FAA regulations covering where they can fly.

This combination of intensity and delight drives many of Casuso’s passions, including her drone obsession. That passion propelled her to cofound a drone chapter at The Garage, a hacking and maker space for Microsoft employees to help coworkers explore and get comfortable with the devices.

“The Garage is great because it provides a sense of serendipity for people who seek an environment to find partners and build teams to create together,” said Casuso. “That’s the power of peer to peer learning—learning from one another.”

It’s just one example of how Casuso’s been launching herself into the path of interesting technology—uncovering new hobbies, reshaping them, and bringing others along with her in the process—all her life.

Casuso is a self-described geek, a creator, and a dreamer. Besides being a drone superfan and teacher, she’s an urban farming dabbler, an AI champion, and an ardent promoter of women and girls in technology. She’s all about the possibilities. She’s a collector of personal experiences, obsessed with applying them to the world of possibilities, and she has no problem making connections between disparate obsessions.

Guada Casuso

A native of a Corrientes, Argentina, Casuso learned early on that the most interesting and curious things are often those right around her. “My hometown was small. Half of it was farmland, so I’ve always had a love for agriculture,” she said. “When I was a kid, I loved building things with Rasti, but I also loved taking things apart just to put them back together.”

She got bit by the technology bug in high school.

“I had wonderful mentors who took notice of my interests as they coached me. One of my professors said, ‘I think you should try computer science.’ I listened.”

After high school, she went on to attend Universidad Tecnológica Nacional, majoring in systems engineering.

“I really loved figuring out the innerworkings of everything,” she said. “In fact, the internet was new in my hometown, so when I went home I’d go up to my neighbors’ roofs and connect the wiring from one home to the next so that we could all share the internet.”

As a woman, I realized early on that the idea that technology was only a man’s field was a terrible misconception. It’s such a broad space that allows for anyone to tap into their interests.

Casuso graduated and went to work for several tech companies, including an editorial company where she helped architect an infrastructure to digitize publications and processes. It was there that she realized she’s built to create.

“Assembling and creating things is in my DNA. I find technology so fascinating because it allows me to never stop learning,” she said.

Assembling a community

Casuso joined Microsoft in 2010 as part of its evangelism team for cloud-based adoption. She was excited about the job, she said, because it would allow her to use her knack for creating solutions to help partners and startup companies find ways to strengthen their operational infrastructures using cloud and application platforms.

In her new role, she was constantly reminded that creating goes beyond technology. As a female engineer in Latin America, she decided to develop a space for women in tech at Microsoft called Mujeres en Tecnologia. The organization began in Argentina and Uruguay but expanded to other Spanish-speaking countries.

“As a woman, I realized early on that the idea that technology was only a man’s field was a terrible misconception. It’s such a broad space that allows for anyone to tap into their interests. There are so many parts that are complementary and creative for women to take part,” she said. “Plus, it is our natural gift to connect things that aren’t necessarily related.”

While Mujeres en Tecnologia was developed to create a community that would offer career advice for women at Microsoft, Casuso was surprised by what it revealed. “I learned so much by listening to other women,” she said. First, she found that participants had varied priorities in their careers. Some aspired for leadership roles; others prioritized flexibility.

“It became a place for women to discuss situations that were relevant to others in the group,” said Casuso. For example, for those who were trying to regain their footing after returning to work from maternity leave, the group offered them a safe space to share concerns and tips with one another.

Hands working on a drone that is sitting on a table

Facilitating and advocating for women and girls in technology remains a passion and a focus. For instance, Casuso has worked with DigiGirlz, a Microsoft program in support of middle and high school girls interested in technology careers.

“It’s fun to expose them to different aspects of technology and show them it’s not only programming,” she said. “Ultimately, women and girls do well in tech because they bring about the creativity.”

Taking technology to new heights

In a previous Microsoft role, Casuso worked with tech partners in Mexico that specialized in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). She went on to partner with the leading manufacturer of drones, which is when she became a bona fide fan of drone technology.

Along with two former colleagues, Casuso created the drones chapter of The Garage about two years ago. Through the chapter, which they participate in outside of their regular jobs, employees learn drone assembly, experience the world through FPV (first person view), learn drone programming, and study how to use drone hardware platforms to program mobile applications.

“We manage activities, provide a space for drone technology updates, offer flight tutorials, and teach sessions outside of the Microsoft community on piloting a drone. Everyone thinks they are easy to fly, but it takes a certain amount of skill,” said Casuso, a certified drone pilot. “Plus, we educate members and nonmembers on current drone tech aerial regulations.”

The chapter, which Casuso leads, also releases videos about drone tech on Microsoft’s Channel 9 and works with local partners to lead annual drone races during Microsoft’s Family Day.

YouTube Video

Improving everything with artificial intelligence

In Casuso’s current role, her team helps customers understand the value of artificial intelligence (AI) as a part of the organization’s digital transformation. “We seek to find ways to apply machine learning to the respective needs of each customer to enhance the potential of their company, their employees, and—ultimately—their consumers,” she said.

After helping customers find different solutions within a variety of industries and scenarios, she began to “think big about the endless possibilities of drones,” both professionally and personally.

“As I’ve become more involved in AI technology, I’ve considered the opportunities we have to apply AI tech to drone hardware. In my previous position, I had engaged with drone manufacturers looking to Microsoft offerings to create one-of-a-kind solutions,” Casuso said. “AI would be perfect for those types of partnerships.”

Applying her past to her passion

Casuso hasn’t lost the zest for farming she developed growing up in an agricultural community. In fact, during a recent Microsoft stint in Japan, Casuso was able to take her smaller apartment and turn it into a hydroponic farming “playground.”

Since she’s returned to the United States, she’s used technology to improve her gardening system. Hydroponic gardens can be very simple, Casuso said, but the engineer in her always wants to scale things.

Guada Casuso looking at her hydroponic garden

“I use hydroponic systems in vertical farming to grow microgreens, lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, and capers in my spare time. I love finding ways to improve it through AI. Through AI tech and a series of collected data, you can evolve your gardening modifications and strengthen your vegetable growth,” said Casuso, who’s been known to use #nerdfarmer to connect with people and ideas on social media.

Because of her frequent travels, she wanted to build a solution that would automatically adjust the water levels, lights, and sensors of her urban farm. With her collected plant feedback, it can be sustained while she’s away.

As a tech enthusiast who thrives on creativity, Casuso is constantly dreaming up ways to combine her love for agriculture, knowledge in the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI technologies, and passion for drones.

“I can see how drones can take farming and its use of IoT and AI to the next level. As the world’s population continues to grow, we will need to find ways to feed people with more organic, natural foods,” she said. “We are already seeing drones and robots that are powered by AI becoming key components in that agricultural system.”

It’s exciting to discover new business opportunities, but it’s equally important that we start building the platforms for generations to come.

For instance, Casuso said if an urban farmer needed a sample or had to harvest, they could potentially rely on nanodrones to manage vertical farms. “We could have large warehouses with systems set up with autonomous swarms of nanodrones sensing the plants and interacting with other sensors, all connected to the cloud complemented with mixed-reality experiences,” she said. “No fiction. That will be our future.”

The possibilities of AI keep evolving, Casuso said. “I’m constantly thinking of how drones will move forward beyond the artistic side, such as photography and videography,” she said. “I’m driven by the possibilities of pairing both technologies to provide innovative solutions to a world of scenarios, including farming as well as quantum and biosensing technology, automation, stock management, search and rescue, etc.”

With her obsessions and her energy, Casuso brings others in to create community spaces where technology can be tested, applied, and experienced in rich new ways.

“Guada is full of ideas coupled with bias for action,” said Rolly Seth, a program manager for The Garage team. “She actively tries to bring people and ideas together to continue her efforts to support drone development in the company.”

“It’s exciting to discover new business opportunities, but it’s equally important that we start building the platforms for generations to come,” Casuso said. “For me, it started with all things I enjoy, but with technology, the possibilities are endless.”

Back in the open field, Casuso expertly lifted her drone into the air from her phone. Up, down, left, and right, her drone seemed to disappear from sight as it tested the reach of the human eye over grassy hills and leafy ridges. After about 25 minutes, the drone’s battery sent Casuso’s phone a warning. Time to land. Casuso called Clark—her beloved Brittany spaniel—to join her in a video selfie as she carefully flew the drone toward her for its final landing and the perfect shot.