On December 2, IGNITE Worldwide hosted a virtual Learn to Code workshop with Microsoft! Girls and non-binary students from Sedro-Woolley High School, Federal Way High School, Roosevelt High School in Seattle, and Central Academy in Ann Arbor, Michigan, came together for a lesson in Small Basic Online to create an interactive program. They also enjoyed a panel discussion with three amazing Microsoft professionals!
Liz Bander, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft, started by sharing background information on IGNITE Worldwide and Microsoft. She also discussed why coding jobs are important to society and why they are a great option for girls/non-binary students. Students learned that you can work from home and bring your authentic self to work every day in this career. There is a place for everyone, and people come from a variety of backgrounds, paths, and interests!
With the help of Casey Shaertl, Software Engineer II, Liz introduced students to the programming language Small Basic and their turtle coding activity. Small Basic is designed to help transition students from block-based to text-based coding, and many tools and classes use Small Basic. Even Liz learned how to code with Small Basic! Students also learned the importance of using diverse workforces to avoid missing bias in machine learning models.
Students followed along with Liz and Casey so they could make the turtle appear on their own screens. Then they gave Liz hints on what values should be changed to put the turtle in the correct starting position in the maze, move forward, turn left and right, and use all of these to get through the maze. Liz and Casey also showed how to use “if” statements to check the turtle position to see if it got to the end of the maze. When the turtle got to the end, a congratulations message popped up!
Students then moved into breakout rooms to continue the activity. With the help of breakout room leaders Liz Bander, Balaji Balasubramanyan, and Angela Serrano Brummett, the students changed the program so that instead of having the turtle follow a set of instructions, pressing keys on the keyboard would move the turtle. They looked through other mazes and changed the code so that they could get through each one. One group also discussed ways to stop the turtle from moving through maze walls so that a player would not cheat!
Once everyone was back together, the panelists shared their stories.
Lei Ding, Senior Software Engineer in Microsoft’s DevDiv organization, shared how she pushed herself to speak up in meetings. Born in China, Lei grew up in a culture where she was told to be quiet unless spoken to, and this affected how she presented herself in meetings. To overcome, she dared herself to speak at least one sentence per meeting. Although this took a while, Lei got to the point where she was comfortable talking in meetings. She left students with the message that you can do anything if you start small and remain persistent!
Genevieve Warren, Senior Content Developer in Microsoft’s Windows Phone team, shared her unconventional path to Microsoft. After she graduated with a bioengineering degree, she worked in a low-paying job in a lab and did not enjoy her work. Her partner at the time was working for Microsoft and encouraged her to apply. Although she was not hired on her first try, Genevieve got a position as a testing engineer on her second application and now enjoys working with the .NET team as a content developer!
Kierstin Matsuda, Program Manager in Microsoft’s Azure Cloud Cybersecurity team, shared her experience as a non-computer science major and the only girl in her first programming class. She was intimidated by the other students and their knowledge. Still, she stayed in the class and focused on learning. Soon, these other students started to come to her for help and she ended the class with an A! Kierstin left students with the advice to not worry about others’ previous experiences; hard work and studying will give you the results you want.
The students asked many great questions, including:
- What opportunities does Microsoft offer to high school students?
- How do you choose what jobs you are interested in?
- What is the best piece of advice you have?
- What advice would you give yourself back in high school?
Panelists shared the advice to always follow through on a task and or project; even if you don’t understand how you will benefit or be able to succeed, it will bring you closer to your goals. They also stressed that it’s okay to be the only girl on the team and to not feel like you’re an expert. As long as you do your best, you will be seen for your efforts! A key takeaway was that technology opens many doors and opportunities, and starting early with programming and internships is very helpful. Even if you don’t start early and decide to join the tech industry during or after college, you can still be successful!
Lei’s advice was to never give up. Do something, no matter big or small – incremental progress adds up!
Genevive added to try not to make assumptions. Don’t assume that a career isn’t for you because of what people look like. She had a preconception of what people were like in computer science, which turned out to be totally wrong!
Kiersten shared that half the time when you’re doubting yourself, it’s probably in your own head. Get yourself to the exam, don’t drop the course, and you’ll probably do fine. Most of the time you are doing better than you think you are!
Students were able to understand and relate to speakers’ comments, and that left them inspired! The girls also enjoyed feeling they were successful when they coded, and they liked hearing about opportunities like internships and what it takes to work at Microsoft. Meeting successful people from all different backgrounds was important and eye-opening.
Thank you to everyone for attending and participating in this event, and a special thank you to our volunteers, Liz, Casey, Balaji, Angela, Kierstin, Genevieve, Lei, and Victoria for making the workshop a success!
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“The event was so exciting. I enjoyed being able to both code and talk to the panel. Everyone was so kind and encouraging!! Thank you so much for your time. You all are so considerate and gave amazing advice!” – 11th grade
“Today’s event showed me that never giving up always works out in the end. I learned that we should be confident and not be intimidated by anything or anyone.” – 11th grade
“It was very inspiring to see women who are in STEM. It was also very helpful to hear about how they got into that field of work. This was very interesting to me and very helpful in understanding more about how I can get into STEM.” – 10th grade
“Thank you so much for coming! You guys really showed me a way different path and I am really glad that I could join and learn about such nice and informational things.” – 11th grade
“I liked the diverse stories of how the female speakers found their way into STEM and eventually Microsoft. Your stories are very inspiring and I love the advice you all gave.” – 9th grade
“I got to see how many skills are needed to work as a coder and how I have a lot to learn if that turns out to be a field I want to pursue. Thank you so much for your time! Getting to see how to code and what it is like to work at Microsoft was extremely valuable for me.” – 11th grade
“It inspired me to think of possible careers I might have in the future. And to broaden my horizons on what I could actually like doing.” – 10th grade
“Thank you for talking with us. I was nervous at the beginning due to all the code talk. It made me feel better when I realized they all are as nerdy as I am. I felt more comfortable.” – 10th grade
“This event has helped me to acknowledge the uniqueness of being a woman in STEM. But as well as being confident and learn to find my happiness with whatever I choose to do in STEM.” – 12th grade
“I enjoyed the varied range of speakers here! I love seeing the many perspectives they all have! :)” – 12th grade
“Seeing all the different people, most women. And how they said Microsoft was really casual and welcoming. Also how to never give up and to not compare yourself with others.” – 9th grade
“It inspired me that there’s many women working in STEM not just men, because what you see in the media you could only see men but now I know it’s really great. You guys are really good at doing coding and things in STEM which is amazing that you inspire us young girls and non-binary students.” – 9th grade
“It was very interesting to learn a lot of new things and has made me think about what I want to do in the future more. Thank you :)” – 10th grade
“I learned more about tech career paths. I found that not everyone originally was going into a tech related major but became one. I enjoyed the activity and the simplicity of it.” – 12th grade
“It inspired me by showing that there are multiple choices in STEM. [The volunteers] did a very good job and they had very good advice.” – 10th grade