On November 17th, 42 IGNITE Students from West Valley Innovation Center in Yakima, WA and Broadview-Thomson K-8 in Seattle, WA took a Field Trip to Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond! Their first stop was a tour of the Visitor Center, where they received a warm welcome from Microsoft volunteers. Inside, tour guides Esther Chen and Sonam Agarwala led them through the company’s history and highlighted products Microsoft has built and improved upon over the years, from the very first personal computer to brand-new innovations.
To start, the group took a photo with a picture taken in 1978 showing the early Microsoft employees, including the first two women involved with Microsoft, Andrea Lewis and Marla Wood! Next, they visited Artificial Intelligence stations with a wide variety of applications, like a light that changes its color based on the type of movie you’re watching, AI to translate text, and even a mosquito trapper that sends a message to the research team when catches a mosquito so scientists can research about malaria, zika virus, and other diseases. As the tour wrapped up, students had free time to explore the interactive space. They enjoyed engaging with all the activities, especially the Minecraft and Xbox game stations. They figured out how to get Minecraft running on all the demo computers!
After their time at the Visitor Center, the students moved to the Reactor building, where they joined another IGNITE group for lunch and a panel discussion facilitated by Iqra Shaikh, a Product Manager with Microsoft Azure Data.
Vineeta Pandey, a Senior Product Manager, is the only female engineer in her family. She didn’t have much guidance, and it took a decade of working to identify her strengths and interests and find joy in her work. Her advice to students is to think about where you want to end up to help plan where to begin and how to get there, ask for advice and feedback, and never undervalue your skills; instead, find an avenue where you can apply them.
Megan Schumacher, a Senior Data Scientist, was very into sports in middle school. She was good at math but wanted to be a cook or a chef. She didn’t see STEM as a career option until participating in DigiGirlz, Microsoft’s free STEM program for high school girls. The program was so much fun, she decided to go to college for computer science! Her parents didn’t support her decision because they didn’t think she would be successful, but Megan pursued a STEM career anyway, and she’s so glad she did. Being a data scientist is fun and challenging and allows you to contribute to something that millions of people around the world use.
Megan Trabun, Software Engineer II, had family in the healthcare industry and wanted to do something different. She has degrees in Computer Science as well as Media and loves problem solving and being an accessibility driver. It can be challenging to make things look beautiful and accessible, but helping people feels good!
Cassandra Collins is Principal User Experience Design Director at Mission Engineering, creating unique user experiences within Orbital, Space and Military. Growing up, she never imagined herself in a STEM/STEAM career. Her parents were supportive but wanted her to do something “traditional”, while she was drawn to art and technology. With the encouragement of teachers and her mom, she took art and coding classes. As she began her career, she took many challenging positions where she found herself in many situations, alone as a woman and person of color, but that didn’t stop her! Through the support of her mentors, friends, and family, she kept excelling in digital art and technology. Eventually, she landed a dream job at Microsoft working on cool games and products!
As a Technical Program Manager, Daetri Reed helps facilitate communication from engineer to engineer and works with other teams. She stressed that from the outside it can look like everyone is a coder, but companies need people with all sorts of skills and interests. Daetri was inspired to pursue a STEM career for the financial stability. She even showed a video of outfits she can afford because she works in STEM!
After hearing from the speakers, the students asked many great questions:
- What was the most important class you took in college to get here?
- What is your favorite thing at Microsoft?
- Are you surrounded by men? If yes, what do you do about it?
- What hours do you work?
- What is the most difficult roadblock?
- How do you deal with big egos?
The main takeaways were:
- There are still challenges for women in STEM, but there have also been strides in diversity, especially in the last 10 years. It’s important to get allies from inside and outside your community, and also to be part of the change.
- You will often be your hardest critic. It’s important to learn to work through self-doubt, and it’s ok to need help! Build your support network and use resources available.
- Even if you don’t want to be a programmer, there are many other jobs in STEM, and many different paths to get to your career. Take classes that are interesting to you, but also make sure you are exploring coding and tech-related classes.
- STEM jobs provide a good salary and flexibility. Think about the lifestyle you’d like to live when choosing a career—several of the speakers said they pursued a tech career because it gave them the financial freedom to travel and make purchases.
- There are no limits to what we accomplish! Let your work show how smart you are. Men “forget” you’re a woman, but don’t be afraid to be bold, brave, and stand up for yourself.
It was very helpful for students to hear a message that encourages students to pursue their interests, work hard, and not to be afraid to be the “only” in the room.
Thank you to the amazing team at Microsoft for providing such a memorable experience: Sunitha Muthukrishna, Esther Chen, Sonam Agarwala, Iqra Shaikh, Vineeta Pandey, Megan Trabun, Megan Schumacher, Daetri Reed, Cassandra Collins, Cassandra Ho, Linda Diefendorf, Mary Beth Thome, Kristi Yankacy, Elizabeth Maher, Ed Price, Allison Amaral, Irina Yefimov, and Shirley Tan. And thank you to IGNITE Educators Devina Khan and Karen Byeman and the great group of students from West Valley Innovation Center and Broadview-Thomson K-8!
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“This event made me see that I can have a career in STEM.” – 7th grade
“Today was fun and taught me a lot about a job I might want to pursue. I loved how nice everyone was and the panelists were super cool!” – 7th grade
“Today inspired me because I can see that other women are in STEM, succeeding, doing well, and pursuing their dreams. I realize that even though I might not go into STEM, I know that they’re women out there, doing the same thing. I had fun playing with the Xbox, it made me realize how much I actually like gaming.” – 6th grade
“This event taught me how high-paying jobs in STEM can be. My big takeaway from today was that STEM is also for girls. Also, Microsoft has done a lot of things that are pretty cool!” – 7th grade
“Before I went to Microsoft, I doubted being able to pursue a career in STEM. After listening to the women speak, I learned I don’t have to be the best at math to pursue a career in STEM. I can be good at other subjects and still be involved with Microsoft. I liked how we got a tour with even the smallest details told. We got time to explore the different activities, games, and explore everything that was provided. The volunteers were very nice, welcoming, and went above and beyond!” – 8th grade
“I loved learning about all the old technology and how it was used. The panel was interesting and cool! What they said about how STEM can be more than just computer stuff was really insightful. I also now know more about video games and fun apps.” – 6th grade
“I liked seeing women in engineering and talking about how we can become engineers too!” – 6th grade
“This event inspired me to rethink my career choices. The women were very nice and their jobs seemed very interesting. A career in computer science seems like a very flexible job. It sounds fun to work in a group and get to know others better.” – 8th grade
“Today changed my perspective of the STEM field because I always thought that coding was hard. I learned that it’s not that bad once you try it! Hearing the panelists talk about their experiences made the event more fun. I liked the experience and the advice that the women gave us.” – 8th grade
“I enjoyed hearing the woman talk about how their life is in STEM. Thank you to the panelists!” – 8th grade
“What the women talked about helped me get more inspired. When we see classes in STEM, there are barely any girls in them.” – 8th grade
“This trip inspired me and made me more confident to be in STEM. It also helped me to be more motivated.” – 8th grade
“The panelists talking about how exciting their jobs are was inspiring. I want to thank the teachers and all the people that were talking about STEM!” – 8th grade
“Today inspired me to become more confident with my choices and not let others change my mind. A “no” isn’t the end, it’s an opportunity to change!” – 10th grade
“The event inspired me because now I feel confident to be in STEM. I also know that there are people that can help me.” – 7th grade
“These women were able to break into this male-dominated field through so many different paths. This event helped me realize that there is no one way to get into a STEM field. Everyone we met was SO incredibly kind and patient! Thank you for teaching us what a kind employer Microsoft is and its efforts towards diversity and inclusion.” – 10th grade
“Listening to the panel of speakers made me feel like I wanted to pursue computer science. It made me really think about what I wanted my job to be as an adult. To me, this experience was more inspiring in-person, since we actually got to speak with the panelists. The volunteers really inspired me to give computer science another chance instead of going to a more traditional high school. Thank you all so much!” – 8th grade
“The event inspired me to consider the jobs at Microsoft. If I were to work there, I would definitely want to work as a designer. I also think that the person who created the scale model by hand was really cool and I would like to do something like that, but with a little help. Microsoft seems to be a safe and open environment for the employees and customers. I was also surprised that the schedules for the women at the panel were more open and free than I thought.” – 9th grade
“This event really made me think I can join STEM, and I am more inspired to look into it. I had so much fun!” – 7th grade
“This inspired me to think about if I want to go into STEM. The panelists and volunteers were so nice. Thank you girls for giving me a better understanding of STEM.” – 7th grade