On March 22, 2023, Microsoft volunteers led a Data 101 Workshop for IGNITE Students at Eastlake High School in Washington.
Students participated in an exercise on data science led by Workshop Activity Leader Michelle Chamberlin, looking at the example of a fictional virtual pet shelter. They practiced asking questions that provided the information needed to help make decisions.
After this activity, Educator Eilene Klaka asked the Panelists to introduce themselves:
Natalie Seaton, Senior Manager and Product Manager at Microsoft IDNA, had no education in technical fields when she first started her role. She has avoided “painting [her]self into a corner” over the more than twenty years of her career, using her degrees in criminal justice, psychology, and marketing to try out eclectic professional roles. She is good at organizing people and getting things done, and this translates across fields!
Sowmya Keshavaiah, a Data Analyst, grew up in India, where her family encouraged her to study, focus on STEM, and be financially independent, though these expectations are not the norm for women. In high school, she loved using logic and problem-solving in her math and physics classes and continued studying these topics in college. Her uncle suggested that she also study computer science based on her interests at the time, and she found that she loved this field too–enough to get her undergraduate degree in CS! She has now worked as a developer for almost 11 years, the last five of which she’s been a Data Analyst. This means gathering and manipulating large amounts of data every week and preparing it for further analysis. She is glad she tried something new, including new challenges, in this role!
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.
Parul Matah is a Principal Software Engineer for Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing service. Parul discovered computers in middle school and never looked back. She has always enjoyed solving problems and discovered that computers were a great way to explore! Parul has worked in many different areas of technology, and she loves that there are so many opportunities in the field. She stressed that data is growing at a faster rate than ever before, with 90% percent of the world’s data being created in the last two years. As a result, there is a great need for data specialists who know how to manage and analyze this sea of data to help make informed decisions to help our communities.
Students asked wide-ranging questions, including:
- What is the difference between CS and informatics?
- How do you do well at an interview?
- Should you build a portfolio to interview?
- How did you narrow down which path in tech you wanted to go on?
- How was the transition from physics to CS, and can they be done in combination?
- Does corporate higher education funding have to be related to the job?
- Can you major in Data Science directly, or do you have to do CS and then complete a Master’s degree?
- What do you think of double majoring in biology and CS?
- What resources would you recommend for doing projects in Data Science?
Panelists shared thoughtful advice, including:
- Always ask questions at interviews.
- Get experience before you complete a ton of schooling.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks; it’s the only way you will learn if you like or don’t like something!
- You will learn something from every job that you have.
- You can always change to something else, and there are interdisciplinary opportunities. Starting in different industries gives you perspectives that are valuable to the team.
- Take courses you are interested in. Try Coursera courses for data science, and find blogs with cool tutorials.
Thank you to everyone who made this event possible, including Michelle Chamberlin, for running the activity, providing logistical support, and recruiting fellow volunteers. Thank you to Sowmya Keshavaiah, Parul Matah, Megan Schumacher, and Natalie Seaton for sharing your stories and leading students in the activity.
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“Today’s event inspired me to pursue my interests in STEM, regardless of any gender barriers that might exist. It also inspired me to explore different fields within STEM and how I can plan my future. Today’s event provided a lot of good information on how I explore the fields of data science and computer science more within my high school and early college career. Also, it was extremely helpful to hear different perspectives on college, jobs and how to plan out our futures.” – 9th grade
“This event showed me different perspectives and major choices. It also encouraged me to explore and take risks. Thank you! I feel inspired and encouraged.” – 9th grade
“I really enjoyed learning about the different paths the panelists went through! I also learned more about what data science is.” – 10th grade
“It was nice seeing women who work in the industry that I’ve been interested in. I especially loved the personal anecdotes of the speakers. I appreciated the advice that was given based on their own experience like college/university advise. Thank you so much! It was really nice of the panelists to take time to impact us at an early stage of our lives. It’s nice to have a better knowledge on what the job and college will be like.” – 10th grade
“This experience made me more interested about learning about the different STEM fields including data science and computer science. Bio Robotics or something similar interests me greatly. My big takeaways are that I can switch majors when I start college and I don’t have to be completely set on one thing and never change. I have a lot of freedom in my future and choices surrounding careers.” – 9th grade
“This motivated me to keep working. It’s given me a drive to continue with my school course load to grow as a person and make an impact. Thank you so much, I loved listening to the stories. One failure doesn’t mean you should stop trying.” – 10th grade
“I was able to learn about the possibilities of careers in STEM for everyone, regardless of gender and background. I heard so much about people who started coding in elementary school and were set on that – I loved getting such a variety of perspectives. It taught me what mindset and factors I should consider in pursuing an education; looking in the tech industry and how to be better prepared for a career as well!” – 11th grade
“This event gave me a lot more understanding on the different career paths in CS, and the various ways people can get into CS. Because CS is so wide, you can explore a variety of topics.” – 11th grade
“This experience helped with the realization that I don’t need to have everything figured out yet and that there’s not just one path that I have to take, and theres hundreds that I can choose from. I can take classes and electives before and after college to figure out what I do and don’t like will be really helpful, and that sometimes to find the right answer all you have to do is look from a different angle.” – 11th grade
“This helped me realize that a lot of people didn’t start off with experience in computer science. I also learned that there are a lot of fields that you can use a computer science degree for. Some things I got from this is that there are alternatives to CS degrees, like informatics and electrical engineering that could help me become a SD. Thank you so much!” – 11th grade
“This event was interesting and made me feel different about computer science. Thank you so much and helping for us.” – 9th grade
“This event inspired me because it showed me that no matter the background you come from, anyone can do data science. I really appreciated hearing all the stories of the volunteers! I loved hearing about their journeys, it was very inspiring and relieving to know that I can change my mind later on in life to pursue what I truly love to do.” – 10th grade