Microsoft Reactor Field Trip with Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center, Cascade High School, Auburn Mountainview High School, Rainier Beach High School, and Legacy High School

On Thursday, April 27, 2023, Microsoft employees welcomed 88 students from Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center, Cascade High School, Auburn Mountainview High School, Rainier Beach High School, and Legacy High School for a Coding Field Trip at the Microsoft Reactor in Renton.

The Activity Leaders introduced students to the Small Basics coding activity using the Turtle Art program. They used blocks of code to move an on-screen turtle around according to their commands; with enough practice, students were able to guide the turtle through a maze! It was a great experience for those trying coding for the first time, and there was a lot of room for creativity for those with experience writing code.

After the activity, the students got the opportunity to hear from the following Panelists:

Sowmaya Keshavaiah, Data Analyst at Microsoft, 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!

Viv Liao, Software Engineer at Microsoft, graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with a major in game design. This led Viv to a number of roles at different game studios. During this time, she realized that she actually had more fun playing than designing; having experienced burnout, Viv made a career change and joined Microsoft in the cyber security group. Currently very happy with this choice and really enjoying the shift from game design to cyber security. She explains her job this way: if your computer was a castle, she builds the stone walls and sentry posts to provide security and monitoring from intruders.

Castle Leonard, Data Scientist at Microsoft, wasn’t aware of the options that existed for her in secondary education and career choices – she grew up in an economically disadvantaged household with two hardworking young parents and was the first in her family to graduate from college. She discovered early that she had a mind for numbers and math, and was fortunate to have a few female role models at school that were STEM educators – primarily in physics, java programming, and calculus – which helped her begin to imagine that she could be an engineer. Initially, she had little idea what that even meant – she had never heard the job mentioned at home. Her educators, however, had some experience; one worked on programming ATMs in the 1980s (with punch cards!) and another had been a civil engineer. These stories planted enough of a seed that, with lots of work and plenty of support, helped her to graduate with honors and go on to work for a world-renowned company, Microsoft, while getting a Master’s Degree in Data Science!

The students really enjoyed programming and then moved on to a panel and Q&A, where they were even more engaged, asking questions such as:

  • What is it like being a female in a male-dominated field?
  • How many years of college did you do to get to where you are, and what majors do students need to take to get to these careers?
  • What advice do you have for girls doing STEM in college?
  • What is it like to work at Microsoft?
  • How much do you make?
  • What is your favorite Video Game?
  • What was the interview like?
  • How did you know you wanted to do the career you are doing now?
  • Are there a lot of men that they work with?
  • Do they experience sexism, and how do they deal with it?
  • How did they get into their careers?
  • Did they like programming from the start? 

The four panelists were candid and relatable to the students, giving the high schoolers valuable advice:

  • Be your own biggest self-advocate as a female, but find colleagues that will propel you forward and be advocates for you as well.
  • Life takes us down unexpected paths; enjoy the ride.
  • Have a growth mindset, and do not be afraid to fail.
  • Keep changing your career path as you learn what you do like and what you don’t like. (One panelist started in aerospace engineering, then moved to project management, and now is a data analyst!)
  • Stay in a work environment that values and respects you as a person; speak up and ask for help from the manager if you feel this is not the case.
  • Your opinion and thoughts matter.
  • There is often a lot of schooling, but it’s part of the gradual growth within your career (for example, Microsoft pays for classes that employees often take a course or two at a time to earn their Master’s Degree.)

Thank you to the activity leaders for guiding the students through the activity, and a special thank you to the Panelists, Sowmaya Keshavaiah, Viv Liao, and Castle Leonard, for sharing their careers and stories with the students.

After attending this event:


of students are interested in STEM

Take STEM Class


of students know more about STEM career choices and the benefits of working in a STEM field

Ask Teacher about Additional STEM Activities


of students feel more confident in pursuing STEM


of students gained perspective and feel more hopeful about the future

Here’s what the students thought of the event:

Today’s event was fun and I learned something new about coding. Thanks to all the volunteers, they were so friendly!” – 10th grade

The way the panelists shared their journeys to enter the STEM field gives me hope for my future. Try pursuing whatever interests you, give it a shot, and ultimately discover what suits you best.” – 10th grade

It was really interesting to see what they do and how they make it more enjoyable. It also gives us an idea of what it will be like to work there. No matter what, take the risk to pursue whatever makes you happy. And if you have to make changes, keep going until you are satisfied with what you have achieved.” – 10th grade

“This event was incredibly interesting. I gained valuable coding knowledge and I’m optimistic about getting a programming-related job in the future. I deepened my understanding of programming, and I am grateful to the volunteers for their helpful answers.” – 10th grade

“Today was really nice. I got to meet interesting people who are successful in their careers and they made me feel hopeful of my future. I think that it was a great opportunity to learn about the people I met today and I would like to thank them all for their time.” – 10th grade

It was interesting to learn about the education required and what it’s like in the industry. Compared to video games, working with computer software is more fascinating and challenging. We should strive to have more women working in STEM.” – 9th grade

This event inspired me to speak my voice. My big takeaway was that I didn’t realize how many girls and women are interested in STEM. – 9th grade

“I wasn’t sure if choosing Computer Science as my major for next year was the right decision. I have little to no experience in coding, but today’s event allowed me to learn and make a small start. The Microsoft volunteers taught me that you never know where you’ll end up in the future, but it’s important to have a sense of direction.” – 12th grade

“The staff were amazing and the activity allowed me to see that STEM could be fun. STEM is a male-dominated field and to have women step up and be able to have minority groups get a chance in this field is awesome.” – 12th grade

“I guided a turtle through a maze, and it was a lot of fun. I had the opportunity to learn about coding and hear about the experiences of girls in STEM. I also discovered exciting future job possibilities that could interest me and my friends. A big thank you to the volunteers!” – 10th grade

This event has inspired me to explore new things and see if I find joy in them. I’m eager to join a class that can help me in learning programming. It’s perfectly alright to be uncertain about your career path. You can try one thing and then switch to another if it doesn’t resonate with you. Thank you to all the volunteers who have helped me acquire new knowledge about STEM. It was a truly interesting experience. – 10th grade

“It was really inspiring to hearing such powerful women talk about their experiences and how they got to the place they are now. My takeaways were how big the umbrella under STEM is and how we don’t need to know what we want to do for the rest of our lives just yet. Thank you to the speakers! I really enjoyed this.” – 10th grade

“This event helped me realize the many options that come with pursuing a single degree. My main takeaway is the importance of taking risks. Additionally, I learned the value of advocating for myself, even if it requires time and effort.” – 9th grade

Today, I had the realization that girls in STEM are capable of accomplishing anything to achieve their goals and dreams. My major takeaway was hearing about the experiences of the female volunteers who work in predominantly male fields. I’m grateful for their willingness to answer questions, as it sparked even more interest in my future endeavors. 😊” – 10th grade

This event made me feel more confident, even though there will be hard times when it comes to pursuing career. This overall made me experience something new and helped me.” – 11th grade

Seeing women working confidently in a male-dominated space was nice. It was just really cool. Women are awesome – don’t let people convince you otherwise.” – 11th grade

It was inspiring to see women not afraid to work in a male-dominated field. My big takeaways are to not be afraid to use my voice to establish myself.” – 10th grade

I really appreciated getting to hear everyone’s stories and interests.” – 10th grade

“I learned how to do an easy code, but it was cool because I felt confident doing it. Many girls are in STEM and it’s not as hard for them to be part of it as it used to be.” – 11th grade

“I’ve been really interested taking Software Engineering. After today’s event, I just found out that it was a male-dominated field, so there are barely women in that field and that inspired me. I learned a lot of basic coding and it was really fun meeting people working at Microsoft. I’d like to thank the volunteers for helping us out.” – 12th grade

This event inspired me to pursue a career in a male-dominated field, even though there are social risks and challenges. There will always be challenges to being a working woman, but surrounding yourself with supportive people is important.” – 11th grade

It was interesting to see other girls my age and hear their stories. Seeing actual women working in STEM also inspired me. I would say my big takeaways are that my future is open and free and I can pursue whatever I like!” – 10th grade

After today’s event, I see that it’s possible for me to do what I want. There are so many different jobs in the STEM field.” – 12th grade

Today’s event inspired me to be more confident in my choice of career. I learned about the advantages of a STEM career. It was so great to see women in STEM supporting each other and wanting other girls to make the community of women in STEM bigger. I am so thankful for the opportunity and support we were giving during this program.” – 9th grade

The fact that the speakers didn’t start college or their careers wanting to do the jobs they have and love now was inspiring. The big thing I got was what I call the “not yet” way of thinking.” – 12th grade