The Future of Women in Tech
October 25, 2017
According to a 2016 study, only 26% of the tech industry’s workforce is women. This month on the Windows Insider Podcast, we explore the impact of having so few women in software development and other tech careers, and what we can do to empower women in the field. Featuring guest hosts Colleen O’Brien and Sonia Dara from the podcast “Women in Business & Technology”.
To learn more about the “Women in Business & Technology” podcast, visit: https://aka.ms/Womenbizandtech
Windows Insider Podcast Ep 8
Ep. 8 The Future of Women in Tech
DONA SARKAR: Welcome to the Windows Insider Podcast, the place where we explore all things Windows, the Insider community, and so much beyond. I'm today's host, Dona Sarkar.
You're listening to Episode 8. I know, it's been eight episodes of the Windows Insider Podcast, and today's theme is women in tech.
As a society, we've made some significant advances in gender equality, and although there is, of course, work to be done, some people have a bit of a misunderstanding about women's capabilities in the tech fields.
The good news is each of us has a role in creating progress, and I've been fortunate to work with some of the best supporters of women in the workplace -- both men and women.
To explore the topic of women working in the field of tech, I've invited two colleagues here today to help me co-host this episode. It is my pleasure to introduce Collen O'Brien and Sonia Dara, the hosts of the Microsoft podcast called Women in Business and Technology. Welcome.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Thanks, Dona.
SONIA DARA: Thanks, Dona.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: We're really excited to be here today.
SONIA DARA: So, our Women in Business and Technology podcast just kicked off a couple months ago, and it's focused on women with big careers in both business and tech. And, additionally, also, we interview male allies and advocates. So it was an absolute honor to interview you, Dona, actually on our very first episode. We kicked off the entire podcast series with our interview. And it is, to this date, the most downloaded episode that we have.
DONA SARKAR: Woo!
SONIA DARA: Which is awesome. So, yeah, we've been gaining a lot of interest, and we're very excited to continue it forward.
DONA SARKAR: Colleen and Sonia both work here at Microsoft, and as I'm sure you can tell by the title of their podcast, they are both champions for women in technology and business. Their podcast, by the way, is amazing. You should go subscribe right now. Like, press pause -- you're not pressing pause -- go press pause and go do it right now, it's that good.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Yes, thank you for the endorsement!
SONIA DARA: Love it. (Laughter.)
DONA SARKAR: Can you tell us what inspired you to launch that podcast? Colleen? Do you want to speak to that?
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: There are a lot of efforts and initiatives at the company now to speak more directly and relevantly to women. And we started working with Dawn Connor, who recently managed the Women in Business and Technology Track at Microsoft Ignite, this conference in Orlando specifically geared toward IT pros.
And a part of that effort was creating this podcast, Women in Business and Technology, to drive more awareness of all of Dawn's efforts at the conference there on the ground, and to do a little bit of community building, to let women know -- women who are attending these Microsoft-run or Microsoft-sponsored events that they're going to have a community supporting them there with them on the ground at great Microsoft events.
DONA SARKAR: That's a great initiative. Why did you choose to create a podcast to achieve that goal?
SONIA DARA: Colleen's the podmaster queen. (Laughter.)
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: I love podcasts. I consume them on a daily basis. Podcasting is sort of this ambient mentorship. You can constantly have great thinkers, thought leaders in your ear, you know, when you're walking down the street, when you're getting to work, and it's just another way for me to consume inspiration.
So when Dawn was initially thinking about how to promote her Women in Business and Technology initiatives, and was tossing around this idea for a podcast, I jumped on it.
But I think both Sonia and I have been really passionate about telling stories about women for a while now.
DONA SARKAR: Sonia, are you as passionate like that about podcasts as well?
SONIA DARA: So I was not a seasoned podcaster at all before this. Like, this has been a great introduction to, I think, the podcast world, and exactly what Colleen said, of this passive mentorship that you can participate in.
And then, yes, from both of our sides, initiatives focused on women specifically has been kind of ingrained in both of our work.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: And I think, you know, coming to work in the tech world, this awareness of women in the workplace has become -- I've just grown much more aware of the conversation around it, but you know, my background -- in college, I had a minor in studies of women and gender and sexuality. I've been interested in the philosophy, in the vocabulary we're using, in studies on this subject.
I was raised by an amazingly powerful and fiercely independent single mom. So, yeah, I think since day one, I've been interested in telling stories, and specifically, telling stories about women.
DONA SARKAR: How did your mom influence you or inspire you to tell these amazing stories?
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: My mom was an artist. She was a photographer, so her storytelling medium was a little bit different. But I think I am where I am today because of her never-ending encouragement and support. There was never anything that I couldn't do that she wouldn't be standing beside me. Not just behind me, like beside me to support me in doing so. And I imagine you had a really similar familial --
SONIA DARA: Very.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Yes.
SONIA DARA: Very similar. My mom was my biggest -- is my biggest cheerleader. Everything from back in the day I used to model, and so to the Indian community, everyone was, like, "What is Sonia doing? Like, no one models." Like, this is like a very unorthodox thing to do. My mom was, like, "Oh, hell no, you're not going to say that about my --" (Laughter.) Like a tiger mom, almost, and very much by my side and with me, helping managing work as well as school.
So I'd finish classes in high school, and she would pick me up, drive me to a modeling gig I had, like a runway show, I'd sleep in the back, because when you're in high school, you get like three hours of sleep, right? And it was just awesome to see that, and definitely part of the reason why I think this is like a little bit more personal for us to be able to share some more of these stories.
My mom gave up her career to have children, and so whatever I can do to give back.
DONA SARKAR: So it sounds like both of you have really strong role models in your mothers. What about role models in the tech industry?
SONIA DARA: Melinda Gates is, obviously, like phenomenal, and someone with a philanthropic side and I know Colleen has as very, very long list that -- she adds almost like a Rolodex every day, she'll add someone who she finds inspirational. So I'm regard to also build that out as well of people who inspire me.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Speaking of role models, for our segment of today's episode, we wanted to interview a tech leader here at Microsoft. Katharine Holdsworth is a principal program manager, who leads the team in charge of Windows flighting and feedback technologies.
Katharine, welcome to the show.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: Thank you.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Can you tell us a little bit more about your team and what your day-to-day role looks like?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: So my day-to-day role is a group program manager. And I run a team of program managers who develop and design all the feedback and our flighting systems for Windows.
And so we work very closely with our development team to actually write the code. We're looking at what customers are wanting and how we can most easily help them give us feedback, but also, importantly, how we can flight the new releases of Windows out to our customers as fast as possible so they can see us working as quickly as we put the code into Windows and try it out and see if they like it and give us feedback.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: That's great. And you studied electrical and electronics engineering at the University of Canterbury. What attracted you to that subject? And how do you use that learning in your day to day as a program manager?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: I love math, I love science, and I really -- as I was trying to choose what I wanted to do as a young kid, decided electrical engineering would be a practical application of math and science.
And I just thought I didn't want to go into long-term research, and I wasn't clear on the career path if I went into pure science or went into pure mathematics, but I could see where engineering would lead me. Interestingly enough, where engineering did lead me is nothing like I imagined, but I could see the practical application and a few of my friends were doing engineering, so I thought, "Oh, yeah, why not? Let's go down."
SONIA DARA: Casually go into engineering.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: University of Canterbury is an amazing university on the South Island of New Zealand, and I lived on the North Island. And I thought, "Well, why not?" And it was near the ski mountains, and I love skiing. And so I thought, "Well, let's do it and see what happens." That's how I started in engineering. It wasn't entirely well planned.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: And it sounds like you're not using, necessarily, all of the skills from your undergraduate, master's, and PhD studies directly on the job, but maybe is other more the concepts that you learned in that program?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: Look, I think part of what engineering taught me was to be deeply curious. I also learned and realized throughout my engineering degree that I wouldn't learn everything through that engineering degree, and there was so much more to learn. And I actually probably left that engineering degree aware of how much I didn't know, as opposed to how much I did know, and a huge curiosity to learn more.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Your passion for the University of Canterbury is very apparent. You started there as an undergrad and stayed through your doctoral studies.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: Uh-huh. (Affirmative.)
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Can you speak a little bit about your philanthropy around education, and particularly in reference to some of the trends that were seeing today? Whether it's online programs like Coursera or coding boot camps, do you have any specific point of view on what education should be?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: I think education should be whatever you want it to be, as long as you are being curious and interested in learning.
In fact, funny you should say about Coursera and online learning. As I was coming here this morning, I was noticing an e-mail from our management team giving us options to do some online course on strategy or negotiation or communication -- there was some form of -- and all I could think of was, "Oh, my gosh, there's so much to learn in that area, I should sign up."
And so I think from my point of view, education is a lifelong thing, and I feel like I'm always trying to educate myself.
I do have a point of view that it's really important to get a really good grounding in mathematics and science, and the ability to story tell. And I think the third one, the ability to story tell and tell a good story is something I'm developing a deeper appreciation for. I probably didn't understand it enough when I was going through electrical engineering, but that is something that I wish I was stronger at is a really good ability to story tell, and you see the importance of it now.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Katharine, you're currently managing a team of 14 people. How do you practice inclusion as a working group? And it would be great if you could speak to both your hiring philosophy and any daily collaboration strategies your team executes.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: In terms of hiring philosophy, we really try and get a broad group of people into any of our open job positions, and maybe one of the advantages that I have in terms of hiring is that I happen to run in a very different circle from some of my other colleagues. For example, I'm very well connected in the Women at Microsoft group, and so I have great access to a whole lot of women engineers that some of my male colleagues may not have. So I'm constantly on the lookout for all sorts of people. I'm looking for all sorts of diversity. I'm looking for different thinking, different backgrounds, different experiences.
The big thing I'm really looking for is whoever comes along making sure that I think that you're going to be a really good fit for the team, and people are going to generally love working with you. Because I feel like if we love working together and we're in a positive environment, even if we're all different, that we're going to develop more incredible things.
I love healthy debate, I love disagreements, but I love disagreements on a technology point of view, and not a human angst point of view. I really just want us to be working closely together.
The other thing I think a lot about was a reflection from my trip a couple of years ago where a group of us went to Nigeria. And it was an interesting experience for me because I'd never, ever been to Nigeria before. I'm from New Zealand, and New Zealand is a country that is very lightly populated, and Nigeria is a country that is far more heavily populated.
I was a little nervous, to be honest, because I'd never been there before. And I didn't speak all the languages that were spoken in Nigeria, so my communication wasn't going to be as good. And what I realized when I was there visiting a very small market was that the people who made me feel most comfortable were the people who just looked at me and smiled.
And it totally took away my angst of being in this little very local market, actually surrounded by two armed guards, and now when I'm going into meetings and I see people I don't know or -- I always smile and just say, "Hi," because you never know what their differences are that day. They might have had a bad night's sleep, or something might be going on with them. But I'm very aware of going into a meeting and trying to make sure that I smile and then make people feel included.
I'm not always perfect, but I'm always trying to remind myself, the start of a meeting is when you're going to make people feel included, and then watch.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: I love that story. It sounds like both through your international experience, but also as a people manager, just starting your working session by acknowledging your humanity, like we're all here for a common purpose, but it's grounded in our humanity, and we can work from that as our point of similarity here.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: Yes.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: It's a strong foundation.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: And I always remember that every single person in the morning, I generally think everybody gets up and thinks, "You know, today, I'm going to do my best." And they're not here to upset me, they're here just to do their best. And if they have upset me, it's probably me, not them. And so I'm always thinking about how, you know, I know everybody's here trying to do their very best, and so how do we just remember that, even if the moments get a little bit tense and some of the technical discussions get a little tough?
SONIA DARA: You've been in program management here at Microsoft for over 14 years, which is awesome. What has kept you committed to the company for that length of time?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: Oh, my gosh. Microsoft is an incredible company. I love the way that people are just there to make a difference, it feels like to me. And it's an incredible difference that we can make if we're all rowing together in the right way. And I love the culture change and the way Satya's leading our company right now. I'm just -- I'm actually reading his book right now, and I'm feeling even more inspired by how he's thinking about the company and thinking about Microsoft as a platform for good.
And that is one of my real passions -- to make sure that we have a great representation of women in technology. When I went through university, I think I was -- there were either two or three of us out of a class of 100.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Wow.
SONIA DARA: Whoa.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: And so I really want to see more people being able to have this incredible career because it's a very empowering career. I find this career is one that's technical interesting, that's technical challenging, but it's also really, really good, believe it or not, to be able to balance being a mom and being able to have this career.
You know, I can drop my kid off at school, and it doesn't really matter if I get to work at 8:00 most days or if I get to work at 10:00, but I'm here to do my job, and nobody is measuring, you know, exactly how long I'm here. I can choose to put in time late at night.
So I find this a very empowering career and a really great career for women. So I love the fact that Microsoft has a platform where we can make a big difference in the world and a big difference in empowering everybody to be their best, and everybody to achieve more.
And I just absolutely believe in the mission. And I think that's what keeps me here. Every year, my new year's resolution will pop up, and I look around and I look at the incredible things all of our competitors are doing and all the other big companies are doing, and I look at my own job and double down to make sure that this is what I want to do.
And every time I think, "Yes, I love the way Microsoft is thinking about the world, and that's what keeps me here."
SONIA DARA: So, also, during your time here, you've come to hold two patents, which is amazing -- an incredible achievement, considering stats from the Institute for Women's Policy Research demonstrates that more than 81 percent of patents include no women inventors, and that women aren't expected to reach parity in patenting until the year 2092.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: Oh, wow. I didn't know that.
SONIA DARA: Crazy statistic. So how do you think we can move that needle on that number a little bit more quickly?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: Gosh, I didn't know that was a number. You know, I think that we all need to be thinking about and helping pick out the ideas that women have. The thing about the two patents, I was reflecting as you were saying that. I was working with a really incredible engineer on those patents. And he actually spent a lot of time, as I'm really reflecting on the moment now, giving me the confidence that I could do it and this should be my work. And he was helping me draw out the ideas, and we co-collaborated. And he -- actually thinking about it, I seem to remember he had a wall full of patents.
And so he was really helping lead me through and co-collaborate and gave me the confidence.
SONIA DARA: That's great.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: And so I think that we need to encourage each other and need to make sure that we're helping to pick out the ideas from everybody and make sure that we are involving people in those discussions, because sometimes it's easy just to sit there and watch, and honestly, my internal voice a lot of the time is busily telling me I'm not quite good enough, and when is somebody going to find me out? And when is somebody going to give me a call and tell me I really don't deserve that PhD? All these years later, I still wonder that.
And so the thing is that this person gave me so much confidence to not have that little voice on my shoulder. And I'm sure everybody -- male and female -- everybody has that little self-doubt all the time. How is it you don't talk yourself down, but make sure you're helping talk other people up?
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Yeah, "imposter syndrome" is the buzzword that I hear most often to describe that experience.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: Exactly. Yes.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Sonia and I recently interviewed a Microsoft employee named Scott Hanselman, who introduced us to this phrase called "lending your privilege." As you were talking through your patent experience, it sounds like that very tenured, experienced patent inventor was sharing a little bit of that with you in coaching you through the ideas.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: Yes, he was my developer counterpart at the time, and I was a very new program manager, but he and I had a kernel of quite a good little idea. And, you know, that's what he did, you're absolutely right.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Katharine, you've worked not only here in the U.S., but also Australia and Denmark after completing your schooling in New Zealand. And it sounds like you've had many opportunities to travel, including your experience in Africa. What drove you to seek out those international experiences? And how do you think that living away from your home country has impacted the perspectives that you bring to the table in your job at Microsoft?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: Well, the very first experience was in Denmark, and that was between my master's and my PhD, actually. And doing what we call in New Zealand a big "OE," overseas experience, is sort of a rite of passage of kiwis. You all take a break at some stage and go off and live in Europe or backpack around -- it's something you just sort of do. Often, you do it between school and university, and sometimes after university.
I decided I wanted to do it after I finished university, because a lot of my friends were going straight from school to university, and I decided that was the right thing to do, and also, of course, I had heavy encouragement from my mom that I would go straight to university -- and my dad, of course. But there was sort of an expectation. Always just knew I was going to university, whatever that was from a very young age. And so I went through and did that.
And then we had family connections in Denmark and they helped set me up with a job. And I decided that it would be a great experience to go there, and I wanted to earn money while I was actually doing my big OE, rather than just kind of backpacking around on no budget whatsoever.
The very interesting thing about that very first job, I was a master's of electrical engineering, and I showed up at this company and they took one look at me and said, "We hadn't realized you're female, we don't have any females in the engineering team, so you have to go to marketing."
SONIA DARA: What?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: And so I went and worked in the marketing department and spent the first year proving myself that I could do engineering and I would go down and volunteer on the engineering floor.
SONIA DARA: Oh, my God.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: And then, eventually, they decided that I actually was going to be a pretty good engineer, and they invited me to join the engineering team after they saw me unblock the photocopier and all sorts of things.
Many, many years later, I got to become very good friends with the CEO of that company, and he has multiple times done a double face palm saying, "I cannot believe we did that to a young engineer that our first thing was, you need to go to marketing because you're female."
SONIA DARA: In June of last year, you promoted a gender inclusiveness summit to the women of Windows and Devices. And it was designed to teach attendees about Hack for Her. Can you speak a bit more about your involvement with Hack for Her and the opportunities around building products with women in mind?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: Well, you know, the Hack for Her initiative was started by another female engineer at Microsoft. And I saw that and I was, like, "Gosh, I wish I'd thought of that, but I'm going to promote that's an incredible idea."
And we promoted it and made sure that women of Windows and Devices Group actually knew about it. And, you know, the thing I find interesting about building products for women is that they're often useful for absolutely everyone.
So I was reading or listening to the hotel business where people put in better lighting and mirrors so women could do their makeup, and stronger hair dryers, and little kind of bits within that hotel that female really enjoyed, and it turned out, all the men loved it as well -- everybody loved it.
And so I can't help thinking that that can transform itself in software as well, that there are things that may be seen as more women specific, but actually once everybody gets ahold of them, they're amazing and useful for absolutely everybody.
So I think that in order to have products that are useful for everybody in the world, it's really great to think through all the different people who create them and who actually are going to use them and all the different applications, and not be too kind of siloed in what we think is going to work for ourselves.
SONIA DARA: So it's been very inspiring to see you dedicate time and energy to building culture on your broader team, and particularly in your leadership of the Women of the Windows and Devices Group. What specific initiatives have you been most passionate in your work to build in that particular group? And why have decided to prioritize that work?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: So I decided to prioritize that work because I know what it's like to be a female in technology. I don't know what it's like to be every female in technology, but I know what it's like to be this one. And I know a lot of things that helped me along the way. And I remember being a young engineer and even a not-so-young engineer just looking up at the people who reached out and helped me.
And I do just think it's so important to pay it forward. And my mother always instilled in me, "Much is expected of whom much is given." And she just constantly reminded us that she gave us amazing opportunities, amazing education, amazing loving family, and so much was expected of us, and much more of it is expected of us because we really did have so many educational and a beautiful family life full of love and laughter and everything else.
And so she has a huge ability and drive to give back, and that's in many ways instilled in me. And I figured that helping other women was something that I could give back in the context of this role that I'm doing now, and that Microsoft is an incredible platform to make a difference for other people, to give it right here and be a shining example, then we would help other people lead the way and see that it was really an opportunity.
So some of the things I'm are proud of is, I believe, some of the training that we have enabled like e-courses because it's sort of -- they're small groups, but they would end up learning so much and getting so much confidence.
Some of the Meet Our Leader series, I had a really incredible call from somebody the other day saying how much -- even though it was a big kind of mentoring and somewhat impersonal in some ways to listen to a leader, how much he got out of it. But just the little, tiny differences we have managed to make in people, and then also being visible.
I have had so many people just come and say, "Can I have mentoring? Can I spend a little bit of time with you? I'm having trouble, what do you think?" And just the little one-off touches that you know you've helped somebody.
And my payback, really, is when somebody years later calls and says, "Oh, my gosh, you don't realize how much that impacted me. Thank you." And you just realize one little step at a time.
And I think it's a worthwhile cause because being a female in technology is such an empowering career, and you can balance so much. You can, you know, maybe not have it all because there's so much to juggle, but it's such an empowering career for females. And I just want people to know that it's actually possible and that it's a very viable and fantastic thing to be involved in.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: And the Meet Our Leaders series that you mentioned, were you inviting just women leaders in the organization, or what was your approach there?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: I mean, it really started off many years ago when a few of us got together and decided we really wanted to have a one-on-one mentoring session with some CVP at the time, and we were quite junior engineers.
And we all got together and said, well, if we just call that person or e-mail them and say, "Can I have a mentoring session?" they're going to look at us sideways and say, "No." But if I said -- they probably wouldn't have said no, but that was what we thought.
But we figured if we said we're going to bring 30 of our best friends along, that they would definitely say yes because that was one-to-many, and that would seem like a good use of their time.
And we grew it from there. It started off with 30 of us always meeting, and then I thought, well, we should throw out the privilege to everybody and just invite everybody.
And it's very interesting. Sometimes we would get -- a huge group of women would turn up, and every now and again we'd have a male leader come in, and they would walk in and say, "Am I the only man in the room?" And I would say, "Yep."
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: How does it feel? (Laughter.)
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: And they'd look at me and I'd say, "It's all going to be fine, we're all friendly."
SONIA DARA: Love it.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: And it was a really -- I sort of viewed it as an experience both ways for both the leader, male or female, and also as kind of a different experience if you've been in some of these big technology meetings when you look around and there's only one or two people like you. Instead, there's a whole room like you. You realize there's a lot of women in technology right now, and that's incredible.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: It is incredible.
SONIA DARA: As listeners might be able to hear, you're from New Zealand, and a quick scroll through your Twitter feed reveals that you're a proud kiwi. I know those proud kiwis. How does your cultural identity show up in the workplace?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: We sort of have this thing in New Zealand that you can fix anything with some baling twine and some number-eight fencing wire. (Laughter.) So it's kind of -- we call it "kiwi ingenuity."
I think part of it that shines through for me a little bit is that often I approach a problem without a definite idea of how we're going to fix it or deal with it, but I look at it as, "Okay, well, here's a problem, how fun." Let's try and figure out how to fix it.
And so I don't, obviously, have some baling twine or number-eight fencing me with me at my work every day.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: What?
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: Or even on my desk, perhaps I should.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: No way.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: But I do sometimes draw that analogy on how is it you're going to make this work and how can you be creative about making it work, and then generally happy that problems come along and that I'm given them and people have enough faith in me that I can go ahead and fix them.
So I think kiwis are -- I sort of see the light-hearted side of life more often than not, I think. And so I think that's what I bring to work probably -- and a few kiwi jokes.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Katharine, where can people find you on the Internet? Maybe you're tweeting these funny kiwi jokes somewhere.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: You know, I do have a Twitter account. I'm not very good at it. I'm actually right at this moment, quite honestly, not very present on the Internet. I probably should be more so.
For the last six to eight months, I've been very, very focused on the fact that I've got an incredible nine-year-old boy and I'm just really aware that every moment with him is very precious, and that when he maybe reaches the point where he doesn't want to see so much of mom, then I can spend a whole lot more time on the Internet. But in the short term, I'm somewhat sporadic.
You can occasionally see me appear on Twitter if I'm not spending quite that much time with my son.
SONIA DARA: Love it.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: So I'm not as good as I should be right now.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Well, that's a great answer, regardless.
SONIA DARA: Yes.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Katharine, thank you so much for joining us in the studio today. It's been an absolute pleasure, I really enjoyed our conversation.
SONIA DARA: Thank you so much joining us in the studio.
KATHARINE HOLDSWORTH: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
SONIA DARA: It's bene an absolute blast co-hosting this episode of the Windows Insider Podcast, but it's time to hand the keys back to Dona. If you want to check out our show, Women in Business and Technology, we'll include a link in the description of this episode.
COLLEEN O'BRIEN: Thanks, Insiders.
DONA SARKAR: I love Katharine's story. She's built an empowering career for herself in tech. I also want to share the stories of a couple of Insiders who are building inspiring careers of their own.
I'd like you to meet Aylin Atay, an IT pro with a long career in the tech industry, and Emily Bui, a student at Cal State Fullerton, pursuing a bachelor's degree in computer science.
Aylin, I'll start with you. I'd like to talk to you a little bit about the IT industry. You've been working in IT for a while, right?
AYLIN ATAY: Correct.
DONA SARKAR: Can you tell me a little bit about your history and what's been a few interesting experiences you've had throughout this career in technology?
AYLIN ATAY: My career in tech has been a really empowering experience overall. Personally, it allowed me to move freely and create a life of intent and balance. And it also left some room to keep learning and being creative in other areas that I'm interested in life.
So in that sense, I have been part of an intersection of a social impact and technology organization that was maybe not the norm as far as the IT industry and what's going out there.
Mine has been probably just one of the best experiences because I had the most supportive colleagues -- male and female -- in my field that I've learned a lot from.
DONA SARKAR: That's really cool. What kind of social impact?
AYLIN ATAY: I work for YWCA Southeast Wisconsin. And the mission of the organization is eliminating racism and empowering women. And I've been with the organization about 17 years now.
DONA SARKAR: What do you think are the major changes you've seen in our industry over the last 17 years?
AYLIN ATAY: Today, at the moment, our IT department is myself and two other women. And I think that maybe one of the changes we see is we have this writing on the wall that says, "Not all IT guys are guys." And I think we're, you know, still working on that. It's still evident in big organizations or conferences I go to. And when they make a major announcement, they only great, "Welcome, gentlemen," or the ads we see -- it's geared towards single gender usually.
DONA SARKAR: So, Emily, you're just about finishing your degree now. What has your experience been like throughout these years?
EMILY BUI: Finishing up my degree, it's been a really great adventure, I think, just being in this computer science program and community.
I actually, at one point, wanted to switch out of being in computer science just because of how difficult the major could be, how I thought there wasn't so much community in between the major itself, but just sticking through it and finding clubs and other people and communities such as the Windows Insider Program. It's really made me feel like a family.
DONA SARKAR: Cool.
EMILY BUI: And that really helped me stick with the program, making friends, meeting so many different people in the field. It's really inspired me to keep going, and even help other people who might have been in my position try to keep them staying in computer science. It's a great field to be in. And as I'm finishing my degree, I just hope I can make more of an impact to the incoming freshmen or anybody who is just switching or transferring to stick with it and come out into the world afterwards.
DONA SARKAR: I love that. That makes me really happy because I'm seeing so many more people getting into tech later in life as well, right? There are so many career-switchers. And I think that's very powerful because we need their experiences from these other industries and fields in tech.
I think it's so important for us to have other people coming into the tech industry, whether it's from police officering or finance or nonprofit or teaching, just to help us build better products.
So out of all the things you've done in college, what has been kind of the coolest project you've worked on, that you're just excited to share with people?
EMILY BUI: The most recent hackathon project my team and I were on. I had these great partners, and what they wanted to do was they want to develop a program using an embedded system, so like an Arduino or Raspberry Pi. And we were able to create a Python program being able to read on-screen text for the visually impaired.
So we would be able to take a vision API, which I believe was actually from Microsoft --
DONA SARKAR: Cool.
EMILY BUI: -- and we used that to be able to translate that over into, like, a Braille system that people could feel with their hands, instead. And I think that one was the coolest project, in my opinion, that we did.
DONA SARKAR: That's awesome, because it has actual impact on real people.
So, Aylin, how do you think the tech industry and IT industry can benefit from having just different kinds of people, not necessarily just women, but people from all around the world, people who are younger, people who are older, people with just different life experiences? How do you think we can benefit all up?
AYLIN ATAY: I think people's life experiences and how they've persevered, their background does contribute so much to the way they think, their work ethic, you know, what they bring to the table.
And if you were to just, you know, wipe out so many percentage of people, that brain power off the table, we're all losing at the end.
DONA SARKAR: That's right.
AYLIN ATAY: You know, we're losing as humankind. So this is, like you said, for everyone, it's not just women in STEM fields, it's for anyone who has felt as a minority and didn't feel like get an equal shake in certain situations.
It's really the people who are in the privileged positions need to start to realize the loss -- the loss of brain power, the loss of possibilities for future inventions. We're the ones who are missing out on all of that.
DONA SARKAR: I absolutely agree with you. And I think you and I, as people who are kind of senior in this industry, we are in a position of privilege because we do have a voice, we do have autonomy, we have experience, we have history, and we have reputation. And it's on us to make sure that other people's voices continue to be heard.
Through the Windows Insider Program, we strive to create a community that bolsters women in technology. As women in tech, can you tell us how you got started in this industry?
AYLIN ATAY: At the starting point for me, for getting into computers, so to speak, was my 12th birthday when I walked into my room and I found an Atari 64 sitting on my desk, purchased by my dear dad, you know, who has passed away now, and who finally gave in and, after me asking him many times, you know, just made that great moment possible.
I think that's changed my life. You know, that was a great step into getting into computer work. And then there was a pilot school for computer programming geared towards an all-girls school. And there were no high school teachers who were, at the time, trained or capable of teaching these courses. So there were TAs from a university in Istanbul who has come into class and taught just fundamentals of computer science.
Also, I high school, I had the chance to travel with a group of people. And we've taken our IBM 8086 computers with small monitors -- probably you were very young tip, Dona. (Laughter.)
DONA SARKAR: Not really, no. (Laughter.) No.
AYLIN ATAY: You probably don't remember this. So we traveled on a bus to south of Turkey, and taking these computers to classrooms and showing them the programs we wrote in Pascal, like lab graphics, doing kind of lab tests. These are really fond memories of, you know, and also a great foundation of my studies and career track in technology.
DONA SARKAR: I love that. I think what's so interesting about your story is mine is similar, where my dad actually introduced me to computers, as well. And I think there's a very pivotal role that dudes can play, if they are fathers of daughters. They should just introduce their daughters to technology early, and not just from a consuming point of view, but from a, "Yes, you, too, can create this. Obviously, it was created by humans, you're a human."
AYLIN ATAY: Yes.
DONA SARKAR: So go forth and create. Mine was always all about, like, "Yes, why not you exactly?" And, you know, other people say, "Oh, girls don't like math." He's, like, "No, you don't like math. My daughter likes math a lot." (Laughter.)
AYLIN ATAY: Uh-huh. (Affirmative.)
DONA SARKAR: So I think it was -- that's something very practical that men who have daughters and sons --
AYLIN ATAY: Yes.
DONA SARKAR: -- can do is introduce them to tech, because it's not going anywhere. It's almost like parents' responsibility. Introduce it early, introduce it young, talk about it a lot, not just consuming, watching TV or games or whatever, but actually creating.
AYLIN ATAY: Yes. And one last point I'd like to make about that kind of the beginning of my adventures in technology was that, you know, again, if my father played another pivotal role where this school that I was supposed to attend to, you know, you had to pass an exam with a certain score, and I just missed it. You know, I didn't make it through the exam, and I was on the waiting list.
And I remember, he took me to the school, we sat down and talked to the principal, and he has explained to them how much I'm interested in this and how much I really want to be in computers, and you know, lo and behold, it happened. I was accepted. And I did end up finishing as a valedictorian, you know, in the school.
DONA SARKAR: Wow, okay. They made a good choice.
AYLIN ATAY: So I just like to give this to the young people out there. You know, don't let tests or other things place a value on what type of, I don't know, person you are or learning track you're going to have.
DONA SARKAR: So, Emily, what prompted you to get into computer science in the first place?
EMILY BUI: I started off on the consumer side of it. When I was seven, just a little girl, my dad introduced me to Microsoft's console, the Xbox, and that just sparked something in my curiosity in the tech world. Just moving through, like, going into middle school, I would be one of those people that would change the My Space layout, or add a little graphic to some sort of a Web page.
And in high school, I got more interested, going into HTML learning, CSS learning, and I was actually on the fence about going into computer science, but my dad was the one who pushed me. He was, like, "No, you should do it. Like, there's not that many girls, you could be something to kind of start that off and really get into learning more in the tech industry."
DONA SARKAR: I love that story. I think it's so powerful to have role models in our life who believe in us, right? Whether they're male or female. And I tell women all the time, it's important to have female role models and mentors, but it's actually also important to have male role models and mentors, because I feel like men tend to not fixate on, "Oh, well, you're a girl, you can't do it." I haven't actually heard that openly. If I have, I would have punched them in the face. So I actually haven't heard that.
EMILY BUI: One of my leaders in my program, she had actually ran into an issue where some male students actually didn't want to go to her for help because they thought only male computer science would be better. And all my other male co-workers were, like, "No, this student is missing out. She's an amazing person to go through to get tutored in computer science, to get help from. She can give you a lot more insight that some of the other people you would just downgrade right away."
So I would say, you know, like those people who don't believe women are equal if not anymore, are missing out on a big part of the tech industry to come.
DONA SARKAR: I absolutely agree with you. And, honestly, it's their loss. It's, like, okay, you remain without the information you need to do your thing. So don't do that.
We've heard several stories today about how parents, moms and dads, can make such a difference in their children's lives and career paths. One big lesson here for everyone: If you have your own children or have children in your life, introduce them to technology, or just let them play video games, it's good for them. You never know where it will take them, and it could turn into their profession. You're welcome, gamers.
While the tech industry can provide a rewarding career for women as individuals, having a diverse workforce also benefits tech companies. With different kinds of people developing software, companies can deliver products that really meet the needs of all kinds of customers globally. It's really a competitive advantage for companies to hire people of all genders, educational backgrounds, races, and nationalities.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Windows Insider Podcast, the best podcast ever. We are going to tackle even more great subjects in the coming months, like how tech is improving accessibility, how mixed reality, best reality is changing the modern workplace, and so much more. Subscribe to keep up with the latest episodes.
Talk soon, folks, bye!
NARRATION: Our program today was produced by Microsoft Production Studios. The Insider team includes Tyler Ahn, Michelle Paison, and Amelia Greim.
Our website is insider.windows.com.
Support for the Windows Insider Podcast comes from Microsoft, empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.
Moral support and inspiration comes from Ninja Cat, reminding us to have fun and pursue our passions.
Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founders, Dona Sarkar and Jeremiah Marble.
Join us next month with more stories from Windows Insiders.