Most people would consider it a tall task to try and make the world a better place. Ayşegül Yönet, however, is trying to make life better in this world — and the digital one.
“I work with both AI and spatial computing,” says Yönet, a senior cloud developer advocate at Microsoft AI/ML who joined the company in early 2019. “We all crave imaginary worlds; we help people see it in the real world.”
Yönet, who segued into her career relatively late, is impacting the real world daily on causes she feels passionate about — including ageism, female advancement, STEM instruction for children, and computer literacy as a means for prison inmates and human trafficking survivors to improve their lives. Passionate about the equal representation of all races, ages, and genders in the tech industry, she is also thrilled by the possibilities of Mixed Reality applications — and determined to provide access to all.
Anytime is the right time
“School didn’t work out so well,” Yönet admits, looking back on her non-traditional path to becoming a developer, one that has become increasingly more common in the years since. “I went for a master’s degree and took multiple classes. I was getting A’s, but not really learning anything. So, I went to a boot camp instead, which was much more intensive. I learned how to do things so much faster.”
She had already been a designer, doing 3D animations, when she moved to the Bay Area and went the boot camp route for programming. In retrospect, coupled with her previous experience, Yönet says the boot camp experience was a smart choice.
“At the time, boot camps were very new; there are many of them now to choose from,” she explains, offering advice for others. “One thing boot camps do that universities never do is they give you the statistics about their graduates — how many of them graduate, how many of them start and not finish. That is an essential element because sometimes to keep their numbers high they keep out people from programs. So, it is especially important to ask about the success rate at the end of the program, and to do some research beforehand into what they’ll be teaching.”
Following her years as a software engineer and animator, Yönet successfully made the transition — and nowadays, she is eager to tell others that it is never too late for a career shift.
“I’ve had a non-traditional path, and I got my first working job when I was much older than usual in this industry. So, I want to share that knowledge, that you can do this anytime, at any age.”
Every day, Yönet helps build AI-infused Mixed Reality applications for HoloLens 2, as well as Augmented Reality applications for Android products. But she is also helping to shape the real world around her, signing up for the Black Technology Mentorship Program, just one of several programs where she has used her professional skills to improve the lives of others.
“I am one of the founders of an organization called Code for Good,” she says of the hackathon founded in 2016, focusing on educational non-profits. She has also been involved with groups like AnnieCannons (teaching human trafficking survivors how to code), Black Girls Code (empowering girls of color to become innovators in STEM fields), Girl Develop It (a nonprofit devoted to getting women the materials they need to pursue careers in software development) and Women Who Code (an international non-profit providing services for women pursuing careers in tech).
“There are lots of other organizations bringing together developers and the projects that need them, for example, financial advice or educational programs,” she says of such efforts.
But Yönet especially appreciates it when her professional work and personal interests align.
“I used to work with residents of the San Quentin prison here in the Bay Area through Last Mile organization,” she says of one passion project. “We worked with people who have been there for a long time but are about to go back to real life and need a job. Some of these people had not used computers in their whole life. Some of them had never seen Google, Facebook, or other technologies because when they went to prison these technologies did not exist.”
Looking back on the experience, she adds: “It was rewarding to see people with no access to technology, build complex applications. That reminded me that at any time, at any age, people can learn.”
More to do
“Too often, we think it’s too late to learn or make a switch in our career,” says Yönet. “It’s never too late.”
This is particularly true, she says, when you work at a company that embraces career growth, allyship, and opportunity. “When I came to Microsoft, I was attracted to the talent in place that Microsoft has. I knew most of the people, they were known teachers and experts in the industry, and I really wanted to work with them,” she says. “The HoloLens Mixed Reality glasses are very interesting to me, and our AI and services have a wide variety of products that make it really easy for people who aren’t familiar with AI to use it and be productive right away.”
She hopes that as Microsoft continues to develop an alternate virtual world, it empowers diverse groups to improve their realities in the real world. She is also thankful for a team that surrounds her with the equal representation of races, ages, and genders that she hopes to mirror through such efforts.
“At first, I was not expecting the diversity of my office; I was nicely surprised by that,” she explains. “I’d worked in Silicon Valley for the last eight years, and this is the first time I’ve had female engineer co-workers doing the same thing I do. I had worked with one hundred percent male companies before. So, this is a pleasant surprise.”
It is a difference, she says, that was not only noticeable right away, but also more reflective of the Bay Area community. “Even beyond male/female, there is every kind of diversity inside my office, particularly in San Francisco,” she explains. “And when you go outside the office, it looks exactly the same.”
In her daily efforts — both in the real world and the virtual one — Yönet is similarly determined to eliminate boundaries of race, age, and gender. “There’s always more to do, for sure,” she says. “But Microsoft is doing something right, and that’s pleasant to see.”
If you are interested in joining Yönet and our Microsoft community that is inspired to empower others, Bay Area job openings can be found here: https://aka.ms/MicrosoftBayAreaCareers.