Women’s Leadership

Working Forward: Shannon Felton Spence, Brown University Master of Public Affairs Candidate

I always knew I wanted to grow up to be a part of the bigger picture. It is a privilege to be part of a community, and the power of the human connection is what makes a society strong. I never wanted to have just a job. Rather, I want to lead a career of consequence.

Through my post-college years, I weaved my way through various mission-driven positions in Boston. Then, in 2013, I joined the public affairs department at the British Consulate General, Boston. As a lifelong anglophile and challenge-taker, I was excited to represent the British government in the town that’s famous for kicking it out. Truly a dream job! My role was to promote British culture and policy throughout New England. I spent much of my time talking to and learning from local organizations – both in the private sector and NGOs – as well as government.

The fabric of diplomacy is built on connecting with others and finding opportunity through partnerships. There is an understanding that no one has the resources to go it alone. Initiatives are stronger when the responsibility is shared. Collaboration also leads to greater innovation and creative solutions.

In the UK, private sector involvement in the greater good dates back over 100 years. In 2017, it is understood that participation in society is linked with an organization’s standard operations. The US has also come a long way in recognizing the opportunity that exists for the private sector to play a key role in community advancement. Tackling the challenges of the 21st century requires coordination across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.  

I left my job at the British Consulate to study for my Master’s degree in Public Affairs. I chose Brown University for its historic commitment to social justice through creative solutions. Through my courses, I’ve learned about smart policy design and data-driven decision making. When it came time to complete my consultancy, I could think of no better place than Microsoft. I wanted to explore the private sector lens on community engagement and responsibility.

With its mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, Microsoft has demonstrated a real commitment to being part of civic solutions. Boston and Cambridge are hyperlocal cities with high levels of participation. There are so many people and organizations working toward a greater good. The Microsoft Technology and Civic Engagement (TCE) team has expertly navigated this ecosystem to form meaningful partnerships and drive impact. I am fascinated by the way their work around innovation equity is enhanced by their commitment to collaboration within and across sectors. It is truly diplomacy in action.

Data for Good – Joining a Team Effort


“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi

I was never much for team sports (I have lousy eyesight and scars from high school field hockey). But even football-obsessed coaches know that the world is better off when smart people with very different areas of expertise come together to tackle important problems. So I’m beyond thrilled to be joining the Board of DataKind because:

  • The DataKind staff are visionary about a new model to bring together different kinds of expertise to harness data science in the service of humanity, and they are creative and driven in refining and executing that model (see above image).  
  • The other Board members are smart, thoughtful people invested in helping a new organization innovate, succeed, and grow.  
  • The non-profits collaborating with DataKind on projects are dedicated to their missions and open to novel approaches to assessing challenges and interventions.  
  • The ecosystem of DataKind funders and subject matter experts bring a larger context on the systems, policies, institutions, tools, and research that shape where and how data science can contribute and how to integrate and scale the impact of DataKind projects.  
  • The DataKind volunteer network is a globally-distributed network of amazing, motivated individuals.  

DataKind’s website provides examples of what happens when DataKind catalyzes these elements into projects – from forecasting water demand during a drought to reducing injuries and deaths from traffic incidents or house fires to tailoring care for people with mental illnesses.  Learn about ways to get involved here.

This new year, I am grateful for the opportunity to become more deeply integrated into this ecosystem (team) and provide my perspective and skills however I can to help these organizations and individuals work together to make the world a better place.

Read more about Elizabeth’s board membership via DataKind.

“Now, How Can You Make It Better?” — Girls Who Code Empowering #WomenInTech


To me, #GirlsCan means there is nothing girls can’t do. It is not just a statement to prove that boys are not better than girls, or that girls can in fact do things. It is a statement that says, “Girls have, girls do, and girls will achieve amazing things, whether there are or aren’t obstacles ahead of us.”

My sophomore year of high school, the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani herself, came to my school — an all-girls school at that. She introduced us to her program, which we felt opened doors for us to explore limitless adventures as women in the field of tech. When I was a student in the GWC program, I was a part of the Twitter Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program, also in Cambridge. I thought the energy, learning environment, people, ideas I was exposed to, and of course my teacher and teacher assistants were incredible. My teacher and her assistants, who seemed to answer all of my questions, then proceeded to ask me, “Now, how can you make it better?” These few words become a part of my philosophy as a student, and now a teacher assistant.

This summer our students, rising juniors and seniors in high school, are touching on topics like algorithms and encryption, and are plowing through programs like Scratch, Python, HTML/CSS and web design, JavaScript, and this week robotics and Arduino. After taking part in the program as a student, I was shaken by the possibilities that could become realities with the new knowledge at my fingertips. This was what lead me to understand why it is important to teach people how to code. In this day and age, with technology taking over anything and everything, learning to code is equivalent to understanding how to play with the building blocks of everything that could ever be created. The education of coding is important to learn because it is the base of almost everything that we use today. But with that, it is not just a skill, it is a thought process. It is not just languages to become fluent in, it is learning how to think of things in several different ways and using what is most advantageous within your given set of tools, and being efficient.

However, teaching women to code, specifically, is incredibly critical because we are underrepresented in the field. This may seem like just a number, but women represent more than half of the world and are shown to be less than half of the people that can use these building blocks coding gives us to change our world. A lack of representation is a lack of perspective, it is a lack of new ideas, and a limit to the change that can be created.

 FullSizeRender (3)Jasmine Hyppolite is a rising senior in high school from Providence, Rhode Island. She was part of the 2015 Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program at Twitter and is now a teacher assistant for the 2016 summer program at Microsoft. She is planning to major in Computer Science in college and hopes to inspire students to do the same.

Voices of Change — Keeping Everyone Connected and Healthy

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. We are inspired by the local leaders who make diversity a priority in their daily work. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’re honored to celebrate women in our community who are carrying out the mission of civic engagement, leadership and empowering other women.

— MSNE Staff

Sharon Gillett

As Principal Networking Policy Strategist at Microsoft, I am blessed to spend my time translating technology innovation into practice. I appreciate the opportunities I’ve got in a company of Microsoft’s scale to work on big problems. There is amazing work being done at Microsoft Research. I work with teams focusing on healthcare and internet connectivity, helping them bring that technology into the real world. We’re looking to overcome the barriers of policy, economics, and more to make sure everyone is connected and healthy.

I love solving problems, and there’s hardly any more powerful way to do that than through technology, because it’s such a fantastic tool. I started my career in networking; it was all about connecting people in new, different, and more efficient ways. There are still at least four billion people on this planet who are not connected to the Internet. I was interested in connecting people in new ways when I started my first job writing software for the ARPANET, and as long as there are still people left to connect, I’m still working on it.

Recently I’ve expanded my focus to healthcare, which is less about connecting people and more about using technology to help us live healthier and more productive lives. It’s also about a broader societal problem, which is making our healthcare system more efficient and productive. Having the opportunity to apply the skills I have to something that is so important to individuals, and that is beneficial to both society and our economy, is great. I like the idea that I’m helping Microsoft to do well by doing good.

Right now, I’m seeing two trends with women in healthcare. The first is about women working in healthcare. There are more women employed in healthcare than in technology. So what happens when you marry the two? I’m seeing efforts to boost the number of women CIOs in healthcare, for example — ensuring women are just as well represented in the technology aspects of medicine as in delivering care.

A second trend reminds me of the saying about “old wine in new bottles.” In this case, the old wine is the long-standing issue that women – and children and minorities for that matter – have too often been left out of patient cohorts for medical research, and if research isn’t done on a diverse group of patients, healthcare isn’t delivered well to all groups of people. The “new bottle” in this case is genomics. We’re seeing that when people do genomics research, if they don’t have a diverse data set, they get the wrong answers about, say, what a mutation means in the genome and whether it’s something rare or common. Some of our researchers have focused on statistical techniques that give more accurate results no matter what, and this kind of work is very important to patients of all genders and ethnicities.

Encouraging women to pursue careers in technology is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, and one on which I have two key thoughts. The first is one of simple economics: women need to be aware at a very early age that technology is already a major driver of the economy — and likely to become even more so in the future. What I’ve observed is that very bright women just don’t get exposed to coding. Microsoft has a lot of efforts to counter that, including supporting the Hour of Code through Code.org and other groups that are trying to bring coding specifically to young women. I think what needs to be said is that you’re not just coding because it’s cool; you’re coding because it’s a foundation of our economy and everybody needs to know it. There are different paths people can take based on code. You don’t necessarily have to become a software engineer, but you do need to know what code is all about, how it works, and understand enough about it to be in the industry.

The second key point is that young women need to understand that there’s bias everywhere, in every industry. That’s not unique to technology. It’s unique to human nature, and you need to prepare yourself for that. A lot of people go in naively, thinking, “It won’t happen to me,” or, “Things are different now.” Things are different now, but bias persists. It persists in different forms, and all over our society. We have to stop pretending that it’s not going to happen to us and we need to prepare ourselves. We need to expect it, learn how to deal with it, and learn to be a little tough to protect ourselves from the emotional drain it can take.

I learned to toughen myself by realizing that it’s not about me. This is not a personal thing, it’s a societal thing. If you take it personally, it’s easy to get bummed out. But if you can step back from that and realize that bias is everywhere, it becomes a little easier to deal with. Once you realize the problem isn’t something wrong with you, it becomes clearer that we all need to work to counter the effects of bias everywhere in society.

Being a leader in technology means looking ahead. It also means crossing boundaries. One of the things I’ve done for a long time is made myself hard to pigeonhole. And I mean that in a positive way! Most problems are not problems of just technology, or just politics, or just economics. They blend all of these elements, and we need to look through all of these perspectives to solve them. One thing that makes me impatient is when people say, “I have a great technology. It’s going to solve all of the world’s problems.” I would say it differently: “I have a great new technology. It has the potential to meet some people’s needs better than before, and let’s see how well it addresses other dimensions of their problems.” It’s easy to forget how important people and their social environment are to technology adoption. There are also economic dimensions and interests involved. We have to look at the full picture in order to understand how a technology can improve things.

That’s what leaders do. They integrate, they look across, they hear other people’s perspectives — they don’t look at things one-dimensionally. You need to have all of those perspectives if you’re going to accomplish meaningful change.

SharonGillett_HiResAt Microsoft Research, Sharon Gillett translates world-leading technologies into practice in the domains of healthcare, biomedicine, and Internet connectivity. Prior to Microsoft, her experience includes leadership positions in federal and state government, academic research and the technology industry.

As Chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau at the US Federal Communications Commission, Sharon led staff work on network neutrality and achieved significant reforms to support broadband Internet access through the Universal Service Fund. As Massachusetts’ first Commissioner of Telecommunications and Cable and first Director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, she spearheaded successful efforts to secure and deploy legislative funding to develop broadband access in underserved areas of the state. As a Principal Research Associate at MIT, she researched and taught telecommunications policy and directed an industry partnership program. As a software engineer, Sharon developed massively parallel text-mining software at Thinking Machines Corporation, and at BBN Communications, she wrote congestion control software for the ARPANET, precursor to the Internet.

Sharon earned a Sloan MBA and an MS in Technology and Policy from MIT, and an AB in Physics from Harvard.

Microsoft Retail Stores Celebrate National Entrepreneurship Week

This past week, we celebrated National Entrepreneurship Week at Microsoft retail stores throughout the New England region. Local Microsoft retail stores in Boston, Burlington, and Natick welcomed organizations from the budding Boston business community of start-ups.  The Microsoft stores add value and support by offering endless community engagement opportunities.  Early stage start-ups, serial entrepreneurs, and higher education students came together to share best practices and entrepreneurial experiences. Each event opened with a prominent keynote speaker followed by discussions directed at three or four carefully-selected panelists.

Microsoft stores host small business events to provide more opportunities for professionals to network and share resources. For example, in March, Microsoft retail stores will celebrate National Women’s History Month by holding a Business Mixer for Women Business Owners. During National Entrepreneurship Week, Microsoft promotes your entrepreneurial spirit to kick-start your business or get your idea up and running as a start-up! Most notably, the stores host daily events during National Small Business Week the first week of May. See you soon!

The Natick Mall, Burlington Mall, and the Shops at Prudential Center are home to three Microsoft store locations.  Along with Massachusetts, New England’s Microsoft stores are located in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

Lisa Casillo is a Community Development Specialist at the Microsoft store in the Natick Mall. We do it all! Business workshops and events – you’re covered. STEM programs and coding camps – we do that, too! The best part about being a Community Development Specialist is that there is no ONE part. We wear a lot of hats and love every minute of it!

Jennifer Chayes Receives Honorary Doctorate from Leiden University


Earlier this week, Jennifer Chayes, managing director and distinguished scientist of Microsoft’s New England and New York research labs, was honored by Leiden University with an Honorary Doctorate. It’s very rare that Leiden University bestows an Honorary Doctorate to an individual who isn’t a professor, but this news comes as no surprise to us, as Jennifer has excelled in her 20 years at Microsoft. As a leading researcher in the fields of statistical physics, stochastics and discrete mathematics, she has made major contributions to Microsoft — and to other female researchers inspired by her work and leadership. All of us here at Microsoft New England congratulate Jennifer on this honor.

Read more about Jennifer’s honor — and her achievements — on the Leiden University website.

Event Recap — DigiGirlz Day in Cambridge


On Friday, March 6th, Microsoft New England held our annual DigiGirlz Day at our Kendall Square office with 130 attendees, providing middle and high school girls with a better understanding of careers in technology.

We had a great day using Twitter (#DigiGirlzMA) and giving away fun prizes including a Surface raffle.

We started off the day with an inspiring Keynote from Lydia Smyers, Senior Director, US Education Marketing & Programs as well as an introduction to careers at the retail stores with Carin Kuehl, Human Resource Manager, Northeast Stores

Students were loving workshops featuring everything from Game Development with TouchDevelop taught by Eliza Mulcahy and Lisa Casillo from the Microsoft Store to an Hour of Code (Construct 2) with DX’s Gavin Bauman to a Social Media Workshop with Social Media Strategists and entrepreneurs, Lauren Metter, Lyssa Goldberg and team from Metter Media.  They also were excited to see our innovation in technology at the MTC’s Envisioning & Interactive Center with Hitakshi Nanavaty and Chad Gronbach.  At lunch, the girls also had a valuable Career Discussion with college interns from our campus Foundry program.

 “Our school began offering a programming elective last year and we found very quickly that the stigmas around computer programming young students have, especially girls, are real to them and sometimes hard to break,” said Adam Newall, Computer Programming/Math Applications teacher at Pembroke Community Middle School. “DigiGirlz was incredibly effective at showing our female students these are skills leading to an exciting future which is open to anyone.  To say they had a great time would be a tremendous understatement.  They loved every minute of the day from hearing other young women talk about the exciting careers in technology to trying their hand at making a game.  The group of girls who went have been talking about it nonstop!”  

“The girls had an awesome day,” said Sasha Lu, Associate Director of Program Collaborations at the Girl Scouts of Eastern MA. “They asked if they could live here.”    

Special thanks to others involved in helping to make our event a success: Allison Knight, Erin Beauregard, Jessica Borislow, Aster Hishe, Jenn Kwiatkowski, George Matthews, and John Harlow.

The #WomenInTech of Microsoft New England


This week, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, is speaking at the Grace Hopper Conference, a celebration of women in computing in Phoenix, Arizona.  Microsoft is one of the event’s platinum sponsors.

As I understand it, the number of attendees at this year’s conference is nearly double last year’s.  That gives you a sense of the kind of progress we’re making in raising awareness for more women to pursue STEM careers.

I feel very fortunate to work with some truly phenomenal women here at Microsoft New England.  We have a number of women in leadership positions, including: Annmarie Levins (General Manager, Technology and Civic Engagement), Jennifer Chayes (Managing Director, Microsoft Research) and Julie Bennett (Development Director & Site Leader, Microsoft New England). In addition, women like Raji, Yun, Cathy and Dena represent engineering, legal & corporate affairs and real estate roles at Microsoft.  All of these women serve as role models to me; they are intelligent, thoughtful, reliable and fun to work with.

I was particularly proud to see another fantastic woman from Microsoft recognized by Glamour Magazine’s 35 Women Under 35 Who are Changing the Tech Industry.  Congratulations to Hanna Wallach, a Microsoft researcher and assistant professor in the School of Computer Science at UMass Amherst. You can learn more about Hanna and her work here.

Kudos to Glamour for recognizing these amazing women in technology!  Check out Hanna and the 34 other women Glamour featured here.

Hanna is certainly a role model for girls and young women.  If you have children or students who you’d like to inspire to pursue a STEM-based career, here are some local resources. 

1.)   MassCAN CS Sparks: A group of computer science (CS)-focused STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) student leaders who share the goal of spreading computer science education to K-12 students.  Head to their website for upcoming events.

2.)  Science Club for Girls: Science Club for Girls connects thousands of bright, young women from underrepresented groups with female mentors to inspire them to pursue careers in science. From building rockets to building self-confidence, Science Club for Girls is doing its part to build a sisterhood of future scientists.

3.)  Microsoft Stores in Boston, Burlington and Natick – Yes, the Microsoft Store!  The store hosts dozens of free training classes for K-12 students and teachers including video game programming, digital storytelling and Microsoft Office skills.

This is a small sample of the programs available for students in MA.  A list of additional programs has been compiled by The Mass Tech Leadership Council Education Foundation: masstlcef.org.

Staff Spotlight: Nancy Baym

Nancy_BaymName: Nancy Baym 

Hometown: Urbana, Illinois

Job: Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research

Years at Microsoft: 2

Favorite restaurant in the Boston area: That’s a hard call! I quite like Helmand in Cambridge and Sichuan Gourmet in Brookline.

Last thing you Binged: I was looking for articles about the new album by the Spanish singer-songwriter Nacho Vegas.

Something cool you’ve worked on recently: I’ve been interviewing musicians about their relationships with audiences. I think that counts as cool!

What inspires you about technology? I’m fascinated by the ways that it opens possibilities for people to interact with one another and the ways people manage to overcome the obstacles technologies pose in order to connect in meaningful ways. Perhaps that is what inspires me about people more than about technology.

What problem would you like to see technology solve? I am not a big believer in technology as a solution, but I think it can help *people* solve problems, and in that regard I would sure like to see us use technology to connect across boundaries and lessen the racism, sexism, and all the other –isms that keep us apart and lead to hatred and violence.

BU’s Artemis Project Visits Microsoft New England: An Interview with Soon-to-be 9th Graders Victoria Shen & Madaleine Cutone

(L) Madaleine Cutone, soon-to-be 9th grader at Newton North High School; (R) Victoria Shen, soon-to-be 9th grader at Quincy High Schools

(L) Madaleine Cutone (R) Victoria Shen | soon-to-be 9th graders at Newton North and Quincy High Schools

On July 11, Microsoft New England welcomed BU’s Artemis Project to our Technology Center and New England Research & Development (NERD) Center. The Artemis Project is a five-week summer program that introduces rising ninth grade girls to computer science, directed by undergraduate women at BU.

We’re always pumped to get kids excited about technology—and these kinds of hands-on experiences are what STEM education’s all about. You know, ditch the textbooks for a walk-through exploration of real-life researchers and their cool creations: from capturing the world in 3-D with Photosynth, to Bing Health & Fitness apps to playing and drawing on giant Surface boards with Surface Pens.

We got the chance to chat with two of the girls: soon-to-be ninth graders Victoria Shen and Madaleine Cutone, who’ll be attending Quincy High School and Newton North High School (respectively) this fall. Here’s what the girls had to say about their visit to Microsoft:

Microsoft New England: Why did you join The Artemis Project?

Victoria: I have always been interested in working with computers, and when my science teacher recommended me to join this program, I jumped at that opportunity to expand my knowledge about computers.

Madaleine: I wanted to learn about different types of Technology and Engineering fields to prepare me for college at first, but I had also realized that I had had a lot of success in my Tech Ed. and science classes at school. I decided to expand on that success and look further into the engineering and technology fields.

MSNE: What was your favorite thing about your visit to Microsoft New England?

V: My favorite part of my visit to Microsoft New England was getting the tour of the Exploratorium and getting to try out some of the things. The robot that takes your picture is so cool!!!

M: My personal favorite thing to do there was to play around on all of the different devices. I enjoyed getting to explore the way that Microsoft’s devices were programmed and put together.

MSNE: What was your favorite piece of technology that you used?

V: The Surface. It’s so cool that it’s a device that can easily change into a tablet or a laptop!

M: Cortana, the voice control option on many of Microsoft’s devices. It was interesting to me that Cortana didn’t obligate the user to say specific facts about the piece of information that they wanted to acquire.

MSNE: What do you want to be when you grow up?

V: I used to want to be a teacher, but now thanks to the Artemis Project, I think I want to be an IT Specialist.

M: I want to be a computer scientist when I grow up, but I think I would also enjoy working in the biomedical field.