Building a community of women who work in technology – hosted by Betsy Speare, Jennifer Marsman & Helene Love Snell

Archive for October, 2011

5 Reasons Women in Tech Benefit from Building Community

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Windows Server Microsoft, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer!

The best part of managing this blog is that I get to post whenever I want  – and believe me I  am getting some great articles – we might even increase to 2x week – we’ll see!  So far the feedback has been fantastic – everyone is so excited and the guest bloggers have been inspiring!   It’s so amazing what people come up with when they get a little bit of encouragement and a small stage…


So, week 1, we discussed why we wanted a Women in Technology blog – and the answer:  build a sense of community amongst a dispersed group of technical women.  Top question:  is this an internal Microsoft blog?   The answer is no.  Here comes the disclaimer…  This is in no way a Microsoft endorsed blog or represent Microsoft.  We just happen to have several women who work at Microsoft participating… but the cool thing is that technical women from all over the world are joining in our discussions (check out the Wandering Scientist – she’s taking this conversation an entirely different way).    So, I thought I’d kick off this weeks post with the following observations:

TOP 5 REASONS WOMEN IN TECH BENEFIT FROM CONNECTING (apparently people love lists) :

1.  We are usually isolated.  The only woman in the meeting, hallway or building doing a technical job.  This breaks the feeling of isolation.

2.  We trust transparency and honesty  – Women in tech sharing honest experiences is valuable to us.

3.  Technical women want data – qualitative and quantitative –   we’ve all heard the stats – less than 10% in core technical roles, less than 1%  in leadership roles – combine that with the qualitative experience and we know have a lay of the land that we can strategize around.  Catalyst does a great job presenting this data by the way!

4.  We want to see success stories – and use those ideas to make our experience and contribution to our jobs better.

5.  Before we are technologists, we are mothers, sisters, daughters and partners.  We want contribute to both ends – just like the women in medicine, law, sales and marketing.  We know that if we leave technology it will make it harder for the next woman, so we are looking for ways we can rationalize staying.

What’s your top reason?  Comment on this post and I’ll pull together an even BETTER list!

So, in the spirit of transparency –  I thought I  would also share our BLOG CHARTER (wow!)  that Jennifer Marsman, Helene Love Snell  and I came up with to guide us in this blog…  so you can see exactly what we are trying to accomplish and why.  We’d also love to hear from you on the charter – how should it change or evolve?

Note:   I give credit on the format and the importance of “chartering” to my fabulous friend CJ Corbett.  He would be a great contributor to this blog as he is constantly trying to find his feminine brain (really).  But I digress.  So first I thought I might get lucky and be able to cut and paste this blog…


Not so much.  Cut and paste into a table, slow but worked – could only have 1 column…

Title:  Charter: Women in Technology Blog

Business Case:Providing opportunities for women in technology to connect through common experiences and unique technical and personal insights therefore increasing a sense of community and support for women in the technology industry.
Goals: Provide women in technology with opportunities to connect professionally & personally in a structured manner which is reusable and connected to modern career tools.

  1. Enable discussions spanning women’s impact on technology decisions, businesses and design as well as their experience s as women in technology.
  2. Deliver high quality blog content that is relevant to Women in Technology.
  3. Maintain a professional forum open to diverse opinions supported by a wide variety of contributors.
  4. Have fun.

  1. We have a unique opportunity to kick off  discussions about all aspects of technology and how it impacts and is impacted by women who participate in its creation. We will encourage a diverse set of topics that we may bring a unique view upon including the impact of technology in the future, missing investments in technology, design discussions, women in leadership and more.
  2. The low ratio of women in technology focused roles creates a sense of isolation and minority for many women in those roles. Our opportunity is to create a place where technical women, dispersed around the world, can come to together in a common discussion.
  3. As women in technology who provide leadership roles at Microsoft, we are in a unique situation to recruit a unique set of bloggers – both within and outside of Microsoft.
  4. This forum is an opportunity to make 21st century global connections between technical men and women at Microsoft and technical men and women around the world who are interested in promoting women as strong technical contributors.
In Scope of this project:

  • Showcase  technical companies best practices for enabling women to contribute optimally.
  • Professionally toned rants
  • Opportunity to use a modern approach to building personal brand and on line reputation.
  • Topics of interest to women in technology

Last – given this charter – here’s some of the topics we have coming up from our guest (and local) bloggers

  1. Kicking off a discussion with a new group of women.
  2. Jennifer: Why you are doing/reading/writing this?
  3. My Favorite Resources for Women in Technology (it’ll be about GHC, Girls in Tech, Digigirlz, Systers, etc.)
  4. Personal story: Identifying your Next Career Step
  5. Following Your Passion
  6. Indistinguishable from Magic (Cool Tech Summary)
  7. Why I love HTML5Getting funding for scholarships for women in CS

And the list goes on… so you can see why we have been excited to kick this off – stay tuned and send your comments, suggestions and blog posts for inclusion!

Bets, Jennifer and Helene

How to earn $100,000+ and fund your undergraduate Computer Science/Engineering education:

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Windows Server Microsoft, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer!

Betsy-Speare_thumb1_thumbThis is a fun post – an opportunity for us to reach out to the young women we know and encourage them to pursue computer science and engineering – these young women will have a huge impact on the world.  My niece, Kiersten is attending the University of North Dakota and recently asked me about my degree in CS.    So, this is for her as well as all the other smart, amazing young women that you know.  Forward it!  Women in Technology aren’t just the current ones, but the future ones as well! Smile

Here’s a bit about our guest blogger this week, Alice Pang:

imageAlice grew up in Louisiana and came out to sunny California after high school to attend Stanford University, where she received her B.S. in Electrical Engineering/Software.  She then moved across the bay to get her M.S. degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research/Management of Technology through the Haas School of Business and College of Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley.  While at Stanford and Berkeley, she was heavily involved in various dance groups and enjoyed organizing networking, mentoring, and community outreach events for the Society of Women Engineers. 

In her free time, she enjoys traveling, discovering new places to eat, rock climbing, learning aerial silk tricks, riding motorcycles, and sharing Louisiana and Chinese culture with her friends.  As a Microsoft Developer Evangelist, she focuses on WebMatrix.  You can follow her on Twitter @alicerp and her MSDN blog at”

So you’ve gotten into the school of your dreams, but it happens to come with a pretty hefty price tag. This is the dilemma I faced when I got into Stanford xyears ago as a high school senior. I began to furiously look for scholarships from various sources online and in the community. Having taken AP Computer Science courses, I also had a pretty good idea that I wanted to major in Computer Science/Engineering. Little did I know, there was a plethora of funding opportunities for women in technology.

My personal experiences in school and in the workforce reiterated to me the fact that women are still nowhere near 50% in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. Many companies, engineering societies, and individuals are working to increase the number of graduates (and in many cases, women) in Computer Science/Engineering by offering scholarships. For my undergraduate career alone, I managed to earn over thirty merit-based outside scholarships, totaling over $100,000 to cover my tuition at Stanford. A separate post on earning graduate fellowships (and more specifically, NSF and NDSEG) will follow on my MSDN blog (

I’ve been asked by many people tips on applying to scholarships, and I’m always happy to help. I firmly believe that money should never stop anyone from learning. Now I’m excited to reveal all my secrets! Whether or not you’re majoring in a STEM field, whether you’re male or female, I hope you’ll get some useful advice out of this article. But I will be posting more specific tips for female students in technology and be completely honest in what has personally worked for me.

Why should I care?

Apart from the obvious benefit of getting more money for school, earning scholarships actually helps build your resume when you prepare for internship and job interviews. A lot of scholarships also offer all-expense paid trips to network with other motivated individuals like you. For example, Google sent me to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Orlando (at the Hilton Walt Disney Resort) and Qualcomm flew me down to San Diego for valuable job interview seminars and a visit to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Additionally, these companies are potentially your future employers (as is my case with Microsoft). You may also get unique opportunities to appear in local and national media (like USA Todayfor the All-Academic Team).

anita borg party
Thanks Google!
I’m the featured profile of 2007:

Sounds good! How do I get started?

Start with scholarships offered at your school. I’ve had friends who have had a lot of success with this at other schools. It never hurts to ask faculty and do extra research on your school website. Stanford didn’t offer any merit-based aid, only need-based aid, a philosophy which I fully support; because, like I said, money should never stop anyone from pursuing his/her education. The Financial Aid Office always encouraged us to search for outside scholarships to supplement the financial aid packages. If you can fund all of it with outside scholarships, you can worry less about finding funds for the remainder of that big tuition bill. However, this takes time and is easier said than done. It takes a lot of time and research. But if you can do this successfully, it’s more worthwhile than working multiple part-time jobs and trying to pay off student loans after graduation.

Look at scholarship search engines.

There are a ton of scholarships out there for students of different backgrounds and interests—it’s not all about academic scholarships. There are scholarships for community involvement, leadership, essay contests, book reviews, video contests, etc. You just have to be interested in something. I’ve applied for any and every scholarship that I qualified for on these search engines and other competitions I found online. Heck, I’ve even had a brief run as a Miss America preliminary contestant and earned some scholarship money as second runner-up to Miss San Francisco, which, to be honest, did not have as high an ROI (return on investment) compared to other scholarship programs, but was nevertheless a good experience for a number of other reasons. Here are a few scholarship search engines I used as a starting point:

It will take a lot of time to sift through them, because even with the filters, I found that most of them didn’t really apply to me. Don’t get discouraged by the amount of time it takes, because it could be well worth your time.

Look for scholarships being awarded in the community and in organizations with which you are affiliated.

Ask and look around in local newspapers and specific organizations to see if there are any scholarships being given in the community. Many local organizations and companies like to honor individuals who have some potential connection to them. Just to give you some ideas, I was eligible for and very fortunate to have been awarded scholarships for competing in math tournaments, building a website with my friend for Mu Alpha Theta to help students learn Calculus, being a member of a local credit union, being the daughter of an ACAP (Association of Chinese-American Professionals) member, demonstrating exemplary community service and leadership to a local chapter of a sorority, etc.

And now, for a trick that has proven to be the most useful but I’m also a little embarrassed to admit…

To be honest, the previous steps combined have not gotten me as far as this next one. After searching and applying for general scholarships, it’s time to target your search to Computer Science/Engineering-specific scholarships, which often offer a lot more money than other sources. Not to say that these scholarships are more important than others, as everyone who awards you a scholarship plays an invaluable and significant role in your education, but certain large tech companies may have more money to support education.

So here’s something that other scholarship guides won’t tell you, and it’s helped me immensely. When you do find a scholarship specific to a STEM field, take note of a few of the winners. You can also find someone at your current or future school, someone who appears to have similar academic interests. Then (if you don’t know him or her or have contact info) do a Bing search on that person and see what other scholarships he or she has won. Chances are it will be a similar scholarship, and you’ve now added more potential scholarships to your scholarship list.

Stay organized and start early.

Start early! If you’re in high school, don’t wait until you’re in college to start applying. A lot of awards can be won in high school, and that will get you more recognition for future scholarships. Scholarship applications will often ask for a list of your awards; it’s a nice snowball effect. Once you win one, you can use it to back up your qualifications for your next application, and so on.

Be organized! I kept a calendar specifically for scholarships and deadlines and organized the files on my computer appropriately. It’s pretty easy once you write a few essays, because you can just recycle and modify them for other applications.

Don’t ever pay for a scholarship or to apply to one.

Don’t ever pay to apply for a scholarship. Don’t fall for anything that claims you get free scholarships by paying a nominal fee. I don’t think these are legitimate, because scholarships should be earned without having to pay for anything.

It takes more than good grades.

You knew this when you applied to college, but scholarship win rates are often significantly lower than college admissions rates; so you have to step up your game. Be involved in engineering and computer science societies and clubs. Take on leadership roles beyond your school. Build your network in the tech community, though it’s also always good to show that you balance out your academic and pre-professional career with extracurricular activities. My local and national roles in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has proven to be an invaluable experience of networking, community, and outreach opportunities, not to mention personal growth.

Make sure you spend your summers doing something meaningful that helps you attain your academic and career goals. For high school students, this can be summer camps (free or scholarship-funded is generally better). For college students, this can be internships and research. I can’t remember a summer where I haven’t done anything. Whatever you do, make sure you are truly passionate about it so you can talk and write about it.

ec activities collage
clockwise, from top left: dancing with the Fei Tian Dancers (photograph courtesy of Edith Han), having fun at the Olympics while interning at Nokia Research Center in Beijing, showing off our Mobius strip tattoos at National Youth Science Camp, getting ready for a tour of DC at the SWE Collegiate Leadership Forum, building a binary clock at the Stanford Summer Engineering Academy, singing an original song about the well-ordering principle at the Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists

Be wise about your recommendations and ask for references early.

In high school, I almost made the mistake of going with the toughest teacher in my high school just because everyone asked her to write a letter for college admissions. She invited requests for references. She was the AP English teacher, so she can write well, and more importantly, write me a pretty awesome rec, right? Well I’m glad I didn’t, because to be honest, I really did not stand out in English class; I ended up going with teachers whom I felt were more likely to express how I shined in the class. So just be sure to talk with anyone who writes you a reference with your goals in mind. Provide a resume and a document of additional accomplishments and extracurricular involvement, with which he or she may not be familiar. Choose someone who will really remember you in ten years or more. Someone who truly believes that you are an outstanding individual. It does not have to be a teacher. I mean, you should have at least one, but consider the coordinator of some activity in which you’re involved, a research supervisor, etc. And be sure to ask at least two weeks in advance, though I like to give my recommenders a month with increasingly frequent friendly reminders as the deadline approaches.

Be yourself in interviews.

Some scholarships will require interviews. Practice with friends and family. Be yourself. Be sure to always have a few key things to talk about, things that you’re really passionate about. Even when you get stumped on a question, there’s always some way to tie in something that you’re interested in and make it relevant. You can probably find sample questions online, which is good preparation. I’ve been asked anything from my thoughts on the economy, to projects that I’ve worked on, to activities that I’m involved in, to how many golf balls would fit in the average airplane. Even if they ask you a question that may bring up something negative (“What’s your greatest weakness?”), spin it back to something positive.

Thank everyone who has made your education possible.

You should always thank anyone who has provided you with a scholarship, anyone who has written you a rec, anyone who has helped you practice your interviews (or conducted your actual interviews); because these people have invested time in your academic and career success. Keep a spreadsheet of everyone who has helped you (along with contact info) and be sure to drop him or her a line and send a card. I cannot express my gratitude enough to the numerous companies and organizations that have made paying for Stanford and all the unique opportunities possible.

What are you waiting for? Apply yourself!

Your dream schedule in a tech company – it CAN be done! Four steps to find the schedule you want!

My intent was to mix up the topics every week, but I just LOVED this post – Anandi’s tone and attitude is perfect.  The “take charge of what you want” attitude really resonated with me – and I think it will with you as well.   Tangent:  here’s an extra link to a great article on the “Three Biggest Myths about Women in Tech” on VentureBeat – it makes me hopeful that this topic is becoming more mainstream and that perhaps we are on the verge of change…???  Course, I am a bit of an optimist.    BTW, i can’t figure out how to change the “written by” on this post – directions appreciated.  Enjoy…

To follow the Women in Technology Blog – go to

– Bets

An-web (2)Blog post by Anandi Raman Creath, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Corp.

Continuing the evolving discussion on work-life balance, I’m here to tell you that it *is* possible to get the work-life balance that you want. But like Amysaid, it’s not at all easy.

I’ve been lucky enough to work at Microsoft since 2002, and I’ve worked a compressed schedule, so I had every other Friday off and currently work part-time.

It’s a half-time schedule, so I’m in the office 2 days a week and do a little work from home on the other evenings. This allows me to spend 3 full days at home each week with my 2 year old. I’ve been working roughly this same schedule since I returned from maternity leave.

When I tell people at work about this uncommon arrangement, they get a wistful look in their eyes and say things like “wow, I wish I could do that” or “my job could never accommodate that” or “you’re so lucky, I’d never be allowed to do that”.

NOT TRUE, people! I started out just like everyone else, working 45+ hours, email every waking moment, fielding questions and putting out fires for a company-wide initiative. And who could forget those delightful summer Saturdays spent in the office?

And then I realized I wanted more out of life than just work. Don’t get me wrong – I love my job, and I love my company with its myriad opportunities and amazing people. But I wanted time for myself and my hobbies, and more recently, time to really *enjoy* this new family thing we’ve got going on.

It goes without saying that this is not just a womens’ issue. My husband requested (and got!) a compressed work week so that we could care for our daughter ourselves for her first year. He was home with her on the two days I worked, and then he’d go to work for the next 4 days. It was surprisingly easy to arrange this with our employer. Harder to get through the weeks without being completely exhausted, but that’s life, right?

So without further ado, here’s the advice I’ve given to many people who asked how they too can get the work schedule of their dreams. (Short of winning the lottery and quitting altogether, that is.)

How to get the sweet gig:

1. First, read up on your company’s policies and procedures around flexible work. If they don’t have them, you’ll need to decide how badly you want it, and then be the trailblazer and help them get a policy in place.

2. Figure out what *you* want with respect to work schedule and pay/benefits. A lot of people approach this as “I’ll do whatever my company lets me” but I think that’s the wrong way to go about it, and everyone leaves the discussion unsatisfied.

a. A compressed schedule (e.g. 4 day work week or 9 days/2 weeks) will allow you to keep a full time workload and salary, but you’ll have to work longer days to make up for the day you’re off.

b. A part-time schedule will give you reduced work hours (duh!) but also reduced pay and potentially fewer benefits. In addition, you’ll really need to think hard about how your work can be scoped to fit into fewer hours.

c. Telecommuting one or more days a week may not change your schedule, but may allow you to shift your schedule rather than spending time commuting.

3. Write up a short proposal detailing what schedule you’re requesting *and* addressing any concerns that might come up. You need to position it as something good for your work group, not just what’s in it for you.

4. Discuss with your manager. Be confident about what you’re asking for, and address his/her concerns with solutions. Be willing to discuss it “up the chain” as needed.

Once you’ve got the sweet gig:

· Be clear with your management and team about your work schedule and location(if you’re telecommuting). It really helps to have the same schedule each week so people get used to it.

· If you’re not in the office but working, BE AVAILABLE.I can’t stress this enough. Sign into IM, answer your phone and email in a timely fashion and call in to scheduled meetings. People need to know and see that you’re working. Sounds unfair, and we think people should “just notice” our awesome deliverables, but that’s not enough.

· A subset of the previous point – if you are working from home and your young kids are around, you MUST have childcare.There is no way you can do a great job working if you’re also taking care of your kids. Not putting in that “face time” at the office means you need to do an *extra* good job, and that’s not going to happen with distractions.

· If you’re working part time, don’t regularly work more than what you agreed to.Obviously you’ll have to put in extra hours around crunch time, but keep track of this, and make sure it evens out later. It makes no sense to work full-time hours on a part-time salary. If you have too much work to accomplish on your schedule, talk to your manager about prioritization.

· Be equally clear about your availability on days you’re not working. Give out your cell phone info for emergencies, but don’t accept non-urgent meetings and don’t respond to non-urgent emails either. You need to “train” people to understand your new schedule. They won’t respect it if you don’t.

· Review the arrangement periodically with your manager.Quarterly is good. Actively solicit feedback about what’s working and what’s not. Actually do something about what’s not working.

· Don’t be apologetic about having an unusual work arrangement. Be an ambassador, so people can see that we don’t have to chain ourselves to our desks 80 hours a week. Do great work and evangelize what you’re accomplishing and HOW you’re accomplishing it with your dream schedule and your newfound, totally awesome work life balance!

I’d love to hear other stories of flexible work arrangements, and any other tips you can share for making it work for everyone involved!

the house of peanut

check out Anandi’s blog at

What do you want to miss? Finding Balance with Amy Barzdukas, Microsoft GM

I love this post from Amy because  her experience is universal for anyone with passionate interests outside of work – men and women.  For women in technology, however, the balance can be extra tough – especially when competing with peers who may have a stay at home partner – Amy gives great ideas about how to strike the right “balance.”  As a side note, we can’t miss recognizing the Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Trio of Women for Championing Gender Equality &  Peace-Building – INSPIRATIONAL!  Have a great day! 

To follow the Women in Technology Blog – go to

– Betsy Speare


REDMOND_amyrob_LThumbAmy Barzdukas, Microsoft GM

Work-life balance – how do you do it? I get asked about this more than almost any other topic. My “a-ha!” moment came about 6 years ago. Up until then, my work-life balance was nonexistent because my work was my life. Evenings, weekends . . . I prioritized work over everything else and lived with my cellphone nearby, ready to answer any call, whenever it arrived. A planned hour at the office on Saturday morning easily became a full day as the inbox and potential work items expanded to fill all available time. I excelled at work, but was so wrapped up that friends and relationships got lost along the way.

Then my now-husband Gytis entered the scene, in a complete family pack with 3 children. It was 0 to 60 into a world of carpools, practices, games, curriculum nights, field trips, and making dinner. (Kids can’t meet you at the bar at Seastar for a late meal, it turns out.) Early on we were reviewing the upcoming weekend’s activities: softball, baseball, soccer, I don’t remember all the events that needed attending, but it was full. I noted I had a presentation due on Monday, was planning to hit the office on Saturday. Gytis turned to me and asked, “Okay, so what do you want to miss?”

Wow. “What do I want to miss?” That question (my husband always asks me to note that it was delivered matter-of-factly, not with malice) changed my weekend and my life, forcing me to consider the tradeoffs and putting the notion of “balance” in high relief. In that moment, what was more important? We talked at length – I didn’t want to “miss” anything the kids were doing, so we agreed that he handle dinner on Sunday night, while I would work on my deck. Much to my surprise, I finished my deck: instead of going to the office and doing that and 20 other things random things, I focused on the work that was important, and got it done.

Finding balance is all about establishing priorities and sticking to them. “Balance” implies some sort of universal scale; in fact, it’s a highly personal one. You (and only you) have to decide what balance means to you based on the criteria you have for what you want to miss. Even harder, you have to set and maintain the boundaries that enable you to have that particular balance – and decide when and how you’ll make exceptions.

I should also add that this is not a perfect science. Even after my epiphany, I still work hard to get it right – and I have had plenty of “learning moments” along the way. For example, I used to teach Pilates two nights a week. I loved it – but it meant leaving work promptly, teaching for a few hours, then rushing home to do dinner/family/etc PLUS catch up on whatever happened at work because I left promptly. Which means everyone got a little cheated: fulltime job, Pilates clients, family. I had to regretfully put that part of my life on hold for now, because I really can’t do it all. Recently I missed a key meeting to prioritize a volleyball match that on balance could have been missed (it wasn’t a “first” or “last” match of the season, nor a playoff) and had to really scramble to reassert my voice and team because I wasn’t there.

I got a few things right, though. I made the time to travel to China with step-daughter as a parent chaperone, and that’s a memory that will live with us both for the rest of our lives. I missed some important work items but I’d make that trade-off again in a heartbeat. I deliberately changed roles to keep work negativity from oozing back into the rest of my life and to make it easier to assert my boundaries. And I’ve learned to be more honest with myself and those around me so that we are working on the same set of assumptions. Don’t expect me at that meeting; don’t look for me at curriculum night.

So my advice:

  1. Think about what you “want to miss” – this can help you strengthen your focus, delegation skills, partnership, and management if you do it well.
  2. Don’t overpromise. To your work colleagues, to your family, or yourself. That’s where regret and guilt come in.
  3. You own setting and sticking to your boundaries. Easy to say, which is why there is #4…
  4. It isn’t easy and anyone who says so is lying.

So, let me know… how you handle balance?  Use the comments!

Amy Barzdukas

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