All posts by Kurt Schlosser

‘Microsoft the Musical’ features summer interns in a singing, dancing romp across tech giant’s campus

Well, the interns at Microsoft sure had fun this summer.

While there may be a documentary coming to Netflix that dives deep into what makes Bill Gates tick, the release of “Microsoft the Musical” on YouTube on Friday clearly shows what makes heels click at the software giant he co-founded.

The 8-minute number, which took us about that much time to convince ourselves it was in fact a real thing, features singing and dancing software engineers and data scientists clad in primary-colored clothing. The whole thing is the work of 150 people, including interns and employees.

A description for the video on YouTube is written by Liam McGregor, a data science intern credited with directing, producing and helping to write the musical.

“‘Microsoft the Musical’ was dreamt up and led by interns spending the summer of 2019 at Microsoft,” McGregor wrote. “This Tony Awards-style musical theater opening number is just one of many passion projects that came to life because we were encouraged to bring our whole selves to work. And that’s what we did: 150 people came in on mornings, weekends, and nights to create this outside of (and in addition to) their day jobs.”

After opening with a nod to Gates, cast members dance across the company’s Redmond, Wash., headquarters campus and throughout buildings. A whole host of company accomplishments and product names are dropped throughout — Windows, Office, PowerPoint, Surface, Xbox, HoloLens, Minecraft, Azure … even Clippy gets a mention. And the lyrics, posted in full here, also manage to poke some fun (sorry, Windows Phone):

It’s all happening here…
The standard for your office and your home
All happening here
All around the world our products are well-known!
Except for when we tried to make a phone!

“It’s all happening here,” is the constant refrain from the chorus. And while it sure does appear that being an intern at Microsoft affords young people the chance to work on some cutting-edge stuff, a break in the music does lay things on a little thick, as two characters are shown chatting in a company cafeteria.

“How is it that everyone here does so much,” a woman asks her co-worker at the 5:25 mark of the video.

“I know. I don’t get it. Maybe there’s something in the water,” the man replies.

“May I please have a latte and … an extra shot of whatever ingredient it is that makes people here so successful?” the woman says as she orders a beverage.

Alas, there is no special ingredient, because everyone brings their own! Back to the singing and dancing!

(YouTube screen grab via Microsoft the Musical)

“Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more,” McGregor wrote in his director’s note. “We hope that this speaks to every person who dreams of being part of something big — and especially to those who’ve been wrongly told they can’t be. At some point, we were all in your shoes. You CAN, you SHOULD, and you WILL.”

Here’s a list of credits for those involved in the production, as it shows up on YouTube — along with their titles for jobs they held at Microsoft in the summer of 2019:

  • Produced and Directed by … Liam McGregor (data scientist intern)
  • Written by … Liam McGregor (data scientist intern) and Trip Master (explorer intern)
  • Executive Produced by … Diego Rejtman (GM, global university recruiting) and Sacha Nunn (culture program manager)
  • Choreographed and Co-Directed by … Swetha Prabakaran (explorer intern)
  • Protagonists (in order of appearance) … Ryan Hecht (program manager intern), Leslie Richardson (program manager), Alyssa Raqueno (explorer intern)
  • Bill Gates, the idea … Eleanor Lewis (software engineer intern)
  • Composed by … Joshua Yang (explorer intern), Trip Master (explorer intern), Liam McGregor (data scientist intern)
  • Orchestrated and Conducted by … Peter Yang (software engineer intern)
  • Director of Photography … Stephen Hitchcock (software engineer)
  • Sr. Production Manager … Morgan Dukes (marketing intern)
  • Associate Cinematographer and AD … Rishi Raj (software engineer)
  • Assistant Choreographer and AD … Lizzy Lee

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Special Olympics open in Seattle with celebration of inclusion; Microsoft CEO applauds athletes’ spirit

Special Olympics
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addresses the crowd at the Opening Ceremony for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games at Husky Stadium in Seattle on Sunday. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The 2018 Special Olympics USA Games opened in Seattle on Sunday at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium with a parade of athletes and musical performances and inspiring moments meant to showcase acceptance and inclusion.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was among the dignitaries who took the stage to offer encouraging words to those in attendance. The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant is the premier corporate partner for the Games.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addresses the crowd at the Opening Ceremony for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games at Husky Stadium in Seattle on Sunday. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Here are Nadella’s comments in full:

“It’s such an honor to be here today. The energy, the enthusiasm in this stadium is palpable and it’s incredible. On behalf of everyone at Microsoft I want to extend the warmest of welcomes to all of you to Seattle.

“Your courage, your spirit and the pursuit of passion are truly inspiring. We can’t wait to watch all your hard work and training come together as you compete this week. But Special Olympics is about much more than just sports and competition. It’s a model for building a more inclusive world. A world where everyone is celebrated for their unique abilities. A world where everyone is invited to participate.

“Being right here in Husky Stadium, I’m reminded of one of my favorite books, ‘The Boys in the Boat.’ It’s based on an inspiring story about a University of Washington crew team that against all odds made it to the 1936 Olympic Games and took home the gold. It’s a reminder of the power of teamwork and perseverance, and there’s a passage that’s fitting for us all here today. There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing, it’s called ‘the swing.’ It only happens when all the eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one of the team is out of sync with those of the others. An inclusive world — that’s what good swing looks like.

“Together you’re showing the world what is possible when we reflect the perspectives and the experiences to everyone. So enjoy the moment. You have achieved so much and you’re building such an amazing, inclusive world.”

An athlete is carried into Husky Stadium on his teammates’ shoulders as others high five members of the Blue Thunder drum line. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

More than 4,000 athletes and coaches from the across the United States are scheduled to compete in 14 team and individual sports across Seattle as the Games run through Friday. Tens of thousands of family members, volunteers and spectators have converged on the city.

‘Defining moment’ for Seattle as Microsoft, Amazon, others support Special Olympics USA Games

Sunday’s festivities, broadcast live on ESPN, were emceed by actor Taye Diggs and featured musical performances by DJ Marshmello, Charlie Puth, Allen Stone and Heart’s Ann Wilson, who sang the “National Anthem.” The Seattle Seahawks’ Blue Thunder drum line participated and the team’s recent draft pick, Shaquem Griffin, served as grand marshall for the parade of athletes into Husky Stadium.

Microsoft President Brad Smith was among a number of executives who would be competing in the first-ever ESPN / Special Olympics Unified Sports Challenge at the UW’s Husky Ballpark later on Sunday.

(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The execs, their employees, celebrities and Special Olympics athletes — on teams of five people — were competing in multiple Unified Sports challenges including Hot Shot Basketball, Penalty Shot Soccer, Electronic Dance Game, Bocce, Inflatable Dart Board, Football Accuracy Challenge, Giant Memory Game and Golf Putting.

DocuSign also participated with a team led by CEO Dan Springer and Starbucks’ team was led by Vivek Varma, EVP for public affairs. Seattle sports celebs competing included Gary Payton, Steve Largent, Walter Jones, Apolo Ohno, Jim Zorn, Kasey Keller and more.

Microsoft President Brad Smith speaks at Husky Stadium in his role as honorary chairman of the Games. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Microsoft’s Smith also took the stage at Husky Stadium as honorary chairman of the Games to offer his own comments in support of the athletes. Here are those comments in full:

“All of us in Seattle have been working for the last 2 1/2 years to get ready. To get ready for today. To welcome all of you and your family and your friends. We are so happy that you are here.

“Every time a city has the opportunity to host an Olympic event or a World’s Fair, it’s an opportunity not only to be a great host, but to create a legacy. Fifty-five years ago, Seattle hosted the World’s Fair and it built a legacy, an icon — the Space Needle, a symbol that people associate around the world with this place. But this week we will build a bigger legacy still. It is in each and every one of you.

“Together we have an opportunity to build a legacy of understanding, of appreciation, of commitment. A commitment for each of us to bring out the best in ourselves, to bring out the best in everyone around us. That is what each and every one of you represent.

“When we think about what we will all do this week, whether we’re competing or spectating and cheering all of you on, this is a week when we can do even more than rise together. We can stand together, we can stick together and more than anything else we can build together. Let’s build a legacy, a legacy that lasts.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee greets the crowd in Seattle on Sunday. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver cheers on the athletes alongside Frannie Ronan, an 8-year-old gymnast from Kirkland, Wash., and the youngest competitor in the Games. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee officially welcomed the Special Olympians to the state. In addressing the crowd, Inslee said everything needs to be done to fight back against the “dark forces” of fear that work against inclusion in society.

At the end of the Opening Ceremony, the Flame of Hope completed its journey to Seattle and into Husky Stadium. Jennifer Goodley, a 37-year-old powerlifter from Bremerton, Wash., took the final handoff and lit the official cauldron.

Special Olympics 2018 USA Games cauldron (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Griffin, the Seahawks’ inspiring rookie, who had a hand amputated as a young child, then declared the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games officially open.

DJ Marshmello performs as one of the musical acts for the Opening Ceremony of the Special Olympics. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

If you want to follow the Games more closely throughout the week, a new, free mobile app was launched over the weekend. The app, developed by AppInteract on Microsoft’s Azure platform, features sports schedules, details on athletes and teams, venue information, events and news. Download for iOS or Android.

ESPN will also provide in-depth coverage throughout the week on its app and on ESPN.com. And ESPN3 will carry live streaming coverage from swimming competition taking place at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center.

Special Olympics USA Games choir (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Geek of the Week: Microsoft’s Raghu Ramakrishnan geeks out on data, how we use it and secure it

Raghu Ramakrishnan has been at Microsoft for six years. (Photo courtesy of Raghu Ramakrishnan)

He’s been a professor and a chief scientist, a founder, a technical fellow and a chief technology officer. Through it all, Raghu Ramakrishnan has been focused on the data.

Ramakrishnan is Microsoft’s CTO for Data and our latest Geek of the Week. In his six years at the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant, Ramakrishnan founded the CISL applied research team and led the development of Azure Data Lake, Microsoft’s exabyte-scale storage and analytics platform.

Prio to Microsoft, Ramakrishnan spent 22 years as a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in addition to being founder and CTO of QUIQ, an early online crowd-sourced question-answering company.

“My early work in database systems has influenced query optimization in commercial database systems and the design of window functions in SQL:1999, and has received the SIGMOD Test-of-Time Award for work on clustering and the ICDT Test-of-Time Award for work on nearest-neighbor indexing,” Ramakrishnan said. “I’ve also written the widely used text ‘Database Management Systems.’”

In his six years at Yahoo! as a chief scientist, Ramakrishnan led, among other things, the science teams for major initiatives, including the CORE project that was the foundation for Yahoo’s personalized portal pages.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Raghu Ramakrishnan:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I think about what’s around the bend in the space of data — the trends in how we’re capturing data, how we are using it, the concerns around appropriate data use and regulatory changes, and the implications for data platforms and technologies. In SQL Server and Azure, Microsoft has industry leading data management and cloud platforms, and we need to constantly up our game to ensure that these are state of the art.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Increasingly, many aspects of the world we live in are reflected in data that we gather to operate or improve aspects of that world. This data is at the very heart of the AI revolution that we now hear about everywhere — you can’t apply machine learning without data to learn from — and database systems are the key to securing this data and ensuring that policies for appropriate access and usage are indeed enforced.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “The fact that data is center-stage in our world today means that we need to build powerful and dependable systems to secure and interpret that data. In a very real sense, your most private data (and mine) are protected by data management systems. So, it’s more than bits and bytes at stake here, it’s about the most important aspects of our lives.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “The internet. It’s how I learn what’s going on in the world, it’s how I call people more often than not, it’s how my entertainment is delivered.”

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “Open, informal, good coffee — what more could you ask for? Oh yes, the only professional team that’s community owned. Say cheese.”

Raghu Ramakrishnan’s allegiance to the Green Bay Packers is evident in his office decor and in some of his answers to our questionnaire. (Photo courtesy of Raghu Ramakrishnan)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Work hard, but don’t mistake work for life.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Windows or Linux.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Picard.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Transporter. Too many back-to-back meetings in different buildings.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Tell them I’m too busy to think about a startup.”

I once waited in line for … “An autograph from William Henderson, a guy who made his living by creating lanes for Ahman Green to run through.”

Your role models: “School teachers. The best ones change the lives of our children when they’re most in need of direction, and I value what they do enormously—and I’m humbled by how much the best of them put into their work, regardless of how shamefully they are underpaid.”

Greatest game in history: “The Ice Bowl.”

Best gadget ever: “The wheel.”

First computer: “Fingers.”

Current phone: “Android.”

Favorite app: “Outlook (seriously!)”

Favorite cause: “Against Malaria Foundation.”

Most important technology of 2018: “GDPR support.”

Most important technology of 2020: “Transporters.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Dif-tor heh smusma.”

Twitter: @raghurwi

LinkedIn: Raghu Ramakrishnan

Geek of the Week: Microsoft’s Raghu Ramakrishnan geeks out on data, how we use it and secure it

Raghu Ramakrishnan has been at Microsoft for six years. (Photo courtesy of Raghu Ramakrishnan)

He’s been a professor and a chief scientist, a founder, a technical fellow and a chief technology officer. Through it all, Raghu Ramakrishnan has been focused on the data.

Ramakrishnan is Microsoft’s CTO for Data and our latest Geek of the Week. In his six years at the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant, Ramakrishnan founded the CISL applied research team and led the development of Azure Data Lake, Microsoft’s exabyte-scale storage and analytics platform.

Prio to Microsoft, Ramakrishnan spent 22 years as a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in addition to being founder and CTO of QUIQ, an early online crowd-sourced question-answering company.

“My early work in database systems has influenced query optimization in commercial database systems and the design of window functions in SQL:1999, and has received the SIGMOD Test-of-Time Award for work on clustering and the ICDT Test-of-Time Award for work on nearest-neighbor indexing,” Ramakrishnan said. “I’ve also written the widely used text ‘Database Management Systems.’”

In his six years at Yahoo! as a chief scientist, Ramakrishnan led, among other things, the science teams for major initiatives, including the CORE project that was the foundation for Yahoo’s personalized portal pages.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Raghu Ramakrishnan:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I think about what’s around the bend in the space of data — the trends in how we’re capturing data, how we are using it, the concerns around appropriate data use and regulatory changes, and the implications for data platforms and technologies. In SQL Server and Azure, Microsoft has industry leading data management and cloud platforms, and we need to constantly up our game to ensure that these are state of the art.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Increasingly, many aspects of the world we live in are reflected in data that we gather to operate or improve aspects of that world. This data is at the very heart of the AI revolution that we now hear about everywhere — you can’t apply machine learning without data to learn from — and database systems are the key to securing this data and ensuring that policies for appropriate access and usage are indeed enforced.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “The fact that data is center-stage in our world today means that we need to build powerful and dependable systems to secure and interpret that data. In a very real sense, your most private data (and mine) are protected by data management systems. So, it’s more than bits and bytes at stake here, it’s about the most important aspects of our lives.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “The internet. It’s how I learn what’s going on in the world, it’s how I call people more often than not, it’s how my entertainment is delivered.”

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “Open, informal, good coffee — what more could you ask for? Oh yes, the only professional team that’s community owned. Say cheese.”

Raghu Ramakrishnan’s allegiance to the Green Bay Packers is evident in his office decor and in some of his answers to our questionnaire. (Photo courtesy of Raghu Ramakrishnan)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Work hard, but don’t mistake work for life.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Windows or Linux.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Picard.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Transporter. Too many back-to-back meetings in different buildings.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Tell them I’m too busy to think about a startup.”

I once waited in line for … “An autograph from William Henderson, a guy who made his living by creating lanes for Ahman Green to run through.”

Your role models: “School teachers. The best ones change the lives of our children when they’re most in need of direction, and I value what they do enormously—and I’m humbled by how much the best of them put into their work, regardless of how shamefully they are underpaid.”

Greatest game in history: “The Ice Bowl.”

Best gadget ever: “The wheel.”

First computer: “Fingers.”

Current phone: “Android.”

Favorite app: “Outlook (seriously!)”

Favorite cause: “Against Malaria Foundation.”

Most important technology of 2018: “GDPR support.”

Most important technology of 2020: “Transporters.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Dif-tor heh smusma.”

Twitter: @raghurwi

LinkedIn: Raghu Ramakrishnan

Geek of the Week: Take a break, and read about Jaime Teevan’s Microsoft research on working less

Jaime Teevan
Jaime Teevan is a technical advisor to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. (Dan DeLong Photo)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is famous for creating a culture of workaholics in the early days of the software giant. He tracked the comings and goings of employees by memorizing people’s license plates, for instance.

Jaime Teevan is an acclaimed principal researcher at the company, and in her latest role, she’s serving as technical advisor to the current CEO, Satya Nadella.

Since you’re possibly avoiding work while reading this, you should know Teevan — our latest Geek of the Week — is also an advocate for finding smarter ways to make the most of a worker’s time, and she believes in the positive impact that breaks and recovery have on productivity.

Teevan led the productivity team at Microsoft Research AI and has published hundreds of award-winning research papers, technical articles, books, and patents, and given keynotes around the world. Her research earned her the Technology Review TR35 Young Innovator, Borg Early Career, Karen Spärck Jones, and SIGIR Test of Time awards.

She holds a Ph.D. from MIT and a B.S. from Yale, and is an affiliate professor at the University of Washington.

But enough about work!

“My favorite breaks are social  — chatting in the hallway with a colleague, texting my husband, and checking in with friends on Facebook,” Teevan said. “Of course, while Facebook makes for an awesome quick break, it carries with it the risk that I will get sucked in and never return to work. We did some research on this recently, and found that if we insert microtasks into a person’s Facebook feed it can actually help ‘distract’ them back to work. For example, I might see a microtask asking me to edit a sentence in a document I’m writing in between Conor’s baby update and a picture of what Brooks had for dinner last night. After I edit a few sentences within the context of my Facebook feed it’s very likely I’ll just open the document and start editing there.”

As for that famous Gates work ethic at her company, Teevan said disengaging from work improves our quality of life, makes us less stressed, and helps us feel happier.

“It’s not that hard to convince yourself to do something that feels good,” she said.

And if the perception where you work is that working all the time is encouraged, recognize that the “permeable boundary between work and life” can go both ways, she said.

“Bring your work home if you need to, but also bring the space to recharge into your work day without feeling guilty about it.”

Check out a recent article and a recent podcast, and read ahead to learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Jaime Teevan:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I am passionate about using technology to help people work less but accomplish more. As a researcher at Microsoft Research I did this by studying how people get things done, developing new algorithms to make them more productive, and publishing the impact of these algorithms in academic articles. My research showed that it is possible to break many common tasks down into smaller pieces and use AI to automate the repetitive parts so that people can focus on the pieces where their unique insights matter most. I recently moved from Microsoft Research to the Office of the CEO, where I now serve as Technical Advisor to Satya Nadella. I look forward to furthering this work in my new role, but expanding upon it in the broader context of all of the ways that Microsoft can impact the world.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Breaks are an important part of being productive, and we all have an intrinsic need for rest, recovery, and balance. Research shows we are more productive at work when we prioritize small breaks in our day and successfully detach from work in the evening, especially when we are stressed, have a high workload, or are overloaded.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “Scientists learn about the world through observation; as a computer scientist, I learn by observing people interact with computers. I find inspiration when people behave unexpectedly, because it means there is something new to discover there. For example, many years ago when analyzing our search query logs I was surprised to see that people often issue the same query over and over again rather than searching for new information. This led me to spend several years studying repeat search behavior, and I was able to eventually build on this unexpected behavior to create our very first personalized search experiences.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “A search engine. The petabytes of information available online is useless without a way to make sense of it. And our ability to intelligently sift through all of this information will become increasingly natural (via new interaction modalities like natural language, speech, and augmented reality) and actionable (via the ability to make intelligent inferences and integrate with the real world) as computing transforms around us.”

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “Probably the most unique aspect of my office is that I have a treadmill instead of a chair at my desk. Everyone who visits asks if it is hard to walk and work at the same time, but I find it very natural. We know sitting all day can be bad for you, and I’ve read research studies that show that you are more creative when you walk, but, honestly, I use the treadmill because it is easier to walk than stand. I still have a nice place to sit by the window when I’m tired of walking, though.”

Jaime Teevan
Forget walking to work. Try walking at work, like Jaime Teevan. (Microsoft Photo)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Be intentional about transitions. People tend to focus only on the tasks at hand and ignore what they need to do to get started or wrap up – and, as a result, often fail to actually start or to successfully move on to the next task. There are tricks you can use to make your transitions easier. For example, you can make it easier to return to work after a break by leaving yourself a note outlining a specific simple starter task (e.g., re-word one bullet point in one slide). Our research shows that these starter tasks will often draw you into the larger task (e.g., editing the slide deck’s flow) in a way that just trying to start the task wouldn’t. You can also develop habits to help yourself disengage from work when you want to focus on other things. For example, our research shows that if you spend time reflecting on your priorities during your commute home you’ll do less work at home — and be more productive at work the next day.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Windows, of course.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Picard (although I’m more into fantasy).”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time Machine. Given the power to reverse causality, I can’t imagine choosing anything else.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Politely decline. I wouldn’t want to give up the opportunity I have where I am right now to help Microsoft have a positive impact on the world.”

I once waited in line for … “Molly Moon’s ice cream. Salted caramel with hot fudge, yumm … ”

Your role models (And why?): “Researchers who push the boundaries of artificial intelligence and use it to make human intelligence shine, including: Susan Dumais, Eric Horvitz, Mary Czerwinski, Lili Cheng, Jennifer Chayes.”

Greatest game in history: “Charades.”

Best gadget ever: My electric foot warmer, because nothing is better than crawling into a warm bed at night.

First computer: “Apple IIe.”

Current phone: “Samsung Galaxy S7.”

Jaime Teevan
Jaime Teevan, away from work. (Photo courtesy of Jaime Teevan)

Favorite app: “The SwiftKey keyboard, which uses AI to make text entry easier. SwiftKey makes it possible for me to get a lot more done from my phone than you might expect.”

Favorite cause: “Diversity and inclusion in tech. To push the boundaries of what is possible we need to draw inspiration from every possible source, and diverse teams are fundamentally smarter and more creative. Selfishly, I also just want to work with an interesting range of people. As a mother to four young children, I am particularly passionate about helping researchers integrate parenthood into their academic careers. I have written several articles about conference travel with children and worked with conference organizational committees to implement better support for attendees with families.”

Most important technology from last year: “The cloud. Yeah, I know I seem late to the game with this answer, but this past year was the first year where I truly broke away from my desktop computer. Suddenly it became possible to seamlessly access the information I needed to be productive irrespective of the device I was on.”

Most important technology of the coming year: “I think we’re going to see microproductivity take off in the coming year. Most of the chunks of time we have in a day are just too short to even bother trying to get anything done. Think of the time you spend waiting for a meeting to start, riding in an elevator, or standing in line. We try to defrag our time by booking meetings with ourselves, turning off our phones, and taking email vacations. But rather than fighting fragmentation by changing how we work, we can embrace it by changing our tasks to fit the way we actually do work.

“The science behind actively managing our fragmented attention has gotten quite sophisticated, but at the moment it is primarily used to manipulate us; the casual gaming industry and social media thrive on drawing us in and keeping our attention. But intelligent attention management can be used to our advantage to help us focus on the things we care about.

“With microproductivity, our tools algorithmically break small microtasks off from our larger productivity tasks and surface them in the right context so we can complete them when we would otherwise just be killing time. What’s more, as we do these microtasks the system can learn from the data we provide to start assisting us or even automating the microtask entirely. The transformation of work into microwork will change when and how people work, and enable individuals and artificial intelligence to work together to efficiently and easily complete complex tasks.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Every now and then step back and look broadly at what you do. New technology will almost always impact people and society in unexpected ways, because we operate in a messy, nuanced, social world. A broad perspective is necessary to understand how technology can be applied to make the world a better place.”

Website: Teevan.org

Twitter: @jteevan 

LinkedIn: Jaime Teevan 

Geek of the Week: Ex-Marine Solaire Sanderson combats new threats in Microsoft’s Cyber Defense Operations Center

Solaire Sanderson
Solaire Sanderson joined Microsoft in April 2016.

As a signals intelligence analyst in the United States Marine Corps, Solaire Sanderson was deployed twice to Afghanistan and had plans to make a lasting career out of her service.

But injuries to both feet, which required surgeries to realign and remove crushed bones, convinced Sanderson that she probably wasn’t going to be able to maintain the rigorous lifestyle that the Marine Corps demanded.

Solaire Sanderson
Solaire Sanderson served six years in the Marine Corps.

Originally from Palm Coast, Fla., Sanderson was in the Marines for six years, stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., from 2010 to 2016.

“I loved being a Marine, and I love everything the Marine Corps stands for,” said Sanderson, who is our latest Geek of the Week.

“One of my responsibilities was to perform cyber threat analysis, which I quickly became passionate about. While serving on active duty, I attended the American Military University to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Cybersecurity.”

During her recovery from surgery, in the last six months of her time in the Marines, Sanderson enrolled in the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), an intensive 18-week course that provides transitioning service members and veterans with critical career skills required for today’s growing technology industry.

“Upon completion of the course, I went through the interview process and accepted a position as a security analyst in Microsoft’s Cyber Defense Operations Center. Though the military and the corporate worlds are completely different, they have, at least, one thing in common: they both have adversaries. I am happy to work with an incredible team of defenders and responders, who are persistent and determined to defend against technology’s dark side.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Solaire Sanderson:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I am a security analyst in the Cyber Defense Operations Center at Microsoft. I do it because, as corny as it sounds, I truly believe in Microsoft’s mission statement: to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Microsoft has such a far-reaching impact on the world — millions of home PC’s, government agencies, schools systems, etc. all rely and operate on Windows operating systems, the Office suite, and various other Microsoft innovations. As a Marine, I loved the feeling of being a part of something greater than myself. So, it is awesome to have a similar feeling while working at Microsoft.”

RELATED: Why Military veterans make exceptional tech workers, and how Microsoft is helping them land jobs

Where do you find your inspiration? “Children are constantly told that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up — and I believe that to be true (within reason, of course). I try to apply the same mentality to my adult life — I can do whatever I want to do or learn whatever I want to learn, if I apply myself. I have always found inspiration in watching the world evolve around me. There are always new technologies, computer languages, cyber threats, etc., and I don’t like the feeling of not knowing. So, when I find a topic that I am not familiar with, I force myself to spend time trying to understand it and become comfortable with it. Through this effort, I have found inspiration from discovering new ways of doing things or by stumbling upon needs I didn’t know existed.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “As sad as it is to admit, my smartphone. Over the last decade, smartphones have become the new Swiss army knife — they do a little bit of everything. I can make phone calls, text message, video chat, play games, take photos, make deposits into my bank account, check my emails, browse the internet, make purchases, listen to music, watch television, and the list goes on. It’s incredible.”

Microsoft Cyber Defense
Microsoft’s Cyber Defense Operations Center. (Microsoft Photo)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “My team and I operate in an open workspace, just like many Security Operations Centers (SOCs) at various other companies. Within our SOC, we bring together experts from different security teams across Microsoft to help protect, detect, and respond to threats in real time. I am a huge proponent for an open workspace, as it promotes collaboration, versatility, and brainstorming. I love being able to spin my chair around and bounce ideas off of my co-workers.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I have found that having a routine is key. Life is full of unexpected surprises, which are much easier to manage when everything else is beating to some sort of rhythm. For example, I make sure to work out at 6:15 every morning, just in case a big security incident breaks out at work and I end up working late. At work, my routine allows me to dedicate time to getting important tasks done while also leaving room for anomalies. I am also a big believer in organization – there should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. Organization just makes life easier and prettier.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “I have an affinity for all, but I certainly have my hands in Windows more often … ya know, working for Microsoft and all :)”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “I prefer Aram Mojabai from ‘The Blacklist.’”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time Machine — definitely!”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Buy a piece of land in a remote area of Washington to set up a suite of cabins that each have amazing lake and mountain views, lightning fast wifi, fireplaces, unlimited coffee, and an acre of land between each. Life is so busy and it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I would love to create a serene retreat for writers, tech nerds, or anyone else that needs a place to be productive or simply revive themselves. There would be an application process, in effort to maintain a barrier to entry so that loud, obnoxious partiers don’t slip through the cracks. I would like to think that this kind of break from the day-to-day would give people the time they need to recharge before going back to work to create the next big thing.”

I once waited in line for … “I am not a big fan of waiting in line — I always do my research ahead of time and find a way to have things delivered to my doorstep.”

Solaire Sanderson
Solaire Sanderson and her best friend, Sarah Owen, in Afghanistan.

Your role models: “This has always been a difficult question for me, simply because I don’t have a particular person in mind, but rather a type of person — anyone who has sought and found work that they are passionate about, who has shed blood, sweat, and tears to be effective at it. OK, that sounds a little dramatic — but I do believe blood, sweat, and tears come naturally to anyone with a true appetite for success, whatever their personal measure of success is.”

Greatest game in history: “Duck Hunt.”

Best gadget ever: “Raspberry Pi.”

First computer: “Wow, great question. I believe we used the Apple IIe in elementary school, but our first home computer was a HP 712. Look how far we’ve come!”

Current phone: “iPhone 7 Plus.”

Favorite app: “*cough* Pokemon Go *cough*”

Favorite cause: “Wounded Warrior Project.”

Most important technology of 2016: “Blockchain. Although Blockchain wasn’t created in 2016, there was a surge of interest surrounding its capabilities in 2016. Since blockchain (the technology behind bitcoin) is a decentralized and dispersed digital ledger, almost 50 top financial institutions began investigating how blockchain can track their assets, cut costs, and accelerate transactions — all while reducing the risk of fraud. While I believe it will still take many years for blockchain to become fully submerged in our economic, social, and/or political infrastructures, it is taking the world by storm. However, it is prudent to be vigilant when dealing with blockchain, as the legality behind blockchain and its applications remains suspicious in countries like China, India, and Russia. This is a particularly interesting topic for me, as the implementation and spread of blockchain technology ensures job security for me, haha.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Intelligent things. Between AI and machine learning, there’s no telling how cohesive and interactive the technology around us will become. We have self-driving vehicles; smart home devices that help us set alarms, schedule appointments, create shopping lists, and provides us with a vast array of information from the internet; Netflix and Pandora, which save our preferences and predict accurate recommendations based on those preferences; and the list goes on. 2018 is set to deliver even more intelligent technology that will use behavioral algorithms to predictively learn from our behaviors and anticipate our needs. I can’t wait — we are about to be the real-life Jetsons. Alexa is my Rosey the Robot.”

Microsoft President Brad Smith goes back to school to surprise math student who wrote him a letter

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When Fernley, Nev., middle school student Sky Yi was assigned to write a letter to a favorite business, to learn how math is being used in the real world, he chose Microsoft.

“Of course, I picked Microsoft, since you guys manufacture every spoiled, squeaky little teener child’s favorite thing, the Xbox,” Yi wrote in his letter to Brad Smith, the company’s president and chief legal officer. “Also, you guys have awesome computer software and hardware. In fact, I’m typing this on Microsoft Word.”

He added, “I bet whoever is getting this letter, whether it be your secretary or whatnot, is probably just throwing this away or something like that.”

Turns out he was wrong. Not only did Smith read the letter, but the Microsoft executive was moved enough by the assignment to travel to Yi’s school to surprise him in person. The visit is showcased in a new video from the technology giant, above.

Brad Smith and student
Microsoft President Brad Smith speaks with middle school student Sky Yi. (YouTube screen shot)

The video features scenes of Smith and Yi reading the letter, and comments from Ken Jordan, the math teacher behind the assignment, before showing Smith surprising Yi in a classroom.

While the video highlights Microsoft’s latest hardware and software, it also shows the company’s focus on education technology. Microsoft is competing with Apple, Google, Amazon and many other tech companies to cater to students and teachers, aiming to turn them into fans and long-term users.

“What we’ve learned, what the country knows, is that middle school math is a game-changer,” Smith explains in the video. “If kids make it through 7th and 8th grade math, and they succeed, they’re almost certain to keep succeeding, they’re almost certain to graduate from high school.”

He adds, “One of the things that makes this story exciting is that this is a middle school that clearly has some great math teachers, doing really creative work, drawing kids in, helping them not just learn to count or focus on things like algebra, but showing how math has a real-world impact.”

On the video, Smith presents Yi with a new Surface Laptop, the company’s new notebook computer that comes with Windows 10 S, a version of the operating system that has been streamlined with schools in mind.

“Not bad for a little letter,” the Microsoft exec says.