Technical women in product engineering groups at Microsoft

There are about ~20 Technical Fellows (all men) and ~48 Distinguished Engineers (all men) at Microsoft.  There are a handful of women who are in the executive ranks, including two Senior Vice Presidents.  Mary Jo Foley (author of "All About Microsoft") has started blogging a new series titled, Microsoft women worth watching, to profile 'techy' women who provide significant contribution to the company.  She starts the series off by profiling Julie Larson-Green, who is the Corporate Vice President for Program Management in Windows Client.  There is also a Microsoft Channel 9 series on Women in Microsoft and they also interviewed Julie in 2007

The percentage of women in product engineering groups (and especially key technical roles) varies from product to product.  The ratio also changes significantly across the higher levels in the company.  I wonder if the choice of product also determines the number of women in the technical role and their corresponding growth in that product area.  This article got me counting the number of women in our product group.  The SQL Server Modeling Services product engineering team, which is a small product team, has following ratios.

  • The PM team ratio is 56% male and 44% female (which includes a Partner GPM Shoshanna Budzianowski and a PM lead)

  • The SDE team ratio is 92% male and 8% female

  • The SDET team ratio is 83% male and 17% female (which includes a test lead)

There isn’t a single woman architect in my product group. In fact, in my last 3 years at Microsoft, I have come across only one woman architect. 

Microsoft provides an environment where women are treated with respect.  We don't regularly even get to think about this gap, because we are so busy thinking and working on the product issues.  There are multiple reasons why there is such a divide, including availability and interest. 

There is a smaller pool of women out there to pick from (women participation in Computer Science has dropped significantly).  The situation is especially grim in the United States. Young people in many less-developed countries now outperform their American counterparts in both science and math.  I know this, because I, along with other volunteers, have been researching and collecting these statistics from various sources for a local non-profit organization called Cascades Science Center Foundation.  As part of this foundation, we are deeply interested in creating a physical environment locally for the children (boys and girls) to get interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  Microsoft also has programs dedicated in this area – check this article titled STEM: A Foundation for the Future. Also, last year Microsoft launched a website as part of U.S. Computer Science Education Week to encourage youth to pursue careers in computer science.

Another factor in the decline for some women can be lack of interest.  I have experience working in both a technical role in high tech company (3 years) and a technology position in a company other than high-tech (11 years in financial industry).  I am a Computer Science graduate and I started out my career as a computer programmer.  I worked with many women developers and testers during my technology career in non-tech industry.  I was one of the few women, who was the technical lead, the IT architect and (for a small duration) the IT strategist.  I still remember attending meetings in IBM office at Poughkeepsie, NY where I was the only woman sent by my company amongst the total of 18 people (and yes, there is usually a line-up outside men’s washrooms at the high-tech conferences.J). During the course of my career, I saw many women developer and technical leads, either becoming generalist development managers or switching disciplines including Project Management and Business Analysis.  Despite the move away from core technical involvement, many are still working in the technology departments and didn’t move into the business groups.  For many of them, the reason for the switch was boredom and lack of interest. I personally believe (IMHO), women are wired to be ‘global’ and ‘big picture’ thinkers.  They want to connect many dots.  They want to connect to people (the whole IT-is-geeky argument).  They want to ‘see’ the impact of their work on others. Many times, one can get lost in mundane issues while working deep in one technical feature.  There are many other cool roles surrounding technology (Product Management, Technical Writing, UX Design, Release Management, etc.) which meet the needs and interests of certain women at different phases of their lives. 

Then there are always some other reasons! I From workplace ceiling to personal reasons. I have a very talented girlfriend, who used to work as a SDE at Microsoft.  She is super interested in technology.  She quit her job last year, after she gave birth to her second child.  She said that she found her job as a developer to be very stressful.  Now that her second child is over two years old, she is thinking of returning back to the workforce, but wants to switch the discipline, where stress level is low.  And then I have other friends, who find that working for a corporation (technology or otherwise) is not fulfilling enough for them and really yearn for working in a non-profit environment. 

Anyways, in general, Microsoft is hungry for talented technical women (and men)! If you fit the bill, do apply.  DMG is hiring (PM, Dev and Test positions are available)!

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