microsoft research faculty summit: monday morning


I'm spending the morning at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, an annual conference sponsored by MSR. It's an invitation-only conference attended by about 400 CS researchers from around the world.

I'm not going to blog the whole thing (I'm not even going to attend the whole thing, since I have some meetings that conflict), but I will blog the ones that are particularly notable, starting with the kick-off event--a dialog between Bill Gates and Maria Klawe, the dean of engineering at Princeton.

Klawe quotes statistics saying that the number of jobs in CS is growing, salaries are going up. (I need to find out where those numbers came from.)

(Gates wants to know why physical education is the fastest-growing field in higher ed.)

Klawe send a softball question to Gates--"Are you finding enough people to hire in the US?" His response is an emphatic "no." He says it's not hard to find project managers in the US, but it's much harder to find excellent software engineers.

She asks him to describe the ideal engineering candidate. He says he wants more emphasis on the basic underlying mechanisms of computers and algorithms. Then he veers into selection process rather than preparation, talking about the success of the intern program. Mentions the intern dinner--apparently they bring in 300 per night, not everyone at once. He says that they ask sometimes about other companies, and then describes Google as "faddishly hot."

K: What's your position on how interdisciplinary CS studies should be? Should students be doing double majors and application-focused coursework?

G: There are still plenty of pure CS problems--in privacy, security, navigatio of information. (Hmmm...I wouldn't call information navigation a "pure CS" problem.)

K: These problems will only be solved if people work on them. We need funding for students to do so.

Her son is going into CS, but her daughter doesn't want to. One of the issues that stops a lot of women and minorities from wanting to study CS is the image of the career and perception of what a CS professional is like. She says she knows it's an exciting field that requires interaction, communication. So, how can we create a more positive image for our profession? What is Microsoft doing?

G: Microsoft can set an example of what kind of jobs these are, and how interesting they are. He says MS can promise people that within 2 years they'll have the opportunity to move beyond basic development roles. If people really understood the jobs, they'd feel differently. He says he just "doesn't get it" as to why people don't have more interest in these jobs.

K: Notes the increased number of women who have gone into medicine and law in her lifetime. Points out that during that time television shows and movies have glamorized those careers. Why don't we have the same thing for CS?

G: Well, if you took a movie camera into one of our buildings, it wouldn't be that interesting.

K: That's true for all of those other fields, too!

moves on to next question

K: CS is the only field in science and engineering in which the participation of women has been dropping. What would be more effective in getting women into these fields?

G: Women need to be visible.

K: (frustrated) We are doing that. It's not working! Things happening on the grass roots level aren't working. Every woman in the field is doing this. There has to be another way to succeed at this.

G: (Seems at a loss for a moment.) Mentions studies showing that we lose women at every step of the pipeline, and the problem with not having reached critical mass. He asks--is this different in Asia?

K: No. A few countries have high participation. Ireland, possibly because of the prevalence of single-sex education. Turkey, because students aren't given choices, they're assigned.

(She's going from a prepared script, which causes some of this to sound really stilted and programmed.)

K: What are the areas you're most excited about?

G: What's happening in MSR is the most exciting, and the most interesting part of his job. TechFest is one of the "funnest" things on the Microsoft calendar. The TabletPC is cool; eventually every student will have one.

[... lost focus for a bit; I'm watchign this on a video screen, which is less engaging than having a real person up there ...]

Ben Shneiderman does a very long statement-in-the-form-of-a-question, and claims that the ocmputing fields have the highest level of introversion, which Gates and Rashid dispute. (Rashid seems to be confusing introversion with isolation, arguing that software teams have to work together.)

Rashid points out that the social and media tools that kids are using now (iPods, IM, cell phones, etc) are tools created by computer scientists--why don't kids want to be involved in creating them and making them better?

(decided I needed coffee at this point, so missed the rest of the q & a)

Of note following the dialog: several new RFPs being announced today:

  • trustworthy computing curriculum
  • smart clients for e-science
  • digital memories (memex-like devices storing all your information)

Later this year:

  • Phoenix
  • Digital Inclusion (how do you make computing affordable, accessible and relevant for underrepresented populations?)

Also coming: "institutes" with deep msr collaboration, 3-year commitment, IP agreement. Topics being considered are mobile phones, bioinformatics, and robotics. More information will be forthcoming, but details are not yet available.

Upcoming workshops include gaming technologies in education, and Tablet PC in education. Dates not yet finalized.


Thanks for posting this very interesting summary.

> Klawe quotes statistics saying that the number of
> jobs in CS is growing, salaries are going up. (I
> need to find out where those numbers came from.)

I'd love to see that study as well. Perhaps looking at the world as a whole and taking a very short frame you could make that claim (I've heard anecdotal evidence that salaries in China/India are rising right now as the engineers there have no qualms about jumping ship to whoever happens to be paying the most), but I'm skeptical that it is true in the US over the past few years.

Actually, Maria Klawe wasn't reading from a script. She had a bunch of notes on questions she wanted to ask, and she brought some stats too on the enrollment and employment figures. But it was defintiely not scripted.

The "CS jobs are going up" stats come partly from the Department of Labor. There have also been a couple of recent labor reports that show that IT employment is on the way up and that salaries are rising. I have a reference to it that I'll dig up; I find, though, that is a great source for these kinds of reports and is usually way ahead of me.

OK, found it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (within the Department of Labor) publishes updated empoyment and wages statistics every six months, and they just published the results of their May survey at

It shows that IT employment has recovered to pre-bust levels, and and wages are trending up.

I believe that the IT job market is a great deal better now than it was a few years ago. I recently graduated from RIT with a M.S. in Information Technology and had a few job offers upon graduation. I strongly feel that women in IT need to be visible. I have encountered many "old boys" networks in the IT industry which makes it difficult for women to climb the corporate ladder. However, it might be interesting to examine the motivation factors that enable some women to "break through the glass ceiling".

Sara Fuller

Interesting notes and comments. I think from the webcast it's obvious that Bill Gates is not really in tune with higher level education and CS, judging by his vague and unsatisfying answers. If he were to actually sit in a classroom, or be a CS student for one day, then he would understand what are the problems in CS and why there aren't many women in CS.

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on July 18, 2005 10:32 AM.

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