Seattle Girl Geek Dinner #9

Tonight I attended the Seattle Girl Geek Dinner event at the Microsoft Store in Bellevue. This was the first time I attended such an event.

The Girl Geek Dinners are social events which aim to bring women in technology or women interested in technology together for speaking sessions, networking, and to share ideas and practices related to technology and professional and career development. The Girl Geek Dinners originated in London, after which chapters were formed around the world. All of them adhere to the same general format: take place in an informal, relaxed environment, and although men are not excluded, they must be invited by a woman, and there shouldn’t be more men than women. The latter decision was made consciously because technology is dominated by men, and when dominate, even in informal settings, the dynamics of a social event change. Because tech fields are male-dominated, it allows the male attendees to interact in groups where they are not the majority in number, which is a good learning opportunity for them. For women in technology, whose work environments are dominated by men, it allows them to interact in groups in which they outnumber men, which is extremely rare. I really like this approach. It definitely made me feel a lot more comfortable at the event tonight.

Two women from Microsoft spoke at Dinner #9. The first speaker talked about the Kinect and how Microsoft had to adapt a different approach to the technology in order to market to a broader, more inclusive audience. The second speaker talked about creating strong women’s communities and support networks, and how supporting other women in their careers can help one’s own professional development.

Disruptive Creation: Breaking Down Barriers to make Kinect

Shannon Loftis – Studio Manager, Good Science Studio

  • Kinect: new technology eliminated barriers to entry faced by non-traditional gaming audiences, such as women, who found traditional interfaces unintuitive and time-intensive to learn
  • Male-dominated Gears of War development team worked on Kinect
  • Old approaches and mindsets in game development would not work because of their goal for broad appeal; could not rely solely on developers experience with developing games like Gears of War, which are developed and marketed primarily to males
  • New tech, new markets, needed new approach
  • Science-based approach looked at personality play types
  • Found that people did not necessarily belong to only one type; i.e. players who socialise may also like to be organisers
  • Microsoft tried to make the Kinect appeal to as many of these variables as possible to reach the broadest audience
  • Approach didn’t stop at product; they built their development teams so that all of these aspects were well- and evenly-represented
  • Thousands of women and other non-traditional gamers, as well as families and couples, play tested Kinect
  • 8 million Kinect units shipped, over $1 billion made, but Xbox 360 install base is over 40 million; Kinect not successful as Microsoft would like, yet
  • Xbox brand and male-dominated, un-inclusive traditional gaming audience/market is a big hindrance to acceptance by non-traditional gaming markets; barrier to making lots and lots of money
  • What Kinect does now is just the tip of the iceberg

Why Every Women Needs Her Own Board of Directors

Erin Chapple – Group Program Manager, Windows Server

  • Other women are our strongest means of career support and advancement
  • Women should be supporting each other and helping each other succeed professionally
  • In the male-dominated technology field, it is important for women to support each other, not view each other as competitors
  • If one woman succeeds, all women succeed; forging a path for more women to advance
  • The women you help professionally may one day be in a position to help you professionally
  • Having your own “Board of Directors” can help you professionally
  • Informal meetings with a small group of women professionals can help you suss out challenges at work
  • Microsoft Server and Tools Business (STB) Women’s Leadership Council – first informal start (casual lunches), funded by department (ask for money!), then grew and became more organised (sponsoring activities, students, internship program for women, etc.)
  • Your own women’s community in your company can start small, just gatherings over lunch, sharing ideas, talking about challenges, etc.; it is building a support network and supportive community