Every summer, dedicated Microsoft employees share their knowledge and experience with high school girls, giving them a chance to explore a career in technology. Mylene Padolina, senior diversity consultant at the company, explains that Microsoft's DigiGirlz camp is run by employee volunteers. They engage in job shadowing with the girls, teach introductory classes and conduct workshops from website design to programming and product development.
The camp began in 2000 at the company's Redmond, WA campus. It has expanded to company locations in Las Colinas, TX; Charlotte, NC and Fargo, ND.
Employee volunteers interested in youth outreach activities make the camps work, Padolina says. Both technical and non-technical folks participate at different levels. In past summers, Lisa Brummel, Microsoft's head of HR, Debra Chrapaty, a corporate VP, and other higher-ups have been counted among the camp workers. Male volunteers are welcome, of course, but these camps want to stress female role models.
"We try to provide the girls with people who've had a variety of experiences in their careers," Padolina says. "It's interesting for the girls to see how women got where they are, and the different jobs they've had, both technical and business."
There are two basic ideas behind the camp: ensure that Microsoft will have a diverse workforce in the future, and get more girls to see the possibilities in developing their technical and business talents. "We are concerned that schools are not getting enough young women, as well as students of color, into computer science tracks," says Padolina.
"We realized we needed to provide a concentrated time for girls to be exposed to technology, our organization, and the wide variety of careers available within the industry." Plus, she adds, "We wanted to show them that people in technology don't have to be a bunch of geeks."
The camp emphasizes collaboration and interaction, presented through hands-on workshops, tours and job shadowing.
Participants are chosen by school counselor recommendation plus a written application that includes an essay explaining why the girl wants to attend.
Microsoft works with local high schools and organizations like the Girl Scouts to be sure a good share of the girls are diverse. Departments of vocational rehabilitation are consulted to pull in students with disabilities.
About eighty slots are open each summer. Past campers were about half girls of color, along with some students with disabilities, some international and exchange students and other eager girls.
The Redmond camp runs for five days, from 9 to 3:30. A typical day involves a short talk by a Microsoft VIP, technology tours or workshops, a guest speaker during lunch, and job shadowing, plus a chance to chat with Microsoft employees.
The workshops are pretty exciting. Past camps have offered game testing in the playtest lab; work on a video documentary in Microsoft studios; consideration of desirable user interfaces for a cell phone or PDA, followed by a marketing campaign for the product; using Visual Basic to create a word puzzle or HTML scripting to build a webpage.
On the practical side, Padolina adds, "We also insist on a resume-writing workshop because you can't start that sort of training too early."
Some participants have gone on to internships at Microsoft. "We manage databases, create websites and do software testing. Probably the most coveted job is software testing for the X-box," Padolina reports with a smile.
Microsoft's employee volunteers really enjoy working with the kids. "They can share their passion for the work, and they have a sense of personal satisfaction when they see the girls getting interested," Padolina notes.
"It's a pleasure to link the community to our company. We're creating a pipeline of future workers, and I'm never at a loss for employee volunteers."
Besides the camp, Microsoft volunteers go out to schools to participate in career days and panels. Several employee network groups have specific programs for local students. And the company provides matching contributions for time the volunteers spend in the community.
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