Passion is as important as skills, says Microsoft UK CEO Cindy Rose

The technology sector needs men and women who have passion and energy as well as digital skills, the head of Microsoft UK has told schoolgirls.

Cindy Rose spoke to hundreds of students at Microsoft’s UK headquarters as part of a DigiGirlz event, which aims to encourage more young women to pursue jobs in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Research from Microsoft earlier this year revealed that teachers and parents in the UK have a five-year window to foster girls’ interest in STEM before it starts to wane. UK girls’ interest in STEM subjects peaks at the age of 11 but then falls by 16. In addition, less than half (43%) of those surveyed said they would consider a career in STEM.

While she acknowledged there was still “an issue” around the lack of women in senior technology roles across the sector, Rose said digital companies have never been more open to potential applicants.

“You don’t need to be a coder or amazing at maths to work in technology, that’s just not true anymore. I loved technology, and I wanted to be creative and have an effect on people’s lives. Bring energy and passion to the world; and there is a lot to be passionate about what we do. We use AI and machine learning to change people’s lives and we need the most creative people to do that. Anyone can now come into the sector, and when they do they will find that it’s a very inspiring career.”

Around 160 girls aged 12 and 13 from schools across the South and Midlands took part in the 10th annual DigiGirlz event at Microsoft’s office in Reading. The youngsters heard from several employees, including recent graduates from the company’s recruitment scheme, about what a career in the technology sector was like and how firms are adapting to a world in which artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing the workplace.

Everything you need to know about DigiGirlz

The schoolgirls also learnt about the Internet of Things (IoT), and were tasked with developing an idea for a product that could wirelessly connect to other devices.

Among those that attended the event was Reading Girls’ School, a partially-selective school for 11 to 16 year olds.

Kate Thompson, Business and Enterprise Co-ordinator at the school, said her pupils regularly learned STEM skills but going to Microsoft’s offices showed them what that learning could lead to.

Microsoft UK CEO Cindy Rose (centre) with DigiGirlz organisers

Microsoft UK CEO Cindy Rose (centre) with DigiGirlz organisers

“Our girls always look forward to going to a DigiGirlz event, and it gets them thinking about careers,” she said. “It helps them think about the opportunities that could be open to them in the future. DigiGirlz also helps our girls build communication and teamwork skills.”

Fatima Bundu and Julia Pawlus, who are both 13 and attend Reading Girls’ School, said they found DigiGirlz “fun” and “really interesting”. Pawlus added that it made her think about studying technology subjects at GCSE. “This has shown us what we need to do if we want to work for a tech company,” she said.

Lord Wandsworth College, located in Hook, Hampshire, and open to boys and girls aged 11 to 18, has a strong technology curriculum. Chris Millington, Head of IT, revealed that computing is more popular with his female pupils, who learn about coding and robotics, among other tech subjects. He also praised DigiGirlz for building confidence in girls and showing them “a path” into the sector.

A team of eight girls from Portsmouth High School took the top prize in the DigiGirlz’s IoT competition with a pair of connected gloves called MiTouch, which could be used to open security doors at work or pay for items in a shop.

Thirteen-year-old Isabella Adams, who was a member of the team, said she would “definitely consider a tech career now. DigiGirlz has opened my eyes to lots of different opportunities that I wasn’t aware of.”

DigiGirlz participants at Microsoft UK HQ

DigiGirlz participants at Microsoft UK HQ

Sammy Davies, Head of Careers at the all-girls school, added: “Days like this are hugely important to show the girls just what careers are out there in a rapidly changing world. Business and education each have a huge responsibility to adequately prepare the pupils of today for the careers of the future and working together on such events is key to the success of that task.

“Hearing from Microsoft’s female employees – from the interns to the product managers and chief executive – was inspirational and really made the girls think seriously about technology careers.”

Rose closed the event by encouraging the schoolgirls never to let any barriers stand in the way of pursuing their dreams.

“Think long and hard about what you’re passionate about, it’s so important to know what motivates you,” she said.