Finding Community at Microsoft Ignite

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Microsoft Ignite is a special time of the year for Microsoft and Microsoft fans alike. Many new products, features, and updates are highlighted and demonstrated. Last year was my first year attending, and I left the event filled with so much knowledge and inspiration. This year, something unexpected happened. I still gained knowledge and inspiration, but this time it wasn’t about the shiny, new tech they were displaying. This year, I left the conference with a full heart stemming from another source.  

A few months ago, I joined Microsoft’s Tech Community. It is comprised of smaller groups with specific interests and there is something for everyone. There are several fabulous established groups doing great things for women coders, but I seldom found a place where the focus is more on the infrastructure side of things until I found a group that really caught my interest – #WomenITPros. This group is exactly what I was looking for! Founded by Cathy Moya, this inclusive group connects women and allies working in tech, specifically Microsoft infrastructure, deployment, and management. #WomenITPros is a sub-group from the larger overarching group called #HumansofIT led by Shona Bang.   

#WomenITPros hosts monthly presentations from industry leaders, similar to TED talks. In some cases, these individuals are public speakers who have already given TED talks such as Chief #NinjaCat of the Insider Program at Microsoft Dona Sarkar. I began listening to these talks and noticed the effect they started to have on how I conduct myself professionally as well as personally. I was excited and energized by them and it carried over to the other sessions I attended at Ignite. So, naturally, I signed up and added more community sessions to my already overbooked session scheduler.  

Haben Girma with her guide dog Mylo. From The Washington Post.

I’m glad I did! I arrived early and snagged a front-row seat to Haben Girma’s session, Disability and innovation: The universal benefits of inclusive design. There I found a copy of her new book placed on each of the attendees’ table settings. As she approached the stage with her guide dog Mylo, I was still unaware of the profound impact this woman’s message would have on me. To be honest, it wasn’t until the Q&A portion that I found myself fighting back tears. I was sitting there watching two deafblind individuals communicating with each other with the help of a Protactile device called BrailleNote Apex. Two people faced with adversity who persevered and found a technology-driven solution to do so.  

Being a techie, I started to think about how technology could potentially enhance people’s lives in so many ways. Simple adjustments such as adding closed captions to audio could make information on the Web accessible to individuals with sight and auditory impairments. Haben Girma gave me a copy of her book, but I left her session with so much more! 

I went on to attend some of Microsoft’s “un-conference sessions.” In addition to the traditional presentation style sessions, Microsoft rolled out a new type of session called the “un-conference session” with human-focused instead of tech-focused topics. My first un-conference session was focused on combating working parent obstacles.  In this session, I was able to meet individuals from all walks of life with rich and diverse cultural experiences. We broke into small groups and shared how we overcome some of these challenges such as mom or dad guilt. Learning about the home dynamics and solutions from so many diverse cultures was an eye-opening experience.  

The culmination of these events has led me to ask myself what am I doing to positively impact the community?  

One of Cathy Moya’s quotes that resonated with me from our chats was, “You can’t be what you don’t see.” That stuck with me and struck me as a great way for me to start ramping up my efforts and help encourage involvement. So, I start by sharing my story in this blog, and I encourage you to take a listen to the sessions linked above and see what resonates with you. Then go out there, even if just virtually, and share your experiences to help reach others who may be going through similar situations. Help lead the conversations and grow new relationships that foster technological innovation and community for all.   

Again, I’ll start. Want to connect? Find me on TwitterFacebook, or Linkedin 

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