21 April 2020 news

TEDx Speaker, Tech Girl Superhero, Microsoftie and 1 of MCV’s 100 Most Influential Women in Games, Michelle Sandford is a popular choice for speaking on diversity in Tech, women and young people into the Tech Industry. Michelle lives life by running to stay one jump ahead of the Gameboy and by striving to think outside the Xbox. She surfs waves and webs. In her spare time, she hunts Pokémon’s for fun.

We challenged Michelle to give us an interview that combines both funny and serious insides about herself and her work field experience. The interview ends with a powerful and emotional message for us, dev people. So, check more about her interview below.

Teo of Coffee?

Tea, no, coffee…umm, both…Bubble tea!

Cat of dog?

Dog, kind of.

Who is your favorite superhero?

I would go with Daisy Johnson from Agents of Shield. She started her life as a young hacker, which is awesome, she gets superpowers and she ends up being a director of Shield, in the comics anyway. So YES, Daisy Johnson!

Super Mario or Pac-Man?

Don’t know. If you want a really good game, check-out Goat Punks, the super, super fun for 1 player or for 4. And if you want to play a game and learn technology, check out Twilio Quest because it’s an incredible way to teach people how to use a platform and do some really cool stuff.

How important is diversity? How do you empower the Tech Community?

I don’t know about you, but when I’m hanging out with people that are all the same it ends up dull. I’m always delighted when I’m surrounded by people who think completely different than me. In my team at Microsoft I have someone who is super process oriented, she cares about the numbers, the timeline, the budget, when I’m really a big picture person and get excited about new concepts and just want to try everything like “Just give it a go, play it and see what happens”.

I kind of trust the stuff will work out…We also have other type of persons in the team. We have one guy that’s kind and wants to get everyone’s opinion, collaborate and make sure that everyone’s voice is heard. I think it is so useful to have that mixture of few points around us and it make me think more, and consider more creative ideas, different ways of doing things, so, yeah, I’m always looking forward to bring more diversity into a team. It makes it more interesting and genuinely we get better products out of it.

How do I enable it into my community? Well I mentor whenever I can. So, I try to bring more people, younger people, different people with new ideas into the tech field. I mentor for a nonprofit organization, She Codes, where we teach women in how to code. We teach young women back end, Java Script, Python… So, you know, multiple programming languages are interesting and if they were all the same, then, I don’t think we would have built as many clever things as we have built over the years. So, yeah, more diversity! We enable it by teaching each other new methodologies. I learn something, and I try to share it with other people, and encourage you to do the same.

What future technology excites you the most?

I guess there’s a couple of things, so I do love bots, particular chat bots. That’s where I started my career in technology when I was in university doing my master, my dissertation was around Eliza Program, building that kind of chat bot that crosses the frontier between human and robots, and tries to combine a little bit of empathy, a little bit of understanding, um, I mean at least with Eliza she was faking it right (laugh).

Today, there is machine learning that can be added into those chat bots, there is more stuff, data that we can put together and in the end when you look at a human being is it what makes us who we are now. Is it anything more that a collection of shared experiences, thing that we’ve done, things that we’ve learned, things that we know? Is it that we’ve collected that knowledge all our lives and then we’ve applied it according to a bunch of rules or algorithms, much like the bots? And if we give the bots enough data, what is the difference between what they do and what we do? Above them we have more shared experience and we have more training in how to make our way in the world. That’s interesting to me!

The other thing that I really like is virtual reality or Vixt reality, as we like to call it at Microsoft, so initially when they had all these devices coming out: Oculus and all of that, I tried way back then and absolutely felt dizzy and was not very excited about it. Then I had the opportunity to try new devices, when they came out a couple years ago, and it’s amazing, you can absolutely get lost in that world, you don’t realize how much energy you are expending, you’re just in it and I can absolutely see a future where we live inside a little box, we have a running machine, and we visit worlds with our mind rather then with our bodies. I think that’s a very excited thing! Horrifying and exciting but maybe it won’t be horrifying if we feel it like it is!

What is your message for the Romanian IT Community?

I would have been super excited to come and see you all in person this year. The world is a cold and dark place right now and everyone’s afraid or bored or frustrated. Being an introvert, I’m actually pretty pleased, I really like the whole self-isolation thing but it is really important to stay connected and so, if you are feeling lonely or anxious or frightened this time, do remember that there is a whole community that supports you, we are all creators, we are world builders, we are changing with what we do and if we can’t support each other in difficult times, then when can we? So, you know, I’m excited that we’re doing this special conference, I hope to come and see you in person next year and take care of each other, be kind to each other and take this time to learn many new, exciting things as you can! Thanks for having me!

Can’t wait to see her speech on 10-12th of June on the Main Stage powered by ING Bank Romania. You can save your seat here ? Till then stay safe!