Microsoft’s Build 2016 diversity report card

Kareem Anderson

March 31, 2016 marks the end of Microsoft’s 2-day long keynote presentations for its Build 2016 developer conference. While Build 2016 will continue for another day for the actual developers attending the conference and breakout sessions, the main stage for Microsoft presenters and partners is effectively closed.

However, the faces and speakers who donned the stage at Build 2016 did more than show demos and weaved intricate stories for Microsoft’s developer ambitions. Many of them also helped add to the swelling tide of conversation of diversity that is slowly proliferating within the tech industry.

During Microsoft’s Build 2015, here at WinBeta, we noted the number of faces that bucked the trend of a traditionally white male populous that made up attendees as well as presenters at events such as these in the past. Last year, Microsoft made, what seemed like, a concerted effort to diversify their presenters on stage by not only adding women, but people of different ethnic backgrounds to represent the many faces of partners and employees that make up the Microsoft family. From having Office superstar Julia White on stage explaining Office apps on mobile to principle SDE at Microsoft, Lara Rubbelke talking code for over five straight minutes, Microsoft’s Build 2015 conference was an inspiring example for women in tech.

Julia White at Build 2015

Microsoft wasn’t alone in its inclusion effort as companies such as Google, Samsung, and Facebook all pitched efforts to make the tech industry more inclusive of women and minorities during their various events throughout 2015.

In 2016, Microsoft seemed to double down on the notion of inclusion by adding, even more, presenters of differing genders and ethnic backgrounds tell the company’s developer story. While tossing up a few female and minority faces could score some easy diversity points with socially conscious journalists; it’s the attention to detail that caught our eyes here at WinBeta.

Not only were there more women and minorities showcased during Build 2016, but the titles and positions of each on stage added to their presence and perhaps spoke more to the tide of change occurring in the industry.

During Microsoft’s opening keynote on Day One of Build 2016, developers and journalists were introduced to Ashley Speicher, the partner software engineering manager of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft, who spoke to the company’s plans for Universal Windows apps on the Xbox. Another impressive Day One presenter was Pamela B. Davis, M.D., Ph.D. and dean of the School of Medicine Case Western Reserve University who spoke at length about the medical capabilities of Microsoft’s HoloLens headset.

Next up was Lilian Rincon, the principal group program manager of the Skype Consumer division at Microsoft who walked attendees through, perhaps, Microsoft biggest bet this year with bot features coming to Skype. Following Rincon with a demo on Microsoft’s bot builder SDK using Domino’s Pizza was Lili Cheng a distinguished engineer at Microsoft who explained chat control and natural language with bots.

Senior PM at Microsoft Cornelia Carapcea also came on stage during the Day One keynote to walk developers through the various APIs that make up Microsoft’s Cognitive Services. While Microsoft made use of its highly talented female engineers, managers, and partners, it was perhaps the companies far reach to its physically challenged employee that had a lasting impact on attendees.

Rounding out the Day One keynote at Build 2016 was the heartfelt story of Saqib Shaikh, the blind developer and 10-year Microsoft employee who created an app that accompanies of smart glasses that enables him to interact with his surrounding world through detailed descriptions of events and people around him. After a beautifully crafted video showcasing Shaikh’s work, he was met on stage by the CEO of Microsoft, making for one the most inspiring moments in tech in the last few years.

Saqib Shaikh developer with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Again, just adding women to an event may seem like a thoughtless knee-jerk reaction to criticism. However, Microsoft’s careful placement of high ranking and knowledgeable females added to the parade of diversity and inclusive nature of its presenters. Other diverse presenter included African American senior program manager at Microsoft, Donovan Brown, Chinese American Qi Lu the executive vice president of applications and services group at Microsoft as well as Spanish American Yina Arenas the senior PPM manager at Microsoft during Day Two of Build 2016.

Build 2016 offered a brief glimpse into the diverse makeup of Microsoft’s employee and partnering family as well as provided an encouraging display for women and minorities interested in the tech industry.

After the lapse in judgment, the company showed during its Game Developers Conference two weeks ago, offering a stark contrast in how it employs and relates with females in the industry was sorely needed. Not only has Microsoft made an effort to showcase more women during its Build 2016 conference, but developers and journalists were also invited to a Women’s Leadership Panel that covered how women in tech began their careers and the advice they would recommend to others interested.

Hopefully, Microsoft continues to expand its diversity efforts at its events and conferences throughout the rest of the year. It would also be nice to see the crowds at developer conferences, gaming conventions and other tech related events begin to represent the diverse men and women that are finally gracing its stages.