Distinguished Microsoft engineer offers insight into the future of women in STEM


With the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math traditionally being male-dominated, has gender equality in technology and data science finally arrived?

The Women in Data Science initiative, which works to support gender equality in technology, started as a one-day technical conference at Stanford in 2015. Today, WiDS is a global movement with over 200 regional events around the world in over 60 countries.

Rukmini Iyer (photo) began her journey in technology over 25 years ago when she developed statistical models of speech and text for DARPA and NSA research projects. Today she is a Emeritus Engineer and Corporate Vice President at Microsoft.

“My background itself is in artificial intelligence, and my PhD was in language modeling and natural language processing,” Iyer said.That’s how I got into space. And then I did machine learning. … I have basically touched almost every piece of the puzzle.

Iyer currently juggles a plethora of high-level responsibilities, including managing Microsoft’s advertising engineering arm and spearheading a multibillion-dollar online advertising ecosystem.

Iyer spoke with Lisa Martin, host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s live-streaming studio, at the Women in Data Science (WiDS) Event. They discussed Iyer’s involvement with WiDS over the years and ideas for the future market for women in STEM.

Gifted minds must solve unique problems

The cognitive and analytical demands of STEM jobs are indicative of the complex issues that need to be resolved. With contrasting challenges often positioned as an infinite loop, balancing different team roles within a product or service division can be difficult, according to Iyer.

“If that balance is right, then you get a really ambitious product. If this balance is not right, you end up with a very small microsystem. And so my job is really to make sure the team is really ambitious in their thinking,” she said.

Iyer came into contact with WiDS years ago when she was trying to connect a certain group of students with Microsoft jobs. Since then, she has appeared as a keynote speaker, panelist and workshop organizer at WiDS events. She was also part of the WiDS High School outreach program.

“I want new data scientists to be ambitious. I don’t want them just reading a book and apply the theory. I really want them to think what problem do they solve and if they could solve it how it can be resolved,” Iyer said.

Watch the full video interview below and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE and theCUBE’s coverage on the Women in Data Science (WiDS) Event.

Photo: SiliconANGLE

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