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National Society of Black Engineers Honors Microsoft as No. 1 Employer


Trite as it may sound, the old adage that a business is only as good as its people is often true. And for Microsoft, a commitment to being a great company with great people has paid off with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) naming Microsoft as their No. 1 employer of preference in NSBE’s 19th annual employer preference survey. This recognition comes, as NSBE Executive Director Carl Mack puts it, “At a very important time for NSBE, for Microsoft and for diversity in the high-tech industry as a whole.”

There isn’t anyone that disputes that there is a major shortage of African Americans entering engineering professions – especially computer science. In fact, of the 310 million computer science graduates in the United States in 2002, fewer than 23 million – or 7 percent – were black, according to a study by the National Science Foundation.

This lack of young black men and women poses a particular problem for companies like Microsoft that see diversity as part of their core mission, and thrive on the variety of ideas and innovations that can only be fueled by a wide range of people from a multitude of backgrounds.

Like many other major technology companies, Microsoft knows that its competitive edge could be dulled by the startling lack of technical talent being produced in the United States today.

“The shallow pool of skills is due, in part, to the lack of minorities being drawn into technology – and the ideas that they aren’t sharing,” says Mack. “Minorities make valuable contributions every day, and Microsoft understands, respects and encourages that.”

For its part, Microsoft has been working to improve diversity within the company and across the high-tech sector for years. Microsoft founder and Chairman, Bill Gates, has made it clear on multiple occasions that in order to continue to be a credible force and a true global company, Microsoft must ensure that minority groups are adequately represented. That representation, he’s said, must be more than merely show – which is why the company partners so closely with organizations like NSBE – they must foster, develop and attract new and diverse talent with fresh ideas that will help to lead the company well into the future.

NSBE, building leaders early on

“NSBE is a leadership incubator,” Mack explains. “All of our members have hands-on, day-to-day leadership experience – because of the way this organization is structured – and that’s something they can take into their roles at Microsoft or other companies.” In fact, NSBE is the largest student-run organization in the country, with close to 27,000 members spread out over six regions. The organization has worked for decades to distinguish itself as the preeminent collegiate association for black men and women pursuing degrees and then careers in engineering and computer science.

The support they offer their members has shown a positive impact on the number of young people considering technical careers. NSBE’s approach has helped attract individuals who would have never before considered a career in engineering or computer science and really bolstered those who have always been passionate about it. And the passion that is both inspired and stoked during those college years continues to burn bright for NSBE members that wind up working at Microsoft.

A life-long love of technology

Cierra McDonald, a program manager for Microsoft, exemplifies the kind of passion and dedication that both NSBE and Microsoft are known for. From an early age, McDonald was fascinated by technology, building her interest of video gaming into a love for computer programming. “I guess you could say that I’ve always loved technology,” she says. “Even when I was a kid I loved to play video games and that led me to buy a book on programming … and since then I was hooked.”

But even as a computer science major in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana, McDonald wasn’t sure if she would ever get a chance to actually work at Microsoft. “I’ve always wanted to work here, but in college I wasn’t sure that it would be possible. It was kind of intimidating, you know?” she recollects. McDonald’s initial impressions aren’t uncommon, even for the most seasoned engineers, but for one of only a handful of black students in any of her computer science classes, making the dream of working at Microsoft into a reality can seem, under the best of circumstances, daunting.

“Competition to get a job here is stiff,” she says. “If I hadn’t had the support from NSBE that I did, I might have never applied.” NSBE helps its members by providing a sense of community and an anchor as they figure out who they are and what they want to do with their careers. Being a member of NSBE gave Cierra the opportunity to meet other members that were already working at Microsoft – that helped her realize that it was possible for her too.

To this day, McDonald remains actively involved with NSBE, and often returns to her alma mater to serve as a mentor and to encourage other young black engineers to pursue careers with Microsoft. “Microsoft is a great place to work,” she says. “I want to make sure that current students know that, and know that they have a place here.”

Going beyond commitment

Helping to lead Microsoft’s daily operations and a vocal advocate of its role as an active diversity partner is Cedric Coco, the company’s general manager of Engineering Excellence. For him, the recognition that the company has received from NSBE is particularly meaningful; it means he is helping create a place at Microsoft for everyone.

Since his days as a NSBE member in college, Coco has worked for many large organizations all over the country. But few, he says, have such a positive and committed attitude toward diversity.

“This is really great,” he says, “I’m proud to be a part of this organization at this time – because this acknowledgment from NSBE underscores a genesis in Microsoft, a maturing, and that’s significant.” Diversity is, according to Coco, a part of the Microsoft DNA. Being recognized in this way validates the company’s efforts, as well as his own, he says.

“One of the most important things about our diversity efforts is they are not self-congratulatory,” Coco says. For him, that underscores Microsoft’s desire to being a real partner and growing within the diversity space.

“We work with NSBE and other organizations in a way that reflects our core values,” he says. “What we do isn’t about immediate gains; it’s about making a difference for our industry as a whole. It’s important that more young African-Americans get involved in engineering and computer science, so we are working toward that end more than anything.”

Coco believes that Microsoft has a lot to offer to young people interested in technology. As the company explores new business avenues, it is opening the door for engineers to put their skills to use in areas beyond desktop applications, such as entertainment, music, software, business applications, mobile phones and even the automotive industry.

Providing more than a job, providing a home

Diversity of ideas, diversity of products and services – these all speak to the nature of Microsoft and its broad value to a new generation of technology innovators. One of those next generation innovators is Michael Pamphlet.

A new hire to Microsoft, Pamphlet has been interested in technology ever since his parents brought home their first computer years ago, back in Chicago.

During his freshman year in high school, Pamphlet joined a local NSBE high school program, which opened up opportunities for him to attend engineering conferences and compete in engineering design challenges. Pamphlet continued to be an active NSBE member throughout his undergraduate years at the Historically Black Morehouse College, and attributes his experiences early on with NSBE in helping him find a career with Microsoft.

“NSBE helps you make positive changes,” he says. “It makes you approach things differently and gives you the leadership experience that Microsoft is looking for.”

Pamphlet is very excited about working for Microsoft. “I want to make a change in the world concerning technology, and I want to do it with the technology that I’m passionate about,” he says. “What better place to do that than here?”

He believes that Microsoft’s culture is a continuation of the kind of supportive environment that he was used to at college and with his NSBE chapter. Microsoft, he says, supports innovative thought and because of its diverse ethnic population, has truly become a second home for him.

The Future of Diversity, Microsoft and NSBE

Microsoft and NSBE have a reciprocal and close relationship. Through its relationship with NSBE, Microsoft has been able to draw upon a vast wealth of personal and professional skill that will help the company continue to be a major influence in technology. Together, Microsoft and NSBE will continue to exemplify the kind of forward thinking that has made them both industry leaders for the better part of a generation.

There are great things on the horizon for diversity in technology, kicking off with Microsoft hosting NSBE’s Region VI conference at its campus in Redmond, Wash. last week. The Region VI Conference is being heralded as an example of Microsoft’s commitment to maintaining a strong relationship with NSBE, and a benchmark for its work in creating broad diversity in its own ranks, as well as the IT industry as a whole.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates gave the keynote address to students, alumni and affiliates, discussing the importance of diversity in the high-tech industry. During the event, Microsoft announced a significant developer software grant to all NSBE chapters throughout the United States. The grant provides NBSE educational chapters with a three-year membership to the Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance. These memberships will provide NSBE faculty and student access to more than 100 Microsoft software products including Windows Vista and Windows Server, development tools like Visual Studio, as well as enterprise tools like Microsoft SQL Server.

“This kind of generosity from Microsoft speaks volumes about their commitment to help African-American students and the IT industry,” Mack says. “We are thrilled that Microsoft will help our students reach to their goals by providing them with the latest and best in developer software.”


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