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In the 1960s and 70s, the watershed events of the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race brought Americans of different backgrounds together to break barriers and explore new frontiers. This period saw remarkable innovation in tools like the wireless headset, computer mouse, and the personal computer, and brought new industries into being. As companies looked to maintain control, they were often slow to adopt diverse workforces, perspectives, and policies that mirrored the changes people saw in their communities.
Trish Millines Dziko, as a woman of color in the tech sector, often found herself an outsider at the various companies at which she worked (including Computer Sciences Corporation, Fortune Systems, TeleCalc, and Microsoft). She observed a trend: minority employees were routinely given work in janitorial or office assistant/receptionist positions and rarely ever in programming and engineering. This motivated her to create change both inside and outside of Microsoft with a simple ethos: “You have it, you share it.”
Once Dziko became a program manager at Microsoft she leveraged the power of her new position to improve recruitment efforts for qualified candidates. She started going to minority job fairs and personally meeting with candidates of color, as well as encouraging human resource teams to meet with new graduates (including those that attended historically black colleges and universities). Assuming active leadership in minority recruitment, she was eventually offered a position in Microsoft’s diversity department. She soon found her ability to affect change constrained—changing beliefs and culture often took a backseat to regulations and bureaucracy. Dziko saw that she could use the skills learned at Microsoft to achieve an even greater lasting impact outside of the company.
An article by Crosscut Magazine recounts a story from 1996: Dziko led a high school internship program at Microsoft and served as a mentor to two African-American students. “Both students were placed in improper math courses that jeopardized acceptance into a college engineering program. Dziko saw the need for more rigorous supplementary education in fields that would help prepare kids of color for tech majors.” This was the moment Dziko decided to leave Microsoft and use her experiences to start the nonprofit Technology Access Foundation.
The goal of the Technology Access Foundation is to “create more opportunities for students to engage with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines and prepare them for college-level study and professional roles in those fields.” By all accounts it is meeting that mark. Since its start, approximately 19,600 students have been educated through TAF with a 99% on-time graduation rate and a 100% college acceptance rate.
While Dziko’s work with TAF has undoubtedly opened up new careers and fields to students of color—students who may very well solve the world’s next great challenges—perhaps her greatest
impact has been more fundamental: to challenge and expand our ideas of what a programmer/computer scientist looks like.