Microsoft Citizenship Asia Pacific

  • YouthSpark #WeSpeakCode Profile: Kanika Agarwal

    As part of the Asia Pacific Week of Code, 21-27 April 2014, we are highlighting YouthSpark stars in Asia Pacific who have learned to code and have found success in school, competitions and career by understanding this language. We hope their stories will inspire you. What are you waiting for? Learn to speak Code now. #WeSpeakCode.

    imageName: Kanika Agarwal
    Country: Singapore
    Occupation: Consumer and Commercial Communications Specialist, Asia Pacific Public Relations, Microsoft Asia

    Bio
    As a passionate advocate for coding, Kanika hopes to see more people equipped with programming skills, which she regards as “must-have” knowledge. She completed a Computer Engineering degree at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, and minored in both Business Studies and Communications Studies. She currently combines her passion for technology and marketing as a Consumer and Commercial Communications Specialist at Microsoft Asia, and finds time to volunteer at several organisations.

    Can you describe some coding projects that you have done?
    I completed about 10 coding projects in university. In one project, I built a working elevator model using Java language, where I had to create an algorithm that considers all sorts of complex scenarios, including the elevator’s response when calls for different directions are made concurrently. One of my biggest projects was to programme an intelligent Line-Following Robot with sensors where the robot only followed black lines. If it came upon white lines, it would locate the shortest path to get back to a black line and continue following it.

    Share with us what you’ve been working on for the past three to six months. Was there something that was particularly exciting/rewarding for you?  
    Of the various projects I’ve done at Microsoft, the most exciting one has been an International Women’s Day project where I wrote web articles about how women in Asia are using technology to empower others.

    I’ve also embarked on several personal projects. I’m helping women entrepreneurs on digital strategies for their start-ups. In addition, I’m about to kick off an independent project on women and education; it’s called “The Unspoken Voice”, and it covers stories of underprivileged people who have been able to receive education through help. I also volunteer at aidha, an organisation that provides financial, management and computer training to foreign domestic workers in Singapore.

    More girls tend to go into the social sciences and humanities. Seeing as there is a gender imbalance in computer engineering, what were some challenges that you faced in school.

    There is an unconscious bias that men have an ‘innate’ ability to excel in coding and other STEM subjects, and I think I had internalised that to a certain extent initially. Right from the first day, I realised that I was surrounded by guys who already knew quite a lot of coding languages. I would take a full day to understand what my male classmates could get in an hour. I felt stressed, but really, all I needed was to spend more time and effort—just as my male classmates had already done before beginning university.

    The YouthSpark WeSpeakCode campaign aims to encourage young people to learn code. If you were to speak to the younger generation, what kind of advice would you give them (on coding)?
    Coding will soon become a basic need, just as how Microsoft Office knowledge has become essential at school and in the office. There is a high demand for coders by businesses, particularly start-ups. Basic coding knowledge comes in handy when you need to create customised websites, blogs or mobile apps. 

    Would you advise them on learning a specific kind of programming language?
    HTML 5 is a must for those who intend to work in a creative field. For others who wish to pursue software engineering, C++ is recommended because its gives you an idea of both C and Java.


    Seeing as how the majority of those working in coding are male, what advice would you have for other young women who wish to pursue computer science studies or jobs?
    I would say, if you love it, go for it. Women may not be able to control external factors such as recruitment practices, but they can manage their attitudes. I have seen women passing up chances because they felt intimidated by the dominance of males. They have to overcome their reservations, and give their passion a chance. If our generation doesn’t do it, who will?

    It’s a myth that women can’t code or are mediocre at it. Many women from Asia are top coders. A perfect example would be Ruchi Sanghvi, the first female engineer hired by the social-networking website Facebook and is now the Vice President of Operations at Dropbox. Don’t be afraid of taking the road less travelled.

    For a video of Kanika’s congratulatory speech at the School of Computer Engineering’s convocation ceremony, click here.

  • Safer Web-browsing for Taiwanese Children

    With our world getting more virtualised and the proliferation of new technologies providing instant mobility, it is commonplace today to see children as young as six years old clacking away on a computer or surfing the Internet with a smartphone in hand. In Taiwan, 90 percent of children aged six to 11 years have access to the Internet, and eight in every ten of them own a mobile device.


    What is worrying is the nonchalant stance that the majority of Taiwanese parents adopt when it comes to monitoring their children’s Internet behaviours, despite their concern about the possibility of exposure to adult content and Internet addiction.

    To create greater awareness of cyber-safety, Microsoft Taiwan is collaborating with the established international non-governmental organisation (NGO) ECPAT Taiwan (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography And Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), which is  dedicated to ending commercial sexual exploitation of children. Both organisations have joined up to launch several initiatives on cyber-safety for children, announced at the ECPAT-Microsoft Taiwan Family Cyber Safety Media Event.

    “Harmful content, such as online pornography, not only has a negative influence on children, but it also provides sexual offenders a platform to prey on children for abductions, sexual assaults and even sexual trafficking,” said Professor Yu-Quan Kao, Executive Director, ECPAT Taiwan. “It is crucial that parents are aware of the dangers that their children are potentially exposed to.”

    Vincent Shih, General Manager of Legal and Corporate Affairs, Microsoft Taiwan, also cautioned that these risks will get increasingly complex due to the rapid development of the Internet in the coming years.

    A Microsoft-ECPAT initiative titled “4G” (Time Guardian, History Guardian, Web Guardian and Rating Guardian) enables parents to use free Microsoft tools to ensure a safe web browsing experience for their children.


    The organisations also developed a set of guidelines, the “5-Have-to-Do Solution”, proposing parents take the following actions:

    • Set limits and regulations on Internet access and digital devices for children
    • Teach children not to reveal personal information online
    • Install parental controls, cyber safety settings or an Internet filter service
    • Educate children on proper use of Internet and online communication etiquette
    • Help children choose appropriate content to read and games to play

    Microsoft and ECPAT Taiwan are embarking on a campaign to screen the cyber-safety education video that they co-produced, for students, teachers and parents across Taiwan.

    ECPAT and Microsoft will be working closely with original equipment manufacturers, Acer and Asus, as well as retail partners on a cross-industry collaboration promoting children’s cyber-wellness. Their efforts include posting related information on their official websites, placing family safety flyers in their stores and providing after-sales services for Windows Family Safety installation.

    “With IT deeply ingrained in our everyday lives, it is essential that we teach our children to keep themselves safe in cyberspace,” said Shih. “When we educate our children, we are also educating future generations who will lead this country.”

  • Spreading Chinese New Year Cheer, Bringing Smiles and Touching Lives in Singapore

    Observed by Chinese Singaporeans from all walks of life, the Chinese New Year is one of the most significant festivals here. While the streets come alive with decorations and families travel from home to home for visits, there are small pockets of individuals who are excluded from the celebrations. To bring cheer to those who lack the mobility or social networks to partake in the festivities, several groups of Microsoft employees based in Singapore raised their hands for volunteering activities in February at Bright Hill Evergreen Home, Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital and the Society for the Physically Disabled.


    At the Bright Hill home, laughter rang from all sides as a staff member, decked up as the jovial, rotund Cai Shen (literally “God of Fortune”, a Chinese deity believed to bring luck and wealth) stepped out to distribute candy. The laughs came harder as the Microsoft volunteers, not exactly known for their dancing talent, put up dance routines that they had painstakingly choreographed for the irreverent Korean pop song “Gangnam Style”. The group pooled donations so they could give a hong bao (a red packet that is a monetary gift given on special occasions in Chinese and other Asian societies) to every resident as they are totally dependent on public assistance.

    imageThe elderly residents of Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital were treated to a dance of another sort—a traditional Chinese lion dance. In addition to leading a group of 20 Microsoft volunteers, the Asia Pacific Operations Center Corporate Social Responsibility Committee invited a lion dance troupe from Dunman High School to perform. The residents greatly appreciated the fun as it had been a long time since they watched a traditional performance. The Microsoft volunteers then distributed 300 red packets and Mandarin oranges (an auspicious Chinese new year food) around the wards to patients and staff.

    “The hospital staff said that it’s been a long time since the patients have been so happy. I got pretty emotional and nearly cried. I guess it’s because I feel so lucky to have my family and friends, and I was also reminded that I am surrounded by opportunities to bring joy to others,” said Joseph Lee, Senior Finance Manager, Microsoft Singapore.

    Meanwhile, over 60 volunteers from the Microsoft Asia Pacific Finance Team spent time with the beneficiaries at the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD), indulging in simple pleasures like Bingo and Sing-a-long sessions. A handful of the volunteers even picked up a skill or two from the beneficiaries who demonstrated how they pack boxes of tea bags for a living. The volunteers also distributed about 180 red packets to the beneficiaries.

    “It was important to us that the less privileged in society have someone to celebrate the festive season with,” said Toby Willson, Senior Director of Finance APAC. “Interacting with the wider society helps us gain a deeper understanding of how our work and products impact others. For instance, at SPD, we saw how Microsoft Accessibility technologies are helping service users. Company volunteering can help corporations play a positive role in creating a sustainable future for the broader community.”

  • YouthSpark #WeSpeakCode Profile: Siwon Choi

    As part of the Asia Pacific Week of Code, 21-27 April 2014, we are highlighting YouthSpark stars in Asia Pacific who have learned to code and have found success in school, competitions and career by understanding this language. We hope their stories will inspire you. What are you waiting for? Learn to speak Code now. #WeSpeakCode

    imageName: Siwon Choi
    Country: South Korea
    Occupation: Chief Executive Officer, Zoyi

    Bio:
    Siwon Choi’s journey to being the CEO of his own company is nothing short of tumultuous. After his father, the family breadwinner, was diagnosed with cancer, Siwon headed to the capital city Seoul alone at 17 years old in search of financial opportunities. There he eventually co-founded an online gaming company, but learnt many painful lessons along the way after being defrauded by others. While still a computer science undergraduate at Inha University, he travelled to Egypt and Poland for software competitions, and presented his research at international forums.

    Can you tell us how you got started in coding? 
    My father recommended I learn to code when I was in elementary school. Just a few months later, he asked if I could help revamp his video store system. For that task, I spent three years—six of my vacation breaks—working on the project, and it finally paid off by helping the store earn a profit of US$30,000 (30 million won) in just two months.

    What are some coding projects that you have done? 
    My company is currently focusing on Walk Insights, a data-mining solution that tracks retail-store behaviour and is aimed at helping retailers improve their businesses. The programme detects Wi-Fi signals in Wi-Fi enabled devices to measure visit length, frequency and capture rate. When I was an undergraduate, I was part of the team that won the top prize in the Next Generation Web Award category at the Imagine Cup 2010 Worldwide Finals in Poland. The concept was to promote and encourage acts of kindness through social media. For that, I helped write open-source web applications on the Microsoft Web Platform.

    Imagine Cup must have been an incredible experience for you. What were some lessons that you gained from it?
    Imagine Cup taught me a few things. Firstly, it helped affirm my skills and abilities. It’s as if someone patted on my shoulder and said, “You can do it.” I gained more confidence, knowing that I may succeed as long as I am well-prepared and have a good idea.

    The competition reinforced my belief in teamwork and the power of synergy. Winning teams don’t bank their chances on just one person’s talent. Team members tap on each other’s strength and potential, and the team works together as one. Through Imagine Cup, I realized the importance of good collaboration between teammates and the realization sparked the beginning of my entrepreneurship. In fact, I’m in a company that I co-founded with a friend who had participated in the same competitions as I did in Egypt and Poland.

    Lastly, there’s a distinct difference between good intentions and a solid business idea. While my team’s work was well-received, it was not commercially viable. Businesses depend on the needs of customers. Would it still be music if there is no audience? The answer is, “No”.

    The YouthSpark WeSpeakCode campaign aims to encourage young people to learn code. If you were to speak to the younger generation, what kind of advice would you give them (on coding)? Is there a specific programme you would recommend for them?
    Coding helps people to think more logically and systematically, and it also gives them the technical skills to build websites and applications.

    When it comes to a problem, coding is only one part of the solution. Knowing a variety of programming languages is less important than the ability to identify and to effectively approach a problem. I notice that techies focus too much on technology. Innovative thinking would be more helpful for the younger generation to solve problems; the ones with a competitive edge over the rest are those with a knack for tackling problems with the most efficient and effective approach.

    I’m inspired by… Imagine Cup to run my own business. In addition to giving me critical insights into programming projects, it has inspired me to make the world a better place using technology. 

  • Nonprofits' Use of Social Media in Asia Pacific: Interview with Heather Mansfield, Part 2 of 3

    This is the 2nd part of 3-part interview series on social media, nonprofits and Asia Pacific. Microsoft Corporate Citizenship caught up with Heather Mansfield, Principal Blogger of Nonprofit Tech for Good, while in Melbourne, Australia, to get her perspectives on social media and advice for nonprofits in Asia Pacific.

    As part of our Technology for Good programming in Asia Pacific, Microsoft provides social media training for the nonprofit sector through workshops, webinars and articles. Take a look at these articles you might have missed about social media and nonprofits: 

    To find out more about Microsoft's resources for the nonprofit sector and upcoming events in your country, subscribe to the Tech4Good e-newsletter.

    Stay tuned for the final part in this interview series with Heather Mansfield and visit the Nonprofit Tech for Good blog for valuable resources about nonprofits and social media.  

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