Step into STEM

Ha Cole, CTO for Education at Microsoft, tells us about STEM, and why we should be inspiring more girls into tech careers

 My mother was born into a wealthy family, but she didn’t get past primary school education because she was female. Unlike many women of her generation, she was determined that all of her children would have university-level education (and all seven of us did). What is even more remarkable was that my mother’s determination remained steadfast even when the family lost all of its fortune. With that background, education is always important to me.

I get to see education systems and changes across a number of countries. It is a privilege, a responsibility and a pleasure


Ha Cole, Chief Technological Officer for Education at Microsoft

I was exposed to computers for the first time when I was 17, and I became so fascinated by programming that I decided to switch from an engineering to a computing degree. Even if I had gone into engineering, I would probably have ended up in computing given the widespread impact of digital technology across all industries. I recently came across schoolgirls (13–14 years old) who use machine learning to detect breast cancer. These are normal secondary schoolgirls. Imagine what they will achieve in five–10 years!! 

My job involves providing advice and guidance to Microsoft teams around the world on where technology can help to improve education. I get to see education systems and changes across a number of countries. It is a privilege, a responsibility and a pleasure. 

The best part of my role is the opportunity to learn every day, and to use the knowledge to solve problems in innovative ways. I learn from customers, from my colleagues and partners.

In my role, I am often the only female technical person in a meeting. As an introvert, my inclination is not to stand out. As a perfectionist, my inclination is not to speak up until I am sure. Over time, I’ve learned to contribute and to lead. The more I lead, the more I surprise myself about how much value I bring. Don’t let the fact that you are a minority stop you from making a valuable contribution.

Looking back, my choices and interest in STEM were sustained by having a strong personal purpose. Initially, my purpose was to get out of poverty and to be independent. It changed over time and now it is to help young people have a fun and effective learning experience using technology. Having a purpose helps when I find things challenging but more often, it helps to direct my energy.