by Louis DiPietro
Tiffany Wong, an Information Science senior, has been awarded Cornell Info Sci’s first ever Grace Hopper Scholarship and will be attending the annual computing conference named in Hopper’s honor this October.
With the $2,500 scholarship, Wong will make the trip to Houston for the three-day celebration of women in computing, billed by its organizers as the largest gathering of women technologists in the world. The event begins October 14 and features keynote talks from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and United States CTO Megan Smith, among others.
Wong said she’s not only anticipating the innovation showcased at such conferences, but also the unique atmosphere in which to meet other women leaders in the field. There are plenty of them, yet recent findings have highlighted a growing gender disparity among workforces in the STEM fields.
The native Californian said she, like other young girls in the Silicon Valley, found support pursuing their STEM studies. Only after she stepped into the professional world as an intern at Microsoft and other companies did Wong see that women are in the minority.
“I was one of three women on our floor,” she said. “When you are a minority in the room, there is an automatic, unconscious pressure to prove yourself. It took me a good couple of months to realize that even though my high school and college classes had been balanced, that wasn’t the case in the workplace.”
This gender imbalance is apparent in many tech companies. Women made up just 26 percent of the nation’s computing workforce in 2013 and 2014, according to statistics from the National Center for Women & Information Technology. And according to recent data from Fortune, women currently hold just 4.8 percent of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies.
During her time at Microsoft, Wong led the development of two Bing Local products as a Program Manager intern. On top of this, Wong led research on supporting women in tech and raising awareness of the issues associated with the gender gap.
She applied this research to the global, company-wide hackathon involving 14,000-plus employees, designing and driving a Bing feature with her team that encourages mentorship and ambition among women. This feature became one of the top 15 Bing hackathon products and is now live on the search engine, impacting millions of customers every day.
Wong was particularly inspired after attending Microsoft's speaker panel targeted toward fellow women engineers. “When I walked into the room, I got goosebumps,” she said. “To be reminded that there are so many other women there was amazing. I’m hoping to get that at Grace Hopper – to see where we can go.”
Initially interested in coding, Wong’s concentration expanded while at Cornell to include design and what she calls “ideation thinking.” She has opted to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Information Science. When she graduates in May, Wong said she hopes to put her advocacy to use, helping to foster an inclusive environment for women in tech.
“As long as you have the motivation and keep pushing yourself, you can do so much,” Wong said, “and that’s really inspiring.”