April 12,

Manh Duong was recruited by Microsoft when she was only 16 years old and still in high school.

Looking for the ‘Billie’ Gates of tomorrow

By Stacy Nguyen

Northwest Asian Weekly

Ask any male Engineering student at the University of Washington, and he will eagerly tell you the department is sorely lacking a female presence. The same is true of the career field, where an overwhelming 88 percent of science and technology-related jobs are filled by men.

Manh Duong is one of the exceptions who is hoping to change the demographics. Duong has worked as a program manager, juggling the responsibilities of adults, since she was in her teens.

Though she loves technology and is intimidatingly passionate about it, she also sensibly points out the stressful nature of the job. Duong will wryly smile and admit that there have been moments in her life when she thought about how nice it could’ve been if she had slaved away at American Eagle like the rest of her peers.

Computers and technology can easily befuddle the most intelligent of individuals, but some are just naturally adept at it. When Duong was 9 years old, she was gifted with her first computer.

“I took it apart,” she said casually. “Motherboard, drives, nuts and bolts.” And then she put it back together again. When asked if she drew diagrams or maps of how it fit together, she shook her head. It was all from memory. When asked if she was scared that she could be breaking an expensive piece of equipment, she was evasive in answering, implying that she wasn’t overly concerned.

Duong’s career at Microsoft started when she was a teenager. She remembered being approached after class by an intimidating number of men clad in suits. She thought she had done something wrong and was in big trouble. In actuality, they offered her a job.

“I’ve always known technology would play a huge role in my life,” Duong said. “Working with computers is my passion. I was self-taught in a lot of areas, and became more and more intrigued. It was then that I took advantage of the numerous courses available to me during my high school and college career. I was very fortunate to be noticed and hired by Microsoft and experienced the ‘real world’ at a very young age.”

Duong is so thankful for what she has been given that she regularly volunteers with IGNITE, an organization which strives to foster Duong’s kind of passion and enthusiasm for technology in the young girls of today. IGNITE stands for “Inspiring Girls Now In Technology Evolution.” The organization inspires girls by visiting schools and giving presentations. In addition to various events, IGNITE also has a mentorship program, which Duong is a part of. Young girls can job shadow a professional woman in order to become familiar with science and technology-related fields.

“Follow your passion,” is Duong’s best advice to all the young girls out there who are thinking about a future in technology. “Everything happens for a reason, seize the moment and don’t take it for granted. There are always opportunities available. What differentiates you from others is what you make out of the opportunity. In the computer field, stakes are high with great responsibility, but it is ultimately rewarding. To think, we have the opportunity to help shape the future and revolutionize the way we use technology. The sky is the limit.”

As for the future of IGNITE, they hope to continue growing. One goal is to develop organizations internationally, where they can give disadvantaged young people in other countries the resources to become involved in the dynamic and ever-changing field of technology.

For more information about IGNITE, visit www.ignite-us.org.

Stacy Nguyen can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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