interviews

Sage, Technical Evangelist at Microsoft, Founder of Trendy Techie

Elyssa Macfarlane
Sage, Technical Evangelist at Microsoft, Founder of Trendy Techie

I first heard about Sage and her website nearly a year ago. While she works for one of the largest tech companies in the world, she also runs a blog that is always covering the latest and greatest in trends, events and style in technology. When I initially approached Sage, I asked her why she started the site that is focused on documenting not only her own personal narrative, but looks to be a resource to other women entering the tech industry. She explained that in 2014 she underwent a series of negative experiences that led her to question whether or not the discrimination was worth pursuing a career in computer science.

Like any millennial she took to the internet to find people who were writing what she wanted to read: stories about girls challenging these stereotypes and succeeding in technical roles without trying to “be one of the guys” or hide their femininity to fit in to the coding boys’ club.

“But the scene at the time was not like it is now, and I didn’t find anyone who I could relate to”, she explained. So rather than let it get her down, she dedicated herself to kcik-starting Trendy Techie to be the voice that she was looking for. Since then, she has garnered thousands of followers on social media, advised Prime Minister Trudeau on youth STEM initiatives, developed kick starter courses, and conducted intervviews with a variety of well known VCs and engineers in the field. I highly recommend jumping to her page at some point here

Can you tell me a bit about your background? When did you first learning about programming and how did you end up working in the tech industry?

The first time I saw code was at a Computer Graphics camp at the University of Pennsylvania when I was in tenth grade. In the middle of animating our characters, the professor stopped us and showed us a script. When he compiled and ran it, a rendering of fire burst to life on the screen, and in that moment I knew I wanted to learn to program. I realized I’d been consuming software for a long time, but that it was much more powerful a position to be able to create the software itself instead of just being an end user. So when I went back to school in the fall I took my first Computer Science course, and I’ve never looked back. When it came time to choose a major for university, there was no doubt in my mind that it would be computing-related. I went to Dalhousie University for CS, and while I was studying there I became a Microsoft Student Partner, which is basically like an on-campus student version of the role I do now. Through the MSP program I landed internships at Microsoft, which led to me teaching MOOC courses online in my first full-time role at Microsoft Learning, and now I’m a Technical Evangelist in the Commercial Software Engineering team at Microsoft.

Tell me a bit about your current role. What does your typical day to day entail?

There is no such thing as a regular day as a Technical Evangelist, every day is different. And that’s what I love about it! I like to think of being a TE as like being a professional early adopter. I get to build cool demos with Microsoft’s latest technologies and share them with the developer community in North America through workshops, talks, and hackathons. I specialize in cloud-based artificial intelligence and mixed reality computing, two emerging areas that I’m thrilled to have the pleasure of working with early on. I also run our Microsoft Student Partner program in Canada, which means I get to work with Canada’s top tech students, who are incredibly talented and amaze me every day! Having come through this program myself, I’m really happy to be able to give other students the opportunities I had when I was in school (which wasn’t that long ago, I graduated last October!).

You’ve mentioned that part of the reason why you started The Trendy Techie was because of some negative experiences that you experienced as a woman working in the tech industry. After starting Trendy Techie and spending years in the industry, do you find that you still run into these types of scenarios?

Absolutely. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and even though there are thousands of women and allies in industry who are being vocal about gender discrimination in tech, there is still a strong bro culture in technology, especially in technology-specific communities. To give you an example, I recently went to a meetup in Toronto where I was one of three women in the room, and the other two were filming the event, not attending. Oh wait, there was one more; she was the speaker’s wife. In almost every conversation I had, men asked me patronizing questions that they wouldn’t think to ask their male peers: “So, what brings you here tonight?” “Why are you here?” and my favourite, “Do you like technology?” See, discrimination doesn’t just mean people outright telling you you don’t belong, it also means subtle unconscious biases like these that imply you are perceived as different or not fitting in. It doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, but I know some women who don’t go to small tech events for fear of being singled out and questioned like this. But it’s a catch 22, it’s only by attending these events and combatting the stereotypes that we can break free. Thankfully, I’ve had the pleasure of working in very inclusive and positive teams at Microsoft. The culture at Microsoft is one that sees employees for their talent, not their gender, race, or religion. I can proudly say I’ve never experienced gender discrimination from a fellow Microsoft employee, and being able to confidently contribute at work has done wonders for my personal and professional development.

Where do you hope to take Trendy Techie? What are some of the goals you hope that you can accomplish through the platform?

Trendy Techie has evolved so much – it began as a fashion blog! For me, it’s about creating a window into the tech world, from the perspective of a young tech professional. The tech world is booming, and so many people are getting into development but don’t know what to expect. Hundreds of thousands of people are starting CS programs at university this September. By the time they enter the workforce, they will be applying to jobs that don’t even exist yet. I have one of those cutting-edge jobs, so I want to share these experiences so people have an idea about what’s coming next. A lot goes on behind the scenes of Trendy Techie that my readers don’t see online. I mentor students, advise people at key decisions in their early career, and speak at dozens of events every year. Trendy Techie is about inspiring and empowering, and it all comes back to helping others find their place in tech.

What do you think is next for Canadian tech? What do you consider to be some of our county’s deficiencies in comparison to other national players? How can we improve?

I am really happy with Canada’s place in the global tech scene. We’ve got a few tech hubs that are really thriving, and things are growing here at a very fast pace. Montreal has made its mark on the map as a hub for AI, and Waterloo is our Silicon Valley, churning out incredible startups that are taking on the world. What I want to see next is the top Canadian tech talent creating companies in Canada and staying in Canada. Too many founders are going outside our borders to go after the big-walleted angels abroad, and we need to find better ways to retain the talent within Canada.

Finally, what’s your favourite thing about working in tech?

Do I have to choose just one? Working in tech is incredible. The flexibility of a tech job is unparalleled, the work is challenging in all the best ways and incredibly fun, and the people you meet are top-notch innovators. Working in tech today gives you a front-row seat to the future – no, actually, it gives you the director’s chair.