My Story
A young Holly and her dad are playing racing arcade games

Playing video games with my Dad as a young girl was the beginning of my technology journey. Games like Halo and Fable sparked my interest in tech and made me dream of creating the games I was playing!

I was lucky to have a family who encouraged my technical explorations. However, I was very aware that as a woman in technology I would face additional challenges. Throughout my early years, I largely kept my interest in technology to my myself outside of my family.

As I was growing up, there werent many resources out there for young kids on how to program – certainly, nothing like there is today. But one day during a book fair of all things, I found a game creation game for kids. It was perfect to get my mind thinking about game design and what really makes up a game.

I first properly programmed when I was 15 years old at a DigiPen C++ games programming camp – I was one of only a couple girls in the class. Diving into C++ programming as a new developer came with a steep learning curve. Thankfully, with a bit of determination, I managed to make my first video game!

I was on the right track to creating the games I loved playing, but feeling out of place as a gender minority made me question did wonder whether engineering was a career was for me. 

DigiPen University
Issaquah High School

However technology fascinated me, so I was determined to give it another shot! I took Java and web development classes in high school. It was a much better experience and I started building some cool programs. The year really challenged me. I’m so thankful to my computer science teacher who was a massive support to me throughout the year.

As the end of high school came in sight, it was time to decide which career to pursue.

I decided to take the plunge and move from Seattle to England to study computer science with business at university. This is where I first started engaging with the tech industry and finally found my first female friends who loved technology. There were only a handful of women studying computer science and we soon developed a supportive community in each other.

It was through this community and my female role models that I recognized the importance of connecting women in STEM, and was inspired to start advocating for women in tech.

Panel of seven women with PowerPoint presentation behind on a projector

Throughout the first couple years at university, I explored different technologies to fully understand what about technology really motivates and inspires me.

It was during my placement at Microsoft on Paint 3D and my Xbox summer internship that I began identifying my evolving motivations.

Paint 3D Announcement in New York

On Paint 3D I worked to democratize 3D creation for the masses, and it is now used by 10s of millions monthly! Paint 3D was looking to accomplish something that hadn’t really been achieved in the 3D modelling community before – accessible 3D creation. 

It’s a feat of engineering and user experience design that makes Paint 3D usable by tiny kids all the way up to our favorite golden oldies.

After Paint 3D, I did another 3 months as an intern, but this time I was back in Seattle working on Xbox!

I cant even begin to describe how excited I was to work at Xbox. This was the realization of my childhood dream to work on Xbox – the platform that sparked my love of tech. It was the most unreal summer working on features to help make Xbox the home of the best gaming community across all gaming platforms like. Xbox, PC, Mobile, VR and Mixed Reality.

While at Xbox I developed features that supported Microsoft’s gaming strategy of making Xbox home of the best gaming community.

These products taught me that I love working on user-facing products that bring fun and creativity to others.

Holly with Bonnie Ross and Master Chief
A large Microsoft sign outside with Holly sitting on the edge of the sign facing the camera

University was the most intense four years of my life, but it was worth every second because it helped me truly find myself and led me to a post-graduation software engineering role at Microsoft – my dream company.

Now, I develop for the new voice-enabled world with the virtual assistant Cortana in Windows. My team is helping shape the future of virtual assistants by working to identify best practices in this new human-computer interaction space.

Cortana helped me further tune into the joy and adventure of working on cutting-edge technologies which Paint 3D first introduced to me.

Experience across three very different global products taught me what made my heart sing; pursuing innovation, pushing boundaries in human-computer interaction, and the ability to enhance the lives of others around the world.

I love that as a software engineer, I can create something from nothing which can make peoples’ lives more productive, creative, and fulfilling. I feel energized working on emerging technologies like virtual assistants, accessible 3D creation, and gaming.

Reflecting back on my experiences and sources of growth, my early years as a software engineer on Paint 3D, Xbox, and later Cortana led to me to discover what I truly love about tech and what motivates me.

Holly smiling at the camera close up in a black dress and red necklace

Through a process of self-discovery and technical exploration I found who I was in technology, ignited my love of developing cutting-edge technology, and set me along a path of helping others reach their version of success.

Head over to my personal site to learn more about my career, community work, public speaking, features in the media, and more!