Bing program manager Kassy Coan gives Microsoft’s fascination with “the cloud” a whole new meaning. When she is not working on Bing’s up-and-coming features, Coan finds herself absorbed in her passion for aviation.
“I’m obsessed with problem solving and making processes and task completion more efficient. During the day, I do this problem solving at Microsoft, and in my spare time I immerse myself in aviation,” Coan says.
Coan is on the verge of receiving her helicopter pilot’s license, at which point she plans to devote her free time to flying search and rescue missions.
Currently a Seattle resident, Coan spent her last two years of high school living in Panama, where she completed her studies online. “I’ve spent a lot of my life traveling and learning about other cultures and loved every moment of it. A large part of my heart remains in the Republic of Panama,” said Coan. “I still keep in touch with the family I gained there.”
Her focus, high level of self-motivation and love of learning allowed Coan to complete an entire BS in computer science online. Her initial interest in civil and environmental engineering was overshadowed when she discovered her programming ability after joining and often winning, hackathons.
Meet our latest Geek of the Week, and continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
What do you do, and why do you do it? “I’m addicted to challenges and learning. Having completed two years of high school, my entire CS Bachelor’s Degree (Florida State University), and a graduate certificate program (Stanford) completely via distance learning, I experienced first-hand the benefits and challenges that scalable, affordable, globally accessible education is facing. I believe data should be easily accessible by all and that tasks should be efficiently completed so we can get on to the things that matter in life, and I’m working to make that a reality on a global scale with Bing. At Bing, we work to bring the most relevant websites and answers to users no matter where in the world they are.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “In school, we commonly fell into the misconception that the problems we faced had solutions which could be learned. In our industry, when you’re working to push a technology forward, most problems have never been solved and no one could teach you a solution. You must develop the solution, then iterate on it and make it more efficient. I’d recommend to anyone interested in joining the technology field, or any field for that matter, to focus on learning how to problem solve. Programming languages, factoids and algorithms have no impact if you’re unable to apply them effectively to everyday problems.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “There’s no denying that, for better or worse, I’m a competitive person. My inspiration to study CS as a major and pursue it as my career was originally inspired by sitting in on, eventually participating in, and ultimately winning hackathons. I was inspired by witnessing other programmers complete never before accomplished tasks, solve problems faster and more efficiently than they were done before. I still remind myself to keep learning and applying my knowledge so our Bing products can be competitive, and ultimately everyone may benefit.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “I love technology, because it connects people. Whether it’s social media, allowing us to share pictures and videos, or conferencing systems allowing us to real time talk and see each other, these technologies make me feel closer to friends and families, and help me stay close to people I met long ago and haven’t seen since. However, none of these technologies have been able to compare to the same functional output of an airplane, actually bringing people closer together, rather than making them feel closer together. An airplane is the technology I can’t live without, because rather than address the symptoms of loneliness, it solves the problem.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “My work space is comfortable, because I spend a lot of time there. You can’t problem solve or focus if you’re uncomfortable. I keep my workspace inviting, with available seating. The best way to problem solve and create great user experiences is to always welcome in additional view points, and incorporate feedback effectively. You can’t do this if you shut others out. Last but not least, my workspace has methods of escape. If I’m every blocked on something or stressed about a topic, I switch to something else for a while. I work on a puzzle if I need to keep thinking, but want small accomplishments to motivate myself, and I play guitar if I need to just be creative and let go a bit.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Prioritize. There will always be more to do, and you can never get it all done. Make sure you’re focusing on the pieces that matter.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “I try to utilize every operating system, so I rotate through them. This keeps me with an open mind when I’m creating user experiences and helps me design experiences that work for everyone. Using every operating system also reminds me that there is always more than one way complete a task or solve a given problem.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Han Solo. Is that cheating?”
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Assuming zero latency, transporter.”
Greatest Game In History: “Tekken. I know all of Nina’s combos.”
First Computer: “I grew up with a computer in the house, never then realizing how significant that was. I remember it ran Windows 95 and I was addicted to educational CD-ROM games, like JumpStart.”
Current Phone: “I’m currently using two: an iPhone 6+ and a Lumia 635”
Favorite Cause: Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team
Most Important Technology of 2015: “One of the most impressive advancements I’ve noticed recently is the increasing affordability of 3D printers. As they become more affordable, 3D printers are showing us the potential impact of improving on existing technologies. The product output quality is improving and the cost of development is dropping, making them more widely accessible than ever. The reason this price drop is so important is because it widens the audience who have access to this creative medium and puts the creation of technology into more hands.”
Most Important Technology of 2017: “Around 2017, I anticipate there to be a new generation of the Bionic Eye to receive FDA approval. Replacement lenses that can improve 20/20 vision by 3 times are currently in clinical trials.”