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Climbing to the edge of the world to help children leap across the opportunity divide

Decem­ber 12, 2018

By Idunn Wolfe

A group of Microsoft employees climb along a ridge withe the Himilayan Mountains in the background. They are in a single file line walking on a rock ridge.
Microsoft employ­ees Alex Agude­lo, Claire Sis­son, Dar­ren Mof­fatt, Doug Pier­son, Mandy Yeung, Orhan Topcu, Robert Koester, and Ugur Yil­maz hike in the Himalayas with guide Chap­pal Sher­pa. They were on a vis­it to bring tech­nol­o­gy and exper­tise to schools in a remote region of Nepal. (Pho­to by Mark Gun­log­son | Moun­tain Madness)

It isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Few places on earth can echo the harsh, alien envi­ron­ment of the Himalayan moun­tains in the win­ter, and few­er still are the num­ber of peo­ple who live there. Those who do, the Sher­pa of Khum­bu, are as rugged as the steep cliffs they count as home. As with all cul­tures, their chil­dren hold the future of the Sherpa’s way of life in their hands.

With that in mind, how do the Sher­pa peo­ple ensure their children’s abil­i­ty to thrive when their access to edu­ca­tion and tech­nol­o­gy is often limited?

A group of indus­tri­ous Microsoft engi­neers and pro­gram man­agers from the Unit­ed States, Hong Kong, Istan­bul, France, and Cana­da believe bring­ing tech­nol­o­gy to them will empow­er them to start to answer this ques­tion and, along the way, hope­ful­ly begin their jour­ney to leap across the oppor­tu­ni­ty divide.

Doug Pierson talks with a teacher at the Lukla Primary School in Nepal. They are standing in a classroom with a Surface 3 laptop in the foreground.
Doug Pier­son, an IT man­ag­er in Microsoft Core Ser­vices Engi­neer­ing and Oper­a­tions (CSEO), talks with a teacher from the Luk­la Pri­ma­ry School in a remote region of Nepal.

A team led by Doug Pier­son from Microsoft Core Ser­vices Engi­neer­ing and Oper­a­tions (CSEO) just returned from a vis­it with school­child­ren who live in remote vil­lages in Nepal. Climb­ing as high as 15,160 feet above sea lev­el, the team hiked from Luk­la to Farak Peak, and back again, a sev­en-day roundtrip. They brought Microsoft tech­nol­o­gy and school sup­plies to vil­lages, schools, and monas­ter­ies in the Khum­bu Region of Nepal, includ­ing 40 Microsoft Sur­face 3 tablets.

It’s all for the chil­dren,” Pier­son says. They are the future.”

Every step was anoth­er groan of the foot and back, and anoth­er gasp­ing breath in the thin air. Jagged cliffs and rocky ter­rain pushed the crew to its lim­its, some­thing they were only able to get through by rely­ing on each other.

Even for a trained U.S. Marine like Pier­son it was chal­leng­ing, and even more so for his com­pan­ions. Accom­pa­ny­ing him were Alex Agude­lo, Claire Sis­son, Dar­ren Mof­fatt, Mandy Yeung, Orhan Topcu, Robert Koester, and Ugur Yil­maz, all of them experts with­in their respec­tive tech­nol­o­gy-relat­ed fields in IT, gam­ing cloud, and glob­al secu­ri­ty. They were assist­ed on their jour­ney by Mark Gun­log­son, who they part­nered with and is pres­i­dent of Moun­tain Mad­ness, and Chap­pal Sher­pa — their very skilled guide of this rough terrain.

Help­ing young stu­dents in such a remote loca­tion show­cas­es the cul­ture and mis­sion of Microsoft to empow­er every per­son and every orga­ni­za­tion on the plan­et to achieve more, Pier­son says.

This is not the first glob­al cit­i­zen­ship mis­sion Pier­son has led on behalf of CSEO. Over the past eight years, he and a core team of his col­leagues have trav­eled to and in sup­port of non­prof­its from Cam­bo­dia to Los Ange­les on trips focused on children’s edu­ca­tion and empow­er­ment. Read this sto­ry on how the team trav­eled to Thes­sa­loni­ki, Greece, to sup­port a camp of Syr­i­an refugees.

We as employ­ees dri­ve each oth­er for­ward,” he says. We want to impact the rest of the world. This is how change is dri­ven, this is what effec­tive lead­er­ship is all about. Some­times the way you devel­op as a pro­fes­sion­al in the tech field, or as a team, includes some unortho­dox moments.”

Moments like tak­ing a pil­grim­age through the tallest moun­tains in the world.

The jour­ney to Nepal added a new chal­lenge that set it apart from the team’s pre­vi­ous trav­els. A tru­ly raw, phys­i­cal tri­al with every step they took, every sin­gle mem­ber of the team need­ed each oth­er to push through to the end. From hav­ing to weave their way around yaks and mules, to cross­ing a hang­ing bridge that swung back and forth 100 meters above the Dudh Khosi Riv­er, to cop­ing with weath­er that changed moment by moment, the team took noth­ing for granted.

Three students stand in a classroom at the Lukla Primary School as they prepare to meet visitors from Microsoft.
Stu­dents at the Luk­la Pri­ma­ry School pre­pare to meet vis­i­tors from Microsoft.

All of this was worth it when they reached the chil­dren. Excit­ed to have vis­i­tors, Sher­pa chil­dren from each of the vil­lages they vis­it­ed were con­sis­tent­ly eager to show their pro­fi­cien­cy in Eng­lish, gig­gling as they will­ing­ly spoke with the team, offer­ing local foods to the group with giant smiles. The team stayed at each loca­tion long enough to make sure that sup­plies were set up for use, any ques­tions were answered, and school admin­is­tra­tors under­stood how to work with their new devices.

As a karmic bonus, the team returned home with new mind­sets and per­spec­tives to share with oth­ers who work in IT at CSEO and Microsoft at large. This is often the result of cre­ative, on-the-spot solu­tions to tech­ni­cal prob­lems that the group comes up with on these trips, solu­tions to chal­lenges that may not be encoun­tered by peo­ple who have access to afford­able and reli­able tech­no­log­i­cal ser­vices, Pier­son says.

In the Khum­bu region, elec­tric­i­ty itself is not some­thing that can be accessed when­ev­er it is desired — it is expen­sive, and often the wires and oth­er elec­tri­cal infra­struc­ture is faulty or not functional.

We see issues in more remote loca­tions that we may not antic­i­pate, as they don’t have access to all of the tech­no­log­i­cal con­ve­niences that we’ve grown accus­tomed to,” Pier­son says.

For exam­ple, the lack of a con­sis­tent sup­ply of elec­tric­i­ty and inter­net con­nec­tion in the Himalayas can mean that using cloud ser­vices isn’t an option. See­ing these kinds of chal­lenges first-hand can help Microsoft employ­ees think about how to plan for them when build­ing the company’s prod­ucts and ser­vices back in Redmond.

Being so remote and hav­ing a lack of elec­tric­i­ty is real­ly some­thing that seems unre­lat­ed to the work we do until you stop and think about it,” Pier­son says. But these expe­ri­ences can be pow­er­ful cat­a­lysts for change in ways of think­ing, and the way you approach innovation.”

All the mem­bers of the team say it was a unique and reward­ing expe­ri­ence to trav­el deep into the Himalayas as a way of giv­ing back. They say they have been deeply affect­ed by how the Sher­pa peo­ple take noth­ing for grant­ed. A com­mon phrase used in the Khum­bu Region that res­onat­ed with them is the Bud­dhist notion that noth­ing is per­ma­nent,’ a mind­set that lends itself towards growth and resourcefulness.

The team also took away anoth­er Bud­dhist learn­ing, one thought to be Buddha’s last words in ~400 BC, which was do your best.” That’s a fit­ting mes­sage for us all, no mat­ter where we are, and no mat­ter what we do for this incred­i­ble com­pa­ny that we are all a part of,” Pier­son says.

Tags: cul­ture, Microsoft, net­work, Surface