Microsoft Courts Students at MIX

Microsoft is continuing its courtship of students, some as young as high school age, to bring new blood into the ranks of .NET developers and Microsoft platform users. Microsoft invited more than 150 college students to the MIX09 show in Las Vegas as well as more than 75 high school students to check out web design and development technology advancements.

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft is continuing its courtship of students, some as young as high school age, to bring new blood into the ranks of .NET developers and Microsoft platform users.

Walid Abu-Hadba, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) group, said Microsoft has used its MIX09 web development and design conference to appeal to students and young developers as young as high school age in an effort to bring more people into the IT industry, particularly by showing them some of the hotter areas of interest, such as web design, and game design and development.

Abu-Hadba said Microsoft invited more than 150 college students to the MIX09 show here as well as more than 75 high school students. "We went to some of the top design schools in the country and we flew 153 college students here," he said. "And we decided we wanted to get some high school students here as well, so we flew in 77 high school students."

The push to attract students is part of Microsoft's DPE group's overall mission, which is "to make sure we keep the developer ecosystem happy and make sure the ecosystem continues to grow," Abu-Hadba said. "That is why Microsoft cares. We believe that for the IT industry to continue to grow we need more and more students coming in. It's incumbent upon Microsoft and all of the big technology companies to expand the IT ecosystem. We have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders, but we also have a social responsibility to the industry. In the U.S, the universities will graduate only one-half of the IT people the industry needs over the few years."

Abu-Hadba said there are three core elements to Microsoft's strategy to appeal to students. One is awareness. "We try to catch them at early stages of their lives to show them that IT can be a great place for them," he said. The second element is to enable the students free and easy access to tools and technology, and the third is to impact the educators and influence the curriculum for students.

"You'll see us have multiple programs that target students from high school and college, to DreamSpark and even BizSpark once they graduate," Abu-Hadba said. Through DreamSpark, Microsoft is giving students access to its latest technology at no cost. The program is available to more than 35 college students around the world. Microsoft also holds its annual Imagine Cup competition where it awards college students for creating innovative projects with the company's technology. And the BizSpark program helps startups that base their business on Microsoft technology, to get off the ground. Meanwhile Microsoft also offers certifications to students as well.

In addition, at MIX09, Microsoft honored a group of teenagers who were participants and winners of the "Microsoft Bliink" web design contest. The contest, which was piloted in Las Vegas and is being rolled out n Los Angeles and Sacramento, Calif., and in New Mexico this spring, provides teens with hands-on experience creating web sites and engages them in exploring careers in technology.

Indeed, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, despite the recession, more than 300,000 technology-related jobs remain unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers. And only five percent of U.S. college undergraduates are today pursuing degrees in computer science or engineering, compared to 42 percent of university students in countries like China and India.

However, despite the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates of technical talent shortfalls, technology companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Sun and others have been laying off portions of their workforce as the recession has taken hold.

Yet, "Our nation's need for skilled technology workers presents a valuable opportunity for young people to hone their technical skills at an early age and increase their chances to secure interesting jobs in the U.S. workforce when they graduate from high school or college," said Carla Faini, K-12 Academic Programs Manager at Microsoft. "We strive to create exciting project-based learning opportunities, such as the Microsoft Bliink contest, to provide teens with access to the latest technology and inspire them to realize their full potential."

The Microsoft Bliink competition, which was piloted in Clark County, NV, challenged high school students to design and develop Web sites that aligned to the theme, "I Imagine My Future" by using the Microsoft Expression suite of software tools. Participating schools received free subscriptions to the Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance (MSDN AA), which included the Expression software. The Expression suite of software includes the same graphic design and web design tools used by professional designers.

Students were allowed to install this software onto their home computers at no charge. Additionally, Microsoft hired educators to create free tutorials and curriculum units, with the goal of allowing any beginner to create a potentially winning site. The web design materials are available to anyone at:

"Ensuring that students have the resources and tools they need to be prepared for the toughest job market in years is a top priority for Microsoft," said Lisa Brummel, senior vice president of human resources at Microsoft. "We know that the areas of growth and opportunity going forward will be in technology. The great thing about helping students develop skills in this area, is that technology is pervasive to all industries. Teens that come out of high school and college with solid technical skills can follow their passions and have robust careers in the fields that capture their imaginations.