Microsoft Empowers Youth at YouthSpark Live Vancouver

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It’s said that 50% of the job market requires basic technical proficiency, and that that number will increase to 77% in the next decade. With a shortage of qualified computer science graduates to fill these roles and the fact that computer science has not yet been recognized as a pillar of mainstream education, the income gap between entry-level employees who were exposed to technology early on and those who weren’t widens every year. YouthSpark, a global initiative dedicated to students and youth, is Microsoft’s commitment to help remedy this growing problem by providing youth with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship in technology, and providing them with a path to enter this competitive field.

As an intern at Microsoft Canada and, previously, a Microsoft Student Partner and YouthSpark Advocate, I have benefited firsthand from Microsoft’s investments in youth. I am very proud to have been able to contribute to Microsoft’s youth outreach efforts in a number of ways, including leading coding camps at the annual YouthSpark Live events two years in a row. This year YouthSpark Live took place at Robson Square in Vancouver, where 100 youth nominated by Microsoft’s citizenship partners – Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, Pathways to Education, SHAD, and Ladies Learning Code – joined us for a full day conference focused on skills and career development.youthspark_live_vancouver_2015_1

The day began with an inspiring keynote by Molly Burke, a young woman who, despite going blind at a young age, has overcome her disability and been able to reach thousands of lives through her inspiring talks and work with Me to We to provide opportunities to children in developing parts of the world. Following that, attendees participated in a “coding unplugged” session led by me, YouthSpark Advisor Genevieve L’Esperance, and two Microsoft software engineers, during which they got a feel for the way a computer processes information by applying the Bubble Sort algorithm to sort each other. During the Study Smarter session, representatives from the Microsoft Store showed students how to use OneNote to increase productivity and maximize study time, and then Genevieve and I taught the students how to code using TouchDevelop on HP Stream 7 tablets running Windows 8.1 during the coding camp. The day wrapped up with a career panel of interns from Microsoft’s Foundry program, led by Microsoft Most Valued Professional Stephen Ibaraki, followed by the exciting announcement that the tablets the students had been using throughout the day were their to keep. Many of these youth had lower than average access to technology compared to their peers, so these tablets not only enhanced the learning sessions at the conference, but will provide these students with the opportunity to apply all they learned throughout the day to their daily lives.

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YouthSpark Live was an uplifting and inspiring conference, but it doesn’t end there. YouthSpark is a fantastic initiative that encompasses over 30 major programs and opportunities for youth worldwide. You can discover these programs and opportunities on the YouthSpark Hub and access further resources for learning to code and building apps and games at imagine.microsoft.com. As a student who was once new to the tech world, I recognize how meaningful those first interactions with tech are, and I am proud to be part of a company that invests so much in youth and students. Watching the students at YouthSpark Live building games was an amazing experience. The creativity and excitement in that room was exhilarating, and if we can encourage that positive energy in more youth across the globe, we can empower a generation that will build the future.

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Photo credit: Mark Kinskofer, Vision Event Photography

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