Microsoft YouthSpark Live Inspires Next Generation of Leaders

If you choose to enter the tech industry, said Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, “you will be creating a better world for all of us.”

On March 10, 2016, Microsoft Canada and the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) welcomed 100 Ottawa youth to the Shaw Centre for an immersive day of technology-centric programming. The youth, who were 14-19 years old and attended schools local to the area, heard from inspiring speakers, participated in a day-long “escape room” style series of computational puzzles and a coding camp using Microsoft TouchDevelop.

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The day started off with an address from Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s Minister of Science. Taking time to speak to the students on an individual level, Hon. Duncan encouraged the students to share their dreams with the group. One young woman, Clara, wanted to use technology to impact healthcare. “I want to use code to help people get illnesses diagnosed earlier,” she told Honourable Duncan.  Another student wanted to be a web developer, another a politician, and another still wanted to be an astronaut. Hon. Duncan spoke about the incredible opportunities that arise from digital literacy skills, and made special mention of the importance of gender equality in the industry.

The teens went on to learn core computing concepts including decimal-binary conversion, parity bits, pseudocode parsing, and encryption using ciphers. Through learning these concepts, taught by myself and Microsoft Technical Evangelist Susan Ibach, students solved a series of puzzles to decipher keys. These keys unlocked lock boxes in the main hall, each of which contained clues to puzzles later in the day, ending in a final chest containing gift bags of geeky gear for the participants. Peppered between the activities of the day, students heard from speakers in industry, including a keynote from Vicki Iverson, Co-Founder and CTO of Iversoft, addresses from Deputy Mayor of Ottawa Bob Monette and ICTC President and CEO Namir Anani, and a panel featuring Mickey MacDonald of Microsoft Canada, Graeme Barlow of Liquid Fox Cooling Inc., myself, and 18-year-old CEO of Sarr Apps, Abdou Sarr.

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Microsoft employees from the Ottawa area volunteered their time to join the students for mentoring sessions at lunch, sharing their stories and advice for the youth as they start to plan their careers. As keynote speaker Vicki Iverson said, the event was not about turning everyone into software engineers, but about empowering these youth to make a strong entry in their careers by equipping them with digital literacy skills and an opportunity to explore technology. It is events like these that make me so proud to be part of Microsoft – it is so clear just how much Microsoft employees care about giving back to the community and advancing the industry by putting power in the hands of our youth.

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Photography: Matt Zambonin

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