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.
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 - came together for a full day conference focused on skills and career development. 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 YouthSpark Advisor Genevieve L'Esperance, Technical Evangelist Sage Franch, 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 using Surface Pro 3. After lunch, Franch and L'Esperance 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.
YouthSpark Live was an uplifting and inspiring conference, and Microsoft's commitment to youth 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 developers who were once new to the tech world, we can recognize how meaningful those first interactions with technology are. Providing students with access to technology and resources to help them learn can start them down the path towards a promising career in this booming field. The creativity and excitement of the students at YouthSpark Live was exhilarating, and it is through the encouragement of that positive energy in youth across the globe that we can empower a generation that will build the future we all dream of.
Photography: Mark Kinskofer, Vision Event Photography