One of the coolest things about my job is I never know what kind of speaking engagements I'll get involved in. Yesterday I had a great opportunity to get up in front of some local high school students and talk about what it's like to work in the technology industry and at Microsoft.
We visited with about 80 teenagers who are part of the engineering and technology school at Frederick Douglass High School in west Atlanta. This was an interesting school to visit in that it's not in the suburbs of Atlanta, it's right in the city. It's the largest high school in the Atlanta public school system, and is made up of several "learning communities". The kids we went to see are part of the magnet program Center for Engineering, and Applied Technology(CFEAT). The school is apparently on lockdown a lot of the time, with more visible security than I've seen in a school in a while. A majority of the school's students are economically disadvantaged and often do not get exposure to the topics outside of their communities. Nonetheless, the kids were absolutely thrilled that we were there to speak to them!
My colleague Doug Turnure coordinated the event through the teachers in the CFEAT School. We had an interesting array of speakers including folks that work with customers and do consulting, and even a member of an actual product team who works in the Atlanta area remotely (instead of Redmond).
Although most of my peers that afternoon talked about their path to Microsoft and why they love the company, I got to swoop in at the end and show the kids some cool demos, opening their eyes to how technology has the potential to improve how we work, play and interact with each other. I showed them how I use my Microsoft Presenter Mouse 8000 so I only need one device for mousing, advancing slides, controlling music and laser pointing. They ate up demos of me navigating around downtown Atlanta with Virtual Earth 3d and the Xbox 360 controller. And they also loved seeing me use Live Search for Mobile by speaking the name of the location I want to find, displaying nearby movies, gas prices and traffic, and using the GPS built into my Blackjack II.
Afterwards, some of the students were coming up and asking about how to get into game design and I pointed them towards resources like the XNA framework and the fact that not only can you write games for Windows and Xbox 360 but pretty soon for Zune as well.
Now, what would a Microsoft talk be without giveaways? In addition to the flying discs and other schwag for everyone, we gave away an Xbox 360 console, a copy of Rock Band, a Pocket PC, and some games. Man, those kids were thrilled!!!
After all the talking was done we let them go crazy on the Xbox Elite consoles and projectors we'd brought in. Games like Halo3 and Rock Band and more had them going for hours. I really enjoyed chatting with these kids about their dreams and aspirations, as well as jamming with them to songs by Fall Out Boy and (yes) Bon Jovi!!!
I hope we achieved our goal of educating and inspiring them on the vast opportunities and career choices available to them in the high-tech industry. The bottom line for them is this: The need for “technologists” is great and will continue to grow. Technology will help address some of the biggest problems facing the world today. My advice to students is, take a look at a career in the technology field…you might have an opportunity to change the world.