American Idol for the rest of us

This morning, Rick Rashid, Senior VP for Microsoft Research kicked off our annual TechFest;  an event here on the Redmond campus that celebrates the genius of Microsoft Research's worldwide labs by presenting more than 150 demos and 24 lectures. Think of it as a kind of exhibition of cutting-edge technologies from some of the best and brightest computer scientists and engineers from around the world all in one place.  I always enjoy this event because it gives me a lot of insight to what's coming down the line and how it might be applied to my own industry, healthcare.  One of the technologies Rick highlighted in his keynote this year was SenseCam, a little wearable device capable of digitizing audio, video and other data from every second of your life and storing it forever. When I first saw this technology more than a year ago, it got me to thinking about how it might impact future versions of the electronic or personal health record, or how this technology might be useful to patients with chronic disease.  There are already promising results from small studies with people suffering from dementia and other cognitive disorders.

But there was something else Rick talked about this morning that has far more profound implications for our industry, and certainly for our country.  He reported that only about 1 in 100 college freshman today are selecting computer science and engineering as a major, a trend that has been on a downward spiral for the last several years and has reached its lowest point ever.  In my own travels I’ve been hearing colleagues, and deans of medical schools, bemoaning the quality and quantity of young people seeking careers in medicine today.  Yet surprisingly both fields, IT and medicine, are forecasted to be leading industries for new job creation far into the future.  Clearly, the number of jobs will far outstrip the supply of qualified candidates.

What's going on here?  Somehow I think we are failing to instill a work ethic in our youth.  Perhaps I can't blame them when all they see on television, magazines and the Net are glorifications of the rich and famous among us; movie icons, sports stars, rockers, rappers,  instant celebrities and wanna-be's.  Math and science are hard.  It takes time to build a fortune the old fashioned way.  Who wouldn't want to rake in millions for singing on the radio, blasting a home run, or acting on the silver screen?  But you need only watch American Idol to confront the hard fact that the odds of that happening are solidly stacked against you.  It's also interesting to note that even those American Idols generally got there by working very very hard, and often for many years in poverty and total obscurity, before hitting it big.

Yes, majoring in computer science is hard.  Becoming a doctor is perhaps even harder.  There are years of self sacrifice, delayed gratification, and countless hours studying and taking tests.  But doing anything really worthwhile in life takes an equal amount of effort.  That's why they call it "work".  It's a message that seems to be getting lost on an entire generation of young people.  And, it's a loss for which we will all pay dearly.

What do you think?  Let us know.

Bill Crounse, MD              Worldwide Health Director                      Microsoft 

Comments (6)
  1. alex says:

    I belive IT – equipped medical care will allow much better and more effective solutions. That would make the health care acces more available. However, there is still big resistense and lack of the qualified IT staff will make the thing even harder in future.

  2. Alexandra Jackson says:

    We need to engage kids in science and computers from an early age in school and outside of school. it will take the effort of the community, parent sand school. kids are bored with school. We are teaching them to do well on standardized tests not think creatively.  Where are the role models in IT and medicine?  Who is talking ot kids and helping them to see the potential in their community?  We need to use IT to foster collaboration around the world and entice kids to look at  studying and solving problems with many different perspectives and in collaboration with other schools or students accross the country.  How can wea as parents, teachers and others who have influential roles in childrens lifes foster their natural love of learning and channel it into math and science?  We need ot look at a short term solution and also a long term solution. I don’t have the answers.  Somehow we need to connect the issues facing the world today or even thier own environment which will directly impact thier lives ie environmental degradation and start having them think creativley about solutions instead of studdying for the next standardized test.  What is being toaught to them isn’t relevant to their daily life and how they interact with the world.  We need to create environments at work that will entice people to work there – flexiblity, job rotation, teamworked.  We need to include yuth in the discussion and find out what is missing and why don’t they go into the career of IT or science and ask them what they need.  

  3. hlthblog says:


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the dialogue.  Don’t apologize for not having all the answers.  This isn’t an issue that will be solved by individuals, but collectively our voices will be heard and progress can be made.

    Best always,

    Bill Crounse, MD         Worldwide Health Director       Microsoft

  4. linda says:

    As being a graduate in bioengineering myself, I was very disappointed to see the job market after I graduated a few years back. I was having a very tough time finding jobs in engineering, meanwhile, I got tons of offer from financial, consulting companies to do non-technical jobs. I am certainly not alone in this as I kept in touch with many of my old-classmates and they were all have similar issues. Maybe if the job market is better for engineering graduates, there will be more of the youth going into that area.

  5. hlthblog says:


    Thanks for writing.  There’s no doubt that the job market and high pay drive interest in an industry.  During the late 90’s everyone wanted to join a dot com and get rich quick.  Many did, but many others learned one of life’s important lessons.  A good education is something that no one can take away.  A motivated person with contemporary skills in computer science, engineering, math or science should have no trouble landing a good job somewhere.  And should you be inclined toward a profession in healthcare, you’ll find plenty of opportunities almost anywhere you go.

    Bill Crounse, MD

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