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Microsoft Expands YouthSpark Efforts

Joshua Uwadiae was a high school dropout in Hackney, an inner city neighborhood of London, when he found his way into an apprenticeship program run by the United Kingdom's Department of Business Innovation and Skills and sponsored by Microsoft. "Handy with computers," Uwadiae learned IT skills and networking in the apprenticeship program, eventually being named "apprentice of the year" and getting hired as an IT support analyst. Recently, he was promoted to IT manager at his company.

"Who I was became different," he stated in a video explaining his journey from a youth spent dabbling in gang activities to the professional he is today. Now Uwadiae serves as an "apprentice ambassador" for the same program to help other young people pursue careers in technology.

Those are the kinds of outcomes Microsoft is hoping for in its third year of YouthSpark, a worldwide initiative to help 300 million young people gain technical skills and education that can help them find jobs. YouthSpark started two years ago, and in that time, the company stated, the program has "created opportunities" for 227 million people in 100 countries.

As the new school year begins in the United States, Microsoft announced that it would be nearly doubling down on its Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program. TEALS places software engineers as volunteer computer science coaches in high schools. Last year the program worked with 70 schools; this year that's growing to 131 schools. The engineers help train teachers in coding practices and work alongside them in developing computer science programs.

The company has also announced the start of Imagine Cup 2015, its global technology contest for students 16 and older. This annual event allows individual or teams of students to compete in one of several challenges. The world citizenship competition, for example, asks students to develop projects for addressing an "important social problem," such as disease, poverty or gender equality. A new "code hunt challenge" allows students to rewrite programs provided to them to produce the desired output in as few lines of code as possible; the coding puzzles get harder as the student progresses through them.

In each type of challenge, participants can win money and other perks. The two members of the 2014 Imagine Cup winning team, Eyenaemia from Australia, are in Seattle this week for a private meeting with Bill Gates and a week of visiting with Microsoft engineers, product managers and others. Their project: a simple, non-invasive app that screens for the risk of anemia through a selfie.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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