Youth & Opportunity
Engineering , Math
By Bernard Bergan, Guest Contributor
Over the past five years, I have been serving all over the world for the United States Army as a communications sergeant in First Special Forces Group Airborne, 3rd Battalion. Serving in the Army has taught me the value of teamwork, selfless service and a commitment to excellence. It also has allowed me to see up close how technology connects us all. While in Afghanistan, I used Skype as my primary tool for keeping in contact with friends and family.
Now, I am in the processing of starting a new journey as I consider opportunities to work at Microsoft. I’m one of the first people to complete the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy – a training program provided by the company to help active duty service members transition out of the military into technology careers. This week, I officially completed the 16-week program where I obtained certification required to be a software tester, and was proud to stand next to 21 other service members as we were recognized in a special ceremony attended by Senator Patty Murray. Now, I have a path beyond my service to the military in yet another field I am passionate about. Transitioning to a job at Microsoft, the very company that made it possible for me to connect with my loved ones while in the military, is more than amazing; it is surreal.
My experience in the program has been very positive but it did not come without its challenges as I learned the new language of code. My introduction to C sharp, Visual Studios and the .Net framework was fast and furious. The support offered by Microsoft employees who came down to our classroom and provided training sessions via Skype was tremendous in helping us problem solve. It also reminded us that learning to understand software engineering is a simple process. Hearing from industry professionals helped ease my concerns and they also provided many more resources available through Microsoft.
Prior to Microsoft’s program, there were no seamless training programs available for soon-to-be veterans who wanted to work in tech. Any career transition is difficult but, for those of us in the military, there are unique challenges. The Microsoft Software & Systems Academy at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state assists with this process by providing training while being able to maintain my financial stability. The guarantee of a job placement within Microsoft or through one of its partners was an incredible opportunity with a major impact on my family.
The Microsoft Software & Systems Academy has been an extremely rewarding experience. Learning to code has been a challenging journey worth the effort. My experience in this program has reminded me that stepping out of one’s comfort zone and following a different path will always have its challenges. However, if you believe in what you’re doing, and you have a big enough answer to why you’re doing it, in the end it will all come together.
By Lori Forte Harnick, general manager, Citizenship & Public Affairs
Today is a good day to remember that it takes just one person to have a positive impact on another person’s life.
Today is #GivingTuesday and as part of our ongoing YouthSpark initiative, we’re rallying support for young people around the world.
Would you like to make a difference in a young person’s life? If so, we’d like to help.
Starting at 9 a.m. Pacific Time today, Microsoft will match donations — dollar for dollar — that are made to nonprofit organizations serving the needs of youth at GlobalGiving.org/YouthSpark/Heroes. We’re also offering Microsoft Store shoppers a $25 donation gift card with any purchase.
How can you change a young person’s life? How can you help them get the education they need? Open doors to new opportunities? Spark their passion to discover and create and change the world for others?
Find out today at GlobalGiving.org/YouthSpark/Heroes and let us help…let us double the impact you can make today in a young person’s life.
By Elisa Willman, Senior Manager MarComm, Microsoft Citizenship
Tom Blank and Mike Sinclair have found the perfect way to use their professional skills to benefit others. By day, they work as Microsoft engineers. By night, they teach teens how to build really cool robots.
Tom and Mike are volunteer mentors for XBOT Robotics, a nonprofit organization that teaches kids from the South Seattle area to build robots and then gives them the chance to compete against other kids from around the Pacific Northwest and the world. In the process, the mentors hope to kindle in their students an interest in science, technology, engineering and math that will lead to college and valuable careers. Along the way, the kids develop social skills, such as collaboration and sportsmanship that can benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Every Tuesday and Thursday evening and Saturday morning, 30 to 45 students meet in a Microsoft conference room in Redmond with their volunteer mentors, who teach them programming, mechanical design and electronics. They participate in a variety of activities and exercises throughout the year, culminating in the FIRST Robotics Challenge, a competition that gives teams just a few weeks to build 120-pound robots that can carry out specified tasks and then pits those robots against each other.
It’s a lot of fun for both the kids and the adults, but the mentors say they stay involved with the program for something bigger: the chance to make a permanent impact on young people’s lives. “The best part is the privilege of seeing the students grow up,” Tom says. “You teach them, see them develop, write their college references, and help them launch.”
As part of the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative and our Employee Giving Program, we’re featuring Tom and Mike’s story among 30 Microsoft employee Giving Heroes who are helping young people overcome a number of challenges and capture new opportunities. For Tom and Mike’s work, XBOT Robotics will receive a $1,000 grant. A major source of XBOT's funding is our Giving Program, which donates $17 for each hour an employee volunteers. “This money is a significant part of the lifeblood that keeps our organization going,” Tom says. Highlighting their story also gives them a chance to raise even more money through the upcoming #GivingTuesday campaign.
Most of the students who participate in XBOT Robotics teams are from the Franklin High School area in South Seattle. It’s a school that serves 95 percent students of color and where 65 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Half of all XBOT students come from homes where English is the second language. The robotics program has played a role in helping many students become the first members of their families to attend college. Tom says it was especially rewarding to see one such student accept a full-ride scholarship to Stanford recently. Students involved with XBOT have also accepted scholarships to the University of Washington, MIT and many other prestigious schools.
Each year, the specifics of the FIRST Robotics Challenge change. No team knows the exact challenges and constraints their robots will face until the first week of January, when FIRST Robotics reveals the challenges and rules of the year’s competition. From that point, teams have six weeks to design, build and test their robots. Recent years’ competitions have required robots to throw Frisbees accurately, climb a pole, shoot basketballs, kick a soccer ball, pick up and strategically place inner tubes, and a variety of other challenges. They also have to be able to withstand potential hazards such as collisions with walls or other robots. It can be tough to keep control of a brand-new 120-pound robot. Though Mike, Tom, and the other mentors are happy to provide guidance and advice, the students are ultimately responsible for the design and construction of their robots.
This process gives the students experience with the kind of real-world challenges they’ll face if they choose to pursue a STEM career. The classroom setting doesn’t always adequately prepare students for the deadlines, budget constraints and workflow issues that engineers face daily in their careers. “When they go away to college they’ll be ready to understand schedules and timing and deadlines far better,” Tom says.
Meet other Giving Heroes by following #youthspark, #givinghero and #msftgiving on Microsoft Facebook and Twitter. We're showcasing inspiring employees making a difference for youth leading into #GivingTuesday.
By Dan Bross, senior director of Corporate Citizenship
Remember when you heard the word “networks” and thought ABC – CBS – NBC? OK, OK - I’m dating myself. Today the word “networks” is used in a variety of contexts – computer networks; virtual networks; and last but certainly not least – social networks.
“The Power of Networks” was the organizing tenant of BSR’s 2013 conference in San Francisco, CA earlier this month. As Aron Kramer, BSR’s President and CEO notes in a recent blog post, “networks are reshaping our world… (Providing) new opportunities for businesses and their partners to activate their networks, and … use the “Power of Networks” to … build a just and sustainable world.”
As Microsoft’s senior director of Corporate Citizenship, I am part of a network of colleagues across a wide and diverse range of organizations (corporations; civil society organizations; academic institutions; investors; governments; et al) all working on the issue of human rights. Our work is as varied as the organizations we represent. While our focus and responsibilities may vary, I suspect we would agree that the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) has provided a much needed framework for our work.
Since the UNGPs were adopted by the UN in June 2011, we have taken a number of steps across Microsoft to work to fulfill our responsibility to respect the human rights of our rights holders, including: issuing our Global Human Rights Statement; launching the Microsoft Technology and Human Rights Center; and assessing the human rights impacts of our operations on an ongoing basis. These assessments – in Guiding Principles parlance – are referred to as human rights impact assessments or HRIAs and it was this part of our human rights work that I was invited to speak to at the BSR conference.
Chloe Poynton, a member of BSR’s Advisory Services team moderated the session by outlining the responsibility of companies under the UNGPs to “know and show” their impact on human rights through an internal due diligence process (HRIAs). John Morrison, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Business explained that “businesses must never get the message that human rights are just about managing risk” and explained that companies are working collaboratively to assess human rights risks and develop common methodologies for greater alignment.
The other panelist, Chris Anderson, Rio Tinto’s Americas Director, Communities and Social Performance talked a bit about the need for human rights training/education within corporations, and Chris and I agreed that that one size type of training does not fit all and need to address aspects of human rights relevant for individual roles and responsibilities within an organization.
During the question and answer portion of the session, I had an opportunity to speak a bit about the HRIA we completed prior to establishing a business presence in Myanmar and the importance of “baking” assessments into business processes.
In my mind, the three key takeaways from the session were:
Attending an international school in India, Poorvi Shrivastav took her first computer programming class at the age of 7. Like most young people, she became obsessed with the gadgets, phones and computers that allowed her to email her classmates after school and stay connected with her father when he traveled. But Poorvi wanted more, she wanted to write the programs that made the technology work.
Now a Software Development Engineer in Test at Microsoft, Poorvi is working to bring that same inspiration to other young people. She and her husband, Brahmjot Singh Kohli, teach advanced placement computer science courses at Hazen High School in Renton as part of Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), a Microsoft YouthSpark program. They jokingly refer to themselves as the TEALS couple.
TEALS places high tech professionals who are passionate about computer science education into school districts that don’t have the finances or skills available to offer such courses. Brahmjot and Poorvi heard about the program in 2012, shortly after they moved to the United States from India to work at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond. They both previously taught primary school math and were looking for a similar opportunity.
“We know the U.S. is facing a shortage of people with STEM degrees and now we have an opportunity to impact high school students and improve that,” says Brahmjot. “I was introduced to programming very early and that is what led to my career in engineering.”
As part of the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative and our Employee Giving Program, we’re featuring their story among 30 Microsoft employee Giving Heroes who are helping young people overcome a number of challenges and capture new opportunities. To further extend our support, a $1,000 grant will be donated in honor of Poorvi and Brahmjot to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, which provides young people the opportunity to take their aspirations in computer science to the next level in college. Highlighting their story also gives them a chance to raise even more money through the upcoming #GivingTuesday campaign.
In the U.S. alone, there are projections of 1.5 million CS-related jobs by 2018. Unfortunately, U.S. college graduates are expected to fill less than a third of those jobs. TEALS is providing U.S. students with the skills they need to pursue technology in higher education and the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship is helping them finance the educations that will land them in 21st century jobs.
Poorvi and Brahmjot are certain that some of the 55 students in their classes will turn their newfound computer science skills into college degrees. Since they started teaching the 7:20 a.m. classes two months ago, the change is already evident.
While initially some of the students seemed to be attending class because of pressure from their parents, the progress they’ve made has turned the obligation into real interest. Some are so excited, they want to encourage others to take the course next year and are planning an event to spread the word.
“I can see on a daily basis the impact I can have on someone’s career choice,” Brahmjot says. “I predict that many of them will take up a career in computer science and for me that is huge.”
Poorvi, who has a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology, gives special attention to the girls in the classroom because of the inequality of women in the computer science field. She encourages them, praises their successes, and assures them there is a place for them in the industry.
“I was lucky that I went to a school with great teachers who taught STEM,” she says. “I owe many thanks to the teachers in India who got me interested in science and technology. If I am able to help impact a few students and make them interested, it will give me great satisfaction.”
Meet other Giving Heroes by following #youthspark, #givinghero and #msftgiving on Microsoft Facebook and Twitter. We’ll showcase inspiring employees making a difference for youth each day this month and leading into #GivingTuesday.
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