Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Microsoft Offers Teens a Glimpse of the Tech Life ; Program Sends Engineers to Teach in High Schools and Stimulate Interest

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Microsoft Offers Teens a Glimpse of the Tech Life ; Program Sends Engineers to Teach in High Schools and Stimulate Interest

Article excerpt

To address a shortage of computer science graduates, the company is encouraging its employees to commit to teaching a high school computer science class for a full school year.

CORRECTION APPENDED

Leandre Nsabi, a senior at Rainier Beach High School here, received some bluntly practical advice from an instructor recently.

"My teacher said there's a lot of money to be made in computer science," he said. "It could be really helpful in the future."

That teacher, Steven Edouard, knows a few things about the subject. When he is not volunteering as a computer science instructor four days a week, Mr. Edouard works at Microsoft. He is one of 110 engineers from high-technology companies who are part of a Microsoft program aimed at getting high school students hooked on computer science, so they will go on to pursue careers in the field.

In doing so, Microsoft is taking an unusual approach to tackling a shortage of computer science graduates -- one of the most serious issues facing the technology industry and a broader challenge for the U.S. economy.

There are likely to be 150,000 computing jobs opening up each year through 2020, according to an analysis of national forecasts by the Association for Computing Machinery, a professional society for computing researchers. But despite the hoopla around start-up celebrities like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, fewer than 14,000 American students received undergraduate degrees in computer science last year, the Computing Research Association estimates. And the wider job market remains weak.

"People can't get jobs, and we have jobs that can't be filled," said Brad Smith, the Microsoft general counsel and overseer of its philanthropic efforts.

Big U.S. technology companies have complained for years about a dearth of technical talent, a problem they have tried to solve by lobbying for looser immigration rules to accommodate more foreign engineers and by sponsoring technology competitions to encourage student interest in the industry.

Google, for one, holds a programming summer camp for incoming ninth graders and underwrites an effort called CS4HS, or Computer Science for High School. In that initiative high school teachers sharpen their computer science skills in workshops at local universities.

But Microsoft is sending its employees to the front lines, encouraging them to commit to teaching a high school computer science class for a full school year. Its engineers, who earn a small stipend for their classroom time, are in at least two hourlong classes a week and sometimes as many as five.

The program started as a grass-roots effort by Kevin Wang, a Microsoft engineer with a master's degree in education from Harvard University.

In 2009, he began volunteering as a computer science teacher at a Seattle public high school on his way to work. After executives at Microsoft caught wind of what he was doing, they put financial support behind the effort -- which is known as Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, or Teals -- and let Mr. Wang run it full time.

The program is now in 22 schools in the Seattle area and has expanded to more than a dozen schools in California, North Dakota, Utah, Washington and other states this academic year. Microsoft wants other big technology companies to back the effort so it can broaden the number of outside engineers involved.

This year, only 19 of the 110 teachers in the program are not Microsoft employees. In some cases, the program has thrown together volunteers from companies that spend a lot of their time beating one another up in the marketplace.

"I think education and bringing more people into the field is something all technology companies agree on," said Alyssa Caulley, a Google software engineer who, along with a Microsoft volunteer, is teaching a computer science class at Woodside High School in Woodside, California. …

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