There’s nothing more exciting than opening a young person’s eyes to the amazing potential of technology. That’s why we were thrilled this week to host a three-day DigiCamp experience to give middle-school girls and boys from New Haven a chance to explore technology and show them what careers in tech can look like. The three-day DigiCamp is the first citizenship program to be delivered under a joint digital alliance signed by Microsoft and the City of New Haven in December 2014. With additional support from Southern Connecticut State University, this week’s DigiCamp gave middle-school students a chance to hear from technology professionals, young inventors and current university students — and to get firsthand experience with a range of Microsoft technologies and projects.

It’s estimated that 77 percent of jobs in the next decade will require tech skills, yet only a small percentage of young women are pursuing computer science education to prepare for these jobs. It’s not that girls aren’t interested; 7 of 10 young girls start out with an interest in science and math at an early age. Microsoft is committed to helping keep them interested and to closing the gender gap in the technology industry; that’s why we offer DigiGirlz, to help middle-school and high-school girls learn about what careers in technology can offer them. And we’re committed to helping boys make the most of their academic and professional futures as well, which is why we also hosted a Microsoft YouthSpark camp for boys — the first DigiCamp for boys to be offered by Microsoft on the East Coast.

Tuesday: DigiGirlz

On Tuesday, 50 middle-school girls arrived at SCSU for a day-long session of keynote speeches, breakout workshops, and a chance to play dance games with Xbox One. Tuesday’s session began with a welcome from Mary A. Papazian, president of SCSU, and Mayor Toni Harp of New Haven. Keisha Aye, co-founder and CEO of ManyMentors, gave a keynote address, encouraging the girls to find mentors and have confidence that they’re strong enough to pursue their goals. In the breakout sessions, girls learned about game design, coding, and building an online brand. In the afternoon, Mendi Blue of the City of New Haven moderated a career panel in which Microsoft staff, current students, and Microsoft Connecticut Invention Convention inventors shared their experiences and offered inspiration.
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Wednesday: Tours of Microsoft Store and Microsoft offices

Both boys and girls turned out for Wednesday’s tours. In the morning, the girls visited the Microsoft Store at Westfarms Mall in West Hartford, while the boys toured Microsoft’s Hartford office; the groups traded places in the afternoon.

At the Microsoft Store, staff described what a retail career in technology can offer and treated the kids to a personal tour with the chance to try out a number of the devices, such as Surface and Xbox One. At the office, sales director Paul Liss offered the visitors advice on planning for the future. “Study hard,” he told them. “Question authority; read a lot.” He recommended general studies, since “you may not decide what you will do by 17 years old,” but liberal arts, business administration and engineering will offer practical skills for any occupation. Above all, he said, “Don’t limit yourself; every idea is a great idea — it could be the next best thing!”

After some additional Q&A, we showed videos about the Microsoft R&D process and products currently in development. The kids were wowed by the story and the research team behind Microsoft HoloLens and holographics.

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Thursday: YouthSpark Live for boys

On Thursday, President Papazian and Mayor Harp welcomed the boys for their turn at a day exploring coding, game development and online brand creation. Matthew Harmon, a Brown University grad who is finishing a Ph.D. in materials science at the University of Connecticut at Storrs before heading to Howard University Medical School, talked about how engineering and orthopedic surgery connect to bring new possibilities to medicine and healthcare.

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Microsoft is committed to partnering with educational and civic organizations to help bring young people into technology careers. This week’s DigiCamp gave us the chance to show 100 middle-schoolers that not only do they have a future in technology, they have a whole community of people who are eager to help them get there.

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