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Editor’s note: On Friday, December 5, 2014, Microsoft was honored to welcome Congressman Kennedy to Microsoft New England’s NERD Center in Cambridge. He interacted with our engineers and researchers, saw firsthand the work being done by Microsoft in New England, and participated in the Hour of Code. It was the perfect kick off to Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 8-14) and we thank him for visiting our office. – Aimee Sprung, Civic Engagement Manager, Microsoft New England.

When I was appointed Honorary Co-Chair of the Governor’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Advisory Council, I promised to build off of the success in our state and to find innovative ways to further promote STEM across Massachusetts and the entire country. Last week, I had a unique opportunity to experience a creative technology firsthand by participating in the Hour of Code during a visit to Microsoft’s NERD Center in Cambridge.

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Office365 Developer and Microsoft YouthSpark TEALS teacher Eric Jewart walking Congressman Kennedy through Plants vs. Zombies Hour of Code activity.

Throughout Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 8-14), Microsoft partnered with Code.org on its grassroots campaign goal to reach 100 million students globally with the Hour of Code, a program that provides a hands-on introduction to computer science. With the patient help of Eric Jewart, a Microsoft engineer and volunteer teacher in the TEALS program, I completed the Zombie tutorial.

Even though I took a couple computer science classes in college, those courses were nothing like what I experienced during my visit. The Hour of Code is fun, interactive, and most importantly, it’s teaching students how computer science is evolving while providing the skills necessary for the modern workplace.

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Congressman Kennedy with Microsoft’s Eric Jewart and Aimee Sprung, holding Governor Deval Patrick’s CS Ed Week Proclamation.

This is especially true in Massachusetts, where our state has high demand for jobs in research and development as well as software publishing. And these are high-paying jobs. According to TechAmerica Foundation’s Cyberstates report, in 2012 high tech workers in our state earned an average salary of $116,000, the second highest tech wage in the U.S. and 95 percent more than the average private sector wage in Massachusetts. Now more than ever, our Commonwealth needs workers with skills in computer science.

Despite this need and our success in Massachusetts, just over one percent of AP students took the AP computer science exam in 2014 – a trend that can be reversed by incorporating and utilizing computer science in our high school curriculums. We must do all that we can to engage students and encourage policymakers to invest in education.

Microsoft understands this as well, with efforts year-round to further computer science. For example, the TEALS (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools) program where Eric volunteers is a grassroots program through Microsoft YouthSpark that recruits, trains, and places tech professionals into high school classes as teachers.

My visit to the NERD Center showed me three interesting things: Massachusetts companies are searching for qualified technology talent; Microsoft is building tools for predictive analytics and conversational intent right here in our state; and the Hour of Code can even make a politician feel like a computer scientist!

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

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