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Originally published Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 5:12 PM

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Guest: How to prep more students for computer-science careers

More needs to be done to prepare students for careers in computer science, writes guest columnist Lori Forte Harnick.


Special to The Times

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JACKIE Truong, 15, wakes up each weekday before dawn. He’s among the more than 1,200 local high school students who arrive at school an hour early to learn a skill that can change their lives.

At Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School Jackie is met by volunteers from Microsoft and a dedicated in-service teacher. Jackie is one of 35 students at Rainier Beach who have chosen to learn the language of computers from professional programmers. When asked why, he says his father works at a hotel and wants him to have a better future.

“I want to be a game or software designer,” he says.

More than 80 percent of Rainier Beach students come from families whose income qualifies them for free or reduced lunches. But if the students in Jackie’s zero-period class stick with their study of computer science, they can earn salaries in the high five or low six figures, right out of college.

At Microsoft, we’re working to make more young people aware of these career options and to equip them to pursue these opportunities, especially because of trends in youth unemployment.

Last year, the unemployment rate in Washington for 20- to 24-year-olds was 12 percent, about four points higher than the overall rate. At the same time, computer science jobs were growing at twice the national average.

According to Code.org, a nonprofit group dedicated to computer science education, computer science is the highest-paid college degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that one in every two science, technology, engineering and math jobs in the country will be in computing, with more than 150,000 openings a year at device and services companies, as well as manufacturing, defense, health care, finance and government. Computer science skills are increasingly needed in all sectors.

Yet our schools are not fully prepared to teach it. Of the 771 public and private high schools in Washington, last year only 35 offered the Advanced Placement course in computer science.

That’s why, as part of Microsoft’s global YouthSpark initiative to create opportunities for youth, we operate the program Jackie enjoys, Technology Education and Literacy in Schools. And we encourage our employees to volunteer as teachers. In Washington we now have 120 Microsoft volunteers in 29 schools, including five just announced.

More needs to be done. First, join us in asking lawmakers to work toward ensuring that computer science is taught in every high school. We’ve dedicated $25 million to the Washington Opportunity Scholarship program, which helps low- and middle-income students pursue college majors in science, technology, engineering and math. We also supported a recently passed law to give math or science credit for high school Advanced Placement classes in computer science.

Second, encourage your children to pursue the field. Most kids enjoy computer games and mobile devices but don’t realize they can program those devices to do things no one’s imagined. Finally, experience for yourself that anyone can program computers by taking part in Code.org’s “Hour of Code” during computer science education week, December 9-15.

As Jackie’s classmate Roger Henderson, 17, says, “Computer science is about creating something that you know other people will use in their daily lives. It’s just amazing.”

Lori Forte Harnick is general manager for citizenship and public affairs at Microsoft.




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