Microsoft Employees Share Knowledge with Young Math Prodigies

REDMOND, Wash., August 16, 1999 — Energetic discussions about advanced mathematics are commonplace among Microsoft’s top researchers and product developers, but a few recent brainstorming sessions were something special. As part of the Mathematical Foundation of America’s MathCamp program, some of Microsoft’s best minds collaborated with 91 of the world’s brightest teenagers on a variety of math-intensive subjects.

A select group of academically gifted junior high and high school students from around the world visited the Microsoft campus as part of an intensive 5-week program that explores mathematical topics not usually covered during the school year. The curriculum helps train them for math-centered careers and allows them the unique opportunity to study with some of the nation’s finest mathematicians.

Microsoft Research and the Visual Studio product team invited the students to Microsoft’s Redmond campus for a day of talks on topics in applied mathematics. Microsoft employees lectured on topics as diverse as the logical paradoxes that influenced the history of modern logic; the mathematical basis of the Windows Media compression algorithm; ; Microsoft’s software development cycle; the mathematics of modern cryptography; techniques of high dimensional geometry for optical character recognition; and function maps that use the famous transform of French mathematician Adrien-Marie Legendre.

“In Research, we have a lot of people that, by nature of their jobs and experience, have been professors or have had teaching experiences on a regular basis, so it’s a unique opportunity where we can help,”
said Usama Fayyad, a senior researcher in Microsoft Research’s Data Mining and Exploration group.

“It’s an investment on Microsoft’s part, but it shows our commitment to math education,”
Fayyad said.
“Of course, these are all bright kids, and it’s no secret that we want to encourage them to come to Microsoft as interns, and maybe later as employees.”

“These kids are the next generation of mathematicians,”
added Visual C++ Program Manager Colin Campbell, who organized MathCamp’s Microsoft visit.
“We’re showing them that they can find interesting mathematics in an industry setting. This gives them a new perspective on the abstract concepts they’re learning in MathCamp. It’s been a lot of fun.”

And it’s fun for the students, too, according to Mike Church, who will soon be entering his junior year at Susquehanna Township High School in Harrisburg, Pa.
“This is my second year in the program. All the people here are bright, but they cover beginning to advanced topics –linear algebra, problem solving techniques, topology, stuff like that. It’s a good program. There are so many topic areas that you can explore. Some of it is theoretical. Some of it is applied. When you come here you get exposed to a lot of stuff you’ve never seen before–stuff like Gdel’s Incompleteness Theorem.”

Incomplete is a good descriptor for the traditional math education these kids receive during the school year, noted Dr. G. Rubin Thomas, a mathematician and lecturer who helped found the MathCamp program in 1993.

MathCamp kids can deeply explore pure mathematics at an early age. Moreover, they get to interact with a group of peers with similar interests, and work with world-class mathematicians.

“The strength of the mind, is the strength of the nation,”
Thomas said.
“Microsoft is one of the strongest companies in the world because of the continuing vision of its leaders, and because the people here have young, gifted minds.”

With any luck, some of MathCamp’s gifted minds-in-training may end up at Microsoft. But wherever they land, the company recognizes that their early exposure to high-level mathematics and its application in a corporate setting will serve them well.

“Math is the key to getting into some cool stuff — at Microsoft Research or elsewhere,”
Fayyad said.
“Without the math you can’t even approach many topics or understand and appreciate them. I was fortunate enough to get exposed to mathematics in my own academic career, but exploring it in a deeper, more applied way at an early age is a real motivator.”

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