Steve Ballmer Speech Transcript – American Association of Community Colleges

Remarks by Steve Ballmer
American Association of Community Colleges
Seattle, Wash.
April 22, 2002

STEVE BALLMER: Well, thanks. It’s a great honor and privilege for me to be here with all of you this morning. I want to thank you for the time, particularly want to thank you for the time at this early hour. I did notice when I arrived about 15 minutes or so before start time, the room was empty, and it filled rapidly. But, I was hearing on the radio this morning that the toughest thing for most Americans, 97 percent of all Americans have a hard time getting up in the morning. So, I really do appreciate it.

For me, this is a particular pleasure because of the, what shall I say, the importance, I would say, that community colleges played in my life. I grew up just outside Detroit. Neither of my folks went to college, but my mom was a passionate, interested learner her whole life. And one of the dominant themes for my sister and I as we were growing up from about age 12 on or so, was my mom regularly taking courses at Oakland Community College outside Detroit. And she was always coming home, whether it was the journalism course, or the introductory computer course, or whatever it was my mom was taking, it became something my sister and I also, I guess you could say, were participating in learning on a lifelong basis. So, it’s a real honor and privilege to have the chance to be here with you today.

I’m not going to try to take some deep dive through the world of technology this morning. I will try to wet your whistle with a technology that I think is going to dramatically transform not only the way education gets done, but frankly the way all kinds of professional and important meetings get done. We’ll show you a little bit and wet your whistle.

But I do want to talk to you a bit about Microsoft, and the way we think about the world, because I think there is a lot in common between the way we think about what we need to do, and the way most educators think about what you do. That may sound a little bit funny, but the title of my talk here says “Realizing Potential.” That’s how we think about our mission. We help build tools that enable people and businesses to realize their potential.

I get asked a lot, aren’t computers replacements for human beings, isn’t the computer a dehumanizing thing in the course of world events, to which my answer is, no. The kinds of information technology devices the PC represent are tools that help extend the capabilities of the human mind, that help extend our ability to communicate, and help people realize their potential.

When my son goes online, my son who is 10, and picks up a game of chess with a 17-year-old boy in Italy, and learns a little bit about life in Italy, that’s bringing the world closer together. That’s helping people realize their potential. It’s helping people develop and grow. And at the end of the day, I think that’s what education is about, education is about helping people realize potential. Microsoft is about building tools that help people realize their potential.

And so, in many ways, I think there’s what I would refer to as a shared at least kind of vision or mission, if you will, between what all of you do and what we do, and it’s very different, and I’m not going to try to push the analogy or the similarity too far. But at the end of the day, we prosper, you prosper, we fulfill our mission, you fulfill your mission to the degree that people every year, every day, are a little bit more able to fully realize the full potential within them.

I think both of our institutions, or the kinds of institutions you represent, and what we represent are interested in a lot of issues. We’re interested in making sure that people have the resources to learn, to grow, to participate in new things. We stand for a kind of a development and an evolution and change that is important. We believe collectively that all people must realize their potential or be able to, not just the affluent, not just people who live in affluent countries, but there needs to be broad access to information, and broad ability to use the kinds of tools that we build, and the education that you give across the spectrum of society.

We care a lot about training and leadership in that aspect, and that’s been at the heart and soul of the partnership between Microsoft and the AACC, it’s been how do we work together to help train faculty, students, et cetera, in all of the incredible technologies which are coming to the fore, and are important for people to learn in order to prosper in society today.

I hazard a guess that even today, but certainly 10 years ahead, it will be impossible to be an effective participant in almost any job in our society without the right kind of training on information technology. And I think all of this amounts to a shared view that we both think we have a role to play in helping the world be a little bit better place than it would have been without the contributions that we make.

We at Microsoft talk about the next 10 years as the Digital Decade, and I guess this is a way of, what shall I say, evincing the passion we have about the ability and the degree to which technology will continue to positively impact society over the next 10 years. There was a lot of, I think, very bad hullabaloo over the last three or four years, the dot com generation, the rise of dot coms, the pop, the bubble burst. And I think there were two problems, number one, people got too excited too quickly, and then people are getting too unexcited too quickly about the positive impact and change which technology can bring.

I’ve been at Microsoft 22 years, I will predict to you today, the world will be more different because of technology in the year 2012 than it is today, and today if you compare back to 1992 that’s a big, that’s a bold, that’s a broad statement. In 1992, there was basically no Internet, at least not that most of us had the chance to use and enjoy. But the kinds of things that we see on the horizon that will make these technologies simpler to use, faster, more flexible, easier to put together information that you individually want, those things will have such a dramatic impact in the next 10 years that when we look back it will be stunning. It would probably be space age for me to tell you today that 10 years from now we’ll all carry a device in our pocket that we can talk to, well, a phone yes, but a device that can sort of understand our voice, know what we mean, go take appropriate action, keep my kids constantly located for me, if they’ll still agree to that. I’ll still have one that probably doesn’t have much privacy from me, even if the other two should. But that’s the world we think about as we think about another 10 years.

It’s changing hardware, it’s changing software, it’s something we call XML Web Services. This will be a transition in the Internet that let’s information come together much more closely. It will be a world in which literally people depend all day, every day, on the information technology devices to help them with parts of their basic lives. People will need to be able to trust these devices, trust that they work, trust that they’re secure, trust that if they lose them the information remains private.

E-learning, e-learning I think has been much discussed, and if I think we were to get off privately, we’d probably all say we have seen, what shall I say, under-performance and under-achievement in the impact that e-learning has had. I think that will change in the next decade. I was heartened, I have to say. I was out at one of the schools, high schools, here in the Seattle area a couple months ago with my son and this eighth grade math teacher was talking about what they study in the eighth grade, and blah, blah, blah, and he had written some nice programs that let you understand how when you bisect the sides of a triangle and connect up some lines that it intersects in the middle, and, okay, I was a math major, I knew that. But it was really cool. He had a simulation, you could sit there and kind of distort these triangles in different ways, and you could see the intersection point was always in the middle. Wow. And he showed how he had written a little thing that taught functions, and simulations of functions. Pretty cool stuff. And particularly as an ex-math teacher, I looked and I say, okay, I haven’t seen a lot of this kind of stuff. People in this room may have seen more, but we’re starting to get the tools that are simple enough that the educators can actually use them to create the kinds of simulations and courseware, and course materials that really will, I think, profoundly impact the role of e-learning.

From a technology perspective, the biggest change that we will see over the next few years, the revolution, if you will, of choice, is something that we call the XML Web services revolution. Now, that word, if it means much to you, I’m very pleased to hear that, I’m also very surprised, but this is a revolution, and I’ll describe it in a minute, that I claim will be as big and as important as the Internet revolution, or the revolution around graphical user interface, the Windows and Mac, or the revolution that actually created the original PCs over 20 years ago.

Now, each of those revolutions today we stop and say, well, those were big, big, big, big. This can’t possibly be on the scale of the Internet, or the PC. Be serious, Steve. Well, I’ll tell you, when we launched the first PC, it wasn’t obvious that was a revolution. Just to remind you, IBM’s original sales forecast was for 16,000 total machines over the life of the PC, 500 million today. When I dropped out of business school

yes, I did drop out of business school to come to Microsoft

I told my parents I was going to go join a company that made software for personal computers. And my father asked, what’s software? And my mother asked, why would a person need a computer? Today, it’s all second nature. This XML Web

Services revolution will equivalently be second nature. And, essentially, XML looks to a computer person today like kind of a lingua franca for the computing world, a common language that all computers can speak, and all programs can speak, so that information can come together much more seamlessly.

Today, when my computer talks to your computer over the Internet, I send you a picture of some information called a Web page. Your computer can’t do anything with it, even the most basic scenarios. Yesterday, my son came to me and said he really wanted to build a Web page, his own Web page. So I took him out, not surprisingly, to MSN Communities, sat down and built a Web page, and he decided he was going to have a calendar on his Web page. He typed in all of his baseball games, and all of his brother’s baseball games, and he sent all the notifications to grandma, and my sister, and everybody else about his Web page.

My sister this morning, I talked to her on the phone, it’s great, I’ve got Sam’s baseball schedule, but what I really want to do is, I want to now merge it with my schedule, which is on Outlook. Is there any way for me to just kind of like click on Sam’s Web page and drag it into my calendar, so that his games are on my calendar? And I said, just three things to my sister, XML Web Services. And then I said, in a few years.

But, I mean, it’s a simple scenario, but she doesn’t want a picture of my son’s calendar, she wants the data. She has something she wants to do with it, she wants to compare it with her schedule. And you can come up with many complicated, sophisticated business case where XML, you know, GM wants to see their suppliers, and suppliers’ suppliers and suppliers’ suppliers’ suppliers information. But it’s not all that complicated. Real people want to mix and match and merge information.

When I go out and pull down a bunch of stock quotes, I don’t want to just get a Web page, I actually want to get the data in a place where I can manipulate it and transform it in a spreadsheet. And that’s what this revolution is about. XML is a standard that will be broadly accepted, must be broadly accepted by our industry. It’s not a Microsoft thing, or an IBM thing, or a Sun thing. And thank goodness there’s a level of cooperation, which you don’t always see in our industry, around really making this kind of a lingua franca for the Internet.

When I think about this in an education context, it’s very important. In some senses, education is the most centralized, but in most ways it’s the most fractured business I’ve ever seen. I mean, in some senses, every faculty member, if they were corporations, every faculty member looks like an autonomous division that can build its own technology and capabilities, and I mean this in a very positive sense, it’s very entrepreneurial. But at the same time, what industry more needs integration than an industry with so many well empowered people? So, I think this is a very important thing which will be quite impactful across the board.

We’re building a platform just like Windows has been, or Internet Explorer has been a platform, we’re building a platform that helps people realize the benefits of XML. We call that .NET. And if you simply think about putting together a set of information in the university, how do you pull together the registrar’s information, the vacation information, different professors, individual class information, how would your students get your personalized view of the world pulled together in one place? Well, the answer usually is to say, central IT will do it for you. And they’ll have roles and this and that. Well, every student has a different role, every member of the administration has a different role. Faculty, junior faculty, visiting people, everybody has a different role. We’ve got to give the users the tools to pull together their unique view of the world in the way that they see fit, and that’s what we’re working on.

Our commitment to innovation, whether it’s around this XML revolution, the new generation devices, we’ll show you one today, e-learning solutions, that’s a deep commitment. Our company will spend this year about $5 billion in R & D, which is hard to dimensionalize, when you can divide and say, hmm, that’s a lot of engineers, that’s one way to get there. Something like 30-35 thousand engineers. Or you can stop and say, there’s only probably in the whole world one or two companies that do more R & D than we do as a company. So, an absolute, that’s what we’re about. We’re about R & D, new products, and innovation, and our life’s blood is investing in these new tools that let people do a variety of new things.

We want to show you one of those new things today. It is a product which should be available the fall of this year, I think just late enough in the fall that it won’t impact anybody’s academic year, unfortunately, I wish it had been about three or four months earlier, but I think it’s one of the most important devices that we’ve ever worked on. It’s called the Tablet PC, and really it is a PC, runs Windows, connects to the Internet, and it’s a replacement for a notebook in a sense. But from an academic standpoint, as I look around the room, and I don’t see very well under these bright lights, I don’t see a lot of people sitting there with notebook computers in their laps trying to type up, I may not be saying anything interesting enough, but I can imagine in a couple of years everybody comes to this event with their notebook, we broadcast the slides through a wireless LAN in the room. This audio is captured, so if you want to have a full record of the audio and the slides and the video all together, it will all be broadcast to your Tablet PC.

If you want to make a note during the middle of the meeting on, I don’t know, say commitment to innovation, you want to circle it, you want to email it to somebody. Great. You want to jot down notes, you’re not sitting there trying to type on your lap, you’re just handwriting those notes directly in. We’d all be a virtual community in cyber space. Perhaps you find that there’s a colleague who came in a little later who is in the back of the room, you want to write him an instant message and say, catch you at the coffee break and chat with you, you’ll do it.

And I think it’s fundamental if you think of the classroom setting, and students carrying around a device which is not antisocial, I don’t know how many kids sit there in classes you run today with laptops open, I find it very antisocial in meetings where people have a big screen sitting between them and me. How good is this for meeting dynamics. That is dehumanizing to me. It happens all the time at Microsoft, people love the machines, but we need devices that really help people interact in a much more natural way.

So we thought we’d share it with you. I think it’s going to be particularly important in the education environment, I think you call can kind of relate to it. To show you the Tablet PC I’d like to invite out on stage with me Mary Culinate, who is an education specialist at Microsoft.



MARY CULINATE: Good morning. Steve and I have been able to experience demoing the tablet together before. And when I came out on stage last time I said, Steve, I believe I have the best job at Microsoft. And the reason why I think I have the best job at Microsoft is I get to look at phenomenal, innovative ideas that we’re thinking about, and see how they apply to the teaching and learning process.

For 10 years I was an educator at a school in New Jersey, and was able to see how technology transformed the teaching and learning process. When I first saw the tablet I had a very clear understanding that this was a device that was going to make a difference. And the first thing you’re going to notice is that it looks like a traditional computer.

STEVE BALLMER: It sure does. It’s just as bad as any other notebook computer.

MARY CULINATE: And Steve referred to that barrier that’s created, immediately as you put that screen up. In classrooms we’re not looking for barriers. The neat thing about the tablet is that barrier gets removed. And now what happens is I have a Tablet PC, the full functionality of a Windows XP environment, and I have Tablet PC components built on top of it. We’re going to take a look at some of what those are.

STEVE BALLMER: There will be a lot of different hardware designs, lighter, heavier, this are just some of the first from Acer, but it gives you something of a sense. The tablet is really about the software.

MARY CULINATE: Exactly. So take a look at one of those software innovations that the Tablet PC will allow you to experience. Let’s take a look at a journal notes. Here we are, Economics 101. You’ll notice that it takes

STEVE BALLMER: This is the course they’re supposed to give politicians now?


STEVE BALLMER: Sorry, just a small joke.

MARY CULINATE: Here I am in my economics class, and I’m sitting there and I’m taking notes. Well, what happens in a classroom and you’re taking notes? You’ll get down to the page, then all of a sudden you’ll notice, I should have put something right in here, I should have added something. So what do we do? We start to write on the edge, we start to squeeze it in, so hopefully we’ll be able to recognize it when we go back. So now what I’ll be able to do

STEVE BALLMER: Or we sit there and we have our laptops open, and we’re cutting and pasting, and not paying attention to what’s going on, one or the other.

MARY CULINATE: So now what I’ll be able to do is I’ll be able to click, and I’ll just be able to make the page grow. So it allows me to maintain the form and understandability of what I’m trying to write. So when I go back to my dorm room, or I go back home, I’m still able to understand what I was writing in the context of the notes as they were taken.

So you’ll also notice that the text becomes formatable. So here I have the word assignment, and I have assignment written in red, something that I want to make sure that I remember. I could change that to a different color simply by clicking on it, and the color would then change.

Now, what’s really neat, and what I believe is one of the great innovations that will allow a student to really maintain their notes in a format that will help them come test time is the search capability. So if I wanted to search for a piece of information, click on the little search button, and I want to find all of my notes that have the word assignment in it. Now, remember, I’ve handwritten this. So there you see listed two notes, Economics 101, Economics, where I’ve written the word assignment. Now, imagine a student trying to find all the places in their notes where they have an assignment written and they need something to do. Instead of having to flip through papers, instead of having to find it, they would easily be able to search, and it would all be maintained here in their notebook.

Now, another unique feature of this machine, the whole concept of being able to mark up. So here you’ll see very easily I’m able to write my name, just like I’m writing with pen and paper. What would really be unique, and would be helpful for me as a teacher, if I could get a typed document that one of my students submitted, bring it into this journal utility, and then be able to mark it up right through the utility. That would be neat. So if I click on file, come down to import, choose this little assignment that I did last night, and there it is. So now you’ll see, Professor Ballmer, this is one of the assignments that I submitted to you last night. Now, Professor Ballmer would get this assignment and probably would want to make a few markings on it.

STEVE BALLMER: Good job. No teacher makes marks like that, I know.

MARY CULINATE: Now, as a teacher what I would then be able to do is export that, and send it back to my students, they don’t have to worry about inserting comments, they don’t have to worry about changing the way that the form of that paper looks. Then the student will be able to get it back.

STEVE BALLMER: And there’s an electronic record, I have everything filed. The student gets their paper back. I’ve got the student’s paper. The work is well recorded, backed up, managed, along with my comments and notes on what needs work.

MARY CULINATE : You will also see the inking functionality being built into our traditional software applications, like Office. You can imagine sending an Outlook email and within that email just being able to respond by saying okay, then sending that off in email form. So we’ll be seeing the functionality of the tablet also being found in our other applications and software.

Steve, Professor Ballmer.

STEVE BALLMER: Thanks, Mary.


STEVE BALLMER: Just a snippet, just one little thing that I think will continue to be part f the way that these tools can help students, educators, business people realize their potential. This is an effort I’m particularly excited about, because if you think about it, it fits naturally in the way most of us work a lot of our time, we’re taking notes, we’re meeting, we’re interacting with people. We want to have access to information, an ability to share it in the ways we can. As one of our guys would say, pencil and paper is a nice user interface. We forget about it, but it’s taken about 500 years since Gutenberg perfected it, and computers are only not starting to do as good a job as the user interface on pencil and paper.

I want to talk in the context of this innovation about one of our alums, one of you alums who happens to be at Microsoft now, who I gather you’re honoring this year, the honored community college alumnus of the year. Brian Valentine, who is the senior vice president of the Windows division at Microsoft, that brings you the kinds of innovations that we just showed you in the Tablet PC.

Brian has his AA degree from Centralia Community College here in Washington. He started out as a software engineer at Intel, and he joined us 15 years ago. I think Brian would tell you his time in community college essentially changed his life. You don’t want to ask Brian what happened to most of the folks he went to high school with, it’s not a pretty picture, but Brian can tell it pretty well. And during his time at community college, then working at Intel, and now Microsoft, he’s a member of our top group, one of the top 20 folks at Microsoft, and runs perhaps the biggest single business, the R & D for the single biggest business in the world. And when I heard that you were honoring him this year it was just with extra delight that I had the opportunity then to come and speak. Brian is a fantastic human being, and it’s wonderful that you’re recognizing him as an alumnus of the community college system.

Our commitment is quite broad to education. We understand that education is what you do, but if you actually take a look at some of the biggest expenses and commitments of time in industry it also is very committed to ongoing training and education. Education is not something that happens in any one place. It happens in high school, it happens in college, community college, it happens in business, it happens in communities, it happens in homes, it happens in libraries. We believe in a concept we call any time, any place learning. We believe in this notion of providing tools for adaptive, individualized learning, where any environment can be set up and help facilitate education, where people can help each other. You know, the expert on a given topic isn’t always in my town, at my school, in my university, in my community college. How do I use the Internet, how do I use these technologies to have access to people who can help me learn and grow. That’s all part of our philosophy of education and what we need to do, both in our actions in the marketplace, as well as our actions with technology.

There has been a big issue, particularly in community colleges and universities on how to integrate new technologies into the curriculum. It takes 18 months, it takes 24 months, yet businesses need, and the people who you educate need the skills to get current on new technologies at the right time. We’ve worked together to form something that we call the IT Academy. Some 60 percent of all the people who attend Microsoft IT Academy around the United States are enrolled in community colleges. You are the number one supplier of training to people who need this kind of development on new technologies. We have tried to help facilitate that with some grants, with some software, with faculty, training online in regional centers here in North America, but I think it is a good example of the kind of cooperation between Microsoft and the community college system that has proven so valuable.

Another area where we’ve worked very hard together is under a program we call Working Connections. And this is very much a result of a partnership between the AACC and Microsoft. And it is squarely a problem of broadening out access to technology to the widest and most diverse set of the American population. The cost of computers is a problem, but you need to have these kinds of IT skills, computer skills in order to get access to jobs.

We set up a program with the AACC, which is currently in effect in 67 different community colleges that we call working connections. We’ve donated software, we’ve donated cash to try to facilitate the spread of technology and training, and education on technology, particularly amongst folks who might otherwise have no access to the kinds of technologies that people really need in order to effectively compete in the marketplace.

Today we’re announcing an extension of this working connections program with the AACC. We’ll be making a donation of $1.3 million in cash to help continue to fund what we call the Working Connections IT Faculty Development Institute. It’s a partnership between the program we’ve already put in place, the AACC, and the national workforce center for emerging technology. And the goal is to try to drive the training of faculty, community college faculty in all 50 states, to be able to really participate in these technologies.


STEVE BALLMER: Each and every one of these things I’m sure has an impact. Each and every one of these things I recognize is all relative to the overall challenges that you face, and that we face in order to really help the people of the world realize their potential. We’re very committed to the community college system. We’re very committed to the partnership with the AACC, whether it’s in our education group, the IT Academy, courseware training, cash donations, partnership, et cetera. And so it was a delight to have this opportunity to speak with you today.

Before we’re done, though, I get an even bigger pleasure, we get a chance to hand out a couple of awards to some faculty who have done particularly outstanding work using information technology in what they do, and for that award presentation I’d like to invite up on stage Diana Carew, from the Microsoft Education Group, and I’d like to welcome back Pamela Transue from the AACC.

Please welcome them back.


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