No More Pencils, No More Books

REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 14, 2003 — Ronald Jones has always liked computers. When the Seattle high-school sophomore was still in middle school and was assigned a research paper, he chose as his subject Bill Gates. Researching the paper taught Jones a lot about the early days of Microsoft, co-founders Gates and Paul Allen and how they used the Basic programming language to develop an operating system for the now-historic Altair computer.

Minority Student Day participants with Bill Gates. L-R: Rev. Terrence Proctor, Seattle Urban Academy student care coordinator; Ronald Jones, Garfield High School; Alice Bell, Nathan Hale High School; Gates; Duane Irvis, Cleveland High School; Jonathan, and Mathios Dejene, Seattle University. Click image for hi-res version.

Today, Jones went one-on-one with Microsoft’s chairman and chief software architect.

Along with 150 other minority students from Seattle-area high schools — and about 200 others attending via satellite hookup at Microsoft facilities in Charlotte, N.C., Las Colinas, Tex. and Mountain View, Calif. — Jones had a chance to grill Gates one-on-one at the company’s 12th annual Minority Student Day on the Microsoft corporate campus. The event is sponsored by Microsoft’s employee group, Blacks at Microsoft, in celebration of U.S. Black History Month.

In addition to a keynote speech by Gates and Q & A session, the all-day event featured demos of some of Microsoft’s newest technologies, including the Tablet PC and “Media2Go”, the code name for a software reference platform designed to play a variety of media on a portable device.

Jones, though only in his second year at Seattle’s Garfield High School, is already taking a certification class in Cisco networking, and studying to take a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) exam. Which might explain his interest in the predictions Gates made to his young audiences about where technology is headed in what Gates calls the “Digital Decade.”

“I was interested in him saying that by 2009, he expects that everyone in the world will have a computer,” Jones said after Gates’ talk. “I want to see if that follows through.”

In his keynote, Gates emphasized the importance for young people of looking to their own potential. “I really envy you going out into the workplace and being able to shape all of this and use all of these things,” said Gates. “I think one thing we’re saying very clearly here is that your potential is even greater than you may realize and that you should set high goals.”

The students watched Marcus Ash, a program manager at Microsoft, demonstrate a “Media2Go”-powered device. Media2Go is code name for a platform Microsoft is developing to enable portable devices to store and play a variety of media formats, including music, movies, and photos. During the presentation, the students enjoyed a laugh at the sight of a video in which the Microsoft chairman appeared, spoofing the film character Austin Powers.

Gates also offered a preview of what the classroom of tomorrow might look like, with school books replaced by Tablet PCs.

“Some day you won’t have to have textbooks, because instead of carrying around the text book, all that information will be like your music is now, in digital form,” said Gates. “And the homework problems will be there, the text you should read will be there and if there’s something you’re reading and you’re confused about, you can just write a little note on it, you know, share it with your friend and say, ‘Hey, can you figure this out?'”

Students from Franklin High School in Seattle joined Gates onstage to demonstrate a robot called XBOT they created for an annual competition.

For the FIRST Robotics Regional Competition, students from U.S. high schools work with mentors to develop robots to complete prescribed tasks. Mentors at Microsoft are helping the XBOT team develop their robot. The competition starts at the regional level, and local winners then go on to compete nationally.

Nick Morton, a junior at Franklin High School, is participating in the program for a second consecutive year. Before the XBOT competition, Morton said, he hadn’t worked much with robots or computers.

One of the most challenging aspects of designing a robot, Morton explained, has been enabling what competition organizers call “autonomous mode”, where the robot completes a series of tasks automatically. His team placed second in the regional competition last year, so Morton was optimistic that his team will again do well.

During their day with Microsoft, the youths attending also heard about educational opportunities in the technology field from two award-winning college students, Jonathan Lott and Mathios Dejene, both computer science majors at Seattle University. During his speech, Gates introduced the pair as winners in the Millennium Scholarship Program, which is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

For Minority Student Day attendees, the day also included break-out sessions offering closer looks at other Microsoft technologies and products, including the Encarta multimedia encyclopedia, and gaming and mobile device technologies.

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