REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 8, 2006 — Minorities have long been underrepresented in the high-tech industry. Opening doors to these groups is one of the goals of the 15th annual Blacks at Microsoft (BAM) Minority Student Day being celebrated in six cities around the United States on Friday, Feb. 10.
Some 1,000 minority high-school students and their counselors and chaperones are expected to attend this year’s BAM Minority Student Day events nationwide.
The longstanding event is one of a number of outreach efforts by Microsoft, in concert with various community organizations, aimed at opening doors for minority students to the high-tech world. With Microsoft’s support and financial backing, these organizations have built a support system that provides everything from college scholarships to access to current technology.
Leona Locke, Blacks at Microsoft events manager and a financial analyst at Microsoft.
To understand more about BAM and the opportunities it affords minority students, and for a taste of what to expect at this year’s BAM Minority Student Day, PressPass spoke with Delanda Sydney, president of BAM and a product manager for Microsoft BizTalk Server; Leona Locke, BAM events manager and a financial analyst at Microsoft; and BAM scholarship recipients and former Microsoft interns Yared Ayele and Jalessa Trapp. Ayele, 22, immigrated to Seattle from Ethiopia 10 years ago and is now studying informatics at the University of Washington. Trapp, 17, heard about BAM through the Tacoma Intel Computer Clubhouse and attends Foss High School in Tacoma, Wash.
PressPass: Please give a brief overview of BAM, its history and purpose.
Sydney: BAM is a corporate-sponsored diversity group that focuses on professional development, recruitment and retention of African-American and black employees at Microsoft. Since it was formed in 1989, BAM has sought to open the eyes of students from a broad variety of ethnic and other groups that are underrepresented in the IT industry. It now has about 800 members and chapters in nine Microsoft locations in the United States. Each year, BAM awards two US$2,500 scholarships to outstanding high-school seniors who are interested in pursuing careers in technology. The scholarships are renewable, so winners who continue to meet the criteria will receive an annual $2,500 award for up to four years.
PressPass: What can attendees expect at this year’s BAM Minority Student Day?
Locke: We’re expecting more than 1,000 participants in total, most of them students plus some counselors and chaperones. The students, grades nine through 12, come from schools and organizations in each of the six cities where the event will take place — Redmond, Wash.; Las Colinas, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Atlanta; New York City; and Mountain View in California’s Silicon Valley. We’ll also be broadcasting a live webcast of the keynote address by Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates to high-school students around the country. It will be accessible from the Microsoft.com Web site.
Sydney: This is the 15th year Microsoft has held this event, and that marks a significant milestone for us. It signifies the commitment of Microsoft and its employees to helping minorities realize their full potential. And the BAM Minority Student Day has gotten bigger. We now do it simultaneously in six cities — up from four last year — and we’re broadcasting it externally to selected high-schools across the United States. It’s gone from a small group of maybe 20 to 40 students to 1,000 students nationwide, and I think that’s a really key growth indicator for us.
PressPass: What will Bill Gates talk about this year?
Locke: He’s going to focus on the future of technology and how that applies to high-school students, as well as the importance of education. It will be about encouraging and motivating students to really think about technology not only as something they use on a daily basis but also as a career option — something that can definitely propel their education forward. He’ll also be showcasing cool technology demonstrations, but mostly he’ll be taking questions from students all over the country, and that’s the best part. Students at the Redmond campus will get to ask their questions live using mikes in the audience, while students in other cities will use an instant messaging (IM) portal to pose their questions. It’s a lot of fun for students because they can actually ask Bill questions about what a day in his life is like, how he views the technology market, future technology and so on.
PressPass: Will students be shown any new technologies this year?
Locke: Last year, [Microsoft CEO] Steve Ballmer did demos of Forza (the Xbox game), Pocket PCs, Tablet PCs and mobile Smartphones — in some cases before these products came out. This year, students will see a demo of the Xbox 360, some futuristic capabilities of the Smartphone and other mobility products, and Microsoft Student 2006, which we think is an excellent software tool for our audience as far as helping them with their homework preparation, writing reports, graphing, doing formulas for their math homework and so on. It’s a great piece of software. Every student will be getting a copy of it to take home.
PressPass: What are some of the main benefits of BAM and the Minority Student Day for students?
Sydney: The key benefit is that the students get to come to Microsoft and explore different career opportunities in the technology industry as well as get exposed to products. But the biggest asset is the opportunity for them to interact with Microsoft employees — to be able to ask them questions and get guidance in terms of what
Yared Ayele, BAM scholarship recipient at University of Washington, former Microsoft intern.
they can do today to help accelerate their thinking about their careers, or about what they want to do when they go on to college. There’s also the opportunity for attendees to win scholarships and get internships at Microsoft. We are hoping that this will inspire some students to become the technology industry leaders of tomorrow.
Ayele: I attended the BAM Minority Student Day in Redmond in 2002 and 2004. I was also able to get a BAM scholarship, which renews every year if I keep my GPA above a certain level, which I have managed to do into my senior year. It’s a source of motivation in that it keeps you going. You have that one goal you want to achieve, and you stay in school and there’s somebody willing to reward you for your hard work, so you work hard toward it. It’s been helpful.
Trapp: I attended the BAM Minority Student Day in Redmond in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and I plan to attend this week, as well. I’ve learned a lot about realizing my potential from attending these events, and I’ve learned a lot about the different positions at Microsoft. There is always a contest that gets everyone engaged in what’s going on throughout the entire event, and a great prize along with it. Last year, I entered an essay contest. My essay, titled “Teens + Technology = Success,” was about how teens today will be the future of tomorrow, and how important it is for them to learn as much as they can about technology. I won second place and received a new Dell computer and a $1,500 scholarship from BAM as a prize. I also really enjoy the panel discussions because I get a chance to ask employees for advice.
PressPass: What about interning at Microsoft? How do students benefit from that experience?
Trapp: I was a high-school intern this past summer and I had a really great time. I benefited from the experience in many different ways. I learned what the definition of dedication is. I had to wake up every morning at 4:30 a.m. in order to catch the bus so that I could be in Redmond by 8:00 a.m. I also learned a lot about having good
Jalessa Trapp, BAM scholarship recipient at Foss High School in Tacoma, former Microsoft intern.
communication skills. I learned that to work well with a team, you have to learn how to communicate with your team members. Some people like to talk in person, some like e-mail, and others prefer the telephone.
Ayele: In 2002, I was a high-school intern at Microsoft and I did testing in a small team that was part of the Office Division. It was a good experience — the exposure to the whole team dynamics of Microsoft. I also have an interest in Web development and I got to test a small functionality in a Web component of the Microsoft Office Web site. Aside from the financial benefit of being a BAM scholar, these experiences also had a big influence on my interests and the motivation to pursue those interests.
For example, I am combining my passion for technology and interest in education to establish a technology literacy project in Cape Town, South Africa, where I did a study abroad program last winter. While there, I saw for myself the effects of the digital divide. I worked at a local high school in one of the impoverished townships of Cape Town. It had a computer lab that was always closed due to lack of resources and technical expertise. I established an after-school computer program where I taught 20 kids how to use computers. I’m going back there in January to sustain the program and also use the potential of technology as a tool for a cross-cultural exchange between students in Seattle and in Cape Town. I’m hoping to do a video project and audio project that will involve podcasting back and forth, as an extension of my senior capstone for my informatics major.
I am currently developing a research project that looks at how technology is perceived by high schools and will be exploring funding sources for my South African project. It all started with BAM. I believe this is what young students need today, the motivation and inspiration to pursue their interests — technology is one avenue. My BAM experience and the relationship I had with my BAM mentor definitely helped me achieve my potential. I believe that technology can be used as a positive catalyst in enabling cross-cultural interactions and understanding in the incredibly diverse and yet isolated world we live in today.
PressPass: What is the importance of the role that BAM plays at Microsoft?
Sydney: We have a dedicated group of employees that care about helping Microsoft implement its internal diversity goals as well as community outreach. From an internal perspective, we serve as a key resource for employees of similar backgrounds who come together and help the company execute on this strategy. From an external perspective, the work that we do outside in the community helps with Microsoft’s global diversity inclusion efforts. Our grassroots efforts have really helped highlight Microsoft’s great people as well as the fact that Microsoft is a great place to work.
PressPass: What about the importance of BAM’s role in the technology industry as a whole?
Sydney: A key benefit there is that as we develop more technical people of color, these people can then shine as examples to other corporations in the industry as we continue to do great work. Hopefully, that will be easily replicated in schools. As we go out to schools, we can show that we do have a minority presence and there is someone paying attention to it, which in turn helps us develop the pipeline for up-and-coming candidates.
Trapp: The BAM Minority Student Day had that effect on me. It reassured me that there are people that care about the future and about teens. It inspired me to continue working toward my goals of achieving success. I see myself working for Microsoft as an intern again.
Ayele: Me too. I definitely see myself working for Microsoft one day, perhaps pursuing my interest in database and Web development. In fact, I’m interviewing for another internship there this week.