REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 18, 2008 – Daily use of technology among today’s students is running at an all-time high. Yesterday’s “user” is today’s “creator.” Students create their own digital content, social networking pages and even applications as a normal part of their day.
But for aspiring technologists that want to turn their passion for technology into a career, it can be a challenge to lay their hands on the latest professional-grade software development and designer tools. With a growing IT skills shortage in the global workforce, the need for qualified developers and technologists is greater than ever, but without experience using the tools and technologies found in business today, it can be challenging for students to break into the professional ranks.
A new program from Microsoft hopes to help change all that. Called DreamSpark, the program will offer students access to professional development tools at no cost. PressPass spoke to Joe Wilson, Microsoft’s Senior Director of Academic Initiatives, to learn more about this program and how Microsoft plans to roll out access to an audience of up to one billion high school and university students worldwide.
PressPass: What is the thinking behind Microsoft DreamSpark? And how did you come up with the name?
Wilson: Microsoft DreamSpark is a community-based program to provide students with free access to Microsoft’s industry-leading software development, gaming and design tools. Working with schools, governments, partners and student organizations worldwide, we will be making this available starting today in Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other countries will come online over the next year, as well as expanding the program to include high school students. The program is open to all students at education institutions worldwide, though those studying science, technology, engineering and math disciplines (STEM-D) are expected to be the first to jump on it. All eligible students need is access to a computer with an internet connection to download the products, as well as free access keys at http://channel8.msdn.com.
We call it DreamSpark because every great technology breakthrough starts life as someone’s dream or idea. We want to make sure that students have the tools to spark their own dreams plus the power to turn them into reality.
PressPass: Why is Microsoft doing this?
Wilson: We believe students can do amazing things with technology if given access to the right tools. This is a way to make sure that they have what they need to test the boundaries of what today’s technology can do and also prepare for a great career at the same time. The added benefit to industry is that we’re addressing one of the toughest challenges confronting employers today: attracting and developing qualified IT professionals. We’re trying to help close this gap by giving students globally the opportunity to get the tools they’ll need after they graduate and jump-start their careers to land that first job.
Making sure there is a strong pipeline of technically skilled students is key to the future of the global economy. The ability to create new software and services will be an essential part of the skill set of the next generation of workers. Technology is one of the chief drivers pushing worldwide economic development and job creation. As well as giving students important exposure to the tools they can expect to use in the workplace, DreamSpark is about putting professional-level tools in the hands of students to amplify the impact of their studies and fire up their imaginations about the power of technology.
PressPass: What sorts of things will students be able to do with DreamSpark?
Joe Wilson, Microsoft Senior Director of Academic Initiatives
Wilson: We hand-picked the products that make up DreamSpark with the current and future development of the IT industry in mind; so by design, the offering straddles three of the industry’s highest growth segments: development, design and gaming.
For starters, we’re helping students take their programming skills to the next level with Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, the industry-leading development tool that gives them the ability to accomplish straightforward tasks like creating plug-ins for FaceBook or MySpace or gadgets for Windows Vista, to sophisticated projects like building a fully-featured website or coding entirely new applications from scratch. The only limit is their imagination.
At the same time, design is a real driving force in the industry as user experience becomes such a key factor in deciding what technology should be used on any given project. The Expression Studio suite helps students bring their creative visions to life with new design concepts and more impactful digital content.
One of the most exciting industries that make great uses of both development and design skills is gaming. There’s an intense sense of excitement that comes with creating cool new stuff and, reflecting gaming’s growing public profile; students will be able to flex their creativity and dream up new games for Xbox and the PC with the XNA Game Studio 2.0 and a 12-month academic membership to the XNA Creators Club.
PressPass: How will DreamSpark benefit students in their studies and after they graduate?
Wilson: Students will be able to use the DreamSpark products instantly in their assignments and apply what they’re learning in class to try out new ideas and get more from their studies.
They’ll also have the opportunity to pick up an essential foundation in industry-leading software that will set them up for the workplace and help them make contributions sooner. A recent IDC study found that more than half a million hardware, software and IT services firms, along with end-user organizations, run Microsoft software. That’s 42 percent of the IT workforce worldwide, so they’ll find a rich seam of opportunities awaiting them. The software gives them a distinct competitive edge.
PressPass: How will Microsoft verify that people using DreamSpark are students?
Wilson: We’re working with academic institutions, partners, student organizations and government agencies to harness the existing trusted infrastructure already in place across different countries to verify student status and establish eligibility for DreamSpark.
Student identity is verified by both institutions that subscribe to public ID systems or even partners who work directly with Microsoft to connect the verification process. They transmit a simple binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’ concerning eligibility. The important thing is that students and universities retain total control over the transaction. Microsoft is not privy to any personal information about students – safeguarding their privacy is of paramount concern to us. Once we receive verification of their eligibility they can bypass the verification process on future visits to the DreamSpark download site.
PressPass: What is the company doing to facilitate access for all students as quickly possible?
Wilson: This project is a major undertaking and not something we can accomplish overnight with the flick of a switch. We can’t do it by ourselves; it’s going to take a cooperative effort. We’ve reached out to the academic community and government agencies in individual countries and regions to bring together a broad coalition of partners to bring DreamSpark to all students as quickly as possible, and to ensure we have accurate verification methods in place. We want to make sure that students are students and can access these titles for download.
We’re pursuing this aggressively with our teams around the world, and hope to offer global access within a year. We are asking partners, governments and student organizations to help us rise to this challenge and do our best by the world’s students.
In the meantime, our rollout timetable reflects the areas where the infrastructure is immediately available to bring DreamSpark to students.
PressPass: Why are college students important to Microsoft?
Wilson: Microsoft has been engaging with students since our inception. Our founders were basically students when they started the company, and we have always reached out to students to make sure they had opportunities to show the world what they can do. We believe in the power of students to change the world.
We all have a vested interest in seeing to it that tomorrow’s workforce is as technologically literate as possible. Microsoft is in the fortunate position of being able to do something about this right now. A more technologically-adept future workforce is something every business, government agency and non-profit group stands to gain from. It’s a rising tide that raises all ships.
DreamSpark complements a broad array of initiatives Microsoft supports to unlock the potential and creativity of students. Just take a look at Imagine Cup, MSDN Academic Alliance and Microsoft Student Partners – these are all created to open doors and create opportunities for students.