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750 million reasons to invest in Asia’s youth

The statement, “the youth of today are the future of tomorrow”, may be more applicable in Asia than anywhere else in the world, since about 60% of the globe’s youth reside in Asia today. To put things in perspective, we are looking at more than 750 million young men and women.

These youth, coming from all walks of life, are brimming with curiosity, imagination and fresh perspectives on how to tackle various issues. They have access to even more computing power in their back pockets than NASA had in 1969 when they first put two men on the moon. Just imagine the possibilities if we could empower them to make the most of the technology they already have at their fingertips.

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It is undeniable that technology is advancing at an unrelenting pace. According to the IDC, more than 50% of today’s jobs require some technology skills, and experts say that will increase to 77% in the next decade. The importance and pervasiveness of technology in our day to day lives is only going to increase over time. The workforce of tomorrow will not only have to work productively with technology, they will also need to have a firm grasp on how technology works.

There is a need, now more than ever before, for us to invest in our youth, to equip them with the knowledge and skills they will need for the future. An appreciation of computer science and the adoption of a computational thinking mind-set will be of particular importance for them.

Video: Do you speak code?

Learning to solve problems and design systems by drawing on concepts fundamental to computer science will be a boon to personal prospects. Regardless of whether one pursues a career in the IT field, young people with ICT skills will find themselves to be better qualified for new employment and entrepreneurial activities.

Programs like Microsoft YouthSpark are helping to make it easier for young people to be acquainted with computer science. It also works toward closing the opportunity divide for youth who may not have ready access to the skills and training they need to be successful in the future.

One such campaign, #WeSpeakCode, helps youth take their first steps toward mastering coding by connecting student coders of all skill levels with the tools, resources and experiences they need to learn.

For students that are already interested in coding and computer science, but do not have the chance to pursue their dreams, the dilemma is a slightly different one.

Initiatives such as DreamSpark and the Microsoft Student Partners (MSP) Program, helps make chasing their dreams a bit easier. Through DreamSpark, Microsoft helps provide professional-level developer and designer tools at no cost to students to help facilitate their learning.

The MSP Program, on the other hand, sponsors undergraduate and postgraduate students majoring in disciplines related to technology. It aims to enhance their employability through mentorship, training and access to various Microsoft software.

There are currently over 7,000 MSPs worldwide, with over 1,600 of them in Asia. This year one of them, Jason Chee in Singapore, holds the honor of winning the inaugural Worldwide Microsoft Student Partner of the Year award.

How a cartoon show inspired coding ambitions

Jason Chee’s journey as a coder began in the unlikeliest of ways. Stressed by the workload in school when he was a teenager, he took breaks by watching Netflix and fell in love with the Number 1 show on the streaming site at that time – My Little Pony.

As any fan would, Jason searched for My Little Pony apps, and realized there were none developed for Windows Phone at that time. Furthermore, those developed for Android and iOS lacked functions that he thought would make an excellent app.

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What was a fan to do? Code his own app, of course. Through local forums, Jason met another developer and the two attended a hackathon together – the very same hackathon where Jason met Microsoft’s Developer Experience and Evangelism (DX) team for the first time.

Jason’s My Little Pony app ended up being pulled due to licensing issues, but not before gaining popularity among fans of the show. Not all was lost though because the app had every function a fan could expect, and Jason ended up using its code as a base for all his future apps. The experience also reaffirmed his passion for computer science, resulting in him pursuing the course full-on at Singapore Polytechnic and joining the Microsoft Student Partners (MSP) program. While it would be romantic to say the rest is history, Jason almost didn’t make it to the MSP program since he was still in Junior College and only students from tertiary institutions (University or Polytechnic) were eligible for it. To date, he remains the only exception the DX team has ever made to this rule. In the MSP program, Jason helped to plan events like We Tech Care and various hackathons, eventually working his way to becoming a Program Lead.

Jason Chee did Singapore proud by winning the first Microsoft Student Partner award.
Jason Chee did Singapore proud by winning the first Microsoft Student Partner award.

One might think the highlight of Jason’s journey would be winning the inaugural Worldwide Microsoft Student Partner award, but that was not the first thing that came to his mind when asked what was the best thing the program had enabled him to do.

“What’s really cool about the program is that it empowers students. MSPs receive subscription to licenses for Microsoft services like Office 365 and Azure. This credit allows us to develop on the same level as professionals, which is the best thing Microsoft has done – not letting students feel limited by money we don’t have,” said Jason.

And, develop like a professional he has. Jason’s apps have been chalking up impressive download statistics – approximately 1.8 million downloads on the Windows Phone Store and 125,590 downloads on the Windows Store, among others.

So how does one create great apps? Jason had these pro-tips to share. “It’s important to have the passion to make apps, and not make them just for the sake of it. Create something you would use, but also take into consideration what other users might want. This comes with experience, but you can also crowdsource ideas from forums and reading reviews.”

Fresh from his win, Jason talked about how he intends to take the MSP program in Singapore further. “I hope we will be able to run more events, like workshops and roadshows in campuses.”

Participants in the program will also continue to be involved in volunteering, helping kids who do not have computers gain access to them. Jason feels strongly that technology is an equalizer, regardless of background.

However, he cautioned that equal opportunities can only come if people aren’t afraid of technology. “I think many people are afraid of computers, they find them too complicated or too boring. Coding is becoming a very important skill to have in Singapore, so people should try to be aware of computers and understand them.”

Changing the world one line of code at a time

This fear is definitely unfounded in this year’s Imagine Cup finalists from the Asia Pacific. Armed with just a vision and the ability to write some code, these young technologists from around the region are tackling global problems that even older politicians, scientists and activists struggle with. From keeping children in school and off the streets, to preventing the loss of countless human lives yearly to dengue fever, this year’s finals in Redmond, Washington, U.S. saw the strongest showing ever by finalists from Asia Pacific. We explore what drives some of Asia Pacific’s most talented youth, and how they see their technology contributing to a better world.

Browse the images to read about some of Asia Pacific’s Imagine Cup finalists:

Click on the flags to read about some of Asia’s Imagine Cup finalists: