“I want to be an Idea Man at Microsoft,” says 12-year-old Vlad Vitske as he sits in the company’s UK headquarters and plays with his new Surface Book.
It’s 5.30pm and the schoolboy from Wales – by way of Siberia – has been here for more than eight hours. But he doesn’t want to leave. In his words, he “loves” Microsoft.
Vlad – along with his mum Elena and stepdad Julian – was invited to spend a day at the Microsoft campus in Reading, Berkshire, trying out the company’s latest technology and seeing what life is like at (he hopes) his future employer.
It’s the culmination of a strange few weeks for the youngster.
In May Vlad appeared in the Channel 4 reality show The Tiny Tots Talent Agency. The programme focused on Bizzykidz, a London-based company trying to find the next generation of stars.
But Vlad doesn’t want to be famous for singing or dancing, he wants to work with computers. “I just like computers, I think its going to change the world,” he told the show, revealing that he has written code for the BBC micro:bit, a small programmable computer, and reviews of Windows 10 – Vlad was a Windows Insider who beta tested the program, despite only being 11 at the time.
Vlad gets his hands on a Surface Hub
Julian was determined to “let Vlad decide … to do exactly what he wants to do”.
After seeing the show and the resulting social media frenzy around Vlad’s passion for technology over showbusiness , Microsoft reached out to Vlad’s family and invited them to the campus.
— Microsoft UK (@MicrosoftUK) May 4, 2016
Now in Microsoft’s “Minecraft” room , surrounded by fake trees that look like they’ve been made out of blocks from one of the most popular videogames ever, Vlad explains his passion for all things Microsoft.
“I love Microsoft. I have always liked Microsoft but I really got into the company after Windows 8 came out. It was something new, things other companies didn’t have, like the live tiles. That was really interesting,” he says.
In the past few hours, Vlad has been taught advanced techniques for the BBC micro:bit, such as how to code games. He has also participated in a product brainstorming session focused on Windows and experienced Cities Unlocked, a cutting-edge soundscape technology that helps non-sighted people better negotiate the world around them via rich, real-time audio description.
“Cities Unlocked was fun,” Vlad says. “They put some headphones on me, and it automatically told me what’s around me, such as ‘Building 3 is 100 metres away’. I moved around but I couldn’t see anything; the headset told me where everything was.”
Vlad obviously shares Microsoft’s view that technology is a tool that can enable people to do amazing things – he was born in Russia but taught himself to speak English in five weeks by watching the children’s cartoon Peppa Pig.
Vlad experiences Cities Unlocked
“Vlad is obviously a very special kid. His passion for technology combined with his creative mind really speaks to people at Microsoft, our culture and mission,” said Tom Pilla, Head of Communications at Microsoft UK. “So when we saw him on Channel 4, we couldn’t wait to show him how we are utilising technology to empower people across the UK whether it’s through our partnership with the BBC on the micro:bit or with Guide Dogs on Cities Unlocked.”
Surrounded by the tech Microsoft shared with Vlad during his visit – a Surface Book, Surface Arc Touch mouse, Surface Dock, Wireless Display adaptor, Office 365 and Xbox games – Julian points out the gulf in computing knowledge between his generation and his stepson’s.
“When I get new technology, I’m scared of it, I’m scared of breaking it and I get Vlad to show me how to use it. Vlad doesn’t have that fear, he just goes straight into it, working out how to operate it. That’s where Vlad’s ideas come from, because he’s not frightened of it.
Vlad with his new friends and Surface Book
“When I see bits of coding he’s done, I’m stuck on the first line. But I can watch Vlad code on the BBC micro:bit and he is holding a conversation at the same time.”
“He always wants to test things,” his mum Elena adds. “Vlad was always the best in his IT lessons at school, even before he could speak fluent English, because computer code is something that’s international.”
So what does the “Idea Man” think Microsoft should do next?
“Animate the boot logo. So, instead of having a Surface or Windows logo that’s static, it could move.”
Hmmmm, that’s not a bad idea.