Microsoft program reaches future computer scientists

SEATTLE -- At Nathan Hale High School, a profession in computer sciences could begin in the Advanced Placement Computer Sciences classroom.

But sophomore Will McDonald wound up here for another reason. "I play a lot of video games, like an average teenager," he said. He wanted to know how to manipulate his video games. That curiosity developed into the ability to write code.

Wednesday, McDonald and fellow students showed their skills to Congressman Jim McDermott, who admitted with a laugh, "I don't even know the language to talk about what you're doing."

Microsoft invited McDermott to see their program called TEALS in hopes he can help encourage more businesses and schools to work together.

TEALS stands for Technology Education and Literacy in Schools. The company brings volunteers from the industry to work with teachers like David Friedle, who has a degree in computer science.

"But things have advanced and changed since then, right? My degree is 20 years old so having Microsoft employees here to keep me current and bring in industry standards and practices really can make a difference," Friedle said.

Microsoft doesn't charge for the instructional help, but there is a return on investment. "We need young people who have these skills, have these interests, have these passions to be able to take the jobs," said Jane Broom, Microsoft's Director of WA Citizenship. "That skills gap prevents us from growing at the pace we want to. It's a great opportunity for us to demonstrate our community citizenship, but there's also a benefit in that someday hopefully some of these young people will come and work for us."

Of the 8 students in Nathan Hale's AP class, Mulki Mohamed is the only girl. Mohamed thinks that will change as more female students here about the program. She shadowed a Microsoft worker on a recent field trip. "I saw everything she did, and I think things like that, field trips to Microsoft, having more women teachers things that attract more females to classes that are challenging like this one."

TEALS started five years ago in a single classroom. By the fall, volunteers will be in 145 schools, reaching 6,500 students.

"This field is like a package," McDonald said. "It pays well, there's lots of jobs and it's something that I enjoy. So I could see myself becoming a computer scientist and making that a career."

And that career could be at Microsoft. "I really like the building and they have free soda and everything," he laughed.