Last Saturday I spend the day at Windham High School in Windham New Hampshire for the second annual NH TechFest. TechFest is a project created by parents and others interested in making sure that students are exposed to information about STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) careers in an interesting way. They have recruited a good group of companies – local, regional and local divisions of national companies to set up exhibits and hands on experiences. There were telescopes aimed at the sun. A company that makes equipment for scanning for explosives. The FBI was there talking about the technology they use. There was a time when the FBI mostly recruited accountants and lawyers. Today computer scientists are high on their list of people to recruit. Several universities where there. I had a great time talking to some Mechanical Engineering students from the University of New Hampshire about their robot project. There were a lot of robots there by the way. They were there to exhibit but a number of student robot teams were there to compete in a Trebuchet Contest! So what was I doing there? Representing Microsoft and out great opportunities for students.
OK we had an Xbox 360 and Kinect set up. The nice people at BestBuy brought us a couple of very large LCD monitors to use for our demos. And people did have fun with them. But the point was to explain how Kinect works. To that end we had a second monitor set up connected to a laptop that was running the Kinect for Windows SDK with sample programs. This was also pretty popular. The demos show off how the Kinect software identifies the parts of the body and allows programs to react to body movement.
For a while I also demonstrated Kodu for younger programmers and Small Basic for middle school and up. The student in the picture on the right below is experimenting with a version of Tetris written in Small Basic. He remained totally focused for quite some time.
My message of the day was that students can do more than play games. They can create. Sure they can create games, Kodu is great for that, but I encouraged them to think outside the box and look for important real world problems to solve. Computers are amazing tools and as fun as they games are the real excitement is in creating world changing software. That lead to some conversations about the Imagine Cup. I think a few studnets I talked to are thinking about entering. I hope so. But even if they don’t if one or two young people visited the booth and thought – I can create software – my time there will have been worth it.