Winning Paralympic swimmer makes a big splash

Stephen Campbell is a man who doesn't let obstacles get in his way.  A swimmer since his youth, he lost his sight at the age of 16, but that didn't stop him pursuing his passion for the sport. He began competing in high performance swimming at the age of 17, breaking two swimming records when he competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics in the 100m Freestyle, 400m Freestyle and the 100m Butterfly races.

"When I lost my eyesight, swimming helped me realize there's more to life than sitting at home. I can jump into the pool and not need any help from anyone. When I am in the pool, there is ultimate freedom."

Campbell's other accolades include winning the coveted President's Plate, awarded by the University of Ulster Sports Union to the sportsperson of the year for the University of Ulster's Coleraine and Magee campuses. In October 2009, he set three new Irish records at the International Paralympic Committee European Swimming Championships in Iceland and broke two Irish records at the U.S. Paralympics 2009 Swimming World Championships. In August 2007, Campbell won the Silver Medal in the final of the 200m individual medley at the International Blind Sports World Games in Brazil.

He has taken a similar approach to his other passion; technology.

Stephen, who is studying for a Bachelor of Science Honors degree in Multimedia Computing and Design, says he's always had a passion for technology. "When I lost my eyesight at 16, technology took over my life. When you can't see, technology can be a valuable tool," he said. 

He is a third-year student at the University of Ulster at Magee College in Derry in Northern Ireland recently worked with Ireland's Institute of Sport's Career Athlete Development Programme to secure a technical internship at Microsoft. The Programme, a partnership with the Irish Government and Microsoft, helps elite athletes gain real-world experience in the workplace.

Campbell's Microsoft internship started in September 2010 and will finish in July 2011. "I took to Microsoft like a duck takes to water," Campbell said. "High performance sports is so similar to working at this company. As an athlete, you need to be motivated and set yourself constant short, mid and long-term goals to know how you are improving. And that is the culture at Microsoft - it's a highly driven workplace." That discipline is also reflected daily in Campbell's tough schedule, which includes a two-hour early morning swim training session, then off to work and school.

As part of his internship, Campbell gets the opportunity to work across several Microsoft product teams, including Windows and Office. On the Windows Core team, Campbell worked closely from Dublin with the team back in Redmond, Washington to test Windows Narrator from an end user's perspective and give feedback on what could be improved. Windows Narrator is a light-duty screen reader utility included in Microsoft Windows 7 that reads dialog boxes and window controls in a number of the more basic applications for Windows.

Gary Keegan, Director, Irish Institute of Sport; Fiona Mullan, International Staffing Director, Microsoft Ireland; Mark Christie, Middle Distance Runner; Stephen Campbell, Paralympic Swimmer; Liam Harbison, CEO , Paralympic Council of Ireland (photo courtesy of University of Ulster)


"Hiring a talent like Stephen who is focused on realizing his potential by focusing on his ability rather than his disability, has proven to all of us the opportunity which exists here. Like his passion for swimming, Stephen has a passion for technology and is demonstrating just how enabling technology is," said Fiona Mullan, International Staffing Director, Microsoft Ireland.

"Working on the Narrator project was most exciting to me because I was able to come at the project from a user's perspective to help improve the application because I knew what would be successful. I also knew that millions of people with vision impairments will be using this application and I was thrilled be making a difference in their lives by helping to improve it," he said.

After working in Windows, Campbell then moved to a role on the Office International Product Group, where he is learning the ins and outs of program management - from how to manage a team of people to managing the delivery of a team project. He's also exploring new tests to perform to help future versions of Office.

Campbell will continue to compete in swimming. He is currently training for the European Championships in July 2011 in Germany, and is hoping to join the Paralympics team for the games in London in 2012. While Campbell says the London games will possibly be his last competition, his future in technology is just beginning.

You can read more about Stephen's story at the Microsoft Global Diversity & Inclusion site.

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