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Not so long ago, kids who wanted to learn about business and prepare themselves for the working world might have taken a job delivering newspapers or stocking shelves at the local grocery store. But today’s young entrepreneurs have a distinctly 21st century perspective. Consider 12-year-old Keith Peiris of London, Ontario, who taught himself how to develop Web sites and founded Cyberteks Design, now a profitable Web design and e-commerce business with clients around the world. He was recently invited to accompany Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien on a trade mission to China and Hong Kong and is planning to establish Cyberteks’ first branch office in Asia soon.
Or take Akshat Singhal, a young computer programmer and Web developer who designs and builds Web sites for his school and local companies in his hometown of Jaipur, India. At the age of 14, Singhal became one of India’s youngest Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers—no mean feat, even for someone twice his age.
We know that technology has improved business productivity and created vast new opportunities in the adult world. But we’re only now beginning to see the creative potential of a generation of kids who grew up around computers. PCs and the Internet are empowering young people to learn, communicate and think outside the box. For enterprising youngsters, technology is a toolkit for building virtually unlimited dreams.
K-K Gregory has been using the Internet since 1997 to market and sell Wristies, a fleece wrist warmer she invented when she was 10. Now 17, K-K has received numerous awards for her entrepreneurship and design. She is the youngest member of several business organizations, and through her presentations has inspired hundreds of other young women to think about becoming entrepreneurs and inventors.
Seventeen-year-old Martine Johnson manages and edits Cybergrrlz, an online community that offers teenage girls a place to share experiences and ideas, and participate as writers and editors for the Web site. Started in 1997 by a 15-year-old who wanted to learn HTML and publish a newsletter for girls, the site has grown to include advice columns, puzzles, news and discussion forums. Now Johnson is assisted by more than 40 page editors—some as young as 12.
These young people, and thousands like them, have plenty to teach us about the potential of technology. Microsoft recognizes that today’s kids are tomorrow’s professionals, and understanding their needs is important—just as understanding the needs of today’s IT managers is.
"Every generation sees inherent value in technology where the people who came before them don’t," says Tammy Savage, head of Microsoft’s NetGen Strategy Team. "And they take that technology to a new level."
Savage recently observed two twenty-something workers conducting a business meeting. Although they were sitting at arm’s length from each other, they flipped open their laptops and began exchanging instant messages. To the traditional worker, this might seem impersonal, even alien—much the way people accustomed to face-to-face meetings and telephones felt when e-mail transformed business communication. Later, the two young people told Savage that instant messaging allowed them to communicate more clearly and efficiently. They said that when they’re online, they can complete other tasks while waiting for a response or considering their answer. And when they’re done, they have a written record.
Many young people already teach their parents the basics of PCs and the Internet, and tomorrow they might show the rest of us new ways to put these tools to use in the business world. By some estimates, the Internet Generation is 79 million strong—outnumbering even the postwar baby boomers. For an increasing number of them, doing business on the Internet is as easy and intuitive as opening up a lemonade stand might have been for their parents when they were youngsters. We can only imagine the drive and entrepreneurship we’ll see as this generation comes of age.
One in a series of guest essays on technology and its impact on society sponsored by Microsoft. More information is available at microsoft.com/issues.
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