I’ve openly lamented about the challenges that the U.S. faces with the decline in technical student enrollment and what I have perceived as a lack of enthusiasm for technical jobs among American students.  To be competitive into the future, we need graduates with strong technical skills and a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit… and, unfortunately, the macro numbers have been trending in the opposite direction.

The interesting thing is: students (and kids, in general) today are highly technical (relative to historical standards) and rely on technology and software much more deeply than any generation in the past.  Twenty years ago, if you chatted with your friends over the network, spent the majority of your leisure time on a computer, and carried more than one electronic device on your body… you’d probably be one of the few hyper-tech enthusiasts sitting outside the mainstream majority (i.e., geek… I’m speaking from personal experience here).  Today, if you DON’T engage in any or all of those activities, you’re probably sitting far outside the mainstream… (which leads me to conclude that I was born 20 years too soon to be cool).

So it’s made me wonder… is today’s younger generation so close to technology that they fail to recognize the power and opportunity that technology and software can provide (especially in terms of a career)?  Can these students not see the forest through the tweets?   (for the record, I came up with that myself… but realize it may become one of those contested, overused phrases like “roadkill on the Information Superhighway” :) …)

Well… I had the distinct pleasure of attending the US Imagine Cup finals events over the weekend – starting with a day of learning sessions on Sunday at the Microsoft Chevy Chase office (where I hosted two panels on career opportunities and startups), and culminating with the Community Showcase at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., yesterday.  It was an eye opener and a true perception changer - in a very good way.

From that experience – I’m happy to say that technology enthusiasm and the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in America.  I couldn’t have been more impressed and amazed with the students and their solutions.  Every single finalist had an outstanding combination of technology, social/global awareness, and entrepreneurship – and they each spoke with incredible passion about how they were using technology to change the world.

The excitement was also palpable in the final session – and having James Cameron speak about the importance of technology and software added jet fuel to those flames.  The winning solutions were truly deserving… and – despite the cliché – all of the competitors were winners in my book (heck – getting to the top 20 of a field of 22K+ is quite an achievement).

The true winners, though?  The U.S. and the world. 

The catalysts needed for positive change in the world start with amazing students like the Imagine Cup competitors.  Improvements in managing the environment, advancements in healthcare, and the entrepreneurship that will create the spark that will turn our economy around all start with smart people with passion and determination… and based on what I saw over the last few days, I have no doubt that we are headed in the right direction.

My faith in the future is restored, thanks to the students and everyone who participated in Imagine Cup 2010 – and I can’t wait for 2011.

-Dan

ps. Here are some links to coverage of the US Imagine Cup finals, if you’d like to know more (and are interested in the 2011 Imagine Cup):

http://www.imaginecup.us/Index.aspx

http://www.imaginecup.us/Competitions/winners.aspx

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/events/imaginecup/us/videoGallery.aspx  (definitely check out the top video)

http://it.tmcnet.com/news/2010/04/26/4751268.htm

http://www.monstersandcritics.com/people/news/article_1551182.php/Director-James-Cameron-urges-Americans-to-study-science

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