I had the privilege of presenting to some sixth formers at Eton college today about a career in IT. Of course the erstwhile head of Office development, Steven Sinofsky writes a blog, bizarrely in my opinion, about careers in IT aimed at college grads. I say bizarrely, not because there's anything wrong with helping young people towards an exciting career in IT, but because I always felt I'd be more interested in his insights on running a very large development team but that's by the by.
Anyway it was interesting to talk to a small group of boys about why a career in IT is an option they should consider. For many ambitious young people, IT is still not seen to have the same panache as a job in the city or as an up and coming lawyer. I think we helped to change that perception as we talked about how a career in IT is more about dealing with people than machines.
Eton is an impressive place. You cannot wander round it and not be impressed by the incredible history and tradition dating back to the 15th century. For me, who went to a bog standard local state school but then was lucky enough to get in to Lincoln College, Oxford, I am an odd mix of the two systems. Perhaps that helps me to appreciate each on their merits.
There were two things that really impressed me.
First, the roots of Eton go back to 1440 when it was founded by King Henry VI. The College originally had 70 King’s Scholars or ‘Collegers’ who lived in the College and were educated free, and a small number of ‘Oppidans’ who lived in the town of Eton and paid for their education. The King also built Kings College, Cambridge to further educate the Scholars and this explains the link between the two that still remains today. So despite its privileged, elitist reputation, its roots are in fact entirely philanthropic. It was only later when rich aristocracy sent their sons to sit at the back to learn that lead to their integration. Eton maintains this focus in its policy of extending scholarships and it is good to remember that this is where it all started.
Secondly, I was impressed with the progressive attitudes I found from the staff. Whilst they want to preserve the best of the tradition, that is no excuse for not changing with the times. Eton have an impressive attitude to modernising their teaching methods. This was picked up in a very interesting recent Time magazine article where it talks about how the boys have been getting to grips with Microsoft Access. Liam Maxwell, the charming head of IT, who we met today, is quoted as saying
"I tell the boys that 30% of them are going to work for a Chinese or Indian company," he says. "They're going to be judged on what they are and can do, not where they came from. Being an Old Etonian won't be that relevant."
He's right of course. So what have we learnt? Perhaps this:never forget your roots when you head for something new. Microsoft must also remember that as we launch the next release of Office which is why we are putting so much work into the compatibility with past releases. As we launch the new ribbon and the rest of the popular new user interface must always remember our roots too. The original purpose of the applications and where we have come from. As Jensen always reminds us - check out the Ye Olde Museum of Office past. We have come a long way and sometimes its good to remember that as we strike out towards a bold new future for Office.