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Florida Teen Battling to Become PowerPoint Champion of the World

Tyler Millis is better than you at PowerPoint.

Now, the 16-year old high school student and PowerPoint national champion from Ft. Myers, Fla., is out to prove he's better at Microsoft's ubiquitous (and oft-maligned) presentation software than everyone else in the world, too.

"I have full confidence in myself," Wills told Education Week in the lead-up to the 2014 Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship, which kicks off today in Anaheim, Calif. "There are so many bad PowerPoints out there. If everybody just spent a little time learning the software better, we'd have much better presentations."

The contest, now in its 13th year, is sponsored by Certiport, an American Fork, Utah-based company that runs technical certification programs for Microsoft and a handful of other technology companies. Certiport is owned by Pearson, the giant educational-services and publishing company with headquarters in London and New York City.

Over the past 10 months, more than 400,000 contestants from around the world have been whittled down to 123 finalists from 40 countries. The contestants, all of whom are between 13-22 years old, will vie for $5,000 first-prizes and the title of "World Champion" in several categories related to each of the three major applications in Microsoft's popular Office suite: PowerPoint (presentations), Excel (spreadsheets), and Word (word processing.)

Testing begins today, with winners announced via a live-streamed awards ceremony on Wednesday.

"It feels like the Olympics. It's very emotional," said Craig Bushman, Certiport's vice president of marketing, in an interview.

Millis is a rising high school junior at Dunbar High School in Florida's 85,000-student Lee County public school system. 

Dunbar, a magnet school heavily focused on science, technology, engineering, and math, bills itself as the "first Microsoft certified high school in the world." The school offers extensive certification opportunities to students, as well as a number of tech-themed academies.

Millis will have taken part in just about all of them by the time he graduates.

"I did the digital design program in 10th grade, and engineering in 9th," he said. "We have an Academy for Technology Excellence, where we learn about computer networks and network security, and we have a game design program where we learn how to develop video games."

"It's not even like school to me," Millis said. "It's like fun, but I'm learning."

As my colleague Sean Cavanagh reported last week, a number of states and school districts are implementing tech certification programs in their high schools, with Microsoft's IT Academy being one of the most popular.

Certiport, which describes itself as the world's only "official" Microsoft certification provider, certifies about 2 million students annually, according to Bushman.  Many of those come from outside the U.S., especially developing countries, he said.

The competition format used to mirror the test for certification: A proctored "in-application" exam, generally about 50 minutes in length, on which individuals were asked to demonstrate their ability to perform the software application's various tasks and functions.

Your typical office worker (or education journalist) who uses the software professionally on a regular basis would likely know about 80 percent of what is necessary to pass the test, Bushman said.

Several years ago, though, many contestants began gaming the system, practicing the discrete tasks needed for certification to the point where some could complete the 50-minute exam in less than five minutes, Bushman said.

So now the competition consists of a "Part B" to the exam, in which contestants are provided an unfamiliar slide deck (or spreadsheet, or Word document) and asked to recreate it as quickly and accurately as possible.

Only one U.S. participant has ever claimed a first prize in the Microsoft Office competition, which has historically been dominated by contestants from Asian nations, Bushman said.

Millis, who has already begun his pursuit of a career in video-game design with an internship at local IT company, hopes to double that total.

"I don't really know what to expect," he said.  "But I know it will be tons of fun."

Other U.S. contestants include: 

  • Microsoft Excel 2010: Daniel Hill, Green Hope High School, Cary, N.C.
  • Microsoft Excel 2007: Stormy Skyles, Caldwell Parish High School, Columbia, La.
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2010: Timothy Holdiness, Ouachita Parish High School, Monroe, La.
  • Microsoft Word 2010: Kyle Forst, Bridging Communities Regional Career and Technical Center, New Kent, Va.
  • Microsoft Word 2007: Dominique Howard, East Harlem Employment Service, New York, N.Y.

Florida teen Tyler Willis displays his trophy after being named U.S. National PowerPoint Champion last month --- Photo courtesy of Certiport.


Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends.

Follow the 2014 Microsoft Office Specialist World Championships on Twitter at #moswc.

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