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Microsoft Discover AI Upskilling Journey 2020: Fostering Learning, Connection and Growth in Upcoming AI Innovators

This summer, students from around the world took on Microsoft’s Discover AI Upskilling Journey to learn about AI across several industries and themes. In collaboration with Agorize, Microsoft provided over 500 participants from 39 countries with the opportunity to use the Microsoft Learn platform to improve their AI skills and apply them to creative technical and business-case projects. Ultimately, the challenge highlighted both the immense passion and potential of young innovators in the world of AI.

As a leader in new technologies, Microsoft has long encouraged innovation and learning of youth in the field. Through its latest challenge: the Discover AI Upskilling Journey, Microsoft hoped to democratize the use of AI and provide participants, regardless of academic background and technical skills, the tools to discover AI their own way.

Previously, Microsoft partnered with Agorize for the Discover AI: Smarter and Sustainable Economies Challenge in early 2020. The Upskilling Journey was the logical next step, one which further opened AI for all students and young professionals around the world.

In early May, as Microsoft opened the challenge and participants began to register, neither side knew of the incredible innovations and success the opportunity would bring.

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A Learning Journey Like No Other

The Microsoft Discover AI Upskilling Journey, launched in May 2020, was designed to be just that: a multi-step journey through which young participants could expand their knowledge of AI and gain hands-on experience in applying what they learned.

The challenge, which consisted of six themed “mini-sprints” and a final Cloud Skills Challenge, contained two tracks for competitors to choose from: a technical track focused on AI tools and a business track highlighting new business models to harness AI’s potential.

Participants earned Experience Points (XPs) by completing Microsoft Learn modules and were given the opportunity to showcase the new skills they gained through that round during the mini-sprints’ final events. Top performing participants were invited to present their learnings at the Cloud Skills Challenge Final in August to a panel of expert judges from Microsoft and Agorize.

By designing the challenge in this multifaceted way, Microsoft aimed to give participants the freedom to leverage AI solutions in a way that was fun and meaningful to them.

“Each participant came to the journey with a unique perspective and interest in AI,” said Sarah Muma, a Cloud Solution Architect at Microsoft and judge of the mini-sprints, of the event.  “Whether it was someone’s first experience with AI, or they were just looking to apply it in a different way, there was something for everyone.”

The success of this approach was reflected in the varied formats, styles and tones of submissions that highlighted the creativity, ambitions and personalities of each team. Final projects ranged from traditional presentations to animated videos, songs, commercials and skits.

“I was always blown away by the creativity of the participants and how they applied the AI concepts for the week to various industries,” Muma noted.

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An opportunity for impact in a time of global crisis

In a world placed on stand-by due to COVID-19 related restrictions, the Upskilling Journey  was especially valuable. It provided students with a unique opportunity to stay engaged in meaningful work, connect with peers around the globe and partake in hands-on learning, all while staying safe at home.

“The Upskilling Journey is an amazing opportunity for people and young professionals to gain new skills during this challenging time,” remarked Wemba Opota, Artificial Intelligence Enterprise Solutions Lead at Microsoft. “Participants could learn more or deepen their knowledge of AI-enabled solutions and have some fun while learning and creating concrete, real-world projects and meeting new people from around the world.”

While all participants walked away with valuable experience and new knowledge of AI, winners were also awarded Microsoft Surface Go and Surface Pro tablets as well as vouchers for Microsoft Learn certifications and other Microsoft accessories.

The challenge was a big hit not only for participants, but for the judges, mentors and speakers at Microsoft.

“I had a blast these past few months,” said Muma. “Gathering with the participants to see how they were applying their learnings were highlights of my week!” To participants, she added: “Your participation, your energy, and your collaboration with each other inspired me and taught me new ways of seeing things.”

Hubert Duan, a Cloud Solution Architect at Microsoft and a second judge and mentor throughout the event, echoed her conviction.

“It has been such a pleasure to see the amazing achievements and demonstrations by the participants. As a practitioner of technology for many years, I most certainly see the promising, bright future ahead as this new generation solves the world’s most challenging problems.”

Like Muma, he thanked everyone who made the event so rewarding.

“A special thank you to the participants, volunteers, and Agorize for making this Discover AI challenge an incredible success.”

As our world shifts and evolves, so too do the applications of AI. Based on the Microsoft AI Upskilling Journey’s success, one thing is clear: the possibilities and passion of the next generation of innovators, when enabled with the right tools, are limitless.

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