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On July 1, 4,000 athletes and coaches from across the country will arrive in Seattle to compete in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. Microsoft is proud to be the presenting sponsor of these games. It will be a special week for all of us – the athletes, the city of Seattle and our region, including Microsoft’s employees. As the honorary chairman of this year’s USA Games, I’m delighted to welcome athletes from near and far who are coming not just to compete, but to celebrate their well-earned achievements.
What began as a backyard summer camp in the 1960s by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of former President John F. Kennedy, Special Olympics has grown into the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. Shriver recognized how sports brought communities together, encouraged teamwork, built social skills and instilled confidence. She also believed that everyone, no matter their ability, deserved an opportunity to grow, learn and experience joy through sports.
Fifty years after the first games, the Special Olympics boasts more than 5.7 million athletes in 172 countries and more than 1 million volunteers around the world. And while the organization has played a transformative role in the lives of athletes with intellectual disabilities, it also became a global movement of acceptance and inclusion. Through sports, health, school and youth engagement, the organization brings people around the world together, with and without intellectual disabilities, to teach tolerance, unity and respect.
For Microsoft, it’s an honor to sponsor this year’s milestone event that celebrates diversity and inclusion in a way no other organization has. “Diversity and inclusion” is a key component to how we understand and work toward our mission every day: To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. That’s why we’ve partnered with Special Olympics since 2014, using cloud-based data management to transform how the games are run and how athletes are cared for, while supporting the group’s efforts to build a more inclusive global community.
This year, athletes challenge Seattle to “Rise with Us” and make the 2018 games the most inclusive Special Olympics to date. Already, the games are well on that path with 39 percent of competitors participating in Unified Sports (teams of athletes with and without intellectual disabilities), youth-led leadership initiatives, thousands of volunteer opportunities, and the special events designed for the broader community to participate. And this summer’s games will be one of the largest sporting events ever to come to our city, with an expected 50,000 spectators.
As the Pacific Northwest prepares for the arrival of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, state and local leaders, businesses, organizations and individuals have an important role to play in creating a region that welcomes everyone. This summer’s games are about much more than sports. They’re about creating a city of inclusion where everyone is welcome and can contribute their talents and skills.
One of the best ways you can show the world this spirit of inclusion is to support the games. Attend the opening ceremonies, to be held on July 1 at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium. Cheer on athletes who will be competing in 14 sports at events across the region. Volunteer for one of the 10,000 positions needed to make these games a success.
This summer’s games offer the opportunity for each of us to ask important questions, challenge our biases, learn together and act collectively to create more inclusive communities. In other words, this year’s USA Games will require each and every one of us to rise to the occasion and show the world what the Special Olympics – and Seattle – stand for.
Tags: 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, Brad Smith, inclusion, Special Olympics
Earlier this fall, Microsoft and National 4-H Council announced a partnership to support young people to be digital leaders, equipping them with the digital skills and other resources to help them make an even bigger, positive impact on their communities. Youth leaders are working with educators, community members and others to identify challenges their communities face, and to use technology to address those challenges.
Nora Medina, from Quincy High School in central Washington state, is working to inspire kids to learn to code, and help adults build digital skills to close the digital divide in her community. We caught up with Nora during Computer Science Education Week when she visited the Microsoft Store in Bellevue, Washington, alongside Seattle Seahawk Luke Willson, to coach elementary school students through their first Hour of Code. Nora and Luke used the new Minecraft tutorial for Hour of Code, called Hero’s Journey, which introduces kids to coding in a fun and engaging way. While our partnership with 4-H is wide-ranging, going beyond digital skills, computer science was the focus of this conversation with Nora:
How did you discover computer science?
Why do you think learning to code is important for kids today?
Coding is everywhere! If you know coding, companies will be more inclined to hire you. You’ll have more skills to offer.
What can you tell us about your involvement with 4-H?
We’re starting a service project where the main focus is teaching adults digital skills. There’s a gap between students and parents. If we teach adults about digital skills, and why we’re on our phones so much, that can bring us closer as a community, and opens up more opportunities for parents and adults!
Microsoft is a leading supporter of Computer Science Education Week because the lack of access to computer science education threatens to widen the income gap between those who have the skills to succeed in the 21st century and those who do not, impeding students’ ability to eventually thrive in their future careers. We’re inspired by young people like Nora Medina who are stepping forward to help us, and others, address the problem.
In the United States alone, there are over 500,000 open computing jobs, however last year, less than 43,000 computer science students graduated into the U.S. workforce. Learning to code is one of the most important steps students can take to prepare themselves to fully participate in, and benefit from, our digital economy. That’s why Microsoft Philanthropies is working to help young people and adults become creators of technology, advance their careers and grow their local economies by making computer science education and digital skills available to everyone.
Learn more, and find resources to start learning to code, or to teach others, by visiting your local Microsoft Store or https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/digital-skills/hour-of-code.
Tags: Computer Science Education Week, Hour of Code, Microsoft Philanthropies, Microsoft Store
SEATTLE — While SQL Server 2017 continues to get attention for opening up to Linux, many of Microsoft’s database advances revolve around various ways the company is opening up analytics on its flagship database. Case in point: SQL Server machine learning services.
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Open source data frameworks and development languages increasingly have become a path to next-level data analytics and machine learning, and SQL Server support is central to this strategy.
The clues are various. Even before 2017, Microsoft brought Apache Spark and the R language into the mix. Earlier this year, the Python language joined R as part of a newly minted Azure Machine Learning developer kit.
The story took a new turn at PASS Summit 2017 last week, as Microsoft featured the capability for Azure Machine Learning users to bring their analytics models into SQL Server 2017 for native T-SQL runtime scoring. An essential element in machine learning, scoring is a way to measure the likely success of machine-generated predictions.
Native T-SQL scoring can process large amounts of data at an average of under 20 milliseconds per row, according to Rohan Kumar, general manager of Microsoft’s database systems group, who spoke at PASS Summit. Native T-SQL scoring takes the form of a stored procedure for prediction that can be used without calling Microsoft’s R runtime, as was the case with SQL Server 2016.
This capability is important because models built and trained to, for example, suggest new products to likely buyers can produce results while the buyers are actually web browsing. As SQL Server machine learning services head in this direction, their use could grow.
Machine learning models
Supporting such scoring in the Microsoft database could make machine learning analytics more a part of operations and less an experimental effort, according to Ginger Grant, advanced analytics consultant for SolidQ and a presenter at the event.
“Traditionally, what has happened is that you’ve had a data science group that sort of sat in the corner creating machine learning models. They then threw that ‘over the wall’ to developers who had to code it in another language,” Grant said in an interview.
“Native T-SQL scoring allows people to modularize their work and environment, so things can be operationally implemented relatively quickly,” she said.
Microsoft’s new SQL Server machine learning services will help with real-time prediction, said Victoria Holt, who also took part in PASS Summit. She is an independent data analytics and platforms architect, as well as a trainer at SQL Relay.
“It is great to be able to leverage machine learning computation in-database,” she said.
This year’s inclusion of Python in the Microsoft Machine Learning workbench is also a step forward, Holt said. But it will take time for such new technologies to spread.
Holt noted that the “addition of Python extends the use of deep learning frameworks in the product. The retrained cognitive models will speed up consumption. But there is significant user training and upgrading that will need to happen before these models are adopted.”
Beyond T-SQL stored procedures
Jen Stirrupfounder of Data Relish
Microsoft analytics advances discussed at PASS Summit were not limited to T-SQL. The company previewed scale-out features for Azure Analysis Services to improve response time for large query workloads on the cloud.
The company also moved to simplify data preparation for analytics in the cloud by releasing a public preview of Azure Data Factory that includes the ability to run SQL Server Integration Services in ADF.
Growing Microsoft SQL Server 2017 support for Python and R is significant, according to Jen Stirrup, founder of the U.K.-based Data Relish consultancy and PASS Summit board member.
Python is something of a portal to a crop of machine learning services entering the open source sphere almost daily. In Stirrup’s view, deeper support for advanced analytics is the next step for big data, and Microsoft is tuned to that notion.
“The company understands that customers really want to do something with the data,” she said.
“The data is such a key thing. It underpins your applications. Today, that means you have to reach out to software and languages that are not necessarily part of Microsoft’s .NET,” Stirrup continued. “Microsoft’s moves are all about being more welcoming to open source communities.”
PASS Summit 2017 takes place from November 1 to November 3, in Seattle, Washington at the Washington State Convention Center. This year’s event guarantees to be an exciting time to reconnect with the community, see friends old and new, and learn about new product features and enhancements. Microsoft would like to invite you to join us for the Day 1 Keynote by Rohan Kumar, which takes place on Wednesday, November 1, at 8:30 AM.
Rohan and the Microsoft Data and AI engineering teams will highlight how our customers and community have shaped the latest products and feature enhancements — many of them based on your feedback. This continuous innovation loop is how we have accelerated innovation across our products and services. But the process doesn’t focus on code, it focuses on you and your requirements. Product telemetry, technology blogs, PASS meetups, all the time and anyway we can, we want to listen to what you have to say.
The keynote will be jam-packed with practical demonstrations, giving you a chance to see your feature requests in action. In fact, there are so many great announcements and demos coming that we made a list of the Top five reasons to join us for the PASS Summit 2017 Day 1 Keynote:
- Accelerate performance – Bob Ward will demonstrate the super fast performance that SQL Server 2017 can achieve, while Conor Cunningham will talk about why performance tuning doesn’t have to be manual drudgery anymore.
- Get started with Dev Ops – Tobias Ternstrom and Mihaela Blendea will show you quick and painless new ways to set up a development environment, made possible by SQL Server 2017 support for Windows and Linux containers.
- Create powerful insights in real time – Danielle Dean will demonstrate how high performance and scale in Azure SQL Database can combine with built-in AI to create new and powerful insights from IOT data.
- Conquer analytics at scale – Community member Scott Currie, CEO of Varigence, will show you how the latest version of Azure Data Factory can combine with partner technologies like BIML to automate data movement in the cloud. Julie Strauss will show off incredible analytics performance gains made possible by the new compute-optimized tier in Azure SQL Data Warehouse.
- Leverage business intelligence across on-premises and cloud – Christian Wade will demonstrate fast, interactive analysis over large amounts of data in Analysis Services, on-premises and in the cloud. And Riccardo Muti will showcase new features in Power BI Premium that can bring interactive reports and queries and stunning visualizations to your users, wherever your data lives.
That was just a taste of the demos that we hope will surprise you, please you, and make your life just that much easier when you take your new knowledge back to work next week. Registration for this event is almost full, but there are still a few passes left. Or, you can purchase session recordings to stream or download and watch at home. Sign up at the PASS Summit Website.
If you’d like to learn more about the latest enhancements in the Microsoft Data Platform, visit our data platform webpage, or data platform overview on Azure.