Stu­dents ex­cel at off beat sport

150 stu­dents gather in Ana­heim to com­pete in a global con­test test­ing their skills in Mi­crosoft Of­fice.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Alexa D’An­gelo alexa.d’an­gelo @la­times.com Twitter: @an­dan­gelo15

High-school­ers from around the world gather in Ana­heim to test their Mi­crosoft Of­fice skills.

Like many teens, John Du­moulin passed the sum­mer be­fore his se­nior year of high school in front of a com­puter screen. But he wasn’t play­ing “League of Le­gends,” stream­ing “Game of Thrones” or watch­ing hours on end of YouTube videos.

He was mas­ter­ing the art of the pivot ta­ble.

The 17-year-old from Virginia spent sev­eral hours a day per­fect­ing his tech­nique in Mi­crosoft Ex­cel. He was train­ing for what he calls the “Olympics,” af­ter all.

This week, John was one of 150 stu­dents from 50 coun­tries com­pet­ing in the Mi­crosoft Of­fice Spe­cial­ist World Cham­pi­onship at the Dis­ney­land Ho­tel in Ana­heim. At stake: cash, prizes and the clout that comes with be­ing the best in the world at Ex­cel, Pow­er­Point or Word.

“I’m go­ing to do my best to bring it home for the United States,” John said as he pre­pared for the com­pe­ti­tion.

Mi­crosoft Of­fice is the most widely used suite of work­place soft­ware, help­ing in­tro­duce much of the planet to word pro­cess­ing, spread­sheets and dig­i­tal slideshows that have come to de­fine cu­bi­cle cul­ture. Since 2001 it has also been the field of play for a pe­cu­liar va­ri­ety of e-sport.

The Mi­crosoft Of­fice Spe­cial­ist World Cham­pi­onship, ac­cord­ing to or­ga­niz­ers and spon­sors Mi­crosoft and Cer­ti­port, en­cour­ages young peo­ple to learn skills that look good on their col­lege ap­pli­ca­tions and job re­sumes.

“It’s about pre­par­ing stu­dents to get a job,” said Anthony Sal­cito, vice pres­i­dent of world­wide ed­u­ca­tion at Mi­crosoft. “To be­come more em­ploy­able to com­pa­nies that build their busi­nesses around the Mi­crosoft suite.” Past win­ners have gone on to at­tend Ivy League col­leges and even work at, yes, Mi­crosoft.

For stu­dents from over­seas, the stakes can be greater, said Craig Bush­man, vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing at Cer­ti­port, whose com­pany pro­vides pro­fes­sional cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for soft­ware and skills.

“Es­pe­cially in China you get placed in the top univer­si­ties in the coun­try and pre­ferred liv­ing ar­range­ments for any stu­dent that wins a cham­pi­onship,” Bush­man said. “There is a lot of press and recog­ni­tion and a lot of doors open to them.”

The con­test also helps pro­mote Mi­crosoft and Cer­ti­port. To com­pete in the World Cham­pi­onship, par­tic­i­pants age 13 to 22 must gain Cer­ti­port cer­ti­fi­ca­tion — com­plet­ing a se­ries of tasks in a spec­i­fied pro­gram quickly and ac­cu­rately.

Ac­cord­ing to Cer­ti­port, some 500,000 peo­ple re­ceived cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in Mi­crosoft Of­fice pro­grams last year. The fastest and most ac­cu­rate among them got an in­vite to a na­tional com­pe­ti­tion. Only the best made it to the world cham­pi­onship.

That means hours of prac­tice.

Delaware res­i­dent Anirudh Narayanan, 17, pre­pared all sum­mer to com­pete in the Ex­cel 2013 cat­e­gory, “look­ing up ob­scure facts just in case I might need to know it dur­ing the test.” He’s hop­ing the skills he honed will help him at Carnegie Mel­lon Univer­sity, where he will be­gin study­ing eco­nom­ics in the fall.

“I make sure I do a min­i­mum of five hours a week in Ex­cel,” Anirudh said. “Then for a while I’ll be on YouTube watch­ing videos about Ex­cel.”

John got cer­ti­fied as part of a high school class, the same way most stu­dents found their way to the com­pe­ti­tion. But he had al­ways been adept on Of­fice.

“I’m a die-hard Dodgers fan so I used to track base­ball stats in Ex­cel,” he said. “I ac­tu­ally did that as a science project in mid­dle school that used Ex­cel to look into player sta­tis­tics for the Dodgers.”

At the na­tional com­pe­ti­tion in Orlando, John won in his cat­e­gory, Ex­cel 2016. But in Ana­heim — with a first­place fin­ish promis­ing $7,000 and, in a bit of Mi­crosoft cross-promotion, an Xbox — John was ner­vous.

“It was harder than I ex­pected,” John said. “I just went in and gave it my all.”

Head­ing into the ho­tel con­fer­ence room for the test, stu­dents were met with a lap­top and a manila en­ve­lope filled with in­struc­tions. The test gives the stu­dents a se­ries of tasks to com­plete. For ex­am­ple, a stu­dent com­pet­ing in the Ex­cel dis­ci­pline may be given a com­pli­cated equa­tion to com­plete; one with ex­per­tise in Pow­er­Point may be tasked with recre­at­ing a slideshow down to the ex­act mar­gin size and snazzy tran­si­tion. There are sep­a­rate tests for the 2013 and 2016 ver­sions of the Mi­crosoft suite; com­peti­tors are judged for ac­cu­racy first and then speed.

Af­ter 90 min­utes, com­peti­tors walked out look­ing re­lieved and a lit­tle less anx­ious. The con­tests were Mon­day, but re­sults weren’t announced un­til Wed­nes­day — leav­ing par­tic­i­pants plenty of time to take stock of their hours of train­ing, the sup­port they re­ceived along the way and the some­times funny looks they got from friends when they opted to fo­cus on Mi­crosoft Of­fice rather than more tra­di­tional youth­ful pas­times.

“I have fam­ily in In­dia who streamed it live and they said it was the only time they would be cheer­ing for team U.S.A. rather than team In­dia,” said Pow­er­Point 2016 sil­ver medal­ist Dheya Mad­hani, 15, of North Carolina — the only fe­male com­peti­tor from the U.S. “I was just ex­cited to place for the U.S. I didn’t ex­pect it at all.”

On Wed­nes­day, when the win­ners were announced they took the stage with flags from their home coun­tries: China, Greece, Gu­atemala, Hong Kong, Ma­cao, New Zealand, Nige­ria, Ro­ma­nia, Thai­land, the United King­dom and the United States.

John won gold in his cat­e­gory, Ex­cel 2016, and kissed his tro­phy as he walked off stage.

“I thought when they were about to call first place, ‘Here we go, I’m ei­ther go­ing to have a mo­ment of glory or a mo­ment of pride,’ ” John said. “Turns out I got both.”

Gina Fer­azzi Los Angeles Times

AT STAKE in the Mi­crosoft Of­fice world cham­pi­onship: cash, prizes and clout for be­ing the best in the world at Ex­cel, Pow­er­Point or Word. Above, Ex­cel 2013 cham­pion Ji­aXi Dai of China gets high-fives Wed­nes­day.

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