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Sunday, July 17, 2005 E-Mail this article to a friend Printer Friendly Version
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Pakistani computer whiz charms Gates

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: Arfa Karim Randhawa, a 10-year-old Pakistani girl from Faisalabad, has become the youngest computer whiz, having just had a meeting with Bill Gates after passing the Microsoft Certified Professional examination for programmers.

She asked Gates why Microsoft does not hire people of her age. Actually, she passed the very tough test of computer programming skills when she was only nine. Arfa met Gates at Microsoft’s Redmond campus. Her visit was arranged and sponsored by Microsoft to better introduce the precocious youngster to the company, and to give people at headquarters a chance to meet her. The week included oratory and a series of informal sessions with Microsoft executives and employees, including a Pakistani employee group.

According to a report in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, Arfa made an impression through a combination of charm, flattery and boldness uncommon for someone her age. During the meeting with Gates, she presented him with a poem she had written that celebrated his life story. But she also questioned him about what she perceived to be the relatively small proportion of women on the campus. “It should be balanced - an equal amount of men and an equal amount of women,” she said. About 75 percent of Microsoft employees are men.

Recounting their conversation, Arfa said Gates acknowledged her concerns and talked about the broader industry’s struggles to increase the proportion of women in technology-related fields. Other topics they discussed included her Muslim faith and her hometown. Arfa described Gates as an “ideal personality,” explaining that he had been second only to Disneyland on her list of things she wanted to see in the United States. Previously unaware of the casual dress code at Microsoft, she said she had expected Gates to be wearing a suit but was surprised to find him in a casual shirt with the top button open. “I expected that all the people would be here in suits,” she said with a giggle, wearing a hat acquired during her earlier visit to the company’s Xbox game studios.

According to the Seattle newspaper, later in the afternoon, she sat outside with “Soma” Somasegar, a Microsoft corporate vice president, and described her vision for a self-navigating car. He listened to her ideas and told her about some of Microsoft’s existing software for cars.

Somasegar talked about the possibility of an internship for the young Pakistani in a few years. “The thing that’s exciting to me is her passion for technology at this age,” said Somasegar, who decided to invite Arfa to Redmond after reading a story about her in MicroNews, an internal company newsletter.

She developed a fascination for computers when she was only five and eventually persuaded her father Amjad Karim, a UN peacekeeper serving in Africa, to buy her a computer. She demonstrated unexpected aptitude, using Microsoft PowerPoint and other programmes. Encouraged by what she was doing, her father took her to Applied Technologies, or APTECH, an advanced computer institute. The institute instructors assumed it would take Arfa about a year to go through the process of certification for developing Windows applications. But after four months of study and work, over summer vacation, she passed the required examinations.

Michael Earls, a software consultant and Microsoft Certified Solution Developer in Atlanta told the newspaper, “Microsoft certifications are not a joke - they’re highly respected in the industry.”

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