October 30, 2005, Updated September 14, 2012

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates Microsoft founder Bill Gates (R) meets some of the 45 Israeli students who are in an advanced computer studies project partially financed by Microsoft Israel. (Photo: Israel Malovne)Israel’s status as a high tech super power was confirmed last week by none other than Bill Gates.

During a whirlwind 24-hour tour to the country, the Microsoft founder and chairman praised the country’s universities for its high level of education, the local high tech community for its achievements in fields such as information security, and cited the high rate of computer literacy among Israelis as a prime factor in the country’s success.

“Israel is a major player in the high tech world, which explains the considerable contribution of the country not only in the field of high tech startups but also through the R&D centers for companies like Microsoft, Intel and Motorola. We’re super-satisfied with the contributions of our R&D center in Haifa,” Gates said, referring to Microsoft Israel, which employs 400 people and focuses on marketing, sales and R&D. “The quality of the people here is quite fantastic.”

As though he were royalty or a rock star, Gates’ visit attracted a slew of attention from both the media and the Israeli high tech world – with thousands of people vying for a spot in the convention hall in Tel Aviv where he addressed Israeli businessmen and touted the country’s collective commitment to research and education.

“While startups in Israel are similar to those in Silicon Valley, there are specialists in Israel in fields like information security who get much of their experience from their service in the army. The science and technology curriculum in Israeli universities is also of a very high standard,” said Gates. “The level of technological integration in the country is evident. The use of fast speed internet, lap tops and cell phones is advanced here and puts Israel at cutting edge of world technology.”

With an eye to the future, one group of people who had no problem nabbing some of Gates’ precious time were 45 high school ‘whiz kids’ selected by Israel’s Ministry of Education and Microsoft Israel – the two bodies active in promoting a special project: 30 advanced computer studies learning programs entitled ‘Partners in Learning’ designed to help thousands of youngsters prepare for university, college or self-built careers in computer sciences.

“It was really our luck to have met him,” says Rawan Abbas, 17, giggling like a typical teenager in a telephone call from her home in Nazareth. Abbas, who excels in computer studies, was one of several students from the city’s Bishop Riah Educational Campus school chosen to meet Gates.

Abbas and her classmates joined Israeli students from all over the country, including Roni Karp, 17, from Meitar and Amir Abramovitch, 17, from Ramat Hasharon.

Abramovitch, who has been into computer programming since he was 10, was only sorry that he hadn’t found the classes earlier. Even though he’s considered a computer genius, he says he still has a lot to learn from the courses partially subsidized by Microsoft Israel, a body which donates some $250 million dollars to education in 100 countries around the globe.

“It was surprising and exciting not only to meet the world’s richest man but the guy who built one of the strongest empires ever,” said Abramovitch who described how Gates delivered multi-layered answers to the eleven questions posed to him during their meeting.

Although Microsoft Corp. is the catalyst behind the development of the advanced computer studies which teaches Abramovitch the ins and outs of Microsoft’s NET Framework such as ASP.NET and C#.NET, other computer languages are taught as well, according to Bar Israeli, the manager of Microsoft Israel’s education programs

“In Israel, there is an awareness of technology, because more than anything else, our biggest asset is brainpower,” she told ISRAEL21c.

Israeli, who says the classes are at the level one would find at many colleges in the US, works one-on-one with some of the teens. She notes that the parents – many working in high tech themselves, – are actively involved in their children’s education. “Half of my work is talking with parents involved in school,” she said.

The parents of student Roni Karp, who attends once-a-month classes in Ra’anana, helped him from a young age acquire the books and special learning programs to excel as a self-taught computer programmer. Karp is in a yeshiva school program in Israel – a religious track which leaves less time and resources for computer studies. But he decided to learn on his own, and his tenaciousness earned him a meeting with Gates.

While making sure to focus on the future, Gates also kept very much to the present. During his visit, Gates met with upper management from some of Israel’s leading high tech companies – including Check Point Software Technologies, Amdocs, Verint Systems, Nice Systems, Alve, and start-ups Actimize, Alive Software and Sapned – to discuss the characteristics of new developments coming out of Israeli high tech.

This was followed by a meeting with some of the chief executives of Microsoft Israel’s business partners and then with some 400 Microsoft Israel employees, including those at MSN Israel, and from the company’s research and development facility in Haifa.

“People in high tech are very aware that Israel – compared to its small size – has some amazing technological achievements. There is a greater concentration of talented high tech manpower here in comparison to other countries – almost to the extent of Silicon Valley,” said Gates.

To strengthen Israeli high tech even further, Gates also signed together with Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert an agreement of cooperation with the Office of the Chief Scientist to encourage Israeli start-ups.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that the kind of innovation going on in Israel is critical to the future of the technology business. So many great companies have been started here,” Gates said at the signing.

In addition, Gates gave a seminar hosted by Microsoft Israel under the theme ‘The New World at Work’ which encompassed Gates’ vision for future generations of software and its impact on the business environment and governments.

For students Abramovitch, having a visitor like Gates come to Israel boosts morale. “It strengthened my motivation to keep working hard in this field and to spread out to new levels,” said the teenager. “He inspired me to walk in his path to great success.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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