CARY — Before this school year, 15-year-old Alex Bainbridge had little experience with Microsoft’s spreadsheet software Excel, beyond using it to make charts and lists.
Now he’s preparing to go to Las Vegas as the U.S. champion in Excel 2010 to compete with winners from more than 50 countries in the 11th annual Certiport Worldwide Competition on Microsoft Office.
“At the beginning I couldn’t believe it,” Alex said. “I’m really nervous, but it’s a really cool experience.”
In Las Vegas, Alex will compete for the title of World Champion on Excel 2010, the date being a reference to when the software was released. The competition, which includes an expense-paid trip and extra activities, will be July 31 through Aug. 1. First prize is $5,000.
Alex didn’t set out to be a champion software user. He said he was able to better learn the functions of Excel during two classes he had with Martha Roettgen, a career and technical education teacher at Green Hope High School, where he just finished his freshman year.
“I was able to do the assignments in class really fast. Then I had a bunch of free time, so I played in Excel,” Alex said.
Despite not having an extensive background in Excel, Alex said it feels like the easiest and most interesting application to use compared to Word or PowerPoint.
“It mostly came just really easily and naturally,” he said.
Initially, Alex was unaware of the competition and only wanted to obtain his certification in Excel through Certiport, a company that provides technology certification for academics and workers. Through certification, students can prove to prospective employers that they really know how to use Microsoft Office, said company spokeswoman Allison Yrungaray.
Students who take part in the certification program can choose to have their results submitted for the competition, which drew about 250,000 participants in the U.S. this year.
“The competition was started to help them learn to apply technical skills in the real world and enter the workforce and be productive,” Yrungaray said.
After Alex acquired a Master Certification, by passing regular and expert exams in Excel and Word, Outlook and PowerPoint, he seriously considered the competition, he said.
The Excel version of the exam, which simulates the Microsoft Excel program, asked Alex to perform functions in Excel to test his knowledge of the program, Yrungaray said. Functions can include creating, formatting and analyzing data and managing workbooks.
“It was really weird and different for me,” Alex said. “It’s just really a different kind of test. It’s not like you can answer questions, you have to perform the question.”
Roettgen said she helped Alex discuss strategies to help him improve his scores.
Winners of each category of the Microsoft competition were electronically selected based on their scores and times. Alex’s knowledge of Excel and his ability to understand instructions and act on them quickly are probably what made him the best in the U.S., Roettgen said.
Over the summer, Green Hope High School will allow Alex to practice taking the exam. Green Hope High became a Certiport authorized testing center this school year to provide students with an opportunity to gain a marketable skill, said Principal Jim Hedrick.
“I’m happy for Alex because he’s getting an experience of a lifetime that will probably never be duplicated again,” Hedrick said.
Having this skill can help distinguish Alex in a tough job market and help set him apart from his competition, Hedrick said. Alex, while uncertain of a specific area, said he hopes to find a career in the computer field.