For Gladiators Of PowerPoint, Microsoft Championship Will Have To Wait One More Year

Aug 1, 2020

Sunday was supposed to be the first day in a wild week of contests, culminating in a stirring awards ceremony at the 2020 Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship.

But the pandemic has put this year's competition on hold.

Every year, people aged 13 to 22 show off their wizardry with Excel, PowerPoint, Word and the rest of the Microsoft Office suite. Last year, Ashlyn Dumaw, a rising senior at Green Hope High School in North Carolina, took bronze in the PowerPoint contest.

"A lot of people think that it's kind of just making a PowerPoint or some Word document about whatever you want, and then submitting it for judging, and I have actually gotten quite a few questions about it from like fellow classmates," Dumaw told NPR. "But I don't think people realize, like, the complexity that goes into it and the different parts that you have to complete for the actual competition."

The world championship caps a long process, which in past years has involved more than a million students globally. In order to qualify for the world championship, a competitor must first pass through the state and national level competitions, and fewer than 200 people end up at the world championships.

"I guess my favorite part of the competition itself, it would just be seeing just all the people from so many different countries there," said Seth Maddox, who took gold in the PowerPoint contest last year. Maddox is currently studying computer engineering at Auburn University.

Maddox and Dumaw shared last year's stage with students from Greece, Macau, Romania and Taiwan. While Maddox said he is probably done competing, Dumaw is hopeful that she might have the opportunity to go for gold next year.

"This was my junior year of high school and so I had a lot of difficult classes that I needed to concentrate on for college applications," Dumaw said. "So I decided to take a step back this year, but I was potentially planning on doing it next year, depending on what my course load looks like then. So I guess we'll have to see for next year."

If all goes well, there will be another round of medalists in 2021 — when the 2021 Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship moves to Orlando.

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Tomorrow, youths from around the world were supposed to gather in Anaheim, Calif. No, not to ride the teacups, to compete, days of contests culminating in a stirring award ceremony...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Please give a round of applause to all of our competitors.

FADEL: ...At the 2020 Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship. Every year, students as young as 13 on up to 22 show off their wizardry with Excel, PowerPoint, Word and the rest of the MS Office Suite. But the pandemic put the kibosh on this year's event. To see what we've lost, we called two of last year's medalists.

SETH MADDOX: My name is Seth Maddox. I'm currently enrolled in Auburn University studying computer engineering.

ASHLYN DUMAW: I'm Ashlyn Dumaw. I'm from Cary, N.C., and I'm a rising senior at Green Hope High School.

FADEL: Both competed in the PowerPoint contest. Maddox got gold and $7,000, Dumaw bronze and $1,500.

DUMAW: So a lot of people think that it's kind of just making a PowerPoint or some Word document about whatever you want and then, like, submitting it for judging. And I have actually gotten quite a few questions about it from, like, fellow classmates. But I don't think people realize, like, the complexity that goes into it and the different parts that you have to complete for the actual competition.

MADDOX: To win, you have to create the PowerPoint as close to sort of the model PowerPoint as you're supposed to make in a short amount of time. You have to use what you know about the program, about the font sizes, about paragraph spacing, about borders, about colors.

FADEL: The world championship caps a long process, which in past years has involved more than a million students globally.

DUMAW: It's different for the state level and the national level and the world level. So for the state level, all you have to do is take the certification test like you would normally just to get certified in that particular area. So you have to get first in states to be able to go to nationals. And then at the national competition, so you start with just a raw text file. So you don't get any sort of, like, blank presentation. You have to open it yourself and do all of the formatting, like, based on the instructions that they give you and based on the knowledge that you have of that program. So you do have to consider accuracy first and foremost. But time is also a factor. So you can't just spend, like, all the time in the world doing one thing.

FADEL: Fewer than 200 people end up at the World Championships.

MADDOX: I guess my favorite part of the competition itself it would just be seeing just all the people from so many different countries there.

FADEL: Seth Maddox and Ashlyn Dumaw shared last year's stage with students from Greece, Macao, Romania and Taiwan. Maddox is in college now and proudly done competing. Dumaw isn't necessarily resting on her laurels.

DUMAW: I don't, like, go around, and - I mean, I would say a lot of people at school don't exactly know about these competitions because they're not super publicized or anything. But I've definitely gotten a lot of questions from people about, like, oh, how do I do this in Microsoft Word? Or how do I add this type of thing in PowerPoint? And it's just really cool to be able to use the skills that you've learned and to help others with it. This was my junior year of high school, and so I had a lot of, like, different classes that I needed to concentrate on for college applications. So I decided to, like, take a step back this year, but I was potentially planning on doing it next year depending on what my course load looks like then. So I guess we'll have to see for next year.

FADEL: If all goes well, we'll see another round of medalists in 2021 when the World Championship moves to Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.