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Free classes help students, job seekers, retirees and others brush up on technology skills

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman, News Writer

Andy HillPhoto courtesy of the Office of the Secretary of State. Senator Andy Hill speaks at the launch of Washington’s IT Academy, a joint effort between the state of Washington and Microsoft to provide free computer training to state residents. As the Senate’s chief budget writer, Hill secured $1.5 million for the program in the current state budget.A self-described "geek" who also happens to be a state senator helped provide access to free technology training courses for everyone in Washington.

Sen. Andy Hill, who represents the 45th District and is chairman of the Senate’s budget writing committee, provided money in the state’s budget for the IT Academy program that Microsoft and the Secretary of State’s office wanted to offer.

Three different levels of technology classes — basic literacy skills, Microsoft Office skills and advanced skills for IT professionals — cover topics from the basics of Windows to computer programming.

The free classes are offered in libraries throughout the state, and King County library cardholders can access them online at home. After completing the courses, participants can pay to get a certification that’s required for some jobs in the IT field.

The courses have already been "tremendously successful" in high schools, Hill said, but they’re not only for students. Hill is trying to convince his wife to get re-certified in Windows.

"It has broad use," Hill said of the IT Academy courses. "You’ll see people that are trying to upgrade their tech skills, both people who are employed and people who are looking for a job … It’s a great opportunity for veterans to upgrade their skills. It’s a great opportunity for people who are retired."

Hill’s background in technology goes back to his childhood.

"I taught myself to program when I was in eighth grade," he recalled. "My dad bought one of those Radio Shack computers."

After studying computer science, physics and math in college, Hill worked at Microsoft, and he’s used that experience throughout his career, he said. For example, he was the first senator who asked to see budget documents in spreadsheet form rather than paper form so he could experiment with the numbers.

Hill emphasized that the $1.5 million the state paid for the IT Academy is a great deal compared to the $22 million it would have cost the libraries to purchase the courses separately.

"Microsoft is providing a 90 percent discount on this," Secretary of State Kim Wyman said in a press release. "This is an incredible bargain for Washingtonians and our libraries."

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