Sal McKeown on a student whose Excel skills won him a trip to the US and a cash prize

It seems that in Britain we are good at quite a few things, and one of them appears to be a spreadsheet – Microsoft's Excel. Sam Millar, a 22-year-old student at University of St Andrews in Scotland, was recently named the Silver Medallist in Microsoft Excel – and picked up $3,500 prize money – at the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California.

Competitors in the final had to demonstrate their ability to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Sam, from Highfield in Belfast, graduated from the University of St Andrews in June where he studied a mixture of conservation and evolution modules. "A mild obsession with recording moths gripped me when I was 15," joked Sam, "and this was behind my decision to study biology. It’s a pursuit which involves a lot of Excel work!'

Sam looks set for an interesting career. Several local environmental organisations have taken him under their wing, offering training and the chance to do some volunteering and contract work.

As part of the competition, Sam had to work with three pages of unformatted data and turn it into a workbook in 50 minutes, following a precise set of instructions.  It was a challenge very familiar to Sam from GMetrix practice tests and the Four Nations Championship.

Half a million entries from 122 countries

"I'm a bit of a wildlife nut, and since 2009 I've been using Excel to manage my butterfly and moth records. Still, GMetrix had a lot to teach me." Sam was sponsored by UK partner Prodigy Learning and competed against 156 other finalists from 49 countries. The championship was hosted by Certiport and the competition has been endorsed by Microsoft since the first round in 2002. This year it attracted 560,000 candidates from 122 countries.

To enter the competition, students aged 13 to 22 took a qualifying Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification exam to demonstrate their mastery of Microsoft Office products.  Regional competitions were held worldwide and 157 student finalists competed in the final round of competition in Anaheim, California, USA from July 31 to August 2, 2017.

Sam Millar took 2nd place in the Excel 2013 category of the championship, and walked off with a medal and a cash prize of $3,500: "It felt just too good to be true," said Sam "I was in a daze for hours. My family are delighted and even friends are a bit impressed!"

As befits a technology enthusiast, Sam has plans to invest at least some of the prize money from the competition in further IT qualifications. "I am planning a few coffee runs for the family and more certifications," he said. "I'm eyeing up SQL and Visual Basic next."

Sally McKeownSal McKeown is a freelance journalist covering disability, education and technology. She is launching The Family Guide to Dyslexia, a series of Kindle publications available from Amazon (£3.99 each): Book 1: What You Need to Know, Book 2: The Primary Years, Book 3: The Secondary Years, Book 4: The Adult Years.

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