Career Factor: Microsoft's online reality show where IT meets the social web

Microsoft is using social media as foundation for a web-based reality show following the career quests of nine participants. You can follow their exploits online (e.g., at work when the boss isn't looking), no television required. The Career Factor website went live last week, but the nine participants only started updating their quests yesterday.

The website describes itself as an "online reality show based on the experiences of nine IT personalities. Each of our candidates have set a professional goal for themselves, and have invited you to follow their every step along the way." Each participant has a personal page where "you can explore their backgrounds, learn from their experiences and share your findings. You'll find videos, links to learning resources, tips and updates via their blog and various social media outlets."

It's rare enough to see someone talking about or using social media to advance IT anything -- let alone careers or learning -- so I was interested to see what Microsoft hoped to accomplish and what benefits there would be to participants and those people following their quests.

"In early November Microsoft Learning issued a casting call for the nine different story arcs, where candidates sent in an application accompanied by a video introduction of why they think they would be good for the show," a spokesman for Microsoft explained. "The participants were selected in mid-December and started prepping for the launch."

People can follow each participant on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and the icons are quite prominently placed. Each participant's page offers tabs to view "status," "video," "blog" and "bio." Videos are posted to YouTube, and there are additional social sharing options on participants' blogs.

Who are these people:

Steve is an unemployed job seeker from Brisbane, Australia. His career goal: "Update skills and certifications to find a new job."

Tim is a senior IT architect from New York City. His career goal: "Transition skills to Exchange and Active Directory."

Kevin is a student from Dallas, Texas. His career goal: "Find a job after graduating from college."

Bojan is an "aspiring Microsoft Certified Master" from London. His career goal: "Complete the MCM: Exchange Server 2010 course."

Eddie is a barista from San Diego. His career goal: "Transition back into the IT industry and obtain TS and PRO level certifications."

Rabeb is a student from Tunis, Tunisia. Her career goal: "To develop and release a Windows Phone 7 app to the Marketplace."

Neil is a "senior software development engineer" from Dublin, Ireland (he is moving to Terrace, Canada). His career goal: "To learn how to develop an application on Windows and SQL Azure."

Simon is a principal software engineer from Chester, UK. His career goal: "Get team certified to meet Microsoft Partner competency requirements."

Caroline is a student from Calgary, Canada. Her career goal: "Train to compete and succeed at the 2011 Certiport Worldwide Competition on Office."

Not all the participants have posted content. As I write, there were none for Neil, Simon and Caroline. Considering this is only officially Day 2, they can be excused. :)

Microsoft couldn't have foreseen the political upheaval in Tunisia, which piqued my interest in following Rabeb. In a blog post dated today she writes about the important responsibility she feels participating in Career Factor and her family's pride in her. "Moreover, it's the perfect opportunity to show the world that Tunisia is a small country that holds a great nation," she writes. "My country is going through big changes these days. So, my duty is to help build it and show the world that we have innovative people, great minds and brilliant ideas."

Career Factor is an intriguing concept because it's not some amorphous learning or certification site but real people looking to IT learning/training to improve their lives. Microsoft's challenge will be garnering interest in the participants -- or, better, that the self-described reality show goes viral among IT professionals.

This is just the beginning, but where does it all end? "Career Factor will continue through TechEd North America between May 16-19, where the participants will meet each other in person for a reunion video (or it should be a union video I guess, since they have never met in person)," the spokesman for Microsoft said.

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