[Update Jan. 14: Arfa has passed away, according to reports from Pakistan. See our follow-up story: Arfa Karim Randhawa, 1995-2012: Hear her philosophy of life]
Back in 2005, working for the Seattle P-I newspaper, I got a chance to meet and write a story about an incredible 10-year-old girl from Pakistan named Arfa Karim Randhawa, who was then the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional in the world. She was visiting the Microsoft campus to meet Bill Gates and other Microsoft executives.
So this was some very tough news to see this morning: Arfa, now 16, is in critical condition after suffering an epileptic seizure. Doctors don’t believe she will survive.
As I wrote in the story about her visit to Redmond, She made an impression through a combination of charm, flattery and boldness uncommon for someone her age. For example, during Arfa’s meeting with Gates, she presented him with a poem she wrote that celebrated his life story. But she also questioned him about what she perceived to be the relatively small proportion of women on the campus.
In short, she is a remarkable person. She is also very thoughtful, and after the article ran, she made a point of keeping in touch with me via email. It was fun to periodically get messages from her out of the blue, updating me on her progress in school and her plans for the future.
Arfa was extremely proud of her accomplishment as the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional, even including the phrase “Youngest MCP in the World” in her email signature line. So a few years ago, when a 9-year-old from India broke her record, I sent Arfa a link and asked her what she thought.
I went back this morning and found her response …
“This is the first time I’ve seen this story. But I must say that I’m really happy to have read it. This is exactly what I had been wishing for ever since I got to bring laurels for my country. I am very glad to see that people are following what I did and have succeeded in beating me. I don’t know whether you’ve heard or not but a boy, named Bilal, from Gujranwala in Pakistan also became a Microsoft Certified Professional at the age of nine. I would say that the other youngsters should follow suit, thereby convincing the people to take us kids seriously. Our generation is very talented and so should be promoted.”
She was 13 at the time, and working hard in school in hopes of attending her “dream university,” MIT, where she wanted to study computer science.