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Microsoft Student Partner

Imagine Cup World Finals 2014

I’ve been very lucky this year because I’ve had a rather busy Summer Break. Rather than sitting around being bored I was fortunate enough to be in an Imagine Cup world finalist team, and then spend a month road-tripping around the United States with my friend Rob. The only downside has been that I’ve been unable to blog about it all! So I’ll try to catch up on it now.

This years Imagine Cup World Finals were held in the wonderful city of Seattle, Washington, just a few short miles from Microsofts headquaters in Redmond, Washington.

I arrived in Seattle and met with the rest of the UK team, with whom I had only ever spoken to online. Our team was called Vanguard and we developed a product called Ripple, a Windows Phone application which allows you to contact people close to you — simply put, a location-based social network. I had developed both the consumer-facing front-end application and the back-end web services.

The Imagine Cup UK Team, from left to right - Mikky, Femi, Danny (me!), Guilliame, our MS representative Rebecca, and our mentor Callum
The Imagine Cup UK Team, from left to right – Mikky, Femi, Danny (me!), Guilliame, our MS representative Rebecca, and our mentor Callum

Microsoft had clearly already shown an interest in the product by making it the winner of the UK heat and promoting it to the World Finals, our job for the first few days of our trip in seattle was to make a splash on the world stage by presenting a complete business-and-technological pitch as well as provide live hands-on demonstrations to both the judges and the public.

The first two days of being in Seattle were manic, sub-five-hour-sleeping days, packed full of pitch writing, code changes and endless pitch practices.

On the third day we presented our application to the world finals judges for the first time, and for any team — let alone one that had only met face-to-face 48 hours prior — I felt we did pretty well. The team laid out the problem cases that the application resolved, a monitization strategy, and some figures on the potential market size. I presented an outline of how our system worked, some of the unique features and algorithms, and a live demonstration.

Later on the third day we had a showcase at the Microsoft Redmond campus for people on-site to try out our applications and provide feedback. The first thing I must say is how beautiful Microsoft’s campus is — it’s really green, with lots of trees and plants, and very inviting. Its definately somewhere I could see myself in the future.

The Blue Angels fly over Microsoft HQ in Redmond
The Blue Angels fly over Microsoft HQ in Redmond

The Imagine Cup took place on the same week as Seafair, a festival of boat racing, air shows and fireworks in seattle. Here you can see the Blue Angels (the american equvilent of the Red Arrows) practicing over MS HQ.

Erik Martin's Selfie using Ripple
Erik Martin’s Selfie using Ripple

A particularly proud moment at this showcase was when Reddit’s General Manager — and one of TIME’s top 100 most influencial people in 2012 — Erik Martin took a selfie using the application I had built.

Day four rolled around quickly, after a night of fixes and changes based on the feedback of people at the Microsoft showcase — which was the first time the application had been used extensively in public. Day four was all about showcases, but the first one was to the judges so we pulled out all the stops. The judges were really useful and gave a lot of feedback about the application, business ideas and development practices. Later in the day we were fortunate enough to be invited to meet Steven Guggenheimer, the man in charge of developer experience at Microsoft. The one thing that stands out to me from day 4 of the event was how surprised both the judges and Steven was at how much we had managed to accomplish in just under 2 weeks of development time, with only one developer. Many of the other applicants had been writing their applications for years.

Day four signalled the end of the competition matters for us, we just had a while to relax and wait for the results. In this time we kayaked (and fell into…) Lake Washington and had a few beers with both the locals and our fellow competitors. It really was great fun to meet people from all around the world who are as passionate about development and technology. We also had time to look round the Microsoft Employee store and catch the fireworks at Seafair.

 I found these T-shirts way funnier than I should have done

The results of the competition were accounced at the Washington Convention Centre in front of several thousand microsoft staff. Myself and the UK team were the first people in so we got to sit in the front row with Satya Nadella (Microsoft CEO), Alexey Pajitnov (Inventor of Tetris), Erik Martin (GM, Reddit) and Hadi Partovi (Code.org, Co-founder) which was really cool.

Unfortunately we didn’t win, but I think everyone in the team can be proud of how much we did in such a short space of time, and with the limited resources at our disposal. I’m thinking of probably entering again next year with a team of my own, and I would encourage everyone else to do the same.

I’d like to thank Microsoft for the amazing oppertunity, both to be in the competition and to visit the beautiful city of Seattle — below you can see some pictures of the UK team exploring the city in the 2 days we had before our flight back to the UK 🙂

Danny

Categories
Life

Imagine Cup Competitor Certificate and Windows Phone Top

File this under “Stuff I should have blogged about a long time ago”.

When I got home to Dunstable from Hull in my post I discovered a certificate from Joanna Tong at Microsoft which says

This certificate is in recognition of your hard work and dedication as a competitor in Imagine Cup 2012. You are now part of an elite international community of students commited to using the power of advanced technology to change the world. Congratulations!

This certificate is presented to: Daniel Brown – Competitor, Imagine Cup 2012

Along with it came the incredibly fashionable I ❤ Windows Phone Shirt which you can see below:

I Love Windows Phone T-Shirt
I Love Windows Phone T-Shirt

Danny

Categories
Tech Reviews

Playing with Kinect on Windows

I’ve spent the last few days playing with a Kinect, which I’m borrowing from the Computer Science Department, hooked up to my Laptop which is now pretty easy to do thanks to the new release of the Kinect for Windows Platform.

I must say that when I first heard about Microsoft releasing a Natural User Interface device a few years ago I was a bit sceptical, and If I’m honest I don’t think the devices main role is that of a gaming device. Having said that it is great fun as I’m sure you can infer from the below image of James and Rob “Skeleton Fighting”.

As you can see, the device is pretty accurate (even with my head in the way of much of robs body) and it maintains a consistent frame rate of 30 – 31 frames per second even when providing highly detailed skeleton and joint information on the fly, I must say this is the most impressed I have been by any software or hardware in years.

Its not all play however, the plan is learn how to program using Kinect and its associated API’s and eventually (hopefully) get something ready for the 10th Microsoft Imagine Cup, the only problem is that so far the documentation for the latest release of the API (admittedly only a few weeks old) is pretty much non existent, or very high level. I’m sure we’ll figure it out eventually though.

Danny.