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.
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 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.
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 🙂
Last week I was lucky enough to be put in contact with Guilaume and the rest of the team at Ripple. Ripple is a start-up of three students who have recently won the UK leg of the Microsoft Imagine Cup with their idea for a location based messaging app which allows you to contact people you may not know within a certain distance of your location – great for something such as freshers week where you want to meet new people.
Though Ripple have won the UK leg of the competition with their idea they are yet to have actually built the product. The three people currently involved with ripple had a great idea, but lacked the programming skills required to bring it to fruition. In order to find a student able to help them develop the application they contacted the Microsoft Student Partner program. Through the MSP program I got in touch with Ripple.
After a few Skype video conferences and telephone calls the team welcomed me on board, which means that through an odd bit of luck I am now an Imagine Cup 2014 finalist.
The Imagine Cup is a global student-only competition run by Microsoft in 190 countries which seeks to get students involved in solving social, economic and environmental problems through the use of technology. Each year winners from each country go to the world final in a different city to compete against each other – this year’s final is being hosted in Microsoft’s own back-yard, Seattle.
Winners can walk away with up to $50,000 prize money and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and current CEO Satya Nadella, so wish us luck! Regardless of how well we do I can’t wait to visit Seattle and do some of the awesome activities Microsoft has lined up for us, including going up the famous space needle.
I will, of course, keep the blog updated throughout the course of development and the competition itself.