A Microsoft Student Partner from Brock University talks about his experience in Seattle for the Worldwide Microsoft Student Partner summit, the 2015 Imagine Cup, experiencing Hololens first hand, breaking a Guinness World Record, and attending Microsoft’s TechReady 21
Hi! My name is James Earle. I’m a Microsoft Student Partner (or MSP) at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. I recently attended the worldwide Microsoft Student Partner summit in Seattle.
Before addressing my time in Seattle, it might be useful to know what exactly an MSP is. At universities across Canada (and around the world), we’re responsible for hosting technical demos and events to let students know what opportunities (and free things) are available to them through the Imagine Cup, the Developer Movement, Microsoft Dreamspark, and more.
Now, as this is my first blog post, it only seems right to cover the remaining content in “firsts” as well. This was my first time travelling alone, my first trip to Seattle, my first experience with Hololens, my first time breaking a Guiness World Record, and too many other “firsts” to count. It seems that during the five days I was fortunate enough to spend in Seattle I experienced more than I thought at all possible. It was a blur of sleeplessness, excitement, and most importantly education, and it was well spent making new friends and seeing new things.
Cut to Tuesday morning. It’s my first day in Seattle and 50+ exhausted MSPs from the around the world manage to find their way out of bed and into the shuttle that would take us to the Microsoft campus. We’re feeling jetlag from the many time zones we originated from, and yet we’re still brewing with excitement. The first words on our agenda for the week, “Holographic Academy”, brighten the eyes of many. Unfortunately for those who weren’t able to attend, bags had to be checked as photos were strictly prohibited so enjoy my cat, Phyllis instead.
As for the experience, Hololens felt surprisingly good to use. The headband was lightweight, and the mapping of your surroundings was very impressive. The resolution was great as well, however I couldn’t shake a feeling similar to that of putting on a new pair of glasses. You suddenly feel as though you can’t look where you want without moving your head more than you would normally. This took some getting used to.
We then walked through tutorials on using Unity with Visual Studio to develop our own hologram, and this was breezy! There was very little complexity involved with adding things like voice recognition or spatial mapping to a program. This is all included in the provided packages, and I can see app development being smooth sailing in the future. Overall, the experience was very cool, and I personally can’t wait until I’m able to pick up a device for myself and get programming!
After a long day of holograms, presentations, and getting to know other student partners at the summit, we were taken to the Washington Convention Center for Microsoft’s Tech Ready (an internal readiness conference for Microsoft employees): Ask the Experts event. The MSPs were given the opportunity to present their own personal projects at a few tables immediately adjacent to the Imagine Cup finalists (intimidating, right?)
I decided to present two projects I’ve been working on recently: “CS Breakdown” & “Cross Border Housing” . After about 45 minutes of explaining how my mobile app and websites work, I switched out with another MSP and decided to enjoy the rest of the night by hearing what the Imagine Cup finalists had to say. I approached many of the tables, but a few in particular stood out. Team IzHard from Russia, with their game Ovivo (which went on to win the finals for the Games category) was very impressive and well designed. Prognosis, from Greece also had a very interesting display attempting to address detection of Parkinson’s disease. Then of course there was team Walkly, from our very own Queens University in Kingston, Ontario! Their mobile app is designed to improve safety for those walking alone at night via an automatic notification system to a list of trusted contacts.
It was a really interesting night, and there wasn’t a single display from the Imagine Cup finalists that didn’t make me say “wow!”, and keep in mind, everything I’ve written about so far happened on the first day! So overall it was an incredible (and very long) day, which only built up the excitement of what the rest of my week in Seattle could have in store.
Microsoft Coding Camp
All of the Microsoft Student Partners at the summit were also recruited to act as leaders for youth interested in programming. The goal was to teach coding to as many people as possible within an 8 hour period and hopefully set a Guinness World Record. We used Microsoft’s TouchDevelop platform. It has a range of difficulties, for those who haven’t coded before and for those who are much more familiar. It also has friendly blue chat boxes that continuously appear to guide novices through the steps to creating their first app. (a bit like this tutorial here)
Spoiler alert: we did it! The Guinness World Record for the most people taught coding in an 8 hour period was broken, and fortunately so. It was likely the most tiring day of my entire trip, but was most definitely worth it. Being able to get so many people excited about programming and technology was truly inspiring, and lots of the kids managed to leave with free Minecraft gear, or a Raspberry Pi 2 if they were really lucky.
After a long day of teaching over 1300 people coding, the MSPs and Imagine Cup finalists were invited to Microsoft’s TechReady party at Century Link Field. This was an awesome way to end the day, because we were all able to relax, eat, dance, and enjoy the activities being held for the party, like chain link fence artwork, Xbox One’s free to be played, pool tables, soccer, football, and lots more.
Imagine Cup Finals
Dawn of the final day, and it’s time to watch the best of the best compete for the Imagine Cup. At this point, it had been narrowed down to the top three teams, who each won first in their category, and are now competing for best overall. In the competition there was team IzHard from Russia with Ovivo, eFitFashion from Brazil, and Virtual Dementia from Australia. All of their work was extremely impressive, and their pitches on stage equally so. It was nearly impossible to decide who was going to win, which only made sitting in the audience that much more interesting.
After hearing every presentation, and listening oh-so intently when Satya Nadella took the stage (the man has quite a presence), it was decided that the Brazilian team with eFitFashion would take home the Imagine Cup grand prize. It was all very exciting, especially being able to see their reaction as they ran on stage nearly in tears. You could tell how hard each team had worked to get to where they were, and they each deserved to be on that stage without a doubt.
And just like that, it was over.
The week had officially finished at the end of the Imagine Cup. There was nothing left except to snap a few group photos, and finally get some free time to explore Seattle. No more special events or experiences. It certainly left little to be desired, however, as despite the week being so tiresome it was still an incredible experience. I was lucky enough to meet MSPs, interns, and full-time Microsoft employees from all over the world. That’s not something everybody was able to experience this summer, and for that I’m truly grateful.
All in all, I can only hope to revisit Seattle again sometime in the near future. The week spent with other MSPs at the summit, Imagine Cup, and other events was only a small taste of what I’m sure the city has to offer. I’m rating this one 10/10, would do again.
(Susan Ibach here… I manage the MSP program in Canada, if you read this post and you want to become an MSP in Canada email firstname.lastname@example.org we generally interview new MSPs in the spring, and we occasionally take a few new MSPs in January)