# Sunday, 27 May 2018

IMG_0659Two weeks ago, I attended my first Imagine Cup event - the US Finals in San Francisco. Yesterday, I attended my second.

The Canadian Imagine Cup Finals took place in Vancouver, BC. Six finalists competed for the right to advance to the International Finals in Redmond in July.

This event was smaller and shorter than the corresponding US event; but equal in energy. Every one of the teams showed great creativity, strong technical skills, and impressive presentations.

I was excited that all 6 finalists came from schools with which I work. First place went to SmartArm - a project that provides affordable prosthetic arms for amputees - a team I helped mentor at the UTHacks hackathon in January in Toronto.

I'm getting used to these Imagine Cup projects and competitions and I'm looking forward to the world finals.

Sunday, 27 May 2018 17:35:17 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 21 May 2018
Monday, 21 May 2018 16:37:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, 15 May 2018

I have been working with North American universities since joining Microsoft almost 5 years ago.

The school year is winding down for most colleges, so I'd like to talk about ways that Microsoft is helping university students in North America.

Azure for Students

This offering provides $100 Azure cloud computing credit free to any student. It is a good opportunity to learn about cloud computing and test the services in Azure. You can sign up with an EDU email address at http://aka.ms/Azure4Students. No credit card is required.

  • $100 credit for 1 year
  • Access to all of Azure
  • No credit card required

Microsoft Student Partner

Microsoft Student Partners (or MSPs) serve as Microsoft advocates on campus, providing workshops and information about Microsoft technology. In exchange, they receive education from Microsoft and (sometimes) a few prizes. It is a good way to increase the networking, education, and employability of a student. You can learn more at https://imagine.microsoft.com/msp

Student Ambassador

This program is similar to the MSP program, but it is run by the Microsoft Recruiting organization.

Student Hackathons

Student hackathons have become very popular the last few years. At a hackathon, students get together on campus and build hardware and software projects in teams. Many hackathons offer prizes for the best projects and students from other universities are often welcome. Microsoft has sponsored a great many hackathons over the years, offering money, prizes, Azure credits, hardware, and mentors to answer student questions. I have personally been involved in dozens of hackathons the last 3 years.

Imagine Cup

Imagine Cup is an international competition for teams of students who build amazing projects and want to turn them into a business. The top teams in each participating country are invited to the national finals for a chance to pitch their projects to a panel of judges, who select a few teams to advance to the International Finals. The top prize for this competition is $100,000 US and a mentoring session with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. You can learn more about Imagine Cup at https://imagine.microsoft.com/Compete

DataFests

Recently, I have been involved in a few DataFests. A DataFest is a competition on campus in which students are provided a set of data they have not yet seen; and asked to provide insights into the data. Students are free to use any tools they want and many present summaries, visualizations, and predictive analyses about the data. For the 3 DataFests in which I was involved (two at the University of Toronto and one at Duke University), Microsoft provided funds for food, free Azure credits, a workshop to show how to use MS's data science tools, and mentors to answer student questions.

Internships

Microsoft offers opportunities for university students to intern with the company. Most take place in Redmond in the summer. This is a great chance to work with a product team, learn new skills, and enhance your resume. These internships are very competitive, so students are encouraged to apply early in the school year. You can learn more and apply for internships at https://careers.microsoft.com/us/en/students-and-graduates

Academic CSE Team

This is the team for which I have been working this past year. We have coordinated and executed many of Microsoft's programs around university education. My responsibilities have included talking with professors, TAs, and students about how to incorporate Azure into their classes, meeting with MSP, and mentoring at hackathons and DataFests.

And So...

Microsoft is committed to helping students learn about software and computer science. The above list is some of the opportunities for students provided by Microsoft. Microsoft’s new fiscal year begins in a few weeks and there is not guarantee these programs will remain the same next year. In fact it’s likely there will be some changes.I don't know what programs will be offered going forward, but I expect a continuing strong commitment from my employer.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018 14:54:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Wednesday, 09 May 2018

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IMG_0442We stood in San Francisco's Creativity Museum, waiting for the announcement of the top six teams at the Imagine Cup US Finals. Twelve teams from universities across the country had qualified for the US Finals, earning a trip to California and a chance to pitch and demonstrate their software, hardware, and business ideas to a panel of judges. Coding, planning, pitching, and judging were complete on this warm California evening and all that remained was the award announcements. The top six teams would win cash prizes up to $10,000 and a chance to compete in the International Imagine Cup Finals held in Redmond, WA in July.

IMG_0425One by one, the finalists heard their names called and were called to the stage to accept their awards. The winners jumped with joy and hugged one another when they were called. It was a reward for months of planning and hard work.

IMG_0434I was able to be a part of this event for the first time this year, serving on the selection committee, advising as a team mentor, and assisting the judges during and after the presentations. I was impressed by the projects, which showed remarkable creativity; I was impressed by the presentations, which were far more polished than anything I could have done at their age; I was impressed by the judges and their commitment doing to a thorough evaluation and providing constructive feedback; and I was impressed by the team that pulled together this amazing event, involving hundreds of students, professors, mentors, judges, contractors, and volunteers.

IMG_0424Students elected to solve real world problems, including

  • Using cameras and artificial intelligence to assist wheelchair-bound people;
  • A drone that captures and analyzes images to detect potential forest fires;
  • A HoloLens app to assist with remote, real-time training;
  • Using Facial Recognition AI to reunite separated refugee families

IMG_0444Every student with whom I spoke told me that Imagine Cup was a great experience and I have to agree. I am looking forward to the Canadian Imagine Cup Finals in Vancouver, BC later this month!

 

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Wednesday, 09 May 2018 11:33:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, 08 May 2018

IMG_0394The DataFest concept was created back in 2011 by the American Statistical Association. Students are provided a large data set and are given 2 full days to report on some useful insights and/or visualizations about the data.

IMG_0388I attended the ASA DataFest at the University of Toronto May 1-2. The event was organized by UT Professor Nathan Taback, who served as host.

The students – all from U of T - worked in teams of 2-4 and presented their findings on the evening of the second day. This was a judged competition with prizes for the top 4 teams.

Students had no knowledge of the data set before it was made available to them when they showed up at the venue. Data was provided by the Indeed job search engine and included information on job postings in the United States, Canada, and Germany.

IMG_0406 Following Dr. Taback's opening remarks, I delivered a presentation on Data Science tools in Azure, including demos of Machine Learning Studio and Azure Notebooks. Over half the teams ended up using these tools in their analysis.

IMG_0407In addition to the opening ceremonies, I served as a mentor during the DataFest and a judge at the end. Several professors and students donated their time as mentors during the event and judges included professors and industry professionals. I also recruited local MVPs Atley Hunter and Vivek Patel, along with user group leader Ashraf Ghonaim to serve as mentors and/or judges.

Almost 200 students attended, and 19 teams presented their findings on Day 2.

IMG_0414The winning team used Azure ML Studio to split users into low, medium, and high salary ranges and determine the factors required to move from one level to the next level above.

Microsoft donated prizes and money for food to the event (along with my time) and Azure credits for the students to use.

Tuesday, 08 May 2018 12:01:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 20 June 2016
# Friday, 22 April 2016
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MadHacks is an annual weekend hackathon hosted at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, WI. The organizers decided to move the hackathon from the spring to the fall, which left a gap of nearly 18 months between events. To maintain interest, they decided to host a smaller, 1-day hackathon on April 16. The event was billed as MadHacks Spring Fever.

85 students formed teams and submitted 18 projects.

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MadHacks organizers

I served as a mentor and a judge at this hackathon.

I also delivered a 1-hour presentation on Microsoft Cognitive Services.

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Presentation on Microsoft Cognitive Services

4 judges evaluated all the submitted projects and chose the top 3. The quality of the projects made this difficult and we had to ask several of the teams to show their project again in order to make a selection.

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The judges

Many of the projects were Microsoft branded, such as Xbox games, Azure books, and Microsoft sleeping bags.

The winning projects were:

  1. UniTravel: A mobile application that mapped a route to a destination and calculated not only the time and distance, but also the estimated cost using various transportation options.
  2. Chemical Reactor: A web app that visualized atomic motion and formed new molecules if atoms collided with a force that exceeded the enthalpy required to bond.
  3. Cellular Automata Plant: A web app that visualizes the growth of plant cells over time in a given environment.

 

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The UniTravel team
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The Chemical Reactor team

The event was organized by University of Wisconsin Microsoft Student Partner Katie Anderson.

The projects created were particularly impressive, given that they were all created in 12 hours or less.

A much larger hackathon is planned at UW-Madison in the fall semester.

Friday, 22 April 2016 13:46:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, 02 April 2016

At the beginning of this semester, Microsoft hired a new Student Partner at Indiana University. A Microsoft Student Partner (MSP) is a college student responsible for helping promote the Microsoft platform on campus. Part of that responsibility involves hosting technical events.

This new MSP invited me to campus to co-present with him. He reserved a room, ordered pizza, invited students, and brought some giveaways. We decided to present on Project Oxford - a set of web services that use machine learning to analyze images, videos, and voice. A day before the presentation, Project Oxford was renamed to Microsoft Cognitive Services, so I had to rush to update my slides and re-test all my demos.

The event was a success. Students studying computer science and related fields attended, students who were curious about the technology attended, and one Informatics professor attended.

For me, it was a rewarding experience - in part because it was a chance to connect with students and to share a cool technology that Microsoft is offering;

But more importantly, I was excited to work with the new Indiana University MSP - Tim Giard.

Tim is my son and a junior majoring in Informatics at IU. This was our first chance to work together professionally and it was one of the highlights of my year.

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Saturday, 02 April 2016 14:59:41 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Friday, 11 March 2016

The auditorium darkened. The music began and a small light appeared at the front of the room; then more. Students on stage danced and waved lanterns on ropes for an impressive musical light show to kick off the 2016 SpartaHack hackathon.

 

Students came from all over the world to attend this hackathon on the East Lansing campus. Over 200 universities were represented among the applicants. In addition to a number of international students studying on American campus, I met students who traveled to the hackathon from India, Russia, Germany, and the Philippines.

AnnaMattDavidBrian My colleague Brian Sherwin arrived in East Lansing the day before the hackathon to host an Azure workshop for 30 students - showing them how to use the cloud platform to enhance their applications. Ann Lergaard joined us a day later and we did our best to answer student questions and help them build better projects. Late Friday night, I delivered a tech talk showing off some of the services available in Azure.

Microsoft offered a prize for the best hack using our technology. It was won be 2 students who built an application that allowed users to take a photo of text with their iPhone and, in response to voice commands, read back any part of that text. The project combined Microsoft's Project Oxford OCR API with an Amazon Echo and its Alexa platform, an iPhone app, and a Firebase database.

A couple other cool hacks were:

  • ValU, an app that used Microsoft Excel to analyze historical stock price data using Excel VBA scripts.
  • Spartifai, which modified a driver, allowing a Kinect device to be used with a MacBook.

JazzBand A hackathon is an event at which students and others come together and build software and/or hardware projects in small teams over the course of a couple days. I attend a lot of hackathons and SpartaHack was one of the better organized that I've seen. Over 500 students spent the weekend building a wide variety of impressive projects - often with technology they had not touched prior to that weekend. The organizers also did a great job of providing fun activities beyond just hacking. A jazz band and a rock band each performed a set for students to enjoy during a break; a Super Smash Brothers tournament was scheduled; and a Blind Coding Contest challenged students to write code without compiling or testing to see if it would run correctly the first time in front of an audience. 

Snowman As sponsors of the event, we tried to provide some fun as well. We gave away prizes for building a snowman and for tweeting about open source technology. We also provided some loaner hardware for students; and we spent a lot of time mentoring students, which resulted in a lack of sleep this weekend.

The MSU campus has changed a great deal since I earned my undergraduate degree there decades ago. It has even changed since my son graduated from there 4 years ago. But it still felt like a homecoming for me.

 

 

Friday, 11 March 2016 16:42:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 18 January 2016
# Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Recently, I interviewed Jeawy Jang and Tae Tongnussock, two students from Thailand who built Den-Lin  - a mobile application designed to test the composition of soil. The application placed in the Imagine Cup competition last year.

Here is that interview on DevRadio.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 10:39:24 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, 07 May 2015

Throughout this past semester, teams of Purdue University students built projects with controllers, circuit boards, and other hardware. On Friday May 1, the teams gathered at Wang Hall on Campus to show off their finished projects. I was invited to be one of six judges to select the best projects.

I got to see some amazing projects. For example:

  • 2 robots playing soccer controlled via multiple users on the Internet.
  • An unmanned tank-like vehicle with sensors to map out walls and terrain (this could be sent into a disaster area that is too dangerous for people).
  • An electric car that automatically followed a light path and stopped and whistled at any object that interrupted that path.
  • A motorized reclining chair for the lazy person on the go.
  • First place ($1000 cash)went to a student who created a custom keyboard as a controller to play his game "TagPro".

Much of the funding came from General Motors, but Microsoft Recruiting sponsored as well.

I didn't see a lot of Microsoft technology but I saw some very clever ideas for both hardware and software.

This was the first Spark Challenge and the organizers were confident that it was successful enough to justify planning more.

Overall it was a great opportunity for me to see the potential of these college students.

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Robots playing soccer

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A car that follows a beam of light

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The winners are announced

Thursday, 07 May 2015 14:33:19 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 16 March 2015
Monday, 16 March 2015 15:00:55 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, 12 March 2015

March 6-8, I attended Hack The Anvil hackathon at Purdue University. About 350 student hackers - all from Purdue - attended this hackathon. I was joined by my colleague Brian Sherwin for most of the event and by Sarah Sexton on Sunday.

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Following the opening ceremony, I delivered a 30-minute tech talk describing cloud computing and Microsoft Azure I showed how to use Azure Web Sites, Azure Virtual Machines, and Azure Mobile Services. Although we didn’t offer a prize (as Microsoft often does at these events), a number of teams decided to incorporate Azure into their projects.

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We spent much of the weekend helping people debug their code. In addition to questions about Kinect and Azure, students asked questions about JavaScript and interfaces and HTTP, updating the Java SDK on a MacBook. 3 different teams set up node on Azure used Brian Sherwin's blog post (http://briansherwin.com/blog/2015/03/hack-tools-1-node-js-on-azure-with-linux-vm/) as a reference.

  • The best projects I saw using Microsoft projects were:
    An application that used Kinect to change the color and intensity of lights based on the user's hand gestures. This project integrated Python code with the C# code using the Kinect SDK. Brian Sherwin this team use the Kinect SDK and requested a copy of their source code. David Giard recorded an interview with the team.
  • A portal that allows video game enthusiasts to find other players with similar interests and to schedule multi-player games with one another. The portal was built on Azure Web Sites, the data was stored in SQL Azure and exposed via Azure Mobile Services
  • A Tampermonkey Chrome plugin built on Azure web sites that displays the text of a linked page below the link.

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Some other interesting projects were:

  • "ShotBot" - a robot bartender
  • Gloves that interact with a Wii remote to allow users to control mouse pointer movements from across the room.
  • "SmartFridge" - an Android application that allows users to scan the bar codes of the items in your refrigerator and keep track of when each item expires and when it is time to buy a new item.
  • A Java-based app to assist Dungeons & Dragons "Dragonmasters" to create the environments used in D&D.

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Many students integrated .NET or Azure into their application because we were there to help them.

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Purdue will be hosting a multi-school hackathon (BoilerMake) in the fall and I hope to attend this as well.

HackTheAnvil Photos

Thursday, 12 March 2015 14:07:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Microsoft sponsored the HackIllinois hackathon held at the University of Illinois February 27-March 1, 2015. Approximately 900 students attended. The following people from Microsoft worked on site:

  • Bill Fink, Technical Evangelist
  • David Giard, Technical Evangelist
  • Martin Schray, Technical Evangelist
  • Sarah Sexton, Technical Evangelist
  • Paul Sledd, Recruiter

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Of course, students love free stuff, so we came armed with some prizes: We gave away a t-shirt to anyone who completed a brief survey. When we ran out of t-shirts, we gave away books, stencils,mugs, and stickers. From those who completed the survey, we drew a name to win a Surface Pro 2.  William Su of Ga Tech won this drawing. We offered a HoodiePillow and a free Azure pass to anyone who wanted to incorporate Azure into their weekend hack. 42 people took advantage of this offer.

Throughout the weekend, the four evangelists answered questions from teams using Azure and other Microsoft technologies.

On the final day, we offered a Dell Venue 8 Pro to each member of the team with the best use of Azure. 18 teams completed an application with an Azure component.

It was a difficult choice and we debated for some time. One team hosted an impressive translation application on Azure; another created a GPS application that displayed the location of the user's dog and whether it had left their yard.

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We awarded the prize to a team from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology for their Flock application - a system built on a Pebble watch to communicate restaurant recommendations to friends. Most of the application logic was in an Azure web service that called out to APIs exposed by Twillio and MailJet. The Pebble watch called to the Azure API. This team spent some time at our booth asking questions of Bill and Martin. You can watch an interview with this team at Technology and Friends.

Bill Fink brought his Kinect Photo Booth and it was a big hit. Many students were drawn to our booth when they walked past and saw themselves in front of a dinosaur or live volcano on the giant monitor at our table. The Photo Booth sent out 102 emails over the weekend.

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Overall, the event was a great success - Students came away with a positive impression of Microsoft and many used Azure and Kinect that probably would not have had we not been there. Many students were unaware what Azure even is. They were excited when they found out how it could help them and their projects. One team planned to use IBM for their back-end data storage; but after struggling with the IBM service and talking with Bill, they switched to Azure and completed their project successfully.

HackIllinois Photos

Wednesday, 11 March 2015 13:48:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)