Microsoft's Imagine Cup Shines on Next Generation of Developers

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2014-08-04
Microsoft Imagine Cup

Microsoft's Imagine Cup Shines on Next Generation of Developers

Microsoft recently announced the winners of its 12th Microsoft Imagine Cup competition for student technologists, developers and aspiring entrepreneurs from across the globe.

Held for the first time in Seattle on both the University of Washington campus and the Microsoft headquarters, the Imagine Cup is a cornerstone of the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative. Over the past 12 years the Imagine Cup has empowered more than 1.7 million students worldwide to do more and achieve more through technology.

The competition started with 33,000 students from all over the world and the finals included 125 students in 34 teams. Microsoft announced the winning team on Aug. 1.

A first place team was chosen in each of the three competition categories: Games, Innovation and World Citizenship. One of those three winning teams, Eyenaemia, was then named World Champion, taking home the Imagine Cup and receiving a private meeting with Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and technology adviser.

The winners were announced at the Imagine Cup World Championship ceremony during Microsoft’s TechReady conference at the Washington State Convention Center, in front of an audience of 5,000 students, judges, partners and Microsoft employees. The ceremony was the culmination of a weeklong event and celebrates the power of student innovation.

“There is not a business, vertical industry or person on the planet untouched by technology,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, in a statement. “Imagine Cup empowers students to hack tough problems, while learning and building off the work of others. Student developers play a huge role in bringing new technologies to life in a mobile-first, cloud-first world. Congratulations to all the competitors for their hard work and creativity.”

Indeed, “We are the original student developer company and the original tools company,” Nadella said, referring to co-founder Bill Gates launching Microsoft during his era as a student at Harvard and focusing on developer needs. “We live in a time where we can imagine the impossible and make it probable.”

“This is all about giving young people access to the tools and capabilities to make the world a better place,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s executive vice president and general counsel, as he introduced the winners in the World Citizenship category.

“We have a long history of working with developers,” Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice president and chief evangelist at Microsoft, told eWEEK in an interview. “It’s where we started; it’s in our roots. Talk to our CEO, he started both as a developer and in developer evangelism. And we’ve always wanted to work with students and the community. We started this 12 years ago. It’s not about finding the next great app; it’s about having a great conversation with students. What better way than having a contest that’s global, that’s fun, that’s something we enjoy and is something they can enjoy.”

Also announced was the expansion of the Imagine Cup program to make it available for even younger students worldwide who have the desire to create and code using Microsoft technology. Through the Imagine Cup program, students are empowered to dream big, build creatively, learn through competition and boldly bring their ideas to life as they gain lifelong career skills throughout their journey.

Microsoft's Imagine Cup Shines on Next Generation of Developers

An example of that boldness came in the form of Team Butterfly, a young female duo from Bahrain that produced a nail polish mixer. While seemingly simple on its surface, the nail polish mixer is a combination of software and hardware that enables women to select a color for a nail polish to match a swatch or color of their own creation and have the mixer whip up the exact nail polish they want.

“As a father of a 16-year-old girl, I know how big a deal this can be,” Guggenheimer gushed.

“Imagine Cup is about fostering new ideas and encouraging students to push the boundaries and imagine what’s possible now and in the future,” Guggenheimer said in a statement. “Student developers play a huge role in helping to bring new technology innovations to life in ways that shape the way we work, live and play. Going forward, Microsoft’s Imagine Cup program aims to empower even more students, at younger ages, with the technologies, skills and resources to build a lifelong passion for technology, helping to grow the next generation of innovators.”

Eyenaemia, a team of two software developing medical students from Australia, took home $50,000 and the Imagine Cup. With Eyenaemia, Jennifer Tang and Jarrel Seah created a simple and non-invasive screening tool for anemia that analyzes and calculates the risk for conjunctiva through eye selfies. The team, which won first place in the World Citizenship category, was victorious over the other two first place winners in the Games and Innovation categories: Brainy Studio from Russia and Estimeet from New Zealand, who also won $50,000 each.

In the games category, Russia’s Brainy Studio won first place with its TurnOn game. Team Bomon from Korea won second place and $10,000 for its Under Bed game, and Egypt’s team Illogic won third place and $5,000 for its Puppy in Bubble game.

New Zealand’s Estimeet won the $50,000 first place prize and a trip to Microsoft Ventures Boot Camp in the Innovation category. Team Tep from Hungary won $10,000 second place prize and Bahrain’s team Butterfly won the $5,000 third place prize.

The Estimeet app shows users all their friends’ distance and estimated time of arrival from the meeting location as well as whether they are on their way.

Coming in behind Eyenaemia in the World Citizenship category was Taiwan’s team SMART crew with its project Versatility of Usens: From Lab to Life, claiming the $10,000 second place prize and Ireland’s team Access Earth, with project Access Earth for the $5,000 third place prize.

The SMART crew’s tool gives stroke patients the tools to measure their progress through a wearable motion detector system. The Access Earth tool was referred to as “TripAdvisor for the mobility impaired.”

Part of Microsoft’s goal with the Imagine Cup has always been to help foster the next generation of professional software developers. The company called on renowned members of the tech community to serve as judges in the various categories, including the company’s own Bill Buxton of Microsoft Research and John Shewchuk, a Microsoft Technical Fellow considered one of the top developers at the company. In addition, Microsoft tapped Nadella, Erik Martin, general manager of, and Founder Hadi Partovi to choose from the final three teams and select a winner.

Microsoft's Imagine Cup Shines on Next Generation of Developers

“It’s just amazing to see what can be done in so little time,” Martin told eWEEK. “Some of the teams have been working on this for a long time, but some of them created their projects just for this event. So you can see what’s possible. And this opens the eyes of other potential developers out there to see just the variety of things that can be done and to have some insight into the problems and puzzles they are trying to solve. It makes it less overwhelming and less intimidating.”

Shewchuk said having Microsoft sponsor the competition is key because it is one of the most unique companies around in terms of having assets in the enterprise, on the clients, in the cloud, on Xbox. “If you want to do something interesting, if you want to do next-generation interface, if you want to do something in the enterprise space, if you want to do something different, it’s kind of hard to beat the opportunity that this company offers,” he told eWEEK.

Moreover, “The other thing I would say is we used to be the Windows, Windows, Windows, Windows company,” Shewchuk said. “Now we’ve got people running huge systems in Unix with Node.js and AngularJS and Bootstrap on the client. It’s not the old Microsoft. We’re out there hacking with the new technologies. We’re having fun with people and we’re trying to engage people with wherever they want to go to and see what we can do to help and to really push the envelope. So kids can come in wherever they are in their area of development and we’re able to be great partners across the board.”

Martin said as far as the students using Microsoft technology, “I think that’s neither here nor there. It's more about the company getting excited and getting behind it. I wish more companies were doing things like this to support students and to support projects around the world.”

When seeking new, young talent, Martin said he looks “for people who’ve done stuff. I ask people what have you done. It doesn’t matter where you went to school -- that means something, but more importantly it’s a question of what have you done, especially on a team. Because it’s easy to look smart in a classroom or on a laptop by yourself, but can you work with other people and get along and solve problems?”

Partovi told eWEEK he thinks what’s really special about the Imagine Cup is that it creates a worldwide level of interest in students and the youth in building apps and platforms and solutions. “This event is such heads and shoulders above what you might expect a student competition to be,” he said. “And the excitement to bringing this to the student community in a mobile-first world is just great.”

Microsoft is helping Partovi’s promote its mission amongst new and burgeoning developers.

“I’m an old time Microsoft alum and Microsoft’s strength has always been in reaching out to developers and getting developers excited,” he said. “And the new round of tools is designed for a mobile-first, cloud-first world which is Microsoft's big vision right now.”

Meanwhile, Guggenheimer noted that “Now it’s an open environment so it’s [the competition] not limited,” he said. “We’ve increased the number of categories. If you talk to the students, they use lots of different software back ends, they use lots of different code. Of course we want them to use some Microsoft technology, but, look, in today’s world they use some of our stuff and some of others’ and that’s OK.”

Rocket Fuel