Microsoft Pushes Innovation in 'Oneweek' Hackathon

Is Microsoft mere days away from the next big thing? The internal initiative encourages company insiders to put their best ideas forward.

Microsoft innovation

Microsoft is hoping to spur innovation at the company by hosting a two-day hackathon on July 29 to 30.

The hackathon is part of "Oneweek," which Microsoft described in a corporate blog post as "CEO Satya Nadella's effort to reinvent the way the company does business and to encourage the rise of brilliant ideas no matter where they originate." The week-long series of events kicks off today with a company forum "where leadership will set priorities for the year."

Frank X. Shaw, corporate vice president of Microsoft Communications, said in a statement that the company wanted to "kick off the new fiscal year [FY15] in a new way." On July 22, the company reported a solid close to its 2014 fiscal year, despite a drag on the company's profits due to the Nokia acquisition.

A week earlier, Microsoft announced that it was laying off 18,000 employees, mostly from Nokia. The cuts arrived soon after Nadella's July 10 memo in which he stated that "fundamental cultural changes" were in store for the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. "Nothing is off the table," he wrote, ominously.

With Oneweek, Microsoft is signaling that the company is further breaking with tradition as it seeks to turn the page on its PC-based past.

"We wanted to have a week-long celebration that was global in nature, as opposed to a single, Redmond-based activity that was streamed globally," said Shaw. "We wanted to make sure that we combined the Product Fair in with the rest of the activities. And, more importantly, we wanted to have a hackathon that the entire company could participate in."

On Monday and Tuesday, more than 2,200 teams will bring new ideas to the table. "The projects focus on everything from digital graffiti art to an add-in for Outlook that checks the validity of hyperlinks in an email before it's sent," stated the company. "The hackathon being open to everyone at the company is also meant to encourage fresh ideas."

Projects include Ability Hackathon: Eye Gaze, a 20-person team made up from members of the various divisions, including Xbox, Surface, the Cloud and Enterprise Group and Microsoft Research China. Their goal is to advance the company's eye-tracking technology, allowing disabled users like former NFL player Steve Gleason, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), to more fully control the Surface Pro hardware without assistance, such as physically turning the device on and off.

Another hackathon project, Family Album, seeks to create a virtual family museum, of sorts, from pictures, videos and shared online content. According to team leader Tracey Trewin, general manager of technical evangelism and development at Microsoft, the project helps tackle one of the thornier issues of death in the modern era: accessing the digital mementos that loved ones leave behind.

"I think there's just something comforting about putting them somewhere that is a place you believe is probably going to be around when you're not here," she stated. Her team includes members of Microsoft engineering, Cloud and Enterprise, Digital Life & Work Development and Developer User Experience.

Another team, called Hack the Markets, is leveraging the company's big data know-how to forecast the effects of human behavior on markets. The team seeks to "understand investor behavior and then predict market moves as well as macroeconomic indicators given people's mental state," wrote the company in a separate blog post.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...