At the start of my second year at University I was informed of an opportunity to become a ‘Microsoft Student Partner’ (MSP). A couple of weeks after filling in my application I was ecstatic to hear I had been accepted into their programme. While I didn’t at all expect the journey this would take me on, it would be one that changed far more than a single new line on my CV.
The Snowball Effect
In many scenarios, being offered the position is the easy part. If you want that role to be personally rewarding, then take advantage of any and all opportunities that present themselves.
Throughout the year I applied for every meeting, webinar and corporate function available. Why? Every event is an opportunity. Being successful in any role is all about being active. Networking is an essential skill in the age we live in, if you’re in a room full of experts in your field you cannot afford to sit idly by and enjoy the complimentary buffet without leaving with a new contact.
I threw myself at the programme and did everything within my power to make my time as part of it as successful as possible. In addition to the various events I attended, I organised and ran both workshops and tutoring sessions, aided with the organisation of two University hackathons and secured sponsorship for the yearly Global Game Jam competition. A collective reach of ~250 students.
Along with the active involvement and initiative from everyone involved in the newly founded hackathon society, we managed to take Birmingham City University’s hackathon involvement from little to no presence to #5 in Europe based on the MLH Seasonal Standings. I was later given the position of Student Partner Regional Lead as well as the additional role as chairman of the Microsoft Sponsorship Committee.
Attending the Worldwide Summit
It was an incredible honour to have been chosen as one of the 4 UK MSPs to attend the summit, before the feeling had really hit me I was in the air on a 9 hour non-stop flight to Seattle, Washington.
After arriving at the dorms I’d be staying in, I had the chance to talk to some of the other MSPs, a few of which had been traveling for nearly double the duration I had! Being able to both see some of the incredible work being done by student partners across the world and the overall atmosphere was a remarkable feeling. Everyone participating was enthusiastic and had a passion for what they did.
Now, as one may come to expect from a games programmer, the Hololens is something I’ve been following since its initial inception. I thought my chances of actually being able to get my hands on testing with it were next to none. Heck, even most of the staff at Microsoft hadn’t tried it yet!
Side note: If you haven’t seen/heard of Hololens yet, I’d recommend watching this short video, I couldn’t do justice for such a beautiful piece of technology in a couple of sentences.
You’ve probably already guessed from the buildup I’ve written that I did indeed get to test-drive the Hololens. Not only that, we were able to do so without an NDA in a development setting. After entering a room I can only describe as a technologist’s paradise we were given an open Unity project, followed a few steps and before long we had networked player avatars that other people could shoot!
Despite best efforts, I was not given permission to smuggle one out with me.
If my organisation/participation history with hackathons has taught me anything it’s that if there’s a group of inspired individuals and an IDE, good things are going to happen. Following on from an IoT (Internet of Things) talk, a room full of hardware and open terminals awaited us. Utilising the kits, Azure and a bit of code, groups of four were tasked with creating a football robot to compete with other MSPs to win an Xbox One.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/imaginecup/28748608645/
The best part of this, however, was the day after where all MSPs would attend a special event at the local secondary school, Garfield High School. We roamed the hall and assisted all of the budding young students with their creations and showed them some of the possibilities that IoT can offer. A programmer will often be asked “How do you know that?”. While helping one group in particular someone asked me, “What do I need to do to know that?” and that passion is what fuels a great learner. There wasn’t a single student in that gymnasium without ambition, granted some of that ambition may be at the prospects of winning an Xbox, but ambition nonetheless!
Imagine Cup World Finals
As an Imagine Cup National Finalist myself, I can greatly appreciate the effort and commitment from every competitor involved. After listening to an introductory speech from Microsoft figureheads Steven Guggenheimer (Chief Evangelist) and even Satya Nadella (CEO) himself, we were left with the following: “We can imagine solutions that to date have not been possible”, a quote of which is a true testament to the potential modern day technology has to offer.
The Imagine Cup has 3 categories, each with their own set of criteria, the winners of each of these were as follows:
Games: PH21 – Timelie
PH21 of Thailand created a stealth puzzle game with an unpredictable storyline and an unusual gameplay system. The player controls Marza, a mysterious woman who has stolen a device with the power to see the future, and Alpha, a little girl who has the ability to manipulate time. The two characters must cooperate to overcome obstacles and find the best route for each puzzle.*
Innovation: ENTy (Overall Winner)
The ENTy team of Romania created a high-tech wearable device that tracks the balance of the internal ear and checks the spine posture in real time. The device is the size of a door key and is worn on the back or head and can detect inner ear problems and other data that can be useful to doctors in diagnosing patients.*
World Citizenship: Amanda
The AMANDA team of Greece developed a gamified virtual reality app to help combat bullying. It puts users in 3D interactive scenes, many involving bullying, to gauge their responses and focus on boosting empathy, awareness and self-esteem. The project is named for Amanda Todd, a Canadian teen who made a video detailing her experience of being bullied before taking her own life in 2012.*
Being an MSP has been an invaluable experience both educationally and professionally. The programme very much supports a phrase I’ve been mindful of since starting University, “You are responsible for creating your own success”. With dedication, discipline and a true passion for what you do, anything is possible.
Special Thanks: Dr. Thomas Lancaster, Sunbir Alam, Lee Stott, Andrew Webber, Dr. Andrew Wilson, BCU: HaCS