New Zealand 2016 Year in Review

As we see 2016 come to a close, lets take the time and reflect on the past year.

At the start of 2016, we welcomed 4 new MSPs to the team. With the new MSPs on board, we kicked off 2016 starting with Imagine Cup Junior. Aimed at high school students between years 9 to 13, the team traveled to roughly 14 high schools around the Auckland area and provided hands on training, covering basic programming fundamentals, then moving onto building their very own game with Construct 2. This year for the first time we also had a version of Imagine Cup targeted at high school student. Every student who came along to our workshops were invited to take part in the competition. Students then had roughly a month to work on their games leading up to finals. The winners were announced on stage during the national Imagine Cup finals. Full step-by-step course can be found here.

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All while we MSPs were training high school students game development, we also had tertiary students competing in the global Imagine Cup competition. Throughout January and February we held weekend long hackathons for those students competing. We’d invite teams to Microsoft during the weekends leading up to the finals. Team would come along to work and refine their ideas during this time. We’d see each and every team during this time and provide feedback and guidance.

Then in March we held the Imagine Cup nation finals in the Auckland town hall. We kicked off the evening by announcing the top three high school students. The winners would come on stage and accept their prizes. First place took home an Xbox One bundle! Afterwards the we announced the top four winners of the global Imagine Cup competitions. Each team, as they’re announced, gives an eight minute presentation in front of 1200 guests and a panel of four judges. After all four teams had finished presenting, the judges deliberated. During this time while we waited, we were kept entertained by a laser show. Once the judges had finished deliberating, they came back and announced first, second, and third. The winners won $5000 and moved onto the APAC regional finals, where, they had the chance to move onto the global finals held in Seattle.

NZ Imagine Cup country finals.
NZ Imagine Cup country finals.

This year, the winning team was Team Clove. Their solution is a platform where aspiring chefs can sell their creations from the comfort of their home while promoting healthy eating. They were also fortunate enough to make it through APAC and travel all the way to Seattle to compete in the world finals. Full interview with RadioLive can be found here.

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Imagine Cup NZ 1st place winners Team Clove!

At the same time holding the Imagine Cup national finals, we also kicked off the Microsoft Student Accelerator programme (MSA) for 2016. Tertiary students could now sign up for the programme and receive updates on when we’re hosting workshops and bootcamp weekends. From this point until the first module of phase 1 is due, we spent our time promoting the programme in and around campus, getting the word out and building up hype for the programme.

For module one of phase one students were required to watch 5 MVA videos around C# fundamentals, to activate their DreamSpark benefits, and have Azure ready for module two. The purpose of watching MVA videos was to get those unfamiliar with C# up-to-speed so we had a somewhat levelled playing field before we continued on with the programme. Link to the module brief can be found here. By the end of the deadline we had just over 2,000 students registered for the Microsoft Student Accelerator programme.

In early July fallow MSP Riya Baby planned and organise our first ever Girls in Tech workshop. We had roughly 80 female students from around the Auckland area with some out of town students taking the hour and half long drive just to attend. We had a couple inspirational speakers who took the career pathway into tech and encouraged others to follow suit. Participants then had the opportunity to move around and talk with people who work in various divisions within Microsoft NZ and learn how they landed their role with Microsoft. After the day had wrapped, those who were interested, we held a web development workshop. Student activated their Dreamspark benefits along with Azure. We created a simple website that, using cognitive services, analysed any given image and showed the results back to the user. Full content can be found here.

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Group photo of those who came along to the Girls in Tech event at Microsoft.

In 2016 we also partnered up with holiday programme JHack for another year. JHack is a holiday programme opened to students from all years. In July we kicked off a version of Imagine Cup just for those students taking part in the holiday programme. Similarly to workshops ran with high school students at the beginning of the year, we taught game development with Construct 2. Students could either work in teams of three or on their own. Students had roughly three months to complete their game and have it deployed to Azure. Full content can be found here.

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JHack July 2016

Along with running Girls in Tech and the kickoff event for JHack, we also released module two guidelines to students of the Microsoft Student Accelerator programme. Students were to create a web app that had to be host on Azure, be responsive, use TypeScript and use source control. Full guideline can be found here.

With module two released, for those students struggling we held a weekend bootcamp just for them. During this bootcamp we covered HTML, CSS and JavaScript, different development environments, using Bootstrap and jQuery plugins, using REST APIs, utilising TypeScript, the ins and outs of source control and deploying to Azure. At the end of the weekend, students should have a web app that, using cognitive services and the emotion API, could detect the mood of an image and recommend a song from SoundCloud based on the emotion detected. Full content can be found here.

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Phase one, module two bootcamp.

As winter turns to spring, in early September we announced the winners of the JHack competition. In the team category we saw roughly 30 entries with an additional 24 entries coming from the individual category. Games were ranked on uniqueness and originality, playability, purpose, and art. The day began with a quick recap of what they’ve learned. Next we got into a couple games while we wait for the judges and guest speakers to arrive. Once everything was ready we made our way to the auditorium where the winners would be announced. A couple guest speakers spoke about themselves and the importance of fostering a healthy obsession in the STEM fields.

Shortly after the top 3 winners in each category was announced. Students then had to present their games in front of a panel of judges with their peers and family sitting in the audience. The judges then went away and deliberated, tallied each the scores of each entry they saw and then come up with 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in each category. The winners were then announced by country GM Barrie Sheers and Mayor of Auckland Len Brown.

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JHack participants

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JHack winners!

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The MSP/Microsoft team

Late October was New Zealand’s turn to host Microsoft Ignite. The majority of MSPs had exams during this time so couldn’t attend but those who could had roles and responsibilities at the event. A couple of our MSPs were even interviewed about the MSP programme here in New Zealand and what we’re doing with the Microsoft Student Accelerator programme. Links can be found here and here.

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Jason Goodsell interviewed by Seth Juarez

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Riya Baby and Jay Janarthanan interviewed by Rick Claus

November was a busy month for us. Exams had finished for the semester which means giving us more time to focus all our efforts on MSA and our students. The first couple of weeks was spent getting content ready for phase 2 of the programme. This year we did something a little different. In pervious years phase 2 was a week long bootcamp where we’d book out a lecture theatre at one of the universities and teach across the 5 days. This year however, we had Developer Day smacked right in the middle of the week with special guest, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella headlining the keynote.

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Satya Nadella at Developer Day NZ 2016!

MSPs played an important role on the day. For the first time MSPs were put into teams of 3-4 and pitted against each other to see who, by audience vote, had the best solution after a weekend’s worth of coding. So, the weekend leading up to phase 2 and Developer Day, those MSPs competing on the day made their way to Microsoft and spent the weekend coming up with a solution to a problem using various Microsoft technologies around Azure, IoT, Xamarin, Cognitive Services and PowerBI.

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MSPs preparing for Developer Day!

One team came up with a unique solution for tracking those in attendance by counting the number of people how enter or leave the venue using a Raspberry Pi and a cheap webcam with PowerBI to visualise the data. The other was an app built in Xamarin which, using Cognitive Services and the emotion API, would snap a picture every couple of minutes of the person driving, analyse the photo, and change the music currently playing to match the emotion the driver’s currently feeling. Finally, the remaining team’s solution was an app to help user’s decide if a particular home they might be looking at moving into is right for them by pulling data from various source the user might be interested in (like internet speeds, distance and time it will take to travel to work, and crime data for that area) and present them to the user with some Machine Learning in the background to try and predict future crime rates based on historical data.

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MSPs presenting at Developer Day!

Each team had roughly 4 minutes to present and demo their solution in front of a crowd of just over 700. After all three teams has presented, it was then up to the audience to decide which team deserved to win the most. First prize was a top hat which reads ‘Big Boss’. Second place took home ram horn hat with ‘Yeah Nah’ stitched across the front. Third place walked away with a pirate hat.

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First, third and second (from left to right).

So the way the week played out was MSA students were invited to Microsoft on the Monday for soft skill training. Students were taught how to present themselves, nail their elevator pitches, and how they should act in an interview. Having the technical capability is one thing but if you don’t have those soft skills desired by employers, it’s going to be much harder to land your dream job.

Tuesday was the first day of technical training. The day started off on a brief overview of Xamarin and the various aspects to the platform. We later moved into the different components and then started on the base project we’d continue adding to throughout the week. The remainder of the day was making sure everyone had Xamarin up and running and was able to deploy their base project to a physical device or emulator.

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Phase two training (one of the days).

Wednesday we shifted our focus to bots using the Microsoft Bot Framework. By the end of the day we had a bot published on dev.botframework.com, that was assessable on through Skype, that was able to take an image and using Cognitive Services, analyse and detect what the image is. Students learned how to use cards, how to remember users and tailor the bot to their specific needs. Later that day we then went into Azure and setup our backend for Friday’s training.

Thursday all MSA students attended Developer Day. All 150+ students participating in phase 2 looking for work placement over the summer showed up and sat front and centred wearing their purple MSA shirts.

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MSA students filling the front couple rows at Developer Day NZ!

Friday we went back to Xamarin and continued with the base project we created on Tuesday. We took the same concept from phase 1 (a website for analysing selfies and recommending music based on the results) and taught students how to replicate the same core functionality but within Xamarin. At the end of the day students had a working app, running on Android, built in Xamarin that used the devices camera to take a photo, GPS to get the user’s current location, Cognitive Services to analyse the photo, local storage to store the results, Azure for storage in the cloud and Facebook to authenticate.

Full content taught can be found here.

Students who then want work placement over the summer had a week to then take what we’ve taught and apply it for assessment and group placement. Students were given a couple scenarios to choose from. They could either create a banking bot that uses Azure for storage and was published on either Skype or Facebook Messenger. The other was an app built in Xamarin for ordering food from a restaurant that was actually running on a physical device (or emulator), that used Azure for menus and orders, and also used Facebook to authenticate.

Full scenarios guidelines can be found here.

So after a week of it was time to assess or students to see how well they were able to apply what we’ve taught them over the year and see if they were able to go above and beyond what was taught. Based on the outcome of the assessment students are ranked and then placed into teams of three with other students who fall within the same ranking as them. This is so we don’t have teams going into placement where one does everything while the others sit around and do nothing. Each student had exactly 20 minutes total with us to present what they’ve done and for us to dissect their code and ask questions to gauge their level of understanding. The day was long, we started bright and early at 9am. From 9am to 6pm, in streams of 6, we saw roughly 130 students and the solution they’ve been working on. After, we made our way to Microsoft and begun the 5 hour long group placement process.

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Grouping MSA students into teams of three.

That morning, at roughly 1am, after group placements were sorted, the email went out to all students letting them know the outcome of the assessment.

That weekend, those students who passed the assessment and was placed into groups were then invited to our Imagine Cup weekend. This gave teams the opportunity to meet their teammates (most of whom would be meeting for the first time) and allowed them the weekend to see how well they can work with the other two. It also gave teams exposure to the Imagine Cup competition and encourage them to take part.

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Final lot of MSA students who have completed the programme with MSPs in the front row.

Once everyone was happy with their group placements and after the Imagine Cup weekend, on the following Monday was the employer meet and greet. This was the team’s chance to meet then employers they wanted to work with over the summer and make a good impression. Students were sent a list of the companies taking part in the MSA programme, what the project is, what kinda of team they’re looking for and where they’re located. In their teams, students came up with a list of companies they want to work with over the summer and were placed into rooms with roughly 9 employers for a 10 minute per round, speed dating type interview with each employer. Because we have a large number of teams and companies taking part each year, it would take all day for every team to see every company. So what we do is we break up the employers into 4 rooms. Based on students preferences and their ranking, students were split up and placed into those 4 rooms.

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Final briefing before students meet employers

After the speed dating rounds, we held a networking event with food and drinks. This was the students opportunity to see which those employers who weren’t in their room and try to convince them they should pick their team over everyone else. Employers then can up with a list of teams they want and we allow students to readjust their preferences also. Once everyone had left, we grabbed dinner and made our way back to Microsoft for employer placement. This process is normally fairly quick. We generally get a large number of matching employer and student preferences right off the bat.

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One of the speed dating rooms filled with employers and students

In all, 40 teams of 3 were placed with 35 employers over the summer in Auckland alone.

The following day, teams were notified of the company they’d be working with over the summer and were sent off on their way.

Finally, in mid December, to wrap up things for the year, we went away for our biannual road trip. This year we rented out a bach up in Mangawhai Heads for the weekend where we relaxed, went hiking and ate fish and chips on the beach.

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