So I won in the Microsoft Surface in the Classroom Design Challenge.
I first found out about this contest while researching the Surface Pro 2, this was for a potential purchase to take with me on a trip to Europe. While looking into the Surface I subscribed to the Surface team’s YouTube channel. Upon making my budget I decided that while the Surface is a great device, it was outside my budget for the trip. In December of 2013 the Surface team’s designer, Ralf Groene, created a video advertising an idea challenge called the “Microsoft Surface in the Classroom Design Challenge”. The idea of the contest was to come up with an idea of how I would envision the classroom of the future.
I decided to enter the contest for a few reasons, the first is that I truly believe that technology can solve many problems in today’s classroom and education in general. The second reason is because I already had a few ideas on how to approach a new technology for the classroom, I have looked into the problems and have come up with a few ideas before. The third reason is because I wanted a Surface device and I thought “why not”.
To enter the contest a contestant needed to do three things, create a title (25 words max), create a description (100 words max) and a picture. My entry was titled “Turn Textbooks into Social Discussions”, the description went over how students should be able to create discussions threads within a textbook document that other students in the class can talk about, and the students should also be able to post these threads anonymously. The picture I had accompanied with this description was a excerpt from Shakespeare with a discussion thread beside it talking about what Shakespeare meant with some of his words. I then submitted the idea and hoped for the best.
This contest was set-up in three parts, idea submissions, a voting period and final judging. After I submitted my idea it was then put up against all the other wonderful ideas others had. During the voting period users could login and vote for the idea they thought was the best, a couple times my idea was on the front page, I was very excited, I watched the page constantly. At the end of January the voting period ended and we needed to wait until Microsoft announced the finalists. At the end of January I found out that I finalized in the contest.
Finalizing in this particular contest meant more than just being judged, it meant that I already won a Surface Pro 2 device for myself, I was over the moon and I was very happy. In this contest there were ten finalists, I read through all of them carefully and a lot of them were extremely good. The judges had a week to judge the finalists and after they had selected their favorite idea I still needed to wait another week, this is when I received an email stating I had won the contest. This means I get to pick a school to receive thirty-two Surface 2 tablets, thirty-two touch keyboards and one Anthro charging kit.
To say I was excited was a vast understatement I couldn’t believe it, literally after mailing ePrize the confirmation that I won the contest I was still in disbelief. It took me well over a week before I told anyone outside my family and friends. This is when I contacted my high school, Anderson Collegiate Vocational Institute, I wanted to give something back to the place that allowed me to learn about technology and decide to make a career out of it. After contacted and met with the faculty, I left with the promise that they will be receiving the devices and the recipient school for the contest. Again I am glad I had the opportunity to give this to the school.
At the end of March I received notification that the tablets would be arriving in the first week of April to the school, I couldn’t wait for them to arrive. However when I got home that day my Surface Pro 2 had arrived at my home, I was very excited I love technology and this one a new device to try out and my computer to take to Europe.
I really like the Surface Pro 2, it has the power of a full laptop with the form factor of a tablet. I started using it immediately at school and even programmed some school projects on it. The device is able to run Visual Studio and eclipse so it fit my needs for most projects. I’ve had a blast using it!
When the tablets arrived at the school I was excited, I have visited the school twice. The first time I met with the students that will be using them and saw some of the current projects they are working on, very cool stuff. The class I gave it to has under gone some changes since I took it, they have new equipment and much more software to work with, I am glad they will have these devices to further improve the classroom. The second time I went I was able to see the tablets and the case they are in, it is very cool to see everything in action, I hope the class can put them to good use.
Overall I am glad I was given this opportunity to give these devices to my high school and I really like the device I have received. I am honoured that I was chosen as the winner of the contest and it has been a wonderful experience.
So, It is now 2014 and I wanted to give a retrospective of the hackathons I have been to.
For the purpose of this post all the programming competitions I have been to this year are referred to as “hackthons”. I started going to these competitions with the RBC Next Great Innovator Challenge, this was in June of 2013. The RBC NGI was a wonderful experience; we created a prototype of an app, successfully presented it, and won the contest. This how I started, I met some amazing people and gained real confidence in my ability.
The next hackathon I participated in was the MasterCard N>XT Mobile Payments Developer Challenge, this took place in the last weekend of September and it was great to work with some of the people from the RBC NGI on a new project. For this project we implemented an Android app that will allow merchants to display a QR code and have the user scan it to pay with their MasterCard. Although we didn’t win in this hackathon our team did successfully implement the app and learned a lot along the way. We met some fantastic people at this convention and I had a really good time.
The third hackathon I participated in was HackMIT, this was a massive event that took place at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This took place on the first weekend of October, so yes our team did hackathons two weeks in a row. At this hackathon we teamed up with a new person and we tried to create a app that will allow people to discover other users via Bluetooth, the app will then start a chat session. This event was huge, I got to stay in a dorm at MIT and had an absolutely wonderful experience. I hope I get the opportunity to do this again next year.
The fourth hackathon I went to in 2013 was HackPrinceton, this took place at Princeton University in November of 2013. I met up with the person we worked with at HackMIT, someone from the RBC NGI team and someone new. For this hackathon we created a social to-do list. This app allows users to assign tasks to other people as well as track which tasks have been completed. It was a simple app but we did get to present to the 300+ people and got to the second round of judging. I had a great time in Princeton and I hope I get the chance to visit the campus again.
All of these events have given me more experience than just programming, I feel that I have learned many “soft skills”. For example I no longer experience anxiety when needing to present ideas to people and audiences, this has allowed me to contribute more to meetings. I also feel I work better in programming groups, before these competitions I would tend to want to code everything, now I trust others to do their portion of work. I have also made some fantastic friends, I am very lucky to have had the chance to work with Christina, Alvin, Harpreet, Mugdha, David and Randall, I look forward to future projects we will have together. I would recommend any programmer to go ahead and attend a hackathon, it has been about more than just winning.
So last weekend I participated in a 24 hour programming competition.
We were given a question and needed to provide an answer to it in the form of a working prototype; this can be either a desktop, mobile or web application. For this I worked with a team of four others to create the team Mobilify. My team included Harpreet Singh, Mugdha Mulay, Christina Shan, Alvin Lee and Matthew Clark.
Even though our team had little Android experience we decided to create an Android App to answer this question, yes I know it was crazy. We worked out what we were good at, where innovation is coming from and what development environment we were going to be using, so going into this competition we knew we were going to be making an Android App in the eclipse development environment. While researching how to program in Android I feel there is more exciting features we didn’t have the expertise to use for the competition and look forward to going more in-depth into them later. However for the competition we also got to learn how to use the Heroku application platform, this was all very new and exciting to learn, this was also before the competition even started.
The competition took place on June 21st and 22nd 2013 we were up all night coding and testing to make sure our prototype was in presentable condition. We ended up creating a working app and provided a business model for the app. As a team we presented this app to a panel of RBC executives and judging commenced. Our team worked like a well-oiled machine, everyone was working on something and stayed busy, I am so proud of what our team was able to accomplish in such little time.
First round of judging comes and goes and we make it to the finals, we all consider it a huge win! We came into this competition not knowing anything about our development environment and now we are one of the top five teams, we are now overjoyed; however there is no time to stop. Now our team needs to create a presentation five times as long in one hour, we work together trying to come up with what should be in the presentation and how we should present it to the executives, time flies and we are now standing in front of everyone. We present and the judges start throwing around some tough questions! We finish and now we wait. At this point everyone was pretty hyped we made it to the finals and we aren’t overly concerned about the outcome, we made some friends, had some fun and become finalists. But we weren’t done yet. After some long deliberation we found out that we won! We get to take home the $5000 prize, it was very exciting!
Even though everyone was exhausted we were still pretty hyped, we all talked about how it was unbelievable, this was the first time any of us have won a contest like this, and we were pretty speechless. But even though we were up for 36 hours and tired and drained, we needed to celebrate this win.
The experience of taking part in the first ever NGI Prototyping Event has been amazing. We walked away with a great prize, successfully solved a real-life business challenge under intense pressure and also got to present to senior executives. I got to work with some really talented people and will remember this for a long time.