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Imagine Cup 2009 from the judges’ corner

Imagine Cup is a Microsoft-inspired worldwide competition open to students aged 16 upwards. It is split into eight categories, including Robotics and Algorithm, Photography, Film and Software Design, all of which share the common 2009 theme: "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems facing us today.”

For further information on the competition, visit the New Zealand Imagine Cup website. This year is the first time Intergen has come on board as a Strategic Partner of the Cup.

Software Design is the only category in New Zealand that has finals, with only the top team going on to the Worldwide Final in Cairo, Egypt, and I was honoured to be asked to be on the judging panel for the Auckland preliminary finals. As a member of the runner-up team, T4, from Otago University in 2007, I knew exactly what the teams had been through, so it was nice to be on the other side of the table this time around!

The judging panel consisted of Microsoft Executives, educational representatives, and directors from Imagine Cup partners (including our very own MD, Tony Stewart). From my initial look around the table in the judges’ room I felt very much the junior on the team but it wasn’t long before I was sharing my experiences in the competition and enlightening my fellow judges as to the time, effort and thought that the teams had put into their solutions. And some of the teams put together the required documentation, planned, developed and tested their solution in less than a month.

This year’s theme was very broad, which provided a wide range of solutions, from an online shopping comparison tool, a displaced families locator setup for remote areas, and games aimed at educating players on disasters. As judges, we were looking for solutions that met certain criteria, including how the chosen application met the theme, if the application was complete (and to a high standard), and, most importantly, the quality of the presentation. Overall I was impressed with the level of the presentations from all the teams that made it to the preliminary finals. A couple of these had the judges interacting with the solution, and one very dramatic presentation where you could be forgiven for thinking you were at a Shortland Street audition!

At the end of the day, it was interesting to see that, as judges, our individual scores were all very close. We had identified two teams as clear leaders, a group that sat a tier below, and a small group that were below par. As part of our debrief, it was clear that there were two key factors in being successful: the contact time with a team’s industry mentor and the selection of a problem and working on solving it (as opposed to picking a solution and then finding a problem that matches).

This was also the case when I took part in the competition. My team spent weeks researching and choosing our topic. Take notes, future competitors. Finding and defining your approach to the theme is the key to success, and don’t be afraid to approach software development companies yourself to find a mentor. You want someone that is on the same page as you and who can commit to working or meeting with you on a regular basis.

Congratulations to the top six teams that made it to the final. It’s one thing to present right in front of a judging panel, but to an audience of 600 of your friends, family and classmates is a different ball game. Those off to Egypt for the worldwide final – congratulations, enjoy the experience and do us all back here in New Zealand proud.
For results from this week's final, check out the Imagine Cup NZ site.

Posted by: Hamish Hill, Business Analyst | 01 May 2009

Tags: Microsoft Imagine Cup

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