Eye of the Intern: Sneaking into //oneweek, TechReady, Imagine Cup, HoloLens and the Guinness Book of World Records
Last week your favourite Technical Evangelist Intern took a workation at the mothership (aka Redmond) and got invoked in a bunch of life changing events. In this blog post, he discusses some of those events as experienced during one of the busiest weeks on campus this year. Follow Mansib’s journeys on Eye of the Intern as he tries to navigate the intricacies and adversities of interning at one of the world’s largest tech companies and recounts his mistakes in excruciating detail so that you don't have to.
Last week, I had the immeasurable pleasure of being shipped to Redmond for a week of merriment at my employer’s expense. Well, at least I figured it would be merriment.
If you’re anything like me and by that I mean a 20 year old college student who’s trying to stave off loans, you looked at this and thought “Wow Mansib, you’re getting paid to eat all day!” Well, I’m not going to deny that there was food and plenty of it. The food was actually pretty good too. They had a friggin ice cream bar. We had about 3 buffet meals per day, if not more. No, the food was pretty solid.
These cupcakes were pretty solid. (well actually they were really soft, but how do you explain that to a post-millennial?)
So why wasn’t the week pure merriment? Well, within a few hours in Redmond you realize why you’re always getting an opportunity to stuff cake into your face. When a couple hundred of the world’s most elite student hackers and thousands of Microsoft technical folk saturate every square millimeter of your retinas for 16-17 hours per day for a week straight, cake becomes your only refuge from a cruel world where you always happen to be the least intelligent and least accomplished person in the room. Seriously, around every bend stood someone I had read about or watched on the internet, across every table was a corporate vice president or another intern who wrote way more blog posts than you. If you’re not careful, this really starts to eat at you. How do you do good in a place where everything has already been done? I’m not sure yet. In the end, it helps to remember that being the dumbest person in a room full of geniuses still makes you pretty smart.
Cupcakes, my only respite at the MSP Summit.
Anyway, I was in a very unique position, because I attended as a Technical Evangelist intern, but also as a participant in the Microsoft Student Partner summit, yet not privy to a selection MSP activities and permitted into otherwise restricted employee events and areas because I was a blue badge. Overall, this is pretty dandy and kind of like being the little kid who gets to go to all the older kid house parties because you’re somehow friends with them. That is, until you find out all the kids your age get to go go-karting and you’re not allowed to go because you’re an “old kid” and all you’re really allowed to do now is drink. When translated into the actual world, this meant that the MSPs got Surface Pro 3s, Xboxes, Microsoft Bands for doing twitter contests and all I got was access to the //oneweek beer garden.
This led me to visiting several related but separate events during the week. The mains were //oneweek, TechReady, the Worldwide MSP Summit and Imagine Cup. Inside the WW MSP Summit we also had a several hour HoloLens demo and the Imagine Code Camps where we broke a world record. Yes, that HoloLens.
A lot of the events overlapped with each other, so you’d have a //oneweek hackathon beer zone at a TechReady event and an MSP event done together with the Imagine Cup folks.
//oneweek is a totally rad assortment of events that has happened annually ever since Satya became the totally rad leader of Microsoft. The predecessor to //oneweek was some form of potentially-not-as-fun annual company meeting, but now it’s separated into three parts. There’s still the meeting, but we also now have a hackathon and an expo/product fair. There’s also a huge beer garden. It was a fulltime employee excusive event and as an MSP I would normally have no access to it… but luckily for my badge I was able to abscond here for a few moments.
The expo at //oneweek. Almost certain the umbrellas are there because they are the ideal operating environment for Microsoft Lumia phones.
I didn’t attend the hackathon or the meeting because I arrived late (that’s a crummy excuse because the hackathon was international), but I was able to visit the expo. Basically what happens at the expo is that all the product and some of the research and design groups come out to that big tent and talk about what they’re working on. You also have some external presenters like certain Microsoft venture startups and snow cone making people. A series of Microsoft employees and externals give talks throughout the day and sign copies of their books which you can conveniently buy at the book tent for 10 USD. There’s a metric ton of demos and games as well as employee only contests. Like this one. Tweet that thing like fire.
Under the tent.
A Microsoft Band golf tracking demo.
Internals from the Xbox entertainment system.
Also there’s free food samples everywhere. Literally enough different ones to make a full day’s meal. (I gained 8 pounds after the summit if you were wondering). There was one booth that gave away unlimited Godiva truffles. They called this portion of the event “Byte of Microsoft”. Good to know I don’t have the worst puns out there.
The event culminated on the 31st with a live Q&A with Satya. Unfortunately, the contents of the Q&A are confidential so I shouldn’t be sharing anything with you. Just because I like you so much however, I’ll tell you a bit of what I know… ready? Here it is: “ “. Yeah sorry, I didn’t watch the Q&A so I don’t know what went on. Reliable author much? Anyway, I had a good excuse. I was partying away at an event called…
TechReady is insane. Basically, it is a semi-annual one week conference where evangelists and other technical people from the various Microsoft subs meet in Redmond to get up to date on all the latest Microsoft products and technology. It’s also an excuse to drink. Senior execs come by during the event to present their vision for Microsoft going into the next year. Much like //oneweek, it is broken up into different components. You have the presentations and meeting parts which I skipped entirely. There’s a night called Ask the Experts where they set up dozens of tables on a conference floor and give each a sign with a topic such as “Hybrid Azure Security” or “Diversity and Equality”. Basically you go up to any desk of your choice, sit with a beer and chat about the topic listed on the sign. You were sure to find experts in any field walking about. I was quite astonished to see Scott Gu himself just walking around talking to various experts.
Interestingly enough, MSPs were given booths this year to demonstrate any interesting projects they had. Most were pretty keen on the immense amount of free food they were giving out during the night though.
After work, the evangelists will get together with their long lost buddies and go out for drinks or in the case of the Canadian evangelists, make their own beer (I didn’t participate.)
The reason why I say TechReady is insane however is actually because of the last day of the conference: The TechReady Party. You won’t see Microsoft employees in the same light after that night . Microsoft rented out CenturyLink Field for the event (home of the Seattle Seahawks, why didn’t they run the ball?) There were essentially restaurants opened at the field where you could eat all you want, for free. Copious amounts of alcohol was passed out (with proper ID of course), but this was all well deserved after a week or rather more like a year of hard work. Xboxes, soccer balls, bocce balls and pigskins were left out for everyone to play with.
Being a patriotic Canadian, I am always looking for an opportunity to espouse the values of my great country. When I saw a random fence and a bunch of red and white cups, my fellow Canadian MSP James and I took no rest to complete the semblance of our glorious flag on the fence. The other subs soon tried to copy us, but luckily we had used up all the red cups and the Dutch, French and Russian flags had to do with splotches of brown on their red parts because only brown cups were left.
I wish I had more pictures to show, but I refrained from taking pictures later in the night because I didn’t want to be that loser intern who had his phone out during a rave. it got pretty hectic by the end when a quasi-mosh pit arouse at one end of the field. Let’s just say I’ve never seen so many Microsofties drop to the bass.
For the last 2 years, being at the Imagine Cup had probably been my greatest wish. It was far more important to me than my dreams of being accepted into med school or finding myself in a stable relationship (FYI I ended up with neither). My participation in the competition eventually led me to becoming a coder and ultimately landed me this job. I had won the competition last year in the World Citizenship category in Canada, but the Innovation project from Canada last year was a heck of a better project so they ended up being the national winners who got sent to Redmond for the finals (Wow, I’m totally cringing just glancing over what I wrote back then in that blog post. A true #flashbackfriday for me. Everything I wrote then still applies though!).
I figured I’d never get a chance to be at the Imagine Cup since I was now an employee and therefore ineligible to participate but boy does destiny like to prove me wrong. I was pretty close to being front and center to the whole Imagine Cup experience even if I wasn’t a competitor. Looking at all the epic projects and hard work the competitors put in, I was very envious and was wishing I was a competitor throughout.
The Imagine Cup was a multiday event (well, technically multimonth if you go prior to the finals) and so the MSP experience differs a bit from the competitors. One of the first things I recall is being greeted by a red carpet and a live band.
Microsoft sure has a peculiar intern benefit package.
We got to see dozens of amazing presentations. I was left dumbfounded after so many of them. For example, team Japan made a TV that could detect air pressure… it could measure how strong you breath against it! Never mind the business case or the use case, it was cool just to see these random innovations.
Team Canada was a group of students hailing from Queen’s. They made an app called Walkly that helps friends and loved ones ensure each other’s safety.
Team Canada presenting
Throughout the Imagine Cup, the MSPs were privy to many guest speakers and lectures. One that just blew my mind was when Giorgio Sardo, senior Windows evangelist, took the stage. He told all Microsoft employees to leave the room (I didn’t disclose my affiliation) and pretty much just straightforwardly answered any question the MSPs had. He didn’t use any canned statements, he pretty much disclosed any trade secret the MSPs inquired about. Why was Windows 10 named Windows 10? He told us the real reason. Unfortunately, I can’t disclose any of it here Maybe you should become an MSP and try to attend the Worldwide Summit.
Giorgio spilling the beans.
The MSPs also partook in a lot of discussions to share which activities worked and which didn’t. I didn’t expect to see such a difference between the programs, but the various subs sure set the record straight. MSPs in Nepal for example, spent a lot of time lending out Skype enabled mobile phones to people affected by the earthquake.
The MSPs hard at work at making me feel useless.
The finalists were announced on Thursday and Friday we went to the Seattle Convention center to see who would be crowned the winner of the 2015 Imagine Cup. We had quite the celebrity tech judge line-up this time around. We had the venerable Alex Kipman, the progenitor of the Kinect and HoloLens, we had Jens Bergensten aka jeb_ of Minecraft fame and finally the personable Thomas Middleditch aka Richard Hendricks of Silicon Valley and fellow Canadian. Of course most of us spent their introduction speeches gleefully grabbing footage of them for our Snapchat stories.
Snapchat caption omitted.
After 3 presentations and much deliberations, team eFitFashion of Brazil took the cup, $50K USD and the selfie with Nadella. It was well deserved. The team patented a software algorithm and system that allowed tailors to drastically cut the time of custom clothe jobs by creating the patterns electronically.
I like the unicorn shirt, but maybe Satya could still use a bit of eFitFashion sense.
And just like it all started, within moments the elusive magical code wizard Satya disappeared,
Yeah, so this section won’t get a photo treatment. The HoloLens experience was understandably a highly catered one and few steps were spared to present a certain desired impression of the device. In fact, I was almost certain that the presenters had their spoken words penned out by Alex Kipman himself. As was the case with the few journalists who got to try the HoloLens at //build/ and E3, all our electronic devices were confiscated and I was only let in with the clothes on my back (they permitted me to keep my Microsoft band, so I could have technically recorded audio had I somehow hacked the device, but I decided to hand it to them anyway).
Speaking of //build/ and E3, this was the first time since those events that anyone internal or external other than Microsoft executives and HoloLens development collaborators have been able to try the HoloLens. I don’t have any hard numbers, but that would put me squarely in the first 100, or maybe even first 50 Canadians to have tried out the device. At Microsoft Canada, I’m the first in my org, Developer Experience (DX) and maybe even the first throughout the subsidiary. After remembering that I’m really no one special, you begin to see just how much Microsoft values its interns… or at the very least, how especially magnanimous my manager Tommy and my supervisor Susan are.
Anyway, as you can imagine, the HoloLens is a most excellent device. I’ll be straight up honest, the field of view issue is certainly there, though it’s no where near as debilitating as certain reviewers would have you believe. Otherwise, the device functions entirely as you’d expect. The picture is crisp, the sound is clear, the environment scanning is impressive and the ergonomics of the device are well thought out. Being a developer however, for me, the actual HoloLens augmented reality experience didn’t hold a candle to actually developing for the HoloLens. Being a huge Unity fan, it was amazing to see that the HoloLens was ultimately a tool to break Unity’s 4th wall and provide it with a canvas that had all three dimensions. Developing for HoloLens had very few nuances from developing traditional Unity applications for something like a Windows or Android. The main thing to remember is that you’re no longer creating a simulation where an artificial character moves about a virtual world, but rather one where a virtual world moves about a real character which is yourself. And of course you have to include your using HoloToolkit; directives.
The whole workshop was very regimented. Any attempt to fiddle with the workshop project assets was curtailed and it was impossible to pry much information from the HoloLens personnel onsite (including on whether they had any evangelism positions they were hiring for!) Of course, that didn’t deter this intern from veering of course and hacking his heart’s content out of the device. There were a set of premade scripts and prefabs for us to progressively add to a Unity scene until we completed the scenario and made an entire virtual world whilst sampling each one of HoloLens’ key features. I completed them quickly without waiting for the instructors to go through each step in detail and invariably this let to much unnecessary debugging, but this experience was ultimately a desired one because it granted me better insights into using the actual HoloLens SDK. With the time I saved, I was able to experiment with other things, like creating a rudimentary soccer game which you could play with your feet and trying to have the Game of Thrones theme song play in the background. Although it’s dead easy to play .wav files in HoloLens, for reasons I’m choosing not to disclose, playing the GOT theme didn’t work out so well.
In the end, my partner and I had physically broken 3 HoloLens units, but the HoloLens folks took it in stride. The device was by no means flimsy, but it does require proper care and handling. Overall, all my expectations were attained with the HoloLens demo and I’m looking forward to seeing it released to the public soon (I don’t know the release date or timeframe). I have no reason to expect another chance to try out the HoloLens before release, but because I enjoy your patronage so much, I promise I’ll find a way to secure another hacking session with it so that I can recount you with more details and hopefully a picture.
Breaking a Guinness World Record
As a part of the Worldwide MSP summit, we were asked to participate in breaking a world record. Believe it or not, this is actually the first world record I’ve willingly and knowingly participated in breaking. The record we aimed to break was most people taught to code in 8 hours. We set the new record at something like 1337 people (I’m not kidding, I think the actual number is something like that).
As you can imagine, this was a pretty arduous task. Hundreds of kids were ushered into Microsoft computer labs to partake in the event. We had a skeleton crew of MSPs who were responsible for coaching these hundreds of children and every hour they’d bring in a new batch. We gave out some cool prizes such as Raspberry Pi 2s to encourage the kids to keep coding. By the end I was so tired that I was falling asleep on a laptop and repeatedly unwittingly hitting the keyboard with my face. After a while, a commotion had woken me up and I got up with the intention of finding a more comfortable sleeping spot, but lo and behold, we had done it!
Getting pics of VP Guggs as if I’ll never get to see him in person again. Well maybe I won’t.
Guinness record plaques make handy umbrellas in a pinch.
All in all pretty satisfied.
It’s not every day you get an all-inclusive trip to meet some of the smartest and most influential people in the world. Once it all happened, I was quite overwhelmed and disappointed with myself. Why didn’t I go introduce myself to Guggs or Scott Gu? Why didn’t I run up to take a picture with Alex Kipman like some of the MSPs managed to? Why did I constantly stuff my face? Why didn’t I bring a project to demo? Why didn’t I confer my new idea for Azure DreamSpark with Satya? Admittedly, these are some of the things I won’t forget for a while. For every experience I had lived during that week, I missed another. But it’s important to look at it in reverse. For every opportunity I missed that week, I lived another. For a week I got to breathe and live as a genuine Redmonder. I got to try HoloLens and break a world record. These are things most other people won’t get to do for the time being.
The most important lessons I learned from this trip are to be grateful and to be aware of your shortcomings. I’m grateful, because I could have learned these lessons on the last day of my internship and never have had a fighting chance to accomplish any of my goals.
But now I know. If I didn’t make the effort to shake hands with Satya last time, I need to work my way up and make that opportunity again.