Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Imagine Cup (New York) 2011 Blog

I just arrived into New York City for the Microsoft Imagine Cup worldwide competition finals in my 6th year as the IT Challenge competition head judge! This year’s competition started with over 100,000 students from over 83 countries participating in various technology competitions (software design, IT, digital media, embedded design, Win7 phone) through a series of qualifying rounds ultimately leading to the top 400 in the world to face off with the best of the best from around the globe at the worldwide finals!

This year’s final competition is in New York City with previous worldwide finals in Warsaw Poland (2010), Cairo (2009), Paris (2008), Seoul (2007), India (2006), Japan (2005), Brazil (2004), and Barcelona (2003).

Over the next 7-days we will be welcoming the finalists here to New York and put them through their last challenge of the year to crown the finals champion!

In the competition that I’m leading, which is the IT Challenge, it is an individual competition (as opposed to a team competition) where our finalists have worked their way through a Round 1 multiple choice online quiz and Round 2 essay to result in the final 6 individuals.

The individuals come from France, Poland, Germany, China, Singapore, and Romania. More on each of these individuals in a future blog post once I get a chance to meet them in person.

Today (Thursday, July 7th) is a setup day where 6-yr IT Challenge co-captain and judge, Chris Amaris, has prepared the infrastructure environment here at the Marriott Marquis Times Square hotel for the competition. Chris and I have another several hours to get everything ready, but just in the past few hours of getting started, working in NYC is so much better than working in the backwoods of India where the server systems got “lost” in transit and arrived 3-days late, or even in Paris where the minute we turned on the server systems we blew the power grid for an entire City block. So far (and I’m knocking on wood right now), so good…

The student competitors arrive tomorrow and we jump right into competition briefings and the welcoming ceremony, and the actual competition starts at 9:30am on Saturday morning the 9th and goes for 24 straight hours, finishing at 9:30am on Sunday the 10th.



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We officially kicked off the Imagine Cup 2011 competition here in New York today with the Opening Ceremony keynote by Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer himself presiding over the ceremonies!

Earlier today, Steve was on CNN and interviewed about the Imagine Cup competition: http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/bestoftv/2011/07/08/exp.am.imagine.cup.microsoft.cnn

Overall, today was a day of final preparations for the competition. For the IT Challenge competition, we were given all new external IP addresses to support a new (hopefully more reliable) network connection to the Internet, so Chris spent time re-addressing gateways, firewalls, and recreating firewall rules to get everything ready to go (again) for the competition that starts at 9:30am EDT tomorrow. Although the great thing is that this new internet connection is MUCH better and a lot more reliable than the previous connection, so a little extra work for a more reliable connection is definitely well worth it!

We had several prep meetings today which included a competition Captains meeting where the Captains of the 7 competitions all got together one last time before the kick off. There was also a Judges meeting where the 90+ competition judges got together and were updated what to expect, what their jobs are, and to answer questions.

And inbetween the various meetings, I ran out to Times Square and bought a jacket… The guy at the gift store said “you know it’s going to be 80-90 degrees today”, and I had to tell him that I’ll be spending the next 3 days locked into conference rooms and convention halls with full blown air conditioning blowing down on me, and as such, I needed the jacket to keep warm indoors than enjoy the nice weather outdoors…

Few facts that Microsoft released today for the competition:

* 358,000 students registered for this years competition
* 183 countries represented by student competitors
* 7 competitions
* 424 finalists here in New York City representing 73 home countries

The key things the lead from Microsoft wanted all of us Captains and Judges to remember, that the students are here to:
* Learn New Skills
* Make New Friends
* Change the World!

We will start the competition tomorrow morning, I will get my next blog post out tomorrow mid-day to report on how the start of the IT Competition is going!

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Today is COMPETITION Day here in New York City for the kick-off of the Imagine Cup 2011 IT Challenge! All of the competitors met at 8am this morning for an overall competition briefing…

At 8:30am, the competitors were given a briefing by the IT Challenge judges on what to specifically expect for the next 24-hours of the non-stop head to head competition! Effectively, the IT Challenge competitors have each been given a server system running Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization software, a workstation system, and connectivity to the Internet.

In the next 24-hours, they are to build an entire IT network environment to fulfill the needs, requirements, and expectations of the competition case scenario. In more technical terms, the competitors will be building systems including:
* Microsoft Active Directory 2008 R2
* Exchange 2010
* SharePoint 2010
* Lync 2010
* Windows 7
* Windows File and Print
* Office 365 (Exchange / SharePoint / Lync in the cloud)
* Microsoft Azure (SQL / IIS Web in the cloud)

Some of the things the competitors will need to do are as follows:
* Send and receive email messages both from an on-premise as well as in the cloud Exchange 2010
* Store and share documents from SharePoint 2010 in the cloud
* Provide anti-virus / anti-spam security for messages
* Prevent messages from being “leaked” from a secured access point (ie: using Rights Management Server)
* Prevent a hacker attack
* Access information both on the LAN as well as from a remote/mobile system
(left to right: Valy Greavu (Co-Captain/Judge), Gwendolyn Tan (Judge), Chris Amaris (Co-Captain/Judge), Sinescu Ionut (Romania), Blazej Matusyk (Poland), Xuewen Tian (China), Alexander Wachtel (Germany), Yunheng Mong (Singapore), Jean-Sebastien Duchene (France), Rand Morimoto (Co-Captain/Head Judge))

These are all relatively common business scenarios that organizations setup, implement, and support every day, however with the Imagine Cup IT Challenge, the competitors are given 24-hours to do it all and make it work! And these are not competitors that have been working in IT for the past 10-20 years, these are college students that are only 20 years old, working on their own with no outside help nor working as part of a team. These competitors only have the resources available to them such as Microsoft TechNet or search using Bing to access information and in many cases install the software for the first time.

The competition has begun, with the following 6 competitors


Xuewen Tian (China) - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Imagine-Cup-IT/127052839754#!/notes/imagine-cup-it/presentation-of-the-finalists-tian-xuewen-china/10150219229948773

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I just participated in a Press Briefing, with over 140 members of the media from around the world, the press briefing provided print, TV, blog, social media representatives to hear from the 7 competition captains about each of the competitions, what to expect, and what will be going on over the balance of the competition!


We are now 2-hours into the 24-hour IT Challenge period and all is VERY quiet… The competitors are hard at work getting their Windows guest sessions setup, I see a couple of them reading whitepapers trying to learn a new technology today, no power problems like we had in Paris or India (knock on wood), no Internet problems like we had in Egypt, a GREAT start to this years competition!!!

I’ll post again a good 15-18 hours into the competition, will see what no sleep and the stress of the deadline looming does to the work efforts of the competitors…

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Our IT Challenge competition is now 18+ hours into the 24 hour period and the competitors are still going really strong! They’ve likely been up for over 20 hours and still have a good 8-9 hours to go to make it thru the rest of the competition period and judging…

Few things that have happened here in the past dozen or so hours…

12:30pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) – July 9, 2011
I had to write down the lunch they served us today, I’m sure somebody in the corporate office thought this sounded like a good lunch for a bunch of IT people…

Half Harrisa Grilled Vegetable Wrap (with baby arugula, Hummus, toasted feta and artichoke spread) on Pita bread (by the way, what the heck is a Harrisa??? Sounds like the name of someone who could be your ugly step-sister or something…)
Half Roasted Turkey (with arugula, grilled eggplant, aged goat cheese, olive and artichoke aioli)
Bag of Terra exotic vegetable chips (what happened to plain ole potato chips?)
Couscous with chickpeas, cilantro, and tomatoes
Brownie
Apple

3:48pm EDT – July 9, 2011
Okay, this has to be the quietest Imagine Cup IT Challenge competition in the 7 years that we’ve been running it. The environment has been calm and stable (no power outages, no network outages, they’re actually bringing in food to the competitors!), and these competitors are FOCUSED! They have all be working non-stop on the competition case study for the past 6-hours and 50-minutes, no one seems to be slowing down and no one has taken more than a quick bio break… Also, none of them are looking completely “lost”, they are just chugging along!

The calmness has the competition solution architect, Chris Amaris, a bit nervous right now as he’s second guessing himself whether he’s made the objectives and solutions “too easy” and all of the competitors are going to be walking out the door in a few hours completely done (which won’t happen, there’s a LOT left to do). But still, makes Chris nervous, and since we’re all bored, we might as well egg it on and keep telling Chris that we better make dinner plans for all of the competitors when they finish the 24-hour competition requirements in 9 hours…

4:53pm EDT – July 9, 2011
The competitors just got a visit from Jon Perera, Microsoft’s General Manager in charge of the Imagine Cup competition! It’s great to have Jon swing by and visit with the competitors, check in to make sure that us judges have what we need, and that all is going well! Fortunately all has gone well so far, so nothing to report other than we’re chugging along!!!


6:00pm EDT – July 9, 2011
We handed out the first of the mini-challenges an hour ago and had the competitors work to complete this initial interim challenge to earn points for the competition. The requirement was for them to successfully send (and receive) emails, something that would seem simple, but assumes the competitor knows how to (and successfully is able to) configure Microsoft Exchange, Active Directory, setup DNS records, etc. For this challenge, of the 6 competitors, 2 got this challenge completely correct, and 1 half correct… This is not easy stuff and this is just 1 of many tasks, so no one is winning or losing at this point, it’ll be a tight race to the end! The competitors continue to roll along!

8:10pm EDT – July 9, 2011
This evening, we were visited by the Imagine Cup IT Challenge 2008 winner from the competition in France, the Imagine Cup Alumni Jean-Benoit Paux. Here’s a profile on Jean-Benoit from an interview he did with us end of last year… http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=471439523772. It’s always GREAT to have ongoing support and participation from our past competitors, it’s a great family of competitors that support the Imagine Cup and all that it does for students around the world! Thank you Jean-Benoit for joining us this evening, was great to introduce you to our finalists at the 11-hour marker into the competition!
9:30pm EDT – July 9, 2011
We’re at the halfway point of the competition and just completed the 2nd mini-challenge in the competition. This challenge was to ensure the competitors have properly protected their systems from hacker attacks, which with the latest versions of Microsoft Windows, by default, firewall protection security is enabled, so as long as the competitors haven’t done anything to lower the default security, they should have ALL gotten full points for this challenge, and sure enough, they ALL got 100% full credit on this mini-challenge, so now All of the competitors have points on the board!

I have noticed in the past half hour the competitors are rubbing their eyes more, standing up and stretching a little more, a little bit of the fatigue is wearing on, however with everyone now completely in the game with points on the board, there’s a little bit of emotional relief and renewed energy!!!

11:00pm EDT – July 9, 2011
Okay, somehow between 10pm-11pm I must have dozed off as I don’t remember what happened in that hour long period, been a long day… Chris, on the otherhand, has been taking advantage of Red Bull being a sponsor of the Imagine Cup competition and is wired up on the stuff! The competitors are still hard at work, this is one TOUGH group of competitors this year!!!

12:10am EDT – July 10, 2011
We just had our 3rd mini-challenge, the competitors had to show “rich coexistence” between Exchange 2010 on-premise and Office 365 “in the cloud” to share calendar free/busy information. None of the competitors have successfully gotten the integration between Exchange and Office 365 working, although they ALL got more points as they all had some progress in their work effort having at least either Exchange 2010 on-premise, or Office 365 in the cloud working…

The competitors have been at it now for over 15 hours, amazing group here, they are all working through the case scenario little by little and making really good progress, very proud of all of them!

1:23am EDT – July 10, 2011
Okay, I’m going to go forage for something to snack on, maybe head up to the room and take a quick shower too…

1:50am EDT – July 10, 2011
Whew, a nice hot shower and a walk around the hotel, MUCH better, good for another few hours… So as we cross past 16 hours of the competition with only 7-hours and 40-minutes left to go…

So as I have a few moments here with 3 of the competitors taking a break and all is pretty quiet, a moment to talk about the competition this year… So as much as my initial blog post talked about the competitors having to build out an on-premise (Exchange 2010 / Active Directory) environment as well as a cloud-based environment using Office 365 and Microsoft Azure, this inclusion of “cloud” technologies is a huge shift in the IT Challenge this year! The past 15 months, everything in this industry has been about “the cloud”, and in the business world today, organizations are looking for assistance in implementing cloud technologies, like Office 365 and Azure, so the focus of the IT Challenge is to test the competitors on their grasp of “the cloud”.

Things like Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, and Office 2010 in the cloud is technologically no different than these products in a traditional inhouse datacenter, however since the cloud infrastructure is shared among multiple organizations (which is called “multi-tenant”), the administration and management tools and functionality are very different. An IT Administrator can’t just remote into a server console and begin administering and managing the entire server, instead, the administrator is given a limited console with the ability to only do a limited series of tasks specific to the administrator’s organization. Much of the underlying technologies are related to the cloud provider, in this case Microsoft, to handle things like inherent security, “fabric”, high availability, redundancy, and the like.

I just asked the competitors if any of them had previous installed or worked with Office 365 or Azure, and this is new to all of them. Nothing like learning the latest and hottest technologies here and now, will say, these competitors will have a HUGE leg up in the industry with the experience they are getting in learning these cloud technologies!

Oh, by the way, Chris is no longer worried that the competitors will easily finish all of the tasks of the competition before the time is up, this is definitely a LOT to throw onto the competitors, and while they are all in the competition and doing extremely well, none of them are on track to finish everything up quickly and be done with before this 24-hour period is over...

I'll blog again later in the morning...

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The 2011 IT Challenge competition started 9 months ago, through challenging qualifying rounds, to the final 24-hour non-stop competition. The top 6 finalists have worked extremely hard to get here, and they have ALL done a GREAT job in making it through to the finish!

As head judge and Captain of the competition, I’m proud to know these competitors have done their best and have truly done some amazing things! It’s more than just knowing the technology, it’s also in most cases traveling halfway around the world, outside of their home country for the first time, taking something new and different, trying to figure it out, and reasoning through the solution, which they have ALL demonstrated!

The competitors were asked to build a full blown computer network in just 24-hours time, and they all worked through the challenge without for a moment giving anything less than their best! Chris’ worry of the competitors finishing the full competition far before the end of time never came to fruition, the competitors were adequately challenged with the scenario.

As we wrapped up the 24-hour period, there were smiles on the faces of ALL of the competitors, happy to have made it through the challenge.

Over the preceding 3-hours, we met with each of the 6 competitors for 30-minutes and had them show us their effort, progress, and results. We asked them to demonstrate to us functionality across 20 functional areas, to present to us their final results. The presentations were all very well done, the 4 judges noted their scores, the score cards have been tallied and the top 3 will be announced on Wednesday afternoon during the World Festival Awards Ceremony!

Some stats from the IC2011 IT Challenge Networking:
* The competitors visited over 2,700 different web destinations during the 24-hour period
* 11.6 GB of data was transmitted from over 13,000 packets during the competition

This is a wonderful competition that we thank Microsoft for supporting every year to help support, develop, educate, and provide opportunities to thousands of technology enthusiasts from around the world!!!

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This afternoon, we announced the winners of the Imagine Cup 2011 competition. It’s hard to actually “name” a winner, because ALL of the students have worked extremely hard for the past year, have risen through the ranks of pre-qualifying rounds, and are the best of the best in their country doing incredible things.

But the competition does recognize the top scores, and this year, for the Imagine Cup 2011 IT Challenge that I lead. A quick video that led up to the awards:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G98mVOERgaU
The top 3 in the IT Challenge for 2011 are as follows:
* Jean-Sébastien Duchene (France)
* Błażej Matuszyk (Poland)
* Yunheng Mong (Singapore)

The World Festival was welcomed by New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg himself, so wonderful to have him attend and kick off the awards ceremony!

The entire Lincoln Center in New York City was abuzz with all of the competitors excited to be at the worldwide finals and have a chance to be on stage among the best of the best!

To wrap up the worldwide finals, Eva Longoria awarded the People’s Choice Award to the team from Bangladesh!



So the Imagine Cup 2011 competition in New York City wraps up and in just 48-hours we’ll start taking registrants for the 2012 competition which the finals will be held in AUSTRALIA!!! Hopefully Microsoft will invite me back to lead my 8th Imagine Cup competition and I can help drive the success of the competition yet again!

I congratulate ALL of those who competed this past year, and if you are still eligible, to compete again starting this Fall!

Until next year! Rand