Posted by: technofutures | October 3, 2008

Microsoft Star Award Trip to Seattle – Day 1

As a result of my participation in the Microsoft Student Partner program last year, I was incredibly fortunate of being awarded the Microsoft Student Partner ‘Star Award’ for the UK, along with Kris Athi (another MSP).

Little did we know how amazing the prize for that award would be until we found out in June that we would be attending a global student conference in Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond, Seattle!

Map picture

Wednesday 24th September

So off I was on Wednesday 24th September! After very pleasant flights with KLM and (empty!) Northwest, I had made it to the north-western tip of the giant United States…

A short 20 minute taxi ride from the airport brought me to the lovely hotel (The Westin Bellevue) where I would be spending the next 4 days. P9240039After meeting up with Kris, I ventured out on an exploration of the surrounding area hoping to catch a glimpse of ‘Seattle by night’… instead I got a sense of how large Seattle was… one centimeter on my map (treacherous thing) had taken me around 30 minutes to cover… and when I finally reached the lake waterfront (in a very very fancy neighbourhood where Bill Gates’s house is located), I realized how hilly Seattle was, which resulted in me seeing a grand view of nothing!

After an equally lengthy return walk to the hotel, I decided it was probably time to go to bed… especially after Kris kindly ‘remembered’ that we would have to be up at 5:30 the next morning…

Thursday 25th September

5:30. What kind of time is that to get up?

Well… surprisingly everyone made it, meeting up with one of the fabulous organizers of this first ‘Student Daze’, Kameo, and we then got to know the ~20 other Microsoft Student Partners from all over the world whom we would be spending an exciting two days with: Australia, Europe, USA etc etc…

And we were off! With beautiful limousines we were transferred to Building 122 for the events of the first ever ‘Student Daze Summit’.

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After a good breakfast, lots of goodies, and a wordy NDA, we were all keen to listen to the amazing line-up of speakers that the organizers had planned for us!

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Leandro, main organizer of the event and lead for the Student Partner Program worldwide introduced the first speaker: Sam Gazitt, who talked to us about Popfly, one of the more ‘fun’ technologies at Microsoft. Introducing and building on what we knew about the Popfly Game Creator and Mash-up tools was very interesting, and brought gave me a lot of ideas about what I could do to present this on campus, and especially in schools… a project for December! A popfly mash-up is also good for the Imagine Cup (in Cairo this year) Mash-up invitational, and is open to high school students too!

This was followed by a very interesting panel led by Frank Arrigo along with 4 other high-profile bloggers in and out of Microsoft :Jeff Sandquist (lead for the Microsoft Channels 8,9,10…), Lawrence Liu (Sharepoint Guru), the well-known Xbox blogger Larry Hirb ‘Major Nelson’ and Warren (another one!) Sukernek (Twitter ‘specialist’). Many blogging-related topics were discussed in this interactive sessions including things such as Microsoft blogging ‘policy’, the advantages, challenges and limitations of blogging for them, Twitter, the question of whether personal and work blogs should be separate, the issue of privacy and many other topics. It was fascinating to find out how much freedom Microsoft bloggers have to express themselves, and the trust that lies with the employees…

This interesting panel was followed by a fascinating insight into Open-Source at Microsoft by Karri Dunn (and Harry Pierson-IronPython), and how much goes on, despite the fact that the OSS group is quite small in MS. Subjects were covered such as CodePlex, Microsoft’s companion to sourceforge, the role of Ruby on Rails and Python in upcoming versions of Silverlight etc… A really fascinating insight!

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Lunch followed… what can I say… well… It would be hard for me to think of a dish/food type that was not available in the MS employee cafeteria we were treated to. Everything from Italian to Mexican to American to Asian foods made choice incredibly hard…… Lucky softees!

Such delicious delights were followed by fascinating insights and demos with Live Mesh, including for example demos of Mesh on Mac as well as many other goodies that will have to wait for PDC (we heard that word so many times in two days… it’s going to be amazing!)! Jeremy Mazner’s part of the presentation was also really cool as he described the basic technical basis for Mesh.

The XNA/Xbox Live session which followed was also fun, including demos of the polished version of the new Xbox Live interface/avatars (cool- that’s all I’ll say! Avatars- I’m not sure about this one… but the customizability is amazing and there may be exciting things with these in future games!) and an insight into XNA community games (which unfortunately is now inaccessible until Game Studio 3.0 come out… soon 🙂 )

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This last session marked the end of the day 1 presentations… and then… the moment that many of us have been looking forward to for many years… Visit to the Microsoft Company Store… Software, Hardware, Microsoft Gadgets and Microsoft Clothes… And an 80$ gift voucher each from Leandro and Kameo 🙂 … A unique experience… I settled for some Xbox Hardware (a wireless adapter and 360 Wireless controller PC connector): roughly half price from the UK 🙂 and of course a whole plethora of Microsoft branded items and souvenirs: shirts, keyrings, jackets,water bottles, PDA holders, pens, lanyards… (I think the cashier thought I was crazy!).

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And then the Microsoft Home of the Future in the Executive Briefing center (which also contained a ‘25-years service rogues gallery’ and a slice of the Berlin Wall! A Daimler Benz present for Bill Gates…). If only I had been allowed to take pictures (although it seems like Paul Thurrot was allowed to a few days before: http://www.winsupersite.com/showcase/mshome_2008_01.asp). We were taken on a marvellous journey, which portrays Microsoft’s potential vision of the future. This included a lot of location awareness, voice responses, various screen technologies all integrated beautifully across a complete house… kitchen, living room etc etc… I could go on for hours!

The day finished in style on the top floor of the Microsoft Building in Lincoln Square, with a beautiful view over nighttime Bellevue and Seattle, Xbox (ahem…), pizza and good company! Ideal 🙂

And that concluded Day 1. Stay tuned for Day 2 of this fabulous experience!

Note: There are so many things that should be linked here… I’ll link them in due course!

W@

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