A few weeks ago, my team and I were invited to compete in the US National Finals for the Microsoft Imagine Cup in Washington D.C. This was the culmination of a blistering year of hard coding, business development, and scientific research that had been spent to create a mobile application called Mobilife. In short, we had adapted existing technology to provide users with supplemental diagnostic information to assist in diagnosing vascular diseases (such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, sickle cell disease, etc.). The team tag line explains it all: take a picture, save a life.
The purpose behind the Imagine Cup Competition is straightforward enough - create technologies to address the UN Millennium Development goals, such as increasing environmental sustainability and reducing child mortality rates. Lofty goals for a student-only competition, but you would be impressed at some of the ideas out there. A team out of San Jose State University, for example, developed a software suite that models the carbon footprint and electrical consumption of computer systems as a function of their workload and the components. The quality of work and sheer brilliance of those competing really showcased the potential of our generation.
National Finals was stressful from the beginning. Sleep-deprived and already mentally-exhausted from the exams I had the night before, I boarded a 6am flight to begin my weekend excursion across the nation. What made this flight particularly long was the fact that I would be flying alone, rather than with my team from San Diego. It was valuable time that I wanted to spend polishing our presentation and work on some additional features for our project. My team eventually arrived at the Microsoft office only to be surprised by our draw for the first judging panel at 8am. Keep in mind, this would be 5am in California.
However, it was not at all a bad experience there. Aside from the Segway tours of various historical monuments, and some de-stressing at the ESPN Zone, what really made my time truly great were the people. It wasn't an atmosphere of competition, but rather an environment that fosters the growth of great ideas. Throughout the weekend, I was fortunate to meet the people there and every competitor became a friend, and every Microsoft employee became a mentor. There was a sense of camaraderie amongst the finalists because we all knew we were going through the same thing.
Between every symposium and presentation we were given were minutes that I used to complete homework assignments for Biostatistics, studying for midterm examinations for a Molecular Pathobiology course, or paperwork for the Microsoft Student Partners program. Looking around me, I knew I wasn't the only one who was up all night. Being a finalist was an exhausting, and humbling experience to challenge myself to find the strength to stay optimistic to keep the team motivated. After all, what were my problems in the broad scope of things, like saving the world? It was definitely worth a chuckle at the time.
A friend/competitor I met in D.C. told me that "The world has a habit of being a pretty bad place sometimes. Luckily, we can change that." With everything I saw in Washington D.C. that weekend, I am convinced and can only wonder what the Worldwide Finals, with teams representing 122 nations, will bring.
For more information on Imagine Cup, check out Microsoft's page on the contest.
To view the Mobilife project, as well as other worldwide finalists, click here.