The HoloLens and Holographic Academy Experience

I consider myself extremely lucky, part of the future, special and being in the right place at the right time.

This is the HoloLens website.

As part of attending the Microsoft Build conference I got a chance to attend the Holographic Academy. I was one of the first few hundred developers to try developing an app for HoloLens. It was four and a half quality hours in a hotel hall with a big Microsoft team and magic all around. No cameras or recording devices allowed- so I don’t have photos to share. It’s still a lot of secrecy and unanswered questions but what a spectacular unveiling of the technology of the future!

Personal Setting
Somebody came with an optician tool to measure something about my eyes. I don’t understand it all but I believe it measures the space between the pupils. I got 60 as a number and I think it was the smallest number from the people around me- go figure.

The HoloLens customizations and deployments can be done wirelessly but in our with unreliable network, we had to connect the HoloLens to the computer through an USB cable. As a first step, I needed to access the device through the browser with an IP address & port number. You access a website where you plug in the number to customize your HaloLens.

The Development Tools
The tools you need are Unity for the 3D work (https://unity3d.com/) and Visual Studio 2015 for the compilation of the code and deployment.

I opened an existent application, built it in Unity and compiled/deployed it from Visual Studio. When compiling it, I had to look at the spot where I expected to see my hologram. Once the deployment finished, I disconnected the cable and I was free to move around with my hologram – a small race toy car. With a small tab in the air, I was able to move it around.

Space Recognition
HoloLens have space recognition- you see the space around so my car would fall from the edge of the coffee table and get stuck on impact with my backpack.

Building Apps
I started with a new project in Unity. Microsoft provided us with assets to use for the app. There are 3 main components/sensors you code for – gaze, tap and voice commands! We would add C# script for gaze, tab and voice recognition and attach them to objects.

Gaze
The little ring cursor will point at the object when your eyes/gaze reach the object.

Tap
The little tap with the index finger in the air will trigger a command.


Voice Recognition

I was able to implement in the code my personal commands. I was impressed how good the voice recognition was. It was easy to implement my commands for reset and drop the object. I think HoloLens actually interpret my accent better than the people around me.

The App
With the provided assets and code, my app had a small board with objects in it. There were two balls in the air that I was able to drop with a tap or a voice command. When the first ball dropped, an exposure would happen and the underground world would get exposed. I would place my gaze on the second ball and tap/give a command and the ball will drop in the underworld and I would be able to follow with my eyes the ball.

Interaction
I would be able to give my HoloLens to somebody else and they would experience my world. We were not able to interact with each other in one augmented reality. This functionality will be there in the future.

The Summary
When I saw the press release video from Microsoft in January, when I saw the demo at the keynote of //Build, my reaction was- no idea how this can be real. The experience with my hands on the HoloLens and the SDK surpassed my expectations by far! The augmented reality is very real, the HoloLens are comfortable and writing an app for HoloLens was not as hard as it sounds. I probably cannot explain the extent of my excitement and fascination. I have dreams now how to use the HoloLens, how to build apps for it. And after dreams and vision, now it’s the time to roll my sleeves and learn Unity…

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Game Jam for Kids

September 14, 2013

Two outstanding Microsoft evangelists Daniel Egan and Bret Stateham.
Sponsorship from Microsoft.
45 middle school children, 10 volunteers and 2 teachers.
Teaching kids how to create art in InkSpace, how to create their own sounds in Audacity and putting it all together into a mobile game in GameMaker.

I’m proud to say I’m the organizer and it was a very successful event.

Game Jam for Kids
Daniel Egan helping participants get ready with the initial installation of the software.
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Ina Samir made an inspirational speech about programming and what’s to love about it.
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Bret Stateham is opening the event and inspiring every child in the room.
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One of the parent volunteers Udayan Sharma and his daugher Mahika.
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Jason and Daniel Egan helping the participants.
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JB is part of the Universal Music Group development team that volunteered at the event.
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Young Elizabeth helped welcome the participants with goody bags.
Yesenia made a big part of this event possible. Thank you!
Game Jam for Kids
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The youngest participant at the event impressed us with his focus and determination.
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Pizza break.
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Playing with the Xbox Kinect in the break.
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Jason volunteered his time at the event.
Game Jam for Kids
Playing with the I-racer controlling the car with the Windows Phone.
Game Jam for Kids
I should’ve made a better photo of Laszlo, one of the wonderful volunteers from Universal Music Group who helped dozens of munchkins keep up with their development projects.
Game Jam for Kids
Carol did an amazing job of organizing the Technology Academy from Walter Reed to come to the event.
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One of the best photobombs ever. I was posing and looking beautiful…
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Bret Stateham is helping some the participants.
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The raffle drawing.
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Giving the certificates to every child participant.
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A sweet gesture for all the volunteers at the event.
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Having fun is so important!
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Bret Stateham set up a whole room for sound creation and editing.
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One happy child that day walked away with an Xbox.
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After a great event it’s time to celebrate!
Game Jam for Kids

Check out the Walter Reed Technology Academy website and thank you message.

Thank you, Microsoft, Daniel Egan, Bret Stateham and all the wonderful volunteers that made this event possible! And yes, more to come.

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Mobile Development Languages & Tools

iOS Development

iOS
If you like to create apps for iOS (iPad, iPhone) you can use the Xcode platform. The programming language of iOS(and Mac OS) is Objective-C. You can develop in C or C++ as well. Cocoa is the application programming interface (API).
You have one more excellent option – you can program apps for iOS in HTML5.
MonoTouch will allow you to use any .NET language and develop for iOS.

Android

Android
The officially supported integrated development environment (IDE) is Eclipse.
Additionally, developers may use any text editor to edit Java and XML files, then use command line tools (Java Development Kit and Apache Ant are required) to create, build and debug Android applications.
You can develop Android apps using HTML5.

Windows 8

Windows
The main tool you will use is Visual Studio (and Expression Blend). You can develop in HTML5 or XAML & C# or XAML & VB or XAML & C++.

Windows Phone

The main tool you will use is Visual Studio (and Expression Blend). You can develop in XAML & C# or XAML & VB or XAML & C++.

Blackberry

Blackberry
BlackBerry development is done in Java and you can use the Eclipse envoironment.

Corss-Platform Development Tools

Appcelerator Titanium allows you to develop apps in HTML5 for iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry.
Icenium allows you to develop apps in HTML5 for iOS and Android.

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Participating in the Big Build Hackathon

If you ask me what will stay with me from the Build conference 2012 (Redmond / Seattle), I’ll tell you definitely the hackathon. I would give away my new Surface ( I got it as a present from the Build conference) just to do the hackathon again.

There are so many things that made this event memorable but I would like to start with a few that could’ve been better. The communication was so minimum that it hurt us. I wish I knew before I registered it’s not an 8 hour event but a 5 day event. I wish every participant at Build had a chance to participate. Like everything else at Build 2012 only the fastest and the luckiest got to register. After the registration there was an email with the schedule (3 days before the event). I couldn’t adjust my schedule on the late notice well enough- I missed the first two days because I had already planned my time (yup, the binder full of parties).

My biggest regret is we had no good way to network with people on different teams. I know we were all in the same room but we were all so observed in our own apps and teams. I wish we had our own little Mixer after the competition- I would’ve loved to talk to the other teams and ask questions about their apps. We were competitors the whole time and we should’ve had time to be friends. It was a wasted opportunity for us and for Microsoft to bring us together. I wish there was a tweeter group or something along those lines.

Food was served at the hackathon – all except lunch which was a problem. We wasted a long time walking back and forward to the outside tent with the attendee lunch. I didn’t understand why- it was just a waste of time. On Friday we actually didn’t have lunch because we wanted to see the demos- and by the time the demos ended the lunch tent was closed.

Even that things could’ve been better it was a brilliant event.

Let me tell you about the many things I loved of the event. We were encouraged to team up with people we never met before. I would’ve never believed that that could work but it worked like a charm. It was genius! Our team was originally five people but only three of us kept on going. We had to sacrifice the sessions and beer fest. At the start there were around 45 entries (from teams or individual participants) and most of them didn’t go to sessions, keynotes, parties and worked very long hours (sometimes the whole night). Almost every team had a participants from different countries.

We were given what felt as unlimited resources. There were at least 20 experts- the best of the best Microsoft employees ready to answer any question and guide us to accomplish anything we wished for. We were teamed up with mentors. Our mentor was Paul Batum- a truly impressive Azure mobile services expert. We were not limited to our main mentor- we talked with many of the mentors in the room. And there was email support for the people who worked remotely.

We all took advantage of Team Foundation Service ( tfs.visualstudio.com ). Teams of 5 or less can use TFS on the Cloud for free. It worked great- we all were checking in and checking out the pieces of the project we were working on. I love it!

Looking back I believe these were my mistakes- I didn’t sacrifice my first 2 days, I didn’t trust the team model at the start, I didn’t talk to many people(everybody was just coding) and we should’ve chosen to make a consumer app (not a business app).

There were no rules about what kind of app you should develop and no guidance was given but let me tell you- the apps that ended up being chosen were cool apps, ideas that you haven’t heard about before. We choose to develop too trivial app- a small business expense report system. Talking with other participants we came up with the conclusion That Microsoft is a bit tired of being seen as a business solution- they were looking to see cool consumer apps and these were the apps that were chosen to be demo’d. All apps that won used successfully Azure mobile services and the winning Windows Phone 8 apps used NFC.

There were 3 categories- Windows Azure, Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. All apps needed to be started at the hackathon. The apps were officially judged on:
(34%) Innovative: Is this app meeting an existing need in a new way?
(33%) Applicability: Would this app be useful and appealing to a broad audience?
(33%) Technical Achievement: How difficult was it to build this app?

The prizes were not big (I have seen hackathons with prizes in the 6 digits). The total money won was $10K split between 9 teams (and teams were from 1 to 6 people). The biggest prize for the 1st place winners was the exposure. On Thursday everybody needed to submit their app by email to the first round of judges. 13 apps were chosen to be demoed in front of the celebrity judges. Celebrity judges included people like Scott Hanselman. The exposure to demo in front of the judges helped some people get job offers on the spot.

What we accomplished with our app was to implement the fast and fluid design of Windows 8. We had our screens, charms, contracts implemented. We had Microsoft account authentication (with the Live SDK). We used Azure mobile services and we were successfully writing data from our app to the cloud and displaying it back. We implemented the photo/file picker and the image upload to the cloud. We felt as we had a great app and a strong technical implementation. We didn’t even consider that we will be eliminated before the demo. The idea was reasonable- you submit your expense report (take a picture of the receipt and enter the information) and your boss receives and approves it. We were eliminated silently. We spent a lot of time, we sacrifice sessions and events, we accomplished a lot and I strongly believe we deserved the 3 minutes in front of judges.

The apps that won first place were:

Windows Azure category- the winner is QBranch. A team of 6 people from different countries developed a Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 applications that used Windows Azure mobile services to store data. The app allowed you to have a digital queue for different events or places like DMV. The Windows phone 8 app reads NFC or QR codes to put users on the queue and uses push notifications to alert the user when their turn is up. It is developed in XAML and C#. The windows 8 app is used by the administrator to manage the queue. It is developed in HTML5.

Windows Phone 8 category – the winner is Social Squirrel. I felt this was the Microsoft favorite team and app- two people from Canada. Scott Hanselman offered them a job in the middle of their presentation. The rumor is that this team has already more than 10 apps in the Store. The app uses Facebook API and allows you to play a game and answer quizzes about your Facebook friends. The developers used the accelerometer to allow people to shake the phone and arrange the tiles randomly. NFC was used as well so two phones can communicate by touching. It is developed in XAML and C#.

Windows 8 category – the winner is Crowd Sourced Memories. A team of 4 attendees developed this cool app. At an event like a wedding the guests may use a Windows 8 machine to take pictures, videos and sign a message. All messages and photos are in the Cloud and can be played back in chronological order- even messages that were played back dot by dot as signed. The team mentioned they plan to have a windows phone 8 app and to implement NFC. It is developed in XAML and C#.

The winners have it all. They were interviewed for channel 9 and they truely deserve the fame and the prizes. What amazing work they did!

There is a big open question at the end of the hackathon for my team and most of the other teams. I believe Microsoft needs to help us with the next step. It would be such a waste if we don’t publish our apps to the store. We were encouraged to make teams. Most of the teams are international. How do we publish as a team? There are legal and accounting questions but the answer may be similar for each of our teams. I think this is an important last step that Microsoft should not overlook.

Dan Fernandez was the face of the Build Hackathon and he worked really hard. I suspect he barely slept for the duration of the hackathon. His efforts paid off. We all have memories to treasure and an experience to cherish. We learned a lot and we got inspired. I formed a team with two people that I just met and we created a strong bond. What a joy to see so many masterful developers and bright minds in one place! The experts in the room were phenomenal- extremely smart and knowledgeable Microsoft employees. I wish I had the names of all the mentors to give them credit. I’m so sorry I will miss your names and I only know your faces. Here are the names I know Paul Batum, Josh Holmes, Michael Johnson, Jeremy Foster.

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Binder full of Parties – The Build Conference

Do you think of the stereotype of a geek that doesn’t get invited to parties? Oh well, the most geekiest conference gives us a binder full of parties. I like to think I’m a veteran at attending Microsoft conferences but I’m being surprised by the jewel of the Microsoft development World- the Build Conference. I’m going to Seattle in 2 days and I have my binder full… of parties!

I tried to attend the Microsoft Build conference in 2011 and it was a lesson to learn. When the conference was announced, I submited my request to my manager and I waited for approval from manager after manager. It took several weeks. I was so proud and happy but it wasn’t for long. I was on the Build waiting list. I thought a waiting list is good, there is a chance. There was never a chance. Don’t believe a waiting list when it’s about Build.

This year I didn’t take any chances. I waited for the first sign of the Build conference- it was a message on Facebook with the date the registration will open. I didn’t wait for approval. On that date at 8AM I was on the website refreshing the page.

If I tell you Microsoft makes no advertisement, gives no details, puts a one form website and asks for $1,500 from the first 500 people and $2,000 from the rest and the conference is sold out in 40 minutes, would you believe me? There is more to it- you had to be very fast and persistent to escape the website errors and pay on time to secure your spot. So many people were registering at the same time, the website was erroring out constantly. I managed to get the early bird discount- and that’s early- it was sold out in 2 minutes! I was fast and furious and I learned from the previous year’s fiasco.

Do you know what amazes me? There is no session catalog yet. If you go to the website right now- you will see minimum information. And this was actually updated 2 days ago. You learn to be thankful if you know the address.

Let’s talk now about the parties. I won’t lie to you – I’m a reasonably looking woman and I actually get invited to a lot of parties for the sake of balance- the geeky crowd is mostly male. But this time I couldn’t rely just on my charm. Oh boy, I had to click fast and dig at twitter feeds.

Thanks to a friend of mine from TechEd I got to register at the Deep Fried Bytes BUILD Party at Lucky Strike.

For every hit you have a miss… I missed to register for the Build Blogger Bash Party. I still don’t know even the link for it. Ironically I’m writing in my blog about it.

There was an invitation for the Windows Phone Dinner Party sent to all the Build registrants. I was too slow and I felt very much uninvited. It’s these precious 2 minutes you have after the email hits your inbox. Blink and you are too late.

I really applaud DevExpress for posting their party on Twitter #bldwin. I’m going to DXTREME Party at //Build/ 2012 @ K1 Speed.

I managed to register for the Hackathon! It’s miracle in itself. It was the 2 minute rule.

I get to go to a dinner cruise because I’m extremely lucky.

There is the Build conference official party which is sold out too but at least every attendee gets to go.

I’m sure there are many more parties that I don’t have in my binder.

I miss something big from the Microsoft TechEd Conference. I’m a proud member of theKrewe. At TechEd we have an amazing leader Michael Bender who organized a support structure around the conference party system. #TheKrewe is an open group of people that makes you feel part of the conference networking system (the parties). TheKrewe keeps you updated on parties and you never have to feel alone.

The bottom line here is… I’m packing for Seattle. I have a binder full of parties and I think most of the Build attendees do too. I guess only the organizers at this point have a binder full of sessions.

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She did it again… winning the Windows 8 hackathon

Several weeks ago we went to a Windows 8 hackathon with my 10 year old daughter. We had no plan to compete. We just wanted to learn and be part of this fun event. The event started at 9AM on a quiet August Saturday. Most of our friends were at the beach. We were in the Microsoft office in Irvine and the room was almost full.
I will be honest with you, my daughter Ina was bored. She told me her baby brother is having more fun in the park. It still hurts repeating this unreasonable complain. I’m a hackathon fan, a religiously faithful enthusiast and I cannot imagine anything more fun on a Saturday. But I understand it- she didn’t have a project in mind, she was surrounded by adults and everybody was busy writing code.

Here comes the game changer. Quietly Matt Harrington, a Microsoft evangelist from San Francisco, comes to the podium for a small presentation before lunch. He actually mentions the only 10 year old in the room and he wants to show us something cool. Scirra is a tool. It’s software from the UK… that writes Java Script for you. You can make a game without messing with Java Script code! You create objects and give them properties, you add events and behaviors. Simple and easy. Matt announces you can make your own game with this tool in 2h.

That’s all Ina needed.

She did it. Hard work till 8PM and there it was- the Cyclopes game for Windows 8. You control a guy on the screen by moving the arrow keys and you can shoot with the space key. Cyclopes come from all directions and if they touch you, you lose. If you shoot at one of them 3 times you kill it. The point counter works. The game was functional and fun but she was still not convinced she has enough to present and compete. Microsoft was giving a free Xbox game to every participant and that helped. She just wanted the game. It didn’t cross her (or my) mind she may win the big prize. I asked Daniel Egan, the famous Microsoft evangelist from LA, to talk to Ina and give her some courage. He did – he got to Ina faster and easier than I could’ve done in hours. (I wish I can call him for help this week as Ina is running for school president and has to make a speech.)

Ina gets on the stage and first thanks Matt Harrington “Matt’s presentation really inspired me today”.
Everybody in the room voted- picking 5 best apps. Ina made it to the top- a Samsung Windows 8 slate, a $500 gift card and an inspirational memory to keep in her young heart.

The story speaks for itself. I was speechless, proud and happy. Michael Palermo, a Microsoft evangelist from Arizona, tweeted the next day:
@nia_angelina Thank you Nia! Congrats to that phenom daughter of yours for winning the slate and $500 at the hackathon! #win8appdev

Oh well, I’m full of so much appreciation for the precious Microsoft’s evangelists and the hackathon community! You should’ve been there. There are more to come- be there and get inspired!

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Windows Phone Hackathons Are Better Than a Party

My life changed for the better in 2011 at TechEd North America (Atlanta GA). I was walking on the expo floor and I met The Sociable Geek Daniel Egan at the Windows Phone booth. I got a beautiful Samsung Focus phone in my hands and I was mesmerized. I had watched some webcasts earlier and I wanted to get into the mobile development. I wanted one of those puppies as well. When you have a goal or a dream, the Universe sends you the way to get there. Daniel told me about the Hackathon he was organizing that evening and that I could win one of those phones. I was there… I ditched a party to go to the hackathon.

I have never done a better decision in my life… it was much better than the great party I’ve missed.

It was exciting. It ended at midnight but I had the most beautiful phone in my hands. I had an inspiration. I made new friends and I learned about opportunities. There are hackathons not only once a year at TechEd and in Atlanta but in LA and many other locations.
Windows Phone Hackathon
At the end of March 2012 I took my 10 year old daughter and 14 year old nephew at a Windows Phone Hackathon in Los Angeles. It felt natural. I saw the same excitement in their eyes as I’ve felt. They were hooked… They found a person to inspire them too. Bret Stateham is a Microsoft evangelist and he quietly guided them.

Several weeks ago we went to a Nokia hackathon in San Diego. There was a set back- the kids were rejected at first by email, they were too young. There was a student contest but you had to be 18 or older to participate! My 14 year old nephew stayed home. My 10 year old daughter is not the type to get discouraged by a rejection. She reassured me I don’t care if I can compete, I’m coming to learn. So she came and we were nicely surprised. Nokia’s people had a gift for her. Everybody – participants and organizers- made her feel welcome and loved. Daniel Egan spent time helping her. It was a blast. Better than a party, she agrees…
(Ina was impressed: Mommy, I want to start work… Look at Nokia’s cafeteria… You all have much better place to eat lunch than us at school.)
Nokia's Hackathon
The other day we went to the Uplinq Hackathon. Ina was rejected again from competing but still she was allowed to come. There were some setbacks… I got a badge, she didn’t. Everybody got a backpack with a t-shirt, she didn’t… Bret Stateham saved the day at that moment- he gave Ina his own bag and t-shirt. It was a kind sweet gesture that will always be remembered.
There were 300 windows phones given- to everybody that was at the Hackathon but not Ina. Because she is too young…

Ina got a sharpie and wrote her name on my badge. The next morning she looked sad when I was getting ready to go to the Uplinq conference. She was registered and her picture was on the Uplinq catalog but she was not allowed to attend the sessions. She just wanted the chance to learn… The keynote session was beautiful- I couldn’t stop thinking how inspiring it would’ve been to watch it together with Ina.
As I said, she is not easy to discourage thankfully. I can not help but think that one day Qualcomm (the organizer of Uplinq) will want people just like her working for them. I somehow think Ina would love to work for Microsoft- if you encourage the next generation, you will get back a return on your investment.

There is nothing better than a Windows Phone Hackathon, may be Windows 8 Hackathon but that’s in our future :)

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The Uplinq CodeFest

I went to the Uplinq Codefest the other day. I was impressed by the resources Qualcomm invests in developers. $50,000 was given to the winners of the contest! Applause to Qualcomm!!! I expected a fierce battle and it was interesting to see it unfold. I came with my 10 year old daughter who is a developer and she has won alone and as a part of a team several hackathons. It was disappointing to hear she was not allowed to compete in the Qualcomm challenge (you have to be 18 or older) but it was understandable. We both decided for me not to compete this time- we were sorry for it later though. If you are a developer and you are around, you should compete. At least we both enjoyed being part of the hackathon and seeing the action in person.

The hackathon challenge went till 11:30PM. The participation of Windows Phone developers in the contest was overwhelming. Let’s say that half of the participants were Windows Phone developers and one of the 5 categories was for Windows Phone. The total number of participants was around 30! I was proud to say the Windows Phone developers’ demos were great.

I liked that the demos were timed and limited to 3 minutes! Thanks Heaven! It was shocking that half of the presentation time was spent in PowerPoint. I understand that the apps don’t need to be completed but I believe PowerPoint should be banned from hackathons. If the PowerPoint use cannot be limited, band it, give paper and crayons to the kids that are learning the SDKs. It’s purely ridiculous to compete on a PowerPoint presentation, especially when you can win $5K and you are one of 3 or 4 competitors in a category. One more change I would do if I’m a hackathon organizer- you have to compete on a new application each time. Be nice to all of us, we come to many hackathons, we don’t want to see the same app and hear the same pitch over and over again.

Overall it was a great experience. I learned one thing- never say no to participating when the prize is right! Qualcomm technologies rock, Qualcomm is a big sponsor and I pray the day will come when they will allow young developers to participate and learn. We all need to invest in the future.

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