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Microsoft OneWeek Hackathon 2018

Jul 28, 2018
3 minutes read

Since Satya Nadella took over as CEO, he has been transforming Microsoft on the inside. One of these initiatives is the OneWeek hackathon. The hackathon serves as a way for tech enthusiasts to direct their energy into learning new technology and showcasing use-cases that no one at the company thought of. The group helping organize this event is called Microsoft Garage.

At a staggering ~24k participants and ~6k projects worldwide, the range of technology used in this hackathon incredible. From Hololens and brain-computer interfaces to robotics and artificial intelligence - it was all here. Putting together a prototype requires a level of skill and hustle that Microsoft hopes to leverage as it continues being a worthy competitor to the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Hackathon 2017

My last year’s hackathon project was titled Deep Comic. The idea was to take a video and generate a 3-frame comic strip. The user could then add speech bubbles on top of the image and share it with their friends. This was all done on a standard Android device without any need for an internet connection.

The team of four that made everything happen included: Me, Noranart Vesdapunt, Kandarp Makwana and Melissa Regalia. Our project created a good amount of buzz during the show-and-tell “Science Fair” and we ended up being placed 3rd in the “Millenial” category.

For the project, we used the following pieces of technology.

  • OpenCV for basic image manipulation and data structures
  • A deep neural network for video summarization (hence, /deep/-comic)
  • Microsoft Pix’s style transfer and some low-level image processing for the comic effect

We ended up shipping this project as part of Microsoft Pix in a release a few months later. As you can imagine, we had to keep this project hush until we shipped. Surprisingly, Google released Google Storyboard at around the same time. I did a little bit of tinkering with the project and found that ours was a technically more interesting approach :)

Hackathon 2018

This time, I was part of a larger team. We had the opportunity of leveraging skills people are specialized at - designing, machine learning, UI and distributed computing. As we drilled down further into the requirements of the project, we found that we’re looking at a much larger project than expected. By the end of the event, we had working prototypes, demo videos and a more detailed requirements document. I would say it was successful!

The Science Fair was the most fun part. Here, you present your project to hundreds of people (and even senior leadership like CxO levels!) and also get to see the creativity of ~1000 other projects (at least in the Redmond campus).

On a more organizational note, one of the most common issues with hackathons is the overcrowded wifi. People dowloading huge libraries and SDKs all at once. Put thousands of people in the same tent and you’ll be glad you get a 100KB/s download speed. To ensure Microsoft hackers got the best experience, we got USB ethernet dongles. Routers on every table with dozens of empty slots. This made a whole lot of difference as we pushed code to repos, downloaded datasets and images. And of course, the hackers were well-fed throughout the event.

Fin

I think the OneWeek hackathon initiative is bringing about intended change. The scale of the hackathon truly boggles my mind. Techcrunch and Angelhack may claim gigantic hackathons worldwide. However, the Microsoft scale of organizing this event makes those events seem subpar.