Microsoft Tech Center Day

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A while ago I posted about how I had won the Windows Phone 7 Student Incentive Competition which allowed me to “spend a day honing (my) skills and (my) apps with (Microsoft’s) deep technical experts”. In a fantastic turn of events my housemate and great friend Rob Crocombe also won the competition meaning we could meet up in London, travel into Reading together and have a catch up after the long Summer Holidays at the same time as learning some really cool stuff at the Microsoft HQ.

When we eventually got to reading around 10:30 — I’d set off from home around 7:30 — we were given a security card to allow us to go around the building and shown to the demo room in the Microsoft Technology Center.

The demo room had seats along the back and a stage like area with several different sections, showing an office scenario, to a home scenario, to a living room scenario with various computers, display technologies and communications tech. Slap bang in the middle of the room was a “Samsung SUR40 with Microsoft Pixel Sense”. Even the softies laugh at how bad the product name is since a certain other piece of Microsoft Technology cannibalized its original name, Microsoft Surface, to retain its secrecy!

The Student App Winners, Including Rob and I join Dr. David Brown round the SUR40 running NUIverse for a group photo

The Student App Winners, Including Rob and I join Dr. David Brown round the SUR40 running NUIverse for a group photo

The first talk we had was about NUI – Natural User Interfaces – and how they are changing the way computing works. We were very lucky to have this talk delivered to us by Dr. David Brown, the man who single handedly created NUIverse — an application which allows you to explore the universe using a natural user interface on the Samsung SUR40. We wound back all the way to Command Line Interfaces and how GUI greatly improved on the usability of computer systems for the average person, but still required some training to use, whereas Natural User Interface attempts to require no, or as little as possible, training to use.

NUIverse by Dr. David Brown - which was demo'd to us - Image credit: Mobilemag.com

NUIverse by Dr. David Brown – which was demo’d to us – Image credit: Mobilemag.com

We spoke in depth about how some parts of NUI, such as touch screens are already mainstream whilst some others, such as object identification isn’t.

After this fascinating talk we went on a break for lunch (Tip: Go to as many Microsoft events as you can, the free food is always great ;)) in which we spoke to other competition winners. After the break we were shown into a conference room where Ben Nunney — the same man who did the Windows Phone 7 Camp at Hull University at the beginning of the year —  was getting ready to do a talk on preparing for Windows 8 application development.

The talk was on the same day as Windows 8 was released to manufacturing (also known as “going gold”) meaning that the code was finalized and sent off to the device manufacturers. In other words Windows 8 version 1 was finished. There was a clear excitement around the campus, especially with Ben — for whom it was his second RTM day having joined the company just after “that operating system between XP and Windows 7 that didn’t exist” was released (Also known as Windows Vista :P)

Ben’s talk focused on introducing people to Windows 8 from a complete novice stand point and built up to showing off the development tools and telling us where and how we could get more help to port our Windows Phone apps or create entirely new apps for the system. A highlight of the talk was trying to make the Visual Studio Windows 8 Simulator work in the simulator, A.K.A “simception” :P

After this talk the 10 of us sat down with Phil Cross — the Academic Audience Manager at MS UK — to discuss how to improve the Microsoft UK Student developer group, and how some of the talks could be improved, made more interesting and become more likely to have an affect on the number of people actively developing for Microsoft platforms. I said I thought students needed greater access to systems such as tablets for testing, perhaps through borrowing them from Microsoft and that “Dev Camps” at universities needed to be less about convincing people the platform was worth buying – almost like a sales pitch – and more about showing them developer opportunities and practically how to do things.

Obviously there are some logistical and financial reasons why not everything is possible, but it was good to have the dialogue. In the end I think both the students who won the competition and the Academic Staff at Microsoft both got quite a lot out of the day — I certainly learnt a lot and enjoyed myself.

Danny

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