Get ready - this one's a long one.

For the second year running, the University of Canberra (UC) has taken out the Australian Imagine Cup finals. Special mention must be made of the efforts that the uni's School of Information Sciences and Engineering faculty members (in particular Dr. Dat Tran and Dr. Dhamendra Sharma) put into supporting those teams that enter the Imagine Cup each year (2 teams from UC made it into the Oz finals this year). UC has a very strong focus on the student experience, which is fantastic to see. Also in attendance was a team from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), mentored by Dr. On Wong (who is one of the friendliest guys I've ever met and who educated me on exactly what it is that makes tall people tall). It was great to meet you all and shoot the breeze, aswell as see your entries this year.

"Team APA" took out proceedings this year with an entry that got the developers in the audience jumping out of their seats in excitement. Charles Sterling (Microsoft Developer Evangelist and Imagine Cup judge) virtually skipped out of the room after judging their entry. OK, maybe not, but it was an exciting entry. 'APA' is a tool for helping blind people develop in C#.NET. No easy task by any stretch of the Imagination.

Team APA were not clear cut winners though (despite how good their entry was) - after all teams had presented and as the judges were discussing a winner, I really had no idea who would take out the Australian finals and go on to compete for glory (and a share in AU$40k) at the world finals in Korea. We had three very distinctive entries compete in the Australian finals this year, and each had their own unique strengths (wow, I sound like I'm trying to build self-esteem in Kindergarten kids - "you are all special in your own way"). In all seriousness, judging was TIGHT! Having long ago turned away from the good side (geeky techy stuff) and gravitating more towards the dark side (the business side of things) I was focused more on which entries had more commercial viability, so if I was a judge, I would have chosen 'Smart Education' (UC) or 'Question & Answer Technology' (QUT) (more details on these entries found here). But thats why I'm not a judge. Team APA stuck with the Imagine Cup ethos - Imagine Cup is all about imagining a better world, and when there is 70% unemployment and incredible hardship amongst blind people, empowering blind people to become programmers is an extremely worthwhile aim.

After the dust had settled and the winners had been announced at the start of the final panel at ReMix07 (which was, by the way, deadset fabtabulous), the entrants and a motley crew of other Microsoft and Imagine Cup dignitaries went and chilled in Tonic Bar at Crown Promenade before their stretched limo's (yep, thats how we do it with the Imagine Cup) arrived to pick the entrants up and take them back to the airport. I know some of the students were a bit disappointed they wouldn't go to Korea, but please guys, take heart in knowing you are the top university software programmers in Australia, which is a great effort.

 Finally, I need to thank the judges. Tony Sarno, editor of APC magazine, volunteered to join the judging panel and his account of the finals is an interesting read. He gave alot of support to Imagine Cup this year, and his help is much appreciated.

I'd also like to make a very special mention of Mr Tony Lupton, Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Innovation and local member for Prahran (Victoria). Mr Lupton made time in his (very) busy schedule to come and act as a judge, which is a great indication of his support for his portfolio and his desire to support ongoing innovation through education. His presence was much appreciated and added considerable value to proceedings.

To the lads - Coatesy (Andrew Coates) and Chuck (Charles Sterling), both Microsoft developer evangelists - thanks for jumping at the chance to be judges this year. Great to see such enthusiastic support for students and the Imagine Cup from within the Microsoft organisation, especially when developer evangelists have so many commitments and responsibilities. 

And finally Shahed Khan, pro developer and Microsoft most valued professional. Shahed jumped on board at the very start of Imagine Cup 07 wanting to mentor a team. We didn't have a team in the area he lives, but his enthusiasm was such that I knew we'd have to make him a judge. Thanks Shahed.

Thanks to all involved - photos have been delayed but will soon follow (I loaned my camera to our PR team yesterday afternoon), and next year's theme will be announced soon (you'll know about it all the sooner if you subscribe - http://blogs.msdn.com/ausic/rss.xml) so you can get an early jump on proceedings. If you're a tertiary student and are interested in entering next year, keep an eye out for an IC launch in a uni near you in second semester this year, check out www.imaginecup.com for worldwide details, subscribe to this blog or email me t-nice@microsoft.com.

Nick