This blog post is for students. I was a student myself just five years ago, so a lot of this is still fresh in my memory.

In the US, we have an interesting situation. Many years ago (think 1996-2000), if you had a a degree in computer science (or were pursuing one), you were basically golden for a job. CS people were in high demand and the field was exploding.

In my college time (2001-2005), things were looking a little different thanks to the dot-com bust, and I had to get creative. I pushed ahead with the momentum of the web design company I started when I was 15, secured internships, and built upon my experience with those projects to secure full-time employment upon graduation.

Now when I talk to students, even finding internships is becoming very hard – and that’s really scary. So it’s time to do something to get yourself noticed; do something big, maybe even change the world.

The Imagine Cup (www.imaginecup.us) is a worldwide competition where student teams build technology solutions to benefit people or society in general. Past projects addressed environmental awareness, equality/diversity/inclusion, crime reduction, low-cost diagnostic techniques & other software for poor, developing countries, software to scale computing resources for primary schools, and hundreds of other examples. These are real projects that make a real impact.

All you need to participate in the Imagine Cup is an idea. Microsoft gives you free software through MSDN AA or DreamSpark to use to build these projects. It’s helpful to have a couple of friends (especially folks from the business school) who you can work with to make the project as successful as possible, so when you face off against the rest of the country and potentially the world, you have the best project you can have.

The Round 1 deadline for this fall is October 15. All you need to submit is a project plan (template here) and an optional wireframe design if you’ve gotten that far. If you are looking for ideas, check out the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for some topics that would make great Imagine Cup projects.

I have personally been to three Imagine Cup US finals and one Worldwide finals. The event is such a fantastic experience for students – ask anyone who’s participated.

If you need help getting started, contact me via this blog, especially if you are a student in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii or Alaska. If not I can point you to the right Microsoft person for your school. And remember, the deadline for your project plan is October 15.