Imagine Cup 2017 – edition sponsored by many companies, including SoftwareHut. Robert Strzelecki, our CEO, was one of the jurors. During his presentations, he was boasting about SoftwareHut employees who have taken part in Imagine Cup many times.
He told that they are excellent employees, which characterises by their passion, engagement and maverick way of thinking. Below we are presenting an interview with some of them.
Marcin Bartoszuk – Business Development Executive at SoftwareHut, four-time finalist of Imagine Cup National Finals, and later a mentor and a juror
Arkadiusz Kondratiuk – Project Manager at SoftwareHut, four-time finalist of Imagine Cup National Finals
Mariusz Dobrowolski – Software Developer at SoftwareHut, Imagine Cup participant
Mentor’s and juror’s perspective
Could you describe the contest from the mentor’s point of view?
Marcin Bartoszuk: From the mentor’s side, the competition is similar to the contestant point of view. The mentor is responsible for providing guidance and assistance for teams, supporting and mobilising them. The jury’s point of view is however different. The jury is in charge of selecting the most interesting and innovative idea, which will later compete in the global finals.
The juror’s role is not only evaluating projects but also providing feedback, which will help the team to improve the project regarding creating the end product from the project concept. This will increase its chances in the global finals, as well as on the market.
What is your opinion on the level of the ImagineCup year by year?
MB: Year by year, the level of the competition is becoming higher. This is partially a result of the ongoing technical development and the increasing opportunities, which science provides for the contestants. More often we can observe projects, which are not limited to only software but also include devices, which are built by contesters from scratch.
Who have the best chances of succeeding? Which factors are the most important?
MB: The idea is one of the most important factors. But as we all know, a good idea isn’t everything. Good execution also matters; creating a project that can convince the jury, and in the future, customers who would be interesting in buying such a product. The Imagine Cup supports contestants in the business aspect. It helps them to improve their product and its presentation, so its chances of winning will be as high as possible.
How should a team be assembled to present the project properly?
MB: A team needs a leader who will be able to support all team members. The mentor often performs this role. Because this competition is about innovation and technology, teams should be made up of people who think outside the box and have a certain technical background. It’s not about being the alpha and omega in a particular technology because this competition is also an excellent occasion to broaden one’s technological knowledge.
Also, every team should have a good interface designer, who will be able to create a graphical layout that will be appealing to the product’s target users. Of course, a person who can present and sell the product is also needed.
What is your advice to people, who participate in the event for the first time? What should they be aware of?
MB: First of all, they should not be discouraged by their relevantly little technical knowledge. The contest is dedicated to students, therefore should be treated as an opportunity to enhance the possessed knowledge. What I would advise, is to focus on designing and presenting the idea in a way, as if they would try to sell It to a potential client. It is worth to verify, if the concept is innovative and unique, regarding competing solutions present on the global market. Innovation is a key element in the ImagineCup.
In your opinion, why is it worth to participate in the Imagine Cup?
MB: The Imagine Cup is an excellent opportunity to increase both the technical knowledge and marketing abilities of the contestant. The competition can be a real initiation into the business world. It shows, how to transform a good concept into a market ready product. As we look through the history of the contest, many teams, which started by presenting their ideas, currently run business and sell their finished products.
If someone has a unique idea, but for some reason does not want to start a business yet, he should participate in the Imagine Cup, which is a good initiation into the world of start-ups.
What does presented idea matters, and what difference does the rest of it?
MB: The methods of project evaluation are known to the contestants from the start. The participants know, what factors will be taken into consideration by the jury. But it’s not about writing everything from A to Z. As I have said earlier, the essentials are the innovative idea, well-performed implementation and a professional presentation.
The same factors are decisive in business. If we have an exciting product, and we can present it accurately, we will acquire customers, which will be interested in buying it. The same approach should be taken towards the contest.
What made you decide to take part in Imagine Cup?
Mariusz Dobrowolski: When we put our names on the list for the first time, we were lured by a vision of good fun, an opportunity to learn a lot, fame, and we weren’t disappointed afterwards. We got all of that during Imagine Cup in wholesales quantities. We have started three times, we have won two times, and it became some positive addiction. It was giving more energy than a double espresso and more motivation than Mateusz Grzesiak.
Arkadiusz Kondratiuk: For the first time, I was encouraged by my friends to participate in the IC. I also knew that it would be an excellent opportunity to improve mine .NET skills. The next editions of the contest were simply a great adventure.
Could you describe ImagineCup from a contestant’s point of view?
MD: From my perspective, it has always looked the same. A looooot of hard but pleasing and satisfying work with my best mates. Sleepless nights, hectoliters of coffee and ideas so abstract that they had to came out from a different part of a body than a head. Growing tension connected with announcements of the results of the next stages. That apogee in the form of final presentation, and after that… hell of a party and even bigger hangover afterwards. When a headache goes away, you have a feeling of great satisfaction and memories for the rest of your life. 🙂
AK: Over the years the contest has changed. I participated in Imagine Cup in the years 2006-2010. The procedures have yet remained the same. The first step is providing a short project description. The deadline for this activity is in January. In March, the contestant presents a movie presentation or project of the solution (depending on the edition), which is later evaluated by the jury. If the proposal receives acclamation, it is qualified for the national finals, which takes place in April.
The finals last two days and are divided into several categories. In each category, there are ten finalists. After the first day, 5 contestants are eliminated, and the remaining five proceed to the next stage, which takes place on the second day. The first day of the national finals is about presenting ideas in smaller rooms, where the jury can ask questions and test the projects for themselves.
On the second day, finalists present their solutions on the big stage before the gathered audience. Since almost the beginning of the ImagineCup, presentations are performed in English, therefore each team should include a person fluent in this language. After the presentation, the evaluators have time to ask questions and point their objections to the team members. This phase is conducted in the national language.
When every team presents their solution, the jury announces the results of the contest. Besides the official awards for the first three teams, there are prizes provided by private sponsors to other contestants. All these activities are followed by an afterparty, which every year is held at a different location and is attended by both participants, jurors and sponsors. Participants, therefore, have the opportunity to discuss the results with the jury. The previous parties were held in bowling alleys, clubs.
Another thing, which changes in the IC are the procedures regarding the global finals. Therefore in some Imagine Cup editions, to participate in the global finals, the team had to pass regional finals as well. In other editions, the national leader would qualify directly for the global finals.
How can participant prepare to the contest? How long did it take you to prepare for it?
MD: Imagine Cup is undoubtedly a technological competition, but the business aspect is still important. That is why you have to both develop the project itself, whether it be a system or application, and take a hard look at the business plan. For several years now, Microsoft is making it possible for teams qualified for the first stage to participate in professional training concerning presentation and business. And it is worth taking them up on offer because even the best idea won’t be interesting if it isn’t presented properly. We have usually been starting our preparations six months before an official start of the first stage.
AK: The hardest and the most time-consuming part was finding a proper idea. As a team, we have started to think about it yet during semifinals. Later, if we are talking about time spent on a project, it’s different. The earlier you start, the more time you have to polish a project. My team has been preparing one project for two weeks. We were doing everything at the last minute.
In the extreme case, while I have been studying and working at the same time, I have slept maybe for four hours in three days before a term in March. At the day of the deadline, we have sent our colleague to Warsaw, and he delivered a project personally. Meanwhile, I had hallucinations because of a lack of sleep while I was going to work by bus. We have finished our project at 7 am, and I went to work right away.
What was the hardest thing for you?
MD: The most difficult thing was getting out of comfort zone. Imagine this – introverted nerd who is coding in a basement with the help of 40V light bulb must go out to the people, present himself and his idea, and talk with serious businesspeople about serious money. Abstraction! But it was worth it. 🙂
AK: Always an idea. I’m not taking part in Imagine Cup for many years, but I’m watching the contest (I even happened to be a judge during one day). I think that even perfectly made application doesn’t have a chance of winning if it doesn’t have that “something”. For example, a project of lending library won’t win Imagine Cup because it requires much more.
What pieces of advice have you got for people who will take part in IC for the first time? What is the thing you need to pay close attention to?
MD: I have seen many cases where the competition ended pretty quickly for some because there was no chemistry between team members. It is important for the team to have the right skills but still more important for the members to want to work with one another and communicate effectively. A good atmosphere is a major factor in working together.
AK: Self-confidence is the most important thing. When we were starting for the first time, we didn’t know almost anything about technology, but despite this, we got into TOP5. We have won then because we had a superb idea. Nowadays it’s a little harder. From one side a level of projects is higher, but on the other hand, the support of the Bialystok University of Technology is better than before. I mean both discussed material during classes, and an academic staff’s approach.
Notably, we were blazing a trail in that matter. Everyone’s first goal should be getting into final TOP 10. Just that, despite the result, gives you very much. For a team from TOP 10, I have few pieces of advice. One of them is to take everything that Microsoft has to offer as a support before final. Take training courses provided by them seriously, listen to the hosts and adhere to their suggestions.
I have the very same pieces of advice for finalists. Everyone should have an approach that they will be in TOP 5. It means that they have to listen to suggestions and remarks given by judges, and they also have to realise everything that’s possible for the next day. Often it means a sleepless night. You should have one more thing in mind: the goal of training courses and judges’ criticism is to prepare a team for winning… world finals.
And that’s why a winning team may count on a package of training courses and workshops after national finals. It’s simple – Microsoft Poland cares about a good image of Poland in the world regarding IT specialists
Was it worth taking part in that contest? What impact did it have on your career and development?
MD: Of course that it was worth it because apart from a good fun, contacts and great memories, you may find that your project will become something more and your mates will become cofounders of your shared company. But you shouldn’t buck up. Great fun is the most important thing.
AK: Let me put it this way: if I hadn’t taken part in IC, I wouldn’t establish business contacts I have now, and I wouldn’t start own company. No one forces anyone to anything. Contribution in a contest is just another occasion, which may create a career path. It’s individual case if someone wants to take that opportunity by having several sleepless nights, or not.
Personally, I have decided to retake the fifth year to start in Imagine Cup one more time, Though it wasn’t easy because I had practically 100% of passed exams.