This afternoon finds me as one of the distinguished judges at the Imagine Cup Software Development Challenge finals. This is being next to the Louvre in the centre of Paris. A good place to make an exhibition of myself methinks.
The setting was fantastic. The whole hall had been decked out with moving Imagine Cup logos and video screens, plus this really cool little camera on a boom, which gives all an excellent view of the hardware projects. In the middle of this we have the student teams who now step up from presenting to a handful of judges in a little room to performing in front of an audience of many hundreds.
First up were the embedded challenge finalists. These presenters not only had to deal with an unfamiliar stage with camera crews milling around but also the scary prospect of giving live demonstrations of their systems. They were all excellent. The subjects varied from remote robotic environmental sensors to systems to protect animals crossing highways, preventing them from becoming road-kill.
My personal favourite was the Irish entry, which uses a cunning combination of hardware and software to allow a standard diesel engine to run on ordinary cooking oil. This system was so effective they had even managed to drive all the way to the venue on fuel they picked up at the local supermarket.
Then it was on to the Software Development finals, and my turn to shine, quite literally as we had to sit in the glare of the TV lights when we posed our questions to the presenting students. It is quite un-nerving when you are trying to think of something sensible to say and you glance up to see a huge image of yourself, looking sweaty and harassed, on the video screen above the stage.
Anyway, I managed to get to the end without asking anything too obviously stupid, and then we were ushered out to complete our deliberations. The judging is based on categories set down in the competition rules, and so we all filled in our numbers, passed them on to the organisers and then were pleasantly surprised to find that we were in broad agreement about the winners.
I said in the final that I love watching presentations and I hate deciding who has won. Every project had its own merit, and all of them were presented with spirit and style. One of the judges, a battle hardened venture capitalist who has seen many pitches from aspiring entrepreneurs, commented that several of the presentations were better than ones he has seen in the course of his job. And these were delivered by students on technical subjects, who are not expected to be good at this kind of thing. So, fantastic job everyone.
I'm sworn to secrecy over the results, which will be revealed tomorrow at the grand presentation.