Chasing inspiration: from Imagine Cup to Microsoft

SHARES:

The ‘Softies in question: Ed Donahue and Ashley Myers

The job titles:

Ed: Academic Developer Evangelist

Ashley: SDET, SharePoint Service Experiences

Ed Donahue and Ashley Myers (Tech)cellent Adventure started when they met as undergrad computer science students at DePauw University and competed together in two Imagine Cups (’09 and ’10). Their team, MangoBunnies, made it all the way to the US Finals – not once, but twice.

These two dynamic, young technologists are now both employees of Microsoft with Ashley on the Redmond main campus and Ed holding down her own home office in Washington, D.C.

Microspotting caught up with the two to get the inside scoop on Imagine Cup and life at Microsoft.

First off, I’ve gotta ask: where’d the name MangoBunnies come from?

Ed: It’s ridiculously simple, actually. I thought, mangos are delicious and bunnies are adorable, so, how about MangoBunnies?

Even though your team has a warm and fuzzy name, I hear that you took on some very serious world issues at Imagine Cup. Tell us about your team projects.

Ed: In ‘09, we made Computer Assisted Medication Regimen Adherence, or CAMRA. It reminds HIV/AIDS patients when to take their medication. Keeping patients above a 90% medication adherence rate helps to avoid drug-resistant virus mutation.

Ashley: And in 2010, we made the Light Alert app, which notifies women on their smart phone when they are in an area that has a history of sexual assault.

What are some of the challenges from those Imagine Cup projects that have served you well in the tech industry or specifically at Microsoft?

Ed: I had to make a 20-minute presentation on the CAMRA project, but I’d never spoken that long in public before. I was really nervous. I attended a seminar at Imagine Cup on how to make a presentation, and ended up going back to the hotel that night and making a lot of edits to the speech. The next day: I nailed my presentation.

That success gave me a lot of confidence moving forward and now I’m an Academic Evangelist so I get in front of crowds and have to make presentations at the drop of a hat.

Ashley: I was the lead developer for MangoBunnies, so my experience was a little different, but Imagine Cup was a great bridge for me from academic thinking to industry thinking.

Building an open-ended project taught me the importance of a long-term business plan and helped me to understand how all of the pieces fit together.

What would you say makes Imagine Cup different from other tech competitions?

Ed: At the core, it’s a student tech competition hosted by Microsoft. But, what makes it different from other exam-oriented competitions is that it’s about thinking outside of the box and building a complete end-to-end project.

Ashley: I’d say Imagine Cup is really about inspiration. It’s not a Microsoft recruiting event and doesn’t even feel like a competition. It asks students to try to solve the world’s toughest problems and it’s a place to incubate ideas and get feedback from CEOs, CTOs and more.

Did you always have your eye on a role at Microsoft?

Ashley: No. I was always planning to have a career in my hometown in Indiana. It wasn’t until Imagine Cup and all of its related conferences that I started to meet so many Microsoft employees. They were from all different areas of the company, but everyone was passionate about what they were doing. The excitement was contagious.

Ed: For me, I came to understand that I had two career passions: I love sharing ideas with people, but I also love coding and building things. The evangelist role at Microsoft was the perfect marriage of my passions.

Competing in Imagine Cup seems like quite an inspiring experience. What’s it like now that you are actually working at Microsoft?

Ed: I love it here. I’m also really passionate about “women in technology” and “technology in the classroom.” Microsoft is so supportive of those initiatives.

I ask different Microsoft teams for back-up on projects and the answer is always “Let’s do it.” They understand that it’s not just about a product or even about Microsoft, but about the future of the technology industry and how technology can change people’s lives. They’re always looking 3, 5 or 10 years ahead.

And are you two involved with the Imagine Cup this year – from the other side?

Ed: The academic evangelists are supporting the US Finals. So, I’m already busy with a lot of different aspects of it.

Ashley: I’m super excited because I have the opportunity to be a judge for the US finals. And again, as the whole Imagine Cup is really like a dialogue between the students and other professionals, I know that I will come away from it having learned a lot more too.

Any plans for new MangoBunnies projects?

Ed: Not yet. I’m really involved with Microsoft and outreach work right now like DigiGirlz.

Ashley: Yeah, I’m working on Teaching Kids Programming and IGNITE!

Ed: Maybe when I’m next in the Pacific Northwest, I’ll have to proctor some of Ashley’s classes. It’ll be a MangoBunnies mini-reunion.

Learn more from (and about) Ed and Ashley at “Ed & Ashley’s 5 Minute Show” vlog.

 

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