I hadn’t really thought much about the show or the first challenge prior to showing up on campus last week, but when I showed up at the bike shop to meet the contestants for the first time and to connect with Buck and Tobias to discuss the first challenge – I got nervous!  This is a picture of the scene that I walked into… and I’m thinking… Lights?… Cameras?… Nerves!

I wasn’t quite sure what the Be the Next Microsoft Employee contest was going to be like, but I can honestly say I didn’t expect to see a real film crew on campus (and not just any film crew, but one with Hollywood and big time reality television credentials).  It was pretty awesome to see and more than a little unnerving.

I connected with Buck and Tobias to discuss the first challenge and what we were going to look for in the contestants. Then I got a chance to meet Mike, Stacy, Alex and Chris for the first time – while the crew tried to keep the mood light, the pressure and tension was palpable!  They all put on a brave face, but I think the scene in the bike shop was overwhelming for them as well.

As for the challenge itself, it sounded amazingly simple, and it should have been in a normal setting, but as the picture above shows, this was anything but normal.  They were trying to solve a technical challenge in the middle of the Microsoft equivalent of a mall/food court with very little information and with distraction-overload.  There was loud music, tons of people, not to mention the cameras, crew and judges! The contestants did an amazing job of holding their composure through all the distractions; I thought more than one of them would nail this challenge.  Boy, was I wrong.

Alex was done first and was looking super confident, then came Mike, Stacy and Chris – all finishing close in time to one another (and at the very end of the hour time limit).  Given Alex’s early finish and confidence, I had pretty high expectations and was eagerly awaiting his presentation.  Remember, none of the judges had ever seen the contestants before…  All we had to go on so far was what we thought we had seen during the first challenge.  As for Mike, Stacy and Chris – they had their heads hanging low and none of them looked too self-assured.

I won’t go into the technical details of the challenge (I’ll leave that to Buck and Tobias), but from a presentation perspective, for me, Mike was the clear winner, with Chris a close second.  Mike not only got the answer correct, but he was able to articulate his answer clearly and concisely, and present a complex solution in a fairly simple manner.  He re-used code that he knew worked and he didn’t try to re-create the wheel during what could easily be classified as a chaotic scene.

I do commend each of the challengers on their efforts.  It was a very long day and we (the judges) gave them each some fairly direct feedback. Receiving and incorporating feedback in a setting like this, from people you don’t know is a huge challenge.   I’m interested in seeing how each of the contestants react to the guidance and if they will be able to incorporate any of it into the upcoming challenge.

What’s next?  Here is a little sneak peak at challenge #2… It should make the first challenge look easy!