Steven Edouard

Developer Advocate. Tech Enthusiast. Life Enthusiast.



Take over 800 high school students, a slew of tech companies, an open 24/7 building, and a ton of caffeine. What do you get?


One of the biggest (and youngest) hack-a-thons on the West Coast!


This past weekend I had the opportunity to support the team at HSHacks, a 2 day long hack-a-thon hosted by Paypal HQ for a LOT of high school students in the bay area. Students came from near and far to participate in the event. Each of them were offered a variety of technologies to develop on from Andriod, to the Pebble watch to Microsoft tech like Touch Develop.


The participating students came from a variety of backgrounds and brought their own wide spectrum of devices, PC's, Mac's and even a few Ubuntu machines floating around.



Naturally we set up a pretty sweet device bar with all the Microsoft gadgets you can think of:



Our App lab room focused on Construct2 and TouchDevelop which are two great platforms for beginner coders to hack games and apps for. Each of the platforms allow students to eventually export their apps to the Windows Store.


(students learning how to use MakeyMakey with TouchDevelop)

We even brought in a few MakeyMakey controllers which are simple arduino devices that emulate keyboard presses by closing arbitrary circuits (think positive terminal on a banana, negative on your wrist and close the circuit with a finger tip). This video illustrates what I mean:





We took the ideas in the Makey Makey Video to create some make-shift foot pads for gaming:



Students could throw in a couple 'on key pressed' event handlers in their apps:



And all the sudden we have a creative controller for their apps!




We had that too! The top winning apps were:


  1. A 'Gravity Movie' themed game where the player could 'slingshot' from one interstellar body to another
  2. A pack of Makey Makey touch develop games
  3. 'Star Wars' HTML/5 Javascript Native Win 8 game similar to flappy bird but vertical



Winners took home Xbox Ones, Nokia phones and a Windows 8 laptop!


Overall I was very impressed about how many of these Students (of whom are ages 13-16) managed to code impressive experiences in such a short amount of time. This highlights how far we have come but how much more we have to go in getting CS education into schools. Of every group I talked to only about 1/3 of the students had good CS education and that was a combination of classes and self-teaching.


The best thing that came out of this event was the amount of learning that was distributed to such a large volume of students, from learning how to do web requests to running code on mobile and even embedded devices. 


Next month Microsoft will be sponsoring LA Hacks another Student ran hackathon ( April 11-13. Keep a look out for us there!

What's it like being an SDET at Microsoft?

You really have to admit that the role of a software 'tester' doesn't sound as sexy as other developer jobs. In fact that's probably why the official title of 'testers' at Microsoft is 'Software DEVELOPMENT ENGINEER in Test' to convey that these folks are just as capable of developers as your standard software developer. Microsoft has truly innovated on this role in a way that most other software firms haven't. So much so, that in the past few years the 'SDET' role has just started spreading out to other reputable organizations such as Google and Amazon.

I spent a little over 2 years as a tester at Microsoft within the .NET Runtime (Common Language Runtime for you .NET fanboys out there) right after I got my Computer Engineering undergraduate degree. During that time Microsoft has churned the organization heavily as you may have seen in the tech blogs. With that churn, the role of the test position has shifted as well.

As a Microsoft SDET my job really wasn't to ensure that a particular API behaved in a certain way or that the unit test coverage of a certain feature was implemented. Our developers were responsible for doing that work. Instead the SDET work focused on test tooling such as static validation tools and sophisticated, reliable infrastructure that would run end-to-end and unit level tests that drove developer productivity. Developers were responsible for ensuring that the quality of the code they checked in was up to snuff. Testers like myself ensured that the holistic quality of the product was sound. This could be anything from harnessing apps to creating sophisticated semantic validation tools that could determine if two pieces of generated code were the 'same'.

Now, don't get me wrong my SDET experience may be differ from teams with products with faster cycles like online services but the theme remains the same. Testers at Microsoft are not simply 'point-n-click' testers. They do a lot of really sophisticated things and focus on ensuring the quality of the customer scenarios in the product. This is a lot more fun than what the title of 'tester' conveys.

What are the skills required? In general I would say it's nearly the same as any highly talent developer with an increased emphasis on creativity. You gotta have that creative edge to think about really cool ways to validate the product and even validate things like the usage of a feature through things like telemetry systems.