Microsoft’s Imagine Cup Spotlights the Importance of Diversity in Innovation
Global student competition underscores the philosophies the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition values and intentionally invests in.
No matter what sector you’re passionate about—the arts, the environment, healthcare, etc.—technology is crucial. And there’s no sign of this slowing down—overall demand for workers across all sectors with technical skills will grow by as much as 90% over the next 15 years. With this growth comes the responsibility to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn the technical skills necessary to participate in the 21st century workforce.
A deep passion for change and technology shone through in each of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup finalists, which I was honored to judge this year. Imagine Cup is a competition that gives student teams around the globe the opportunity to come together and present their innovative ideas built using Microsoft technologies. It was clear that the finalists proposed solutions to challenges they care deeply about. However, it was the projects that transcended an individual team’s region and culture, those projects with the potential to make a difference globally, that won the highest praise from the panel of judges.
Core to the Imagine Cup competition are many of the same pillars and philosophies that the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition values—the importance of diverse teams, the role of exposure and opportunity in a student’s success, and the power tech companies have to intentionally increase diversity in the tech sector.
1. Diverse teams are necessary to bring the most effective innovative ideas to the tech sector.
The Imagine Cup competition involves 100+ countries, which inherently means there is a diverse pool of student talent all competing for one prize. It’s no surprise that these student finalists—from the U.S. to Hong Kong to Tunisia, Japan, and Kenya—came up with unique ideas to create meaningful change. The lived experiences of each team member contributed to the diverse perspectives informing their specific innovation.
The Rebooting Representation report cites data that diverse teams, including ones with greater gender diversity, are more creative and more innovative, on average. In the U.S. tech sector, the lived experiences of Black, Latina, and Native American women contribute to their unique perspectives and creative ideas. When we, as a society, lift up students of one background, and push others aside, we are missing out on these diverse opinions and innovations.
2. Promoting exposure and opportunities for students to authentically engage in computing is an important pathway to pursuing a computing degree and career.
Through Imagine Cup, Microsoft gives students across the world free access and exposure to Microsoft technology and the many doors it opens. Students are given the opportunity to come together as a team and are encouraged to develop their innovative ideas. As they present projects to the judges, teams acquire hands-on experience in technical skills and communicating complex ideas. This exposure and opportunity make each student a better innovator, future employee, and entrepreneur.
Reboot’s grantees continue to demonstrate that hands-on experiences are not only crucial for students of color with prior computing and tech experience, but that they can also be valuable on-ramps for students without a tech background. In fact, data has proven that relying solely on typical paths to enter computer science is an avoidable missed opportunity to cultivate underestimated talent. For example, in Break Through Tech New York’s Summer Guild Program, at the City University of New York (CUNY), no experience is required for incoming freshmen and rising sophomores to enroll in an experiential learning program that gives women the opportunity and exposure to learn design and development concepts that preview a career in tech. Accepting interested students with little to no experience actually encourages more women of color to pursue and persist in the program.
3. Through targeted investments, programs, and/or events, tech companies can lift up diverse and underrepresented communities, especially women of color, in the tech sector.
Tech companies work every day to solve impossible problems, and the Reboot Tech Coalition’s mission capitalizes on collective attention to address a systemic issue that plagues the entire sector: excluding the critical perspectives of Black, Latina, and Native American women from seats at the table. Although not specifically focused on women of color, programs like the Imagine Cup competition bring together diverse perspectives and give students early opportunities to delve into the intricacies of a career in tech—for example, taking advantage of Microsoft technology to track misinformation, assist Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers, and help those who have lost their ability to speak rediscover their voice. Through this competition, Microsoft demonstrates the difference a large tech company can make by encouraging students around the world to engage in technological innovation.
The students involved in the Imagine Cup competition demonstrate the power diverse experiences have in creating innovative ideas, combining modern tools and old techniques to create early detection of Parkinson’s digitally, and working with NGOs and health professionals to address the importance of mental health, which is particularly relevant in times of COVID-19 isolation. Given that so many underrepresented communities are still fighting for power and visibility, it is important to actively support these students and encourage them to connect their passions to technology so that they can be change agents for the future. Technology drives the world now more than ever, and will be increasingly influential years down the road. Let’s teach our students to be passionate about changing the world, the environment, the arts, or whatever it is that interests them, while also giving them the resources to master the technical aspects that make change possible. This is what is going to change the future.
Congratulations to the 2020 Imagine Cup World Champion, Team Hollo from Hong Kong SAR! Read more about Microsoft’s Imagine Cup HERE, and learn more about the six 2020 finalists below:
- Deeptector, United States, 3-minute video presentation from the Americas Regional Final competition
- Hollo, Hong Kong SAR, 3-minute video presentation from the Asia Regional Final competition
- RedWalls, Tunisia, 3-minute video presentation from the EMEA Regional Final competition
- Sryinx, Japan, 3-minute video presentation from the Asia Regional Final competition (In this video their team name is Nutone, they changed their name to Sryinx later)
- The Knights, Kenya, 3-minute video presentation from the EMEA Regional Final competition
- Tremor Vision, United States, 3-minute video presentation from the Americas Regional Final competition