October 31, 2012, 3:25 PM — REDMOND, Wash. -- In a dimly lit function room on the Microsoft campus 40 teams of coders are spending the week writing modern applications that run on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 devices, all of them assured of winning a prize.
Officially, the winners take home $2,500 for the best application in three categories, but the real goal is learning to write the applications under the watchful eyes of Microsoft mentors who are guiding them through the subtleties of producing apps that look good, run well on the new operating systems and that take advantage of the touch features the operating systems cater to.
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The hackathon is also geared toward writing apps for Azure, Microsoft's cloud-based platform service. All of the applications are being written with the help of Visual Studio development platform.
"How do I get unstuck?" is the question contestants are trying to get answered as they meet with their mentors, Microsoft employees who have been working with the platform for months, says Dan Fernancez, senior director of development and platform evangelism.
For Vesa Vainio of Finland, that means learning how to store photos in Azure for access by members of Facebook. The app he's working on, called Share My Photos, will let Facebook users share photos. That's something Facebook supports, but the app has a twist.
"They can easily share photos with friends of their choosing and not give ownership of the photos to Facebook itself," says Vainio, who works for a joint venture of IT services firm Tieto and the Finnish government writing software for the Finnish tax service.
During the second day of the competition, he was still working on the design of the application, but plans to start coding today with the intent to meet the deadline tomorrow night.
Participants aren't just hacking all week; they're attending Microsoft's Build 2012 conference for developers. So they have to find a balance between attending educational sessions they choose from among the hundreds available and competing in the hackathon.