Winning the Imagine Cup 2008 world finals


Who would have guessed, a rookie team from Australia whose representatives in the past has never gone as far as the world semi-finals with a blow-up Kangaroo as a mentor would actually come out first-place champions in the Imagine Cup world finals. The awesome part of this story is that I’m actually on that team. w00t.

Naturally when you win something like this, the question you always get is “how did you do it” followed by “no way, seriously, how did you do it” and “when you are rich don’t forget about me”. Now that this web server is alive and kicking, without any further ado, here is how my team and I conquered planet Earth Imagine Cup 2008.

To be perfectly honest, all of this was very close to have not happened at all because of my reluctance to join the competition in the first place. When my teammates asked me to join them back in February I actually declined twice because I thought I was already overloaded and couldn’t contribute much. I guess playing “hard to get” turned out pretty well after all. My teammates would probably have a different opinion on this.

Choosing the topic was almost trivial, the biggest environmental problem in Australia is the lack of water resources. Most people at this stage would probably start to think about households because that’s probably what all the advertisements are saying, “turn off your tap and save the world”. Granted saving water at home is important but there’s no comparison to how much water the agriculture industry uses. Sure, drinking water is not their primary source but the environment is a closed loop and any water resource is precious.

Grape vines

The next problem we faced was that none of us are farmers. My farming experience went as far as “plant the seeds, water it and wait”. That didn’t help us very much. Our solution to this problem, and I think the one of the most successful steps in our journey to win was to speak to farmers. We went out to a farm in the country who a team member’s parents were familiar with the owners, talked to the owner and the farm operators to learn first-hand about farming and the problems they are facing.

What happened next could probably be noted as the “secret sauce” to our success. After a day of walking, talking, more walking and running from the rain on the farm, we drove to a nearby Hungry Jacks (a.k.a. Burger King internationally) store to plan what would essentially become our “SOAK” solution over a couple of burgers, fries and Coke with unlimited refills. I remember very clearly only refilling once, wasn’t very thirsty.

In the several weeks and months following, there were a couple late nights, a few sessions of Boom Blox on the Wii and even more sessions of Bomberman Live. Team-building exercises is probably the right word.


Now fast forward to Paris, I begin to comprehend just what we’re up against. We meet two guys from the United States on the shuttle bus to find not they were not the actual competitors but “fans” of the competitors to cheer them on. All we had was a blow-up Kangaroo and a fluffy Koala. The Imagine Cup was a lot bigger than I imagined (pun).

The seven days that followed was a lot of fun, excitement, disappointment, confusion, tiredness, thinking, preparing, digesting, walking and talking.


The food was popular to say the least.


We present.

Semi-finalist announcement

We are in the the semi-finals. We present more. We are in the finals.

Interviewed by Channel8/10

The rush otherwise known as interviews begin.


And we go to the Louvre (yes home to the Mona Lisa) to rehearse.


Followed by another quick interview.


Sometime in the afternoon prior I must have said out aloud “gee, I don’t feel stressed out at all with the finals, I wish I could find something else to do to keep me busy”. I say this because Microsoft then informed me a group of students were going to talk on a panel at an United Nations event in the morning of the day of the finals. I was part of that group. I don’t regret speaking at that event (you don’t get to talk to hundreds of the education leaders of different nations very often) but I just wish it was better scheduled.


Finally, we went to the Louvre and we presented one last time.


By then our mentor was feeling a little “flat-out”.

Then we had to wait almost 24 hours for the results. (Speaking of which, I’m not exactly sure what I did that night – I don’t remember or have any photos.)


Next, announcement day. Everyone was at the Louvre this time – students, press and delegates from the UN education forum.


We must had given just under 50 interviews and demos because I don’t ever remember talking to David (who was doing most of the demos).


Our mentor helped too.


Then the announcements. History speaks for itself.


Followed by more interviews from left, right and center.


And I kissed our mentor (who was actually quite modest).


Then we partied.


When we realized there was no food bigger than my right pinky, a few of us went out to a restaurant where Microsoft’s Max Zuckerman showed off his cool party trick. It fell over more often than not, but you wouldn’t know that because that’s the magic of photography.


On the following day, we went to where all champions go to celebrate after their big win. Disneyland Paris. Here, I discovered my soft spot for “It’s a small world” – a more approachable ride for people with motion sickness like me.

Update: Here’s a couple screenshots from our Silverlight web application software with the final user interface which I’m very proud of to have designed and helped develop.

Update 2: Thanks to my teammates – David, Dimaz and Edward. Special thanks to Microsoft Australia’s Roger and Karo for taking care of us abroad. Special mention to our Commonwealth buddies – Microsoft Canada’s Jean-Luc David and the Canadian team for the many enjoyable dinners. Finally, thanks to Joe Wilson, Emanuele (Millo) Ognissanti, Max Zuckerman, Nic Fillingham and all the Imagine Cup hosts and crew for hosting such a spectacular event.

39 insightful thoughts

  1. Congrats once again Long 😀 You guys did an awesome job, and all the hard work really payed off for you. I love the the screenshots of the interface of SOAK. Can you provide us with a video walkthrough of SOAK?? Or any video of you presentation at the Imagine Cup?? I really wish I was there to see the demo. But anyhow, congrats once more, as you really deserved it. Next target, Planet Earth??

  2. That really is some fantastic work there Long. I’m with Imran though, I’d love to see some video walkthroughs or something to show off all your hard work!

    Anyways, welcome back!

  3. Congratulations ! Now, just take advantage of this victory to grow up ! It’s a wonderful adventure…

    Thomas, winning the web development category 2007.

  4. Wow nice one Long! do you have a link to the silverlight app that we can have a go at? it would be cool to test it out!

  5. Congratulations Long, you’re having quite a lot of success in this life, ah? 🙂
    Thanks for the photos and don’t worry about the site downtown, we all back with you.

  6. @Yert: That probably wouldn’t have happened anyway because I had absolutely no free time during the competition.

  7. Yes, I would like to know how technology enables a sustainable environment. 🙂 Congrats.

  8. wow dude!! thats was a great story man, and i am glad that everything woked out for you and your team in the end.


    *is it just me or does the “O” in soak look like the Hanso Foundation logo from “Lost”
    sorry um a Lostie 😉


  9. I think you should walk through some of the development for us :-D. I want to know how you actual “made” the interface, etc, and the tools you used. Cuz it’s darn cool :-D.

  10. congratulations! this is very exciting. glad you could share some photos and thoughts.

  11. I have pics of you kissing your mentor in the Press room! And here I was hoping I could black mail you, darn 🙁
    Congrats once again Long 🙂

  12. Long – we watched you guys all the way through and man it was fun to see you win. We never know until you know exactly how its going to come out but it’s always a thril. I hope you guys really had a fanstastic experience.

    Kinda like I say at the end….what matters now is what you do with it.

    Take care!


  13. Congratulations from Russian DPE of Microsoft Rus, Long!!!!!!! Congrats, you really did great job and showed us the power you have! 🙂

    Win again and again! Happy growth!!!

    All The Best,
    Daniel Kornev,
    Program Manager,
    DPE, Microsoft Rus LLC

  14. Hi Long,

    I only just read this news (sorry, I can be slow at times). Congrats to Team SOAK for a brilliant win and how soon can we see the live version online? as we here in the Silverlight Team are curious 😀

    Scott Barnes
    Rich Platforms Product Manager

  15. Hey Guys,

    An exceptional work for Agriculture, i dont ever see person who works on implementing or identifying or inventing technologies to save the Agricultural Land in our world. After all people arent believing in “With out Farm Lands & Farming” we are a dumb.

    Hats of to SOAK, Lets hope you guys really SOAK up !!!!.

    Technical Architect

  16. Well done SOAK team. Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi! Although you’d hardly know it from Mary- Jo Foley’s post on ZDNet, never mentioned the A word.
    You all have bright futures ahead of you, and Long, you write very well, I enjoy reading your blogs.

Comments are closed.