Pratima Amonkar, Director – Strategic Audience Marketing, Microsoft Corporation, believes that the whole paradigm of software development is shifting. Initially, a lot of the software was produced for the consumption of enterprises and very large organisations; it is now being produced for the consumption of individual customers and the consumers. 

In less than a week from now, thousands of students in Maharashtra will get together at Shivajirao S. Jondhale College of Engineering and VES Institute of Technology in Mumbai, to develop apps for the Windows platform, as part of the software giant’s AppFest. On February 26, more than 10,000 students from across the length and breadth of country will assemble to code applications for a whole day, at more than 50 hub centres like the Shivajirao S. Jondhale College of Engineering and VES Institute of Technology. 

Pratima Amonkar

Pratima Amonkar, Director Strategic Audience Marketing at Microsoft Corporation

The colleges are currently holding training sessions for students who wish to brush up their coding skills as they register. 

On the day of Microsoft India’s AppFest, young developers will code under the supervision of Microsoft mentors, trainers and Microsoft Student Partners (MSPs), and submit the app online. For these students, the AppFest is an opportunity to make their apps appear among those others on the Windows Store. 

“Over the past couple of years, application development, i.e. fast, quick software development has become the norm,” adds Amonkar. “One has to learn the methodology before they attack the software. So what we’re doing across the world, and a lot in India too, is conducting online training programs to teach the methodology,” she notes further.

At these online training programs, the company allows students to have a hands-on intense workshop, wherein they can get their hands dirty and create an application. It is really the part of a journey, wherein they try out the app in front of their eyes and thereon move to completing the application. Once an app is completed, they submit it to the store and it will go through a certification process and will be available for people across the world. 

Last year, Microsoft India went on to do a pilot AppFest that saw an assembly of a small group of about 100 people. “Then we moved on to doing a really large one, which even won us the Guiness world record for the biggest number of people under one roof,” says Amonkar. “Our plan for this year is a more widespread one.”

For this year’s contest, Microsoft will be going across 17 states in the country, in 54 campuses that have been evolved as hub campuses. Some 10,000 students from 250 campuses will be coding together on February 26. 

Students participating in the AppFest have been going through various training sessions since the past 2-3 weeks, both at their campuses and by way of online training programs. They will also receive help from Microsoft employees who will be at the location. Post the AppFest, the compny will help and mentor these students to complete their app. 

Amonkar shared that out of the AppFest, they come across a host of apps that fall into different categories. They did come across a good number of gaming apps in the previous year, and she adds that a popular category to have emerged was productivity apps. In addition to those, they have also come across a lot of local apps. She explains, “People like creating apps that make sense to their area, then be it an app for entertainment, or for restaurants. In India, we find a lot of apps in the education sphere also.”

Curious as we were, we prodded her to explain the process that an app goes through before it finally reaches the Windows store. “It is a multi-level approach, because of the different types of app developers.” She explained that there are professional developers who are seasoned, so they apply to the store directly. Thereon, it goes through a worldwide certification process. “We carry out a set of basic checks. We check for IP violation, and then we look at the content of the app. We also check for privacy violations.” She added that the apps also go through a “look and feel” check, wherein they see how good an app looks and feels or otherwise, in terms of the UI and UX. This is to see if it uses good functionality. Once it clears these steps, the app gets certified.

Microsoft India AppFest 2013 decoded

Some 10,000 students from 250 campuses will be coding together on February 26

“Here in India, we add an additional layer to this existing process; we call it the mentoring layer,” she adds. She went on to explain how the company has set up app labs that mentor students in India. Before an app is submitted to the store, a developer can visit an app lab, wherein he can receive immediate feedback on his apps. This way the developer can be briefed upon the areas he needs to improve upon in the app. Developers also need to be given inputs for design and UX features. There are people who can give feedback to developers and help them improve their app. Once done, they can submit the app to the global store. 

At last year’s AppFest, there were 700 apps on-site that went through the app lab. Post the fest though, the number got difficult to track because some developers went back, reworked on their app and re-submitted them. So, the actual number can be worked up to 1,800 apps approx.

There were a range of apps that were seen coming out of the AppFest last year – considerable number of productivity and educational apps. Amonkar shared details of one very interesting app that came out of the AppFest. It was by a company called Barrier Break. The app taught autistic kids the value of money. The app, on tablets or phones, can come of immediate help to autistic kids, teaching them monetary concepts. The app took shape in the contest and is now on the application store. 

When asked about other Microsoft initiatives to engage the developer community, Amonkar said, “We carry out online training for developers, through social media, Facebook. There are also day-long sessions, wherein developers and infrastructure professionals can hear Microsoft expert on the available technology in the market and ones that are likely to come.”

In March, they will organise TechTed on 18th and 19th in Bangalore, 25th and 26th in Pune and in Delhi on one of the days. At the event, they will have speakers from the US and creators of Windows 8, Visual World will be present. There is lot of excitement surrounding the event. People have been bombarding the registration sites since the past couple of days. 

They will also be conducting in-house events, wherein they will talk to attendees about technology, or encourage them to talk to them on the topic. 

Amonkar revealed that to do things differently this year, they are trying to go to as many towns and cities as possible. She said it has been a conscious decision to go to these many locations. Amonkar shared that they want to spread the tech message across. “There is passion for technology,” she says.

Mentioning the turnout at each location, she points out, “No less than 250 people.”

When asked her views on the developer community in the country, Amonkar said that although the passion for learning is high, the risk-taking abilities are not as much. Developers need to sit down and try out new things, she believes. They are more focused on the immediate job at hand. They need to bring in the passion for technology and tie with entrepreneurship.  

She added that there are people, nevertheless, who want to do start-ups. This is a positive trend, and developers need to work on that. 

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