SA Team out in first round of Imagine Cup 2011

by Prof Barry Dwolatzky

SA Team at Imagine Cup 2011

SA Team at Imagine Cup 2011

Exactly a year ago today (July 11) the FIFA World Cup 2010 drew to a spectacular end in South Africa. I know that there is no comparison in size and content between that World Cup and “Imagine Cup 2011” … but I have had some déjà vu moments.

On Saturday night – after a day of expectation, jangling nerves, high energy and sudden anti-climax – all of the competing national teams gathered in the Ballroom at New York’s Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square. All through Saturday, working to a tight schedule, competitors presented their “solutions to problems that would change the world” to panels of judges. Like in a soccer match – the team had one chance to make an impression and score that winning goal. No second chances! And suddenly – after months of frantic preparation and building excitement – the presentation was done, and then all there was to do was wait for an announcement at 10pm on Saturday night.

As we sat in that Ballroom at 10pm – competitors, judges, organizers, journalists – the pent-up tension and expectation escaped as some teams danced, chanted, waved flags, sang songs and jumped up and down. It was now a contest of who could make the most noise and show the highest level of national spirit. The last time I witnessed something similar was before the opening FIFA World Cup match at Soccer City last year when Mexico’s fans faced us – the fans of Bafana Bafana – in a high-spirited and good-natured confrontation.

Other teams sat quietly and watched – maybe they were just exhausted, or maybe that’s what real computer geeks do?

Lisa Harper, Microsoft’s super-energetic organizer of Imagine Cup 2011, announced at 10pm that the results were still being collated and that there would be a delay. The noisy teams got louder and the quiet ones sank deeper into their seats.

At about 10:30pm the announcement was made of the 18 teams (from the original 67) that would progress into Round 2 of the “software design” competition. The names were called in a random order.

As a judge, entrusted with the task of being objective and non-partisan (like the referee in a soccer match), it wasn’t appropriate for me to sit with the South African team or align myself with them. We – the judges – had no opportunity to assist or favour our national team in any way. (The fairness of the judging process has really impressed me.) I nevertheless still found myself desperately hoping to hear “South Africa” read out as one of the 18 teams.

As the 18th name was called I had to accept the disappointing fact that our team hadn’t made it through to the second round. I experienced the same feeling I had when South Africa was eliminated in the group stage of the World Cup. Oh well! “Everyone here is a winner. It’s not about winning, it’s about taking part. We’ll take the lessons learnt and do better next time.” While all of these are true – it still would have been wonderful to win!!

I didn’t see the SA team’s presentation, so I can’t say anything about how they performed and how close they were to going through. I did, however, see their project as one of the judges in the South African competition held in December 2010.  I thought it was a really great piece of work. The Team is from UCT and consists of Mohammed Irfaan Imamdin, Pieter Roodt, Junaid Parker and Richard Sadie. Their mentor is Prof Derek Smith. They developed an application that uses a “crowd sourcing” strategy to collect and collate geo-coded data as part of disaster management (flood, fires, earthquakes).

Yesterday (Sunday) the 18 were cut down to the final 6 after the second round of judging. The remaining teams that will compete for the fist prize are from China, USA, New Zealand, Ireland, Jordan and Romania. Visit ( to find out more about this really great student competition.

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