Technical Consultant interns win Global award!

A group of four technical consultant interns who sit within the Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) department at Microsoft UK have recently been recognised ​for their innovative and inspirational work on the Guide Dogs project. It’s the tale of four MCS interns – Lee, Yalini, Sophie and Joseph – who, despite beginning thrown in the deep end of this ground-breaking project, rose to the challenge and proved themselves to be valuable members of the team.They were honored with a win in the Most Innovative category by a global Microsoft awarding body which focuses on technical excellence.

Soon after their first day at Microsoft, a Senior Technical consultant in MCS informed Lee, Sophie, Yalini and Joe that they would be involved in a partnered project with the Guide Dogs organisation. What they weren’t aware of was that this would be no ordinary MCS project – and that no previous interns have ever been involved in an MCS project of this magnitude within their first six weeks at Microsoft!

The interns worked alongside experienced full-time employees throughout the summer and helped with the initial scoping sessions. They helped create proofs of concept and interactive solutions that would enable blind people to plan their travel using an application connected to Bing, and worked out how the user experience and design functions would operate in practice for someone who is blind or visually impaired.

“I really enjoyed the experience of working as part of a close-knit team to bring together the UX design with the actual UI,” says Yalini. “For example, Lee and I would bounce UI demonstrator ideas off Joe who worked on the vision demonstrator video designs and Sophie who worked on the wire framing for the proofs of concept.”

“When we first sat in the initial few project scoping sessions we didn’t really know the team that well or have a clear idea of the impact the vision demonstrator would have on the customer,” says Joe (UX designer). “But we soon settled well into the team and the Guide Dogs training team gave us the opportunity to experience what it’s like to have a visual impairment when we were blindfolded and made our way round TVP led by guide dogs and using canes. This really made the work we were doing much more real. It gave us all a better understanding of what life is like without sight, and how we could enhance the user interface and experience of the solution we were developing to give a blind person greater confidence and independence when travelling.”

Once the Guide Dogs project officially launched in November, the team of interns got the chance to demo their solutions at the Community Connect event and the Microsoft Accessibility day. “The feedback we got from the Guide Dogs team and other external organisations was amazing,” says Lee. “It actually felt quite strange to witness everyone’s positive reactions. One moment that really resonated with me was when a Senior Consultant at Microsoft sent an email saying that in all his6 years at Microsoft he’d never felt more proud to be involved in a project than in this one.

Over the course of their involvement the team learnt a lot of new skills in animation, concept creation and design, and gained some early project experience. “For me, Guide Dogs showed that even a small project team can have a massive impact and hopefully give others the push they need to make these not-so-distant concepts a reality,” says Sophie.

“I learnt that teamwork, collaboration and communication are the most important factors to a project, and from a technical aspect I enjoyed working with Windows 8 touchscreen features,” says Yalini.

Joe added: “What I really took away from the experience was the fact that when Microsoft people innovate they write whitepapers, patent their concepts and actually intend to deliver something real and impactful once the project is complete.”

“I learnt that it’s the simple things that make great teams – like a structured process, drawing up a team charter highlighting the team values, and learning from the experience of team members around you.” adds Lee.

“The interns played a key role in the successful delivery of this engagement,” says the team’s project lead Jarnail Chudge. “It was an extremely steep learning curve for them but they did not drop their heads or lose heart, even though we were dealing with a huge amount of ambiguity in a very demanding environment. They acquitted themselves extremely well – even in the early days. As time went on and they began to feel more comfortable working with the rest of the team, we started to see more and more input into the design and development of both the video and the supporting proofs of concept.

“From being perceived as a potential risk at the start of the project, by the end they had more than proven themselves – both in terms of the contribution made and how they had started to apply the learnings of each day.

“In summary, having the interns working on the project enabled us to deliver more than we would otherwise have done. Their background in games design, product design and so on proved really valuable as they brought different perspectives that challenged the thinking of the other team members. Thank you, guys!”

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