Looking ahead to his senior year, University of Colorado Boulder computer science major Rob Mickle had planned on completing an internship over the summer -- that is, until he won $25,000 in the first round of Google's Android Developer Challenge, launching his own real-world experience.
Mickle developed a software application called "Fingerprint," which is built on the open-source Android mobile phone platform to enable collaborative sketching and painting. His prototype was named one of 50 winners in the Google challenge, a $5 million contest that attracted nearly 1,800 entries worldwide, including many from computer science professionals, teams and companies.
"The percentage increase in my bank account was ridiculous," Mickle, 20, said about his winnings, adding that he was "quite distracted" during finals week when the contest winners were announced.
The prize money comes with no "strings" attached but is allowing Mickle to work full time on refining his software application as he moves toward the second and final round of the contest in July. In the next round, 10 developers will win $275,000 and 10 will win $100,000 prizes.
Google is sponsoring the contest to support and recognize developers who build great applications for devices based on Android, an operating system being developed by the Open Handset Alliance, a group of more than 30 technology and mobile companies.
Contest entries are judged on originality of concept, effective use of the Android platform, polish and appeal, and indispensability. Developers retain intellectual property rights over their applications.
Mickle said Fingerprint could facilitate teamwork among professional designers and sales people, while also offering a fun program for more casual use.
"Sometimes when you're trying to explain an idea, it's nice to be able to draw it," he said. "Above all, I want it to be something you could pick up and have fun with."
The program allows users to play on a shared canvas, to draw on photographs, and to take a picture and then change it as a group, among other capabilities.
Mickle was not familiar with the Android platform when he first heard about the competition last fall. In the spring, he enrolled in a special projects class taught by CU-Boulder Professor Clayton Lewis with support from CU's Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, in which students developed prototypes of five systems using the Android platform to support people with cognitive disabilities.
He also spent much of his free time working on Fingerprint over the last six months -- sometimes to the detriment of his schoolwork.
"It was a lot more fun working on this than on physics homework," he said. "Wireless is growing fast and there's a lot of opportunity in this field."