Google winners from Bacolod: Inspiring stories of young people

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Monday, February 17, 2014


OFTENTIMES, we draw wisdom and inspiration from our old folks, and sometimes, we draw them from our young people.

Once in a while, we get to hear inspiring stories of young people from the opposite side of the globe or across the seas. And sometimes, we didn’t have to look too far.

Right in our own shore is an amazing story of how two college students beat more than 400 teams from around the world, most of which are composed of professionals, to become the Southeast Asian (SEA) winner of the Google Cloud Developer Challenge (GCDC) 2013.

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Meet Franz Sarmiento and Katrina Tan Kit, both graduating students of the University of Saint La Salle (USLS) in Bacolod, who won the GCDC last Jan. 28.

Their entry, called MishMash, became the SEA winner for "Social/Personal Productivity/Games/Fun" category, one of the two categories, of the GCDC.

Franz developed the program, while Katrina designed its graphics.

The two won a $20,000 cash prize, while their university received a grant of $18,000 for being an all-student team. Of the 10 finalists in their category, eight were teams of professional developers.

To honor their achievement, the City Council of Bacolod passed a resolution last week to congratulate them. The resolution was authored by Councilor El Cid Familiaran and Councilor Jocelle Batapa-Sigue.

YOUNG ACHIEVERS
Both Franz and Katrina are graduating next month. Franz, a Computer Science senior, is a candidate for magna cum laude, while Katrina, an Information Technology senior, is a candidate for cum laude.

Franz is the eldest in a brood of four of Atty. Ralph Sarmiento, dean of USLS College of Law, and Ollie Maridone Abata-Sarmiento, while Katrina is the daughter of Eddie and Daisy Tan Kit, businessman and accountant, respectively.

Franz’s long list of achievements include being the Southeast Asia's Most Active Google Student Ambassador for Q1 Google Qualified Individual; delegate to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; delegate to the Global Startup Youth Summit 2013, also in Kuala Lumpur; and delegate to the Google SEARCH Summit 2013 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

He was also the champion of IdeaSpace Bacolod Bootcamp; champion of the 2nd Startup Weekend Cebu; and became the Philippine Representative to the Global Startup Battle 2012.

For Katrina, she was the champion in the EPSUG (E-Teach Programming Society Users Group) Web Design Competition; second place in the PSITS (Philippine Society of Information Technology Students) Western Visayas Regional Digital Art Competition; and Top Design Portfolio, Portfoliolounge.com.

Road to victory

Franz says joining the Google contest “was more about joining just for the experience of it.”

“As the competition was about utilizing Google's Cloud Platform in building web apps, a skill which admittedly I have not mastered as I have much more to learn, I felt that by joining, I'd gain valuable experience whether I win or lose,” he shares.

Also, he adds, since it was a contest that was open to everyone, there would obviously be professionals that are clearly more experienced than him.

Katrina agrees, "As a student who doesn't have much experience with huge international competitions such as the GCDC, it was intimidating to know that we were up against seasoned professionals.”

True enough, there were 434 teams worldwide who joined the Google Cloud Developer Challenge that was held from Sept. 4, 2013, until January 5, 2014. The winners were announced last Jan. 28.

The contest engaged developers to effectively utilize Google’s very own Cloud Computing Platform for building next-generation apps.

MishMash was among the 24 international winners in two categories: "Enterprise/Small Business Solutions/Education/Not for Profit," and "Social/Personal Productivity/Games/Fun."

There were two winners from each region: “India,” “Latin America,” “Middle East and North Africa,” “South East Asia,” “Sub-Saharan Africa,” and “United States, Europe and the Rest of the World.”

But it wasn’t all sugar and spice and everything nice. The two young achievers also recount the difficulties they had met while developing the program. Franz says that since Google's Cloud Platform is a relatively new technology, it's not taught in schools in Bacolod yet.

“I had to teach myself the technology by reading documentation and tutorials, looking at examples on the web, and simply by experimenting around with it,” he shares.

Then came the problem of coming up with a good idea for an entry, he adds. “This was probably the hardest part, since in today's fast-paced world, any idea you can think of, someone somewhere has already probably made an app like it,” he says.

I noticed that today, the trend is social, almost everyone uses products like Google+ or Facebook, he says, so I wanted to capitalize on this.

“I thought of turning these social networks into a game. This is where the idea of MishMash originated: the concept of turning data that is taken from a person's social networks and making a set of fun challenges around it,” he said.

“Also, to make it really appealing to everyone, I knew it had to have awesome graphics, that's why I decided to ask one of the best designers from my school, Katrina, if she wanted to team up with me. When she agreed, we went straight to working on MishMash at only 10 days left before the deadline," he beamed with pride.

Katrina said she loves the thrill of the challenge, and this competition gave her a great opportunity to test her skills as a graphics designer.

“Creating graphics has always been a passion of mine and that pushes me to think outside the proverbial box. I think I can say for the both of us that our passion is what drives us to do our best, and that being underdogs should not hinder but inspire us to go beyond what is expected," she adds.

Such a stunning show of faith from our two young people. As writer Og Mandino said, “I will love the young for the faith they hold.”*Danny B. Dangcalan

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 17, 2014.

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