Wannabee Mark Shuttleworths and Bill Gates from across South Africa this week descend on the unlikely venue of Roodepoort to battle it out for the title of the country’s top student software developer.

The young developers from 11 Universities across South Africa will be crossing lines of code at the Silverstar Casino from Wednesday, with the winners getting a spot in the global finals of the Imagine Cup competition in Poland next year.
The Imagine Cup is a Microsoft-sponsored technology competition which pits the world’s best student programmers against each other. Now in its eighth year, the Imagine Cup challenges the world’s best student programmers to create applications to solve real-world problems. More than 2500 students entered the South African competition in 2009.
In the process, says Microsoft’s Clifford de Wit, the foundations for South Africa’s next generation of software developers are being laid.
“Time and again, we’ve seen students lead technology shifts,” he says. “Sure, R&D often starts with commercial companies and educational institutions, but students are the ones who get to engage with technology and make it real for us. Those aspiring to become technology leaders need to continue getting their hands dirty playing with technology and pushing the boundaries of innovation.”
The students who participate represent the next generation of technology and business leaders. Their creativity and innovation demonstrates how technology can make a difference in peoples’ lives in the way we think, work and communicate, says De Wit.
The finalists include an innovative project that can help predict where vegetation will thrive, disease will spread or petroleum reserves exist by combining and simplifying complex geospatial data systems. Another project seeks to solve the load balancing problem within cellular networks, given the rapid uptake of mobile phones in Africa. A third team has created a system that uses predictive technologies to simulate spectator movements during a football match for better crowd control.
The finalists also feature commercial applications which address issues like supply chain and productivity management, a production-environment job assignment and tacking system, and a GPS-style programme that provides clients with SMS updates of the status of their transported goods.