What you need to know
- A group of developers and engineers won Microsoft’s annual Hackathon event with an idea to improve tech support for family members.
- The concept is to provide a secure and simple way to provide assistance to people remotely.
- Many people are called upon frequently to provide tech support to friends and family, including the members of the team that worked on the project.
A common struggle for the tech-savvy is being called upon for tech support from a friend or family member but not being able to help due to distance or other factors. Visits with loved ones and friends often involve setting up devices, fixing bugs, or troubleshooting issues. A group came together with a solution to overcome some of the barriers that affect familial tech support and their idea won Microsoft’s Global Hackathon (opens in new tab).
“There’s always someone who needs help,” said Gracey Wilson from the hackathon winning team. “My family refers to me and my sister as ‘tech support,’ and they’ll call up and say, ‘Hey, we need tech support,’ and we’ll go, ‘OK, walk me through what you’re trying to do and what you see on the screen.’”
Wilson’s situation will likely sound familiar to many of our readers. She joined a group of engineers and developers to work on an idea for a family tech support app. The goal being to create a secure and simple way for people to help others with their gadgets.
The family tech support idea beat out over 10,000 others, including the Xbox ‘medals’ achievement system that we exclusively covered. Over 68,000 Microsoft employees spanning 89 countries worked on projects in what is called the “world’s largest private hackathon.”
Developer Rajeshwari Godbole shared an example from her everyday life that inspired her to join the team.
“Whenever I would visit, I would set up the home screen for them with their favorite apps, but then they’d accidentally delete the shortcut, and they’d call me thinking the app was gone and they broke it, or they’d hold the phone with a finger on the volume button and end up putting it on mute and couldn’t hear it ringing anymore, and I just wished I could see the screen to know what was wrong,”
From personal experience, I can say that Godbole’s story is shared by many people. I have a family member with poor eyesight that struggles with apps that require different steps to perform the same tasks. For example, sharing a photo through some apps requires additional check boxes or selections. These are hard to explain over the phone or in text messages without having a person’s screen to look at.
Distance isn’t the only barrier that affects family members providing each other with tech support. Security can be an issue. The solution that the Hackathon winning team came up with cancels a request for help if it isn’t responded to promptly. This closes the connection and keeps the device protected.
“I want to help my dad, but working in the security space myself, I know what bad actors can do when given the opportunity and how good intentions can be abused,” Monwuba says. “So security was key.”
The next step is for the family tech-support concept to receive a broader review within Microsoft. The team behind the idea will then present it to Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella.
You can sign up for updates (opens in new tab) about the project through a Microsoft Form.