Inside the Microsoft Garage: Ink to Code

Apr 19, 2018   |   MSNE Staff

This month, we’re celebrating the launch of a new Garage space at Microsoft New England R&D (NERD) Center in Cambridge. As part of our celebration, we’re spotlighting teams and individuals on the ground who are using the Microsoft Garage to build epic things.

The Garage, Microsoft’s resource for employees to support and encourage problem solving in new and innovative ways, is a home for explorative products that use Microsoft technology, like Excel’s functions translator or Sports Performance Platform. And most recently, our teams here at The Garage at NERD have put their minds together to develop Ink to Code, an AI-driven platform that takes the concept of wire framing on napkins to a realized application.

Ink to Code is a Universal Windows Platform app that enables developers to draw wireframe sketches and export them into Visual Studio, speeding up prototyping Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and Android user interfaces. In short: Ink to Code translates your doodles into code.

Ink to Code was built out of a request from Senior Software Engineer Alex Corrado’s design team at Xamarin here in Cambridge. Alex was approached by Garage Senior Program Manager George Matthews, who works with Microsoft teams to identify new projects for his Garage intern team. While Corrado’s team works on developer tooling often, this gave them a chance to extend past their daily workflow and assign an entire team to a new project.

“We’re always looking for ways to innovate and had some ideas about trying to use AI to enhance our current designer projects in Visual Studio,” explained Corrado. “We kicked around some ideas and somebody mentioned “what about an ink-based coding platform where you can draw?” it just happened to fit perfectly with Windows Ink APIs.”

The team behind Ink to Code: Alex Corrado, Avery Lamp, Brendan Walsh, Edward Aryee, Erica Yuen, George Matthews, Jen Madiedo, Jérémie Laval, Luis Torres, Maddy Leger, Paris Hsu, Patrick Chen, Seth Rait, Tim Chong, Wjdan Alharthi, Xiao Tu Garage Interns + Windows Ink Platform + Xamarin

“Alex had the perfect mindset we look for in teams we choose to partner with — they’re always looking for improvement,” said Matthews. “We can make an improvement, but we can also change the way we work with our customers. That’s what we look for — things that fix unsaid problems with our customers.”

And so they moved ahead, using the combined power of our Cambridge-based Xamarin Designer team and our Garage interns. The Garage intern team single handedly took on the Ink to Code project, taking the Xamarin team’s direction and building a product independently.

“Our intern program in concept is really simple: take in super talented, really high-priority talent from the New England area in general (alongside other schools in the US) and bring them in and assign them to internal teams,” says Matthews. “We give them these ideas and partner them with our teams, and tell them to run with it, to experiment. They work autonomously, independently — they guide these ideas into full-fledged experiments.”

Now, Ink to Code is available anywhere you can access the Microsoft Store — and Matthews is having teams outside of Xamarin approach him for similar solutions. Meanwhile, he points to Ink to Code as a perfect example of how Microsoft teams and Garage interns can work together to build something great. And he wants to let other teams know that the Garage is here to help them experiment.

“If a team has an improvement they’re taking a bet on, if they fail,” explains Matthew, “our culture is built in to say ‘I’m not happy with you failing on that idea.’ The thing that we have that we give teams that is different, is that we give them a safe space to experiment. We try to take away the risk. What group doesn’t want that for their people? We’re trying to make it safe for an employee to learn something new and do something different.”

Learn more about Ink to Code here, and learn about our Garage internship program here.

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