Technical Observations—Free (or Cheap) Tech for AU Students

Technical Observations—Free (or Cheap) Tech for AU Students

Getting involved in technology can be expensive, with everything from space to host your projects to training all costing some big bucks.  But as an AU student, there are a lot of discounts available for you in the tech world if you know where to look. Here’s a few of the things I’ve found.

Free Licence for Windows

Looking to upgrade your old version of Windows but don’t want to shell out $200 for the latest version? No problem, thanks to educational discounts available to Athabasca University students you can get a free copy with a unique activation key.

Windows 10 for free

Description:  Provides students with a unique activation code for Windows 10 and link to download Windows 10.


The OnTheHub portal also offers many other discounted software deals that might be worth checking out such as Adobe and Norton.  I won’t list them here because I think most students will be better off using free alternatives like GIMP an open-source alternative to photoshop.  None of the other deals jumped out at me enough to make a purchase or even recommend.

That said OnTheHub currently has a promotion where you can win an Amazon giftcard for checking out their services and signing up.  So if you want to checkout what discounts and software they’re offering now would be a great time to do so.

Github for Education

Despite the limited offerings on “OnTheHub” you’re still in luck because several other sites offer free or good discounts.  One program I’ve been impressed with is GitHub for Education.  GitHub is an online tool for managing software revisions but their education pack is a bundle consisting of products and services from many companies.

NameCheap – 1 free domain, ending in “.me”

Description:  Get a free domain to host a website or portfolio


GitHub Pro Account, with unlimited private repositories (folders for your projects)

Description:  Just sign up and you get upgraded automatically


Digital Ocean – $50 credit

Description:  Cloud hosting for developers


Heroku – One free Hobby Dyno for up to two years (valued at $84/year).

Description:  Hosting for apps that you program


Microsoft Azure – $100 hosting credit

Description:  Hosting credit for cloud storage and services


There are other technical services offered as well, but these are the ones that stood out to me.

AWS Educate

AWS (or Amazon Web Services) Educate also offers a free credit which can be used for their services, such as website hosting.  In addition, they also offer a variety of free training courses, and a large list of job and internship listings.

$75-$150 in AWS Credits

Description:  Provides students with an AWS promo code


While we’re talking about Amazon I’ll also mention the Amazon Prime student discount.  It’s not free but it was a good enough discount that I decided to use it.  50% off Amazon Prime which gives you faster and often free shipping when buying from Amazon, and access to some other content like the Prime video library.

Amazon Prime

50% discount

Description: Same as Amazon Prime’s normal offer (faster shipping, amazon music, offers, ect.).  As a Prime Student though, you can also get discounts on some textbooks.


I recommend checking out AWS Educate for more than just the free hosting credit.  They also offer training programs, contests, and a regularly updated job board.  Everything ties together so if you complete one of their free courses a badge will be displayed alongside your resume when you apply to companies using the job board.

AWS Education also has some very cool contests.  The biggest currently is based around something called DeepRacer.  DeepRacer is a self-driving remote control car.  You can start with a pre-built model for driving the car, tweak the parameters, and train it in a simulation.  When you run the simulation, they show a 3D rendering of your car making attempts of driving around the track.

In the setup phase you define your rewards and punishments which are used to teach the car in simulation.  For example, you might reward the car 1 point every second for staying in the middle of the track, and then award another 2 points every second that its speed is above 10 mph.

How you reward your AI is completely up to you and because it’s done by writing a script in the programming language Python the possibilities are endless, rather than selecting from a pre-defined drop-down menu.

That said if this all sounds way too complex don’t worry! You can use a pre-built script as a starting point.  For my first attempt I just used the template without making any changes.  Amazon really makes it easy.

Once your AI has spent a few hours training based on your model you are ready to enter the competition.  When you enter the competition you’re not just running a simulation.  Amazon actually takes your trained AI and uploads it on to a physical, remote-control sized car and has it attempt to do a few laps around the track!

There are some big prizes like a paid trip to an Amazon conference in San Francisco all expenses paid.  They also do weekly smaller prizes for Amazon giftcards based on who can get closest to a specific time.  For example, for one track the all-time best speed was 24 seconds, but the weekly contest was a prize for whoever could get closest to finishing in exactly 66 seconds.

So if you’re looking to score some freebies I definitely recommend checking out the programs listed here.