February 6th, 2020 The University of Calgary hosted its first-ever Techfest, an event created with the purpose of closing the gap between students and companies in need of tech talent.

About the event

Organized by Alex Todorovic ”The Captain” of the 99bits team, Techfest was inspired by the growing tech community in Calgary. The goal was to create an event where students wanting to build a future in computer sciences and programming could meet with industry leaders in a **stress-free** environment.

“It’s a hiring fair, but with a different twist,”

– Alex Todorovic

Techfest is the first-ever event of its kind to be hosted in Calgary. Connecting 48 local software companies with over 1,200 students, and with amazing success!

Organizing it

From the creation of the idea to the execution on the day of the event, Techfest was Alex’s baby. We aren’t quite sure how Alex had managed to create and organize such an unforgettable event, but here is what he had to say about it.

Creation

The inception of Tech Fest started almost a year ago now when I noticed a common gap in Calgary’s tech ecosystem. Many companies I spoke to would often share a similar problem of being unable to find enough software developer talent. On the other hand, many of my friends in Computer Science were struggling to find tangible work experience and were actually quite unaware that these companies even existed within Calgary. There’s an old saying about dragging a horse to water or something… anyways through my position at the Hunter Hub, I approached the UCalgary Computer Science department and pitched the idea of putting together a career fair to help address this missing connection. The department loved the idea and gave me the go-ahead to start working on it. 

Organization

I quickly began cold-emailing as many software companies as I could get my hands on. In the beginning, I even reached out to companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, and Nintendo. Both Amazon and Microsoft actually answered and expressed genuine interest. Ultimately the decision was made to focus completely on local companies due to the fact that these tech giants did not need help locating talent, they were already established and had more than enough reach. What needed the most focus was helping our own ecosystem.

Sometime in July 2019, I met an Engineering Faculty representative and told him about my Tech Fest idea. The glorious vision that was Tech Fest immediately intrigued and drew him in.

From there, with the support of the Hunter Hub, The Faculty of Computer Science, and The Faculty of Engineering, Tech Fest started to take shape and become larger and larger. The goal was to always maintain a fun and relaxed environment for the event and to achieve this environment, the idea of including video game booths came into the picture. These video game booths would be run by a local Super Smash Cafe, and enable the company representatives to interact and connect with students, on a much more organic level, bonding over something that both parties enjoy.

In December, a meeting was held at Calgary Economic Development’s (CED) offices where they expressed great interest in supporting Tech Fest. CED became a key partner in helping Tech Fest become what it was by contributing financially and helping to spread the message all throughout Calgary.

Participation

On the day of the event, all the expectations I had were surpassed. Since this was the first time I had ever done something like this (I am not an events person), I did not expect such a large volume of people to attend. By the time it was all said and done, we had 48 companies and almost a total of 1,200 people showed up (before the event we had 700 people registered to attend). The room was absolutely packed the entire day, and everyone was having a great time.

For me, the day feels largely like a blur mostly because I was all over the place making sure that everything was running smoothly. That being said, it was one of the best days of my life. I got to meet and talk to a TON of people, got to see everyone connecting and enjoying themselves, and I even got some time to thrash Vog’s proclaimed “Super Smash Brothers pro”, you know who you are 😉

Students were happy to have the opportunity to meet and connect with all of these cool local companies, companies were happy to engage with so much quality talent right in front of them, and at the end of the day, my goal of making an impact was accomplished.

We could not be more proud of the incredible work done by our very own Captain Todorovic.

What was it like?

The energy in the room was unlike anything Calgary has ever experienced. With over 1,200 attendees, the room was buzzing with talk of all things tech and innovation. 

Activities such as coding challenges created by participating companies were able to break up some of the nervous tension between students and company representatives. The challenges varied in difficulty and styles. Coding challenges were presented in such as C#, python, java, C++, and so on. There was then the problem-solving questions such as the one put forward by Athennian. The problem features two poles, 50 m in height with a piece of rope that is 80m long attached to separate ends. The rope dangles between them, with the apex 10m off the ground. How far apart are the two poles?

Give this problem a shot! Can’t figure it out? Send us an email and we will be happy to discuss!

In collaboration with SmashCafe, video game ice breakers were made possible, taking some of the pressure off of students, while allowing them to chat and bond with companies in a fun and non-traditional manner. People couldn’t help but stop by and interact with other players. Even our very own Danny Grande (’The Link’) couldn’t resist the temptation.

“We were head to head… A 5-month membership to the SmashCafe on the line. I was playing as Sonic and Mo, the representative was Captain Falcon. Three lives each, standard rules. We duke it out and both end up taking one of each of our lives. Then, I mishit a button and end up falling off the side of the map. There was no coming back at this point. The humble SmashCafe representative says “Don’t worry,” and proceeds to jump off the map to make it fair. One life each. The damage for each of us climbed to over 125%… A close match. A fatal blow to Sonic sends me flying off the map. “VICTORY” the game announces. “

– Danny Grande

Needless to say, the video games got quite intense and the booth was busy for the duration of the day.

Between the coding challenges, video game interviews, and interactive booth activities, it was difficult to find a moment where students and company representatives alike were not engaged and inspired. An event like  Techfest is something Calgary has been starved of for much too long. There are far too many innovative minds excited to work in the field of technology, to disregard the need for these types of events.

“It’s getting industry members and students to meet with more than just a handshake. We created a coding challenge booth and some of the companies said, ‘If they solve our problem, we are just going to give them a job.’ It’s taking an old formula and flipping it on its head.”

– Alex Todorovic

Highlights

Here are just a few of the highlights of the day 

  • CBC heard about the event and came straight over to do an interview.
  • Witnessing over 1,200 students attend, eager to learn and connect with companies.
  • Vog App Developers announcing that whoever beats their Smash pro is guaranteed an interview.
  • Having to announce (four times) that the end of the day had come and it was time for companies and students to pack up and start leaving, followed by everyone continuing their conversations because they were just so engaged and no one wanted to leave. Truly the mark of a great event.
  • The diversity of the companies that participated in this event. It really goes to show that regardless of what the students’ individual interests are if they are passionate about technology, there is a place for them to thrive and apply the skills they’ve learned, in new and innovative ways. 

Reflection

At the end of the day, everyone left with a special takeaway from this event. While we cannot speak on behalf of every one of those 1,200 students, we can reflect on what we learned.

Techfest created a buzz in Calgary about technology and proved that we can be a tech-hub in Canada. Calgary has so much talent and drive, but lacks the attention and focus on this field necessary to make some serious changes to the city and its economy. Java was invented here, international tech startups were founded here (the creators of Uber are UCalgary alumni), Calgary based tech startups have been seen on Dragons Den numerous times. If we continue on this path, Calgary can be known for more than just the Stampede (not that we don’t all love stampede), but for its innovative edge and tech-forward energy.

How did techfest help 99bits? 

Well for starters, we got the opportunity to meet with more business owners who are struggling to find solutions to various problems (not just coding challenges or math equations ;)) which we could help them with. After all, one of our main goals is to support the entrepreneurial environment in Calgary with our collective skills and knowledge of the tech field. 

We got to rock the team hoodies. Can’t lie, it felt pretty good to realize that we aren’t the only ones who think they look awesome, but others love them too.

Above all, we realized just how much opportunity there is for the software industry to grow in Calgary, and now, more so than ever, we feel inspired and motivated to make a huge impact on the city. We are ready to kill it in this industry. 

Watch out… Here comes 99bits