One group was asked to come up with a better way to secure mobile phones that are operating on home Wi-Fi networks. Another was challenged to create a system that would route first responders to the scene of an accident or other event in a more efficient way.
They’re not your typical teams. Local students were working with people from major companies and the military to come up with the answers.
And it’s not your typical tech competition. As an unofficial kickoff to the Air Force Information Technology & Cyberpower conference, Montgomery’s Innovate AFITC event has the attention of some of the tech industry’s top minds, and it’s focused on real-world applications.
That benefits students in more ways than one, said Auburn Montgomery professor Patrick Pape.
“I’ve been working with (organizers), and that opens up more opportunities,” Pape said. “The competition, specifically, gives us a little bit of insight into who those employers might be and the skills they might be looking for.”
AUM has about 200 computer science students, and Pape said working shoulder-to-shoulder with professionals helps give them a leg up in what’s already a hot job market. “There’s an increase in demand across the country and they never completely fill the gap,” he said.
The competition has also grown. It started as a hackathon years ago and has added sponsors and involvement from different parts of the tech community through the years.
The year, there’s a jump in involvement from the commercial industry, TechMGM Executive Director Charisse Stokes said. For instance, Hyundai and Gunter worked together on a challenge that was common in both of their environments.
Stokes said it helps all sides. Professionals without a college degree get some new perspective by working alongside college students, while students get a better understanding of how it’s done in the real world. Military coders get a chance to hone their skills while networking with people in different sectors, and learning how to handle a challenge under a deadline.
In the process, the Air Force can pick up private-sector partners who share the same goals.
“Everything that happens inside the gate, there’s technology outside the gate they can leverage,” Stokes said.
Winning teams get medals, but some students find bigger rewards. A competitor from last year’s Alabama State University team went on to get a full-time, government cyber security jobs. Two others started their own businesses.
Stokes said that’s by design.
“Workforce development has always been the focus,” she said.
You can see more about the competition at innovateafitc.com.
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