Student-run TechOlympics offers IT education though competition

Evelina Gaivoronskaia | The Chronicle

Made by students and for students, the TechOlympics leadership team has created an accessible event to engage with their peers in the field of Information Technology (IT).

Senior Suhaas Ravela leads the planning meeting for the upcoming TechOlympics and Hackathon.

TechOlympics is the current largest student-run tech conference in the nation, inviting tech executives from across the United States to host classes and challenges in a variety of areas, such as programming, networking, and design.

The entire event is organized by high school students, with a large sector of the TechOlympics student leadership team consisting of Mason High School (MHS) students. Senior Suhaas Ravela, the Chief Operating Officer (COO), is in charge of overseeing the team that keeps in contact with the speakers and schedules the events. He attended the TechOlympics his freshman year and realized that he “loved what the TechOlympics had to offer, and [he] really wanted to get involved.” 

Many of the students on the leadership team have participated in TechOlympics themselves so they can draw from their experiences as participants to improve what the event offers. 

“We want it to be done by students for students,” Ravela said. “Students know more about what type of sessions students want to see. So we come up with ideas for the events and then we utilize our network to get the speakers.” 

Unlike previous years, the event will be spanning over two February weekends, February 19 through 20 and 25 through 27. The TechOlympics will be conducted on the first weekend, while the second weekend will be dedicated to the Hackathon, a 24-hour event where students can compete, individually or in teams, for prizes by solving different digital problems with code. 

Last year, the TechOlympics consisted of a month full of different sessions conducted over the video calling platform Zoom. Due to that arrangement, the leadership team found themselves under copious stress, planning the event on top of keeping up with their academic and social lives. Ravela said his daily routine for that month was “getting home from school, doing a little bit of homework, and then getting right onto Zoom calls.” He felt this was “very hectic,” not only for the leadership council, but also for the students involved. The team hopes that scheduling all sessions and competitions over two weekends will alleviate the hectic feeling of the prior year.

Another responsibility of planning the event for the team was finding the venue where it would happen. For 2022, TechOlympics will have to occur in an online space due to COVID-19 restrictions. This change from prior years caused Ravela and his team to have to make a quick adjustment to this change of plans. 

“I feel that making [TechOlympics] free was a great decision,” Ravela said. “Now that we have made it free, a lot more students will be able to attend.”

Even without the changes, Ravela said the event presents a plethora of stressors to the student leadership team. 

“I’ve had to dedicate a lot of time to [planning] both in school and out of school,” Ravela said. “ I need to keep in constant contact with a lot of companies, making sure that they are happy, so we get sponsors for the next few years. It is a really big responsibility, which is fun, but a lot of work.”

Though the extra effort is required, Ravela said he feels that the amount of effort he has had to put into the project is worth it because the TechOlympics features 35 different companies that offer internships to the participants. The event allows students to get an internship where they can apply their IT skills.

With 38 different break-out sessions, keeping track of materials and general finances is important to the student leadership team. Senior Sahil Shah is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). He is in charge of the financial branch of the leadership team, which runs the budget of the program. One of the main sponsors of the event is INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati, a non-profit organization. They work closely with the student finance team in handling the costs of the speakers and workshop materials, which Shah said keeps the leadership team accountable and on-task.

“We have to keep our spending down to the cent because [they] work with a non-profit, so there cannot be anything wrong,” Shah said.

As former participants of the TechOlympics, Ravela and Shah both understand how important the opportunities this event provides are for their peers’ future. Ravel said that meeting IT executives from well-known companies, such as Microsoft, Amazon, and NASA, allows students to envision their future in IT and follow their passions. 

“I like seeing students that are my age meeting IT executives,” Ravela said. “I just like seeing their faces when they get to speak with the people that they might become.”

Photo by Evelina Gaivoronskaia