Danielle Clark and Kevin Hemmer didn’t really know each other when they were teamed up to compete in the Avnet Tech Games last fall, but they turned out to be a winning combination. Clark and Hemmer bested teams from universities across the country in the “Design the Best Windows 8 Computer” virtual game. Each walked away with a $1,000 scholarship and a Microsoft branded backpack.
Avnet created the games in 2006 as a partnership with the Maricopa County Community College District. After two years, according to Teri Radosevich of Avnet, the games were so successful that they were opened up to the other colleges and universities in the state. By 2010 the games had attracted attention from universities around the country, so the virtual games were added. This year, there will be nine competitive events in Arizona and two virtual games.
Avnet’s purpose is to give students the opportunity to experience challenges they’ll meet on the job using the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired in the classroom. The games “get them out of their comfort zone,” Radosevich said. Seeing students like Danielle and Kevin blossom is what it’s all about, she added.
“Our overall goal is to enhance the education system as a whole. We hope that public/private partnerships form,” she said. The games and the scholarships are supported by corporate sponsors, many of them from Avnet’s own industry.
“We do a set of marketing geared toward community leaders, so that the people in the Valley who can make a difference in the educational system know that the tech games are going on and that high tech has banded together to really enhance the educational system,” she said.
"We love partnering with Avnet! Avnet contributes to the state in so many ways, and the Tech Games is just one of them,” said Assistant Clinical Professor Daniel Mazzola. “The amount of time, energy and resources they dedicate to these events is stunning. It is all part of the culture at Avnet, which is why the company is so attractive to our students. We thank Avnet for all of their contributions towards fostering a healthy and growing technology industry"
What if you had to design …
Clark and Hemmer got involved in the virtual games as part of Mazzola’s networking class (CIS 430). Mazzola, who’s also the director of the Center for the Advancement of Business through Information Technology (CABIT), encouraged his students to sign up for the fall virtual game, “Design the Best Windows 8 Computer.” Four teams entered.
The teams were given a scenario: design a computer and work environment for a professional who works at home, spends a lot of time on conference calls and receives a lot of packages from his company. In addition to being a professional, this client likes playing games, enjoys having friends over – and he has a dog!
Teams were to “build” a Windows 8 computer, writing specifications for all of the components, and design the office itself, detailing furniture, etc. The computer had to have 4 gigs of RAM, a 3 terabyte hard drive, a touch screen and a TV tuner card for two 40-inch TVs. They could spend $3,000 on the electronics and $5,000 on the space.
Given classes and jobs, Clark and Hemmer found that their time to work together on the project was limited. Fortunately, their strengths were complementary and they communicated well.
Kevin is a “gamer,” so he had definite ideas and high standards for the computer itself. Instead of loading up on extras, his strategy was to streamline his shopping list so he could buy the best. “I’ve built computers before – you can spend less money but it’ll break down a lot,” he said.
The result was a machine powerful enough to run games, but without the lights and flash that gamers often add. “We built a good enough machine to be powerful for gaming, but it could interact well with his work,” Danielle explained.
In the end, technology consumed all but three cents of the budgeted money!
Danielle focused on the décor: a couch, chairs, pictures, rug and a bulldog pillow. One of the requirements was to figure out a way to take care of the owner’s pet: the professional client was not going to be able to let the animal outside during work hours. Kevin said they dreamed up a technical solution, but it was going to eat up all of their money. As a result, the plan called for a low tech but effective doggie door.
Once their plans were set they drew up a detailed spec sheet, including the prices they would have had to pay that day. The contest required a presentation, and the pair kept it simple: a PowerPoint presentation heavy on bullet points.
In an email informing the students that they had won, Ken Marlin of Avnet said “it was a unique, colorful and fun entry. It was easy to read, plus it had tons of performance.”
The Game Master
Marlin has been involved in the games since the very beginning. He volunteered as a judge and then began working with sponsors to obtain computer hardware and to engage them in improving the competition. As Game Master he’s a project manager, helping the Game Owners keep their games on track for game day and making sure everything runs smoothly.
Marlin says that game ideas come from inside Avnet and from university faculty as well as suppliers. “Most of the time we end up with fun game ideas and then look for a good sponsor,” he said.
Sometimes companies want to sponsor a game, so Marlin and others brainstorm. This year’s ‘Refurbish it Fastest’ game is a good example.
“Avnet purchased a company called Round 2 and they are a huge refurbisher of computer systems,” Marlin said. “They right away wanted in on the Avnet Tech Games so we put our heads together and came up with ‘Refurbish it Fastest.’”
Marlin has a passion for technology, and he loves the opportunity to work with students and universities, to help them stay up on and promote technology.
“The games keep students focused on things that will help them in the real world when they get a real job,” he said.
“Take the ‘Build the Fastest Computer’ game: although the students are racing to put a computer together as fast as they can, they are actually scored higher on the quality of the system and how well it meets quality standards,” he added. “It gives them an idea of real world expectations where being fast and efficient is a great quality, but doing things correctly and exactly as a customer expects is more important.”
Clark and Hemmer said they learned a lot from their participation about deadlines, budgeting and presentations. Both said that if they were to compete again they would organize their time better so that they wouldn’t be finishing so close to the deadline.
On the plus side, the students said they communicated with each other well. Since they weren’t friends before the games, this turned out to be a good test of their potential as employees. On the job they’ll be asked to work with people they don’t know, and the ability to exchange information and make decisions efficiently will serve them well.
Danielle summed it up: “[The game] was a real world problem, like your boss giving you a project last minute. How are you going to put it together and how are you going to organize your time?”
The next challenge
For Kevin and Danielle, the next challenge is finding that first position, following their graduation in May. Kevin is a dual CIS and Accounting major; Danielle completed the CIS program but has “loads of credits” in engineering, nutrition and health.
For students who are not graduating this spring, there’s plenty of challenge ahead in the upcoming Avnet Games. Registration is open for the nine games that will comprise the Avnet Tech Games Arizona Onsite Competition on April 13 (deadline for most games is February 28). Challenges include (among others) the “Accenture Green Data Center Challenge,” “Build the Fastest Computer,” “Refurbish It Fastest,” and “Solar Scrimmage.” The spring virtual games include “Android App: Sell It or Smelt It” and the “Green Video Challenge.”
The Onsite Games includes a networking event, which takes place while teams are awaiting the results of judging. Some 200 industry leaders have been invited to the event, where they can get to know some of the 250 participants. “We tell them to bring resumes and be ready to meet the captains of industry,” Radosevich said.
In past competitions, seven student teams from ASU have won – six of them from the W. P. Carey School.
Some students are worried that the games might be too difficult or time consuming, but Marlin says it’s not like that at all. “It’s all about having fun,” Marlin said. “The ‘Design the Best Windows 8 Computer’ game is a great example – it was super fun and I’m sure it did not take the students long at all to create their proposals.”
“Take advantage of the opportunity to make contacts in the industry,” he added. “I have personally hired three students from the games and I continue to maintain contact with students that I’ve met at the games.”