Emerging tech talents from the University of Waterloo collected all $12,000 in prizes from the expanded Code/Design to Win competition at Communitech on Saturday.

First-year computer science student Yi Kuan Li won the $5,000 Code to Win first prize, while fellow first-year CS student Spencer Whitehead took home the $1,000 second prize. Fourth-year global business and digital arts student (at UW’s Stratford campus) Filip Jadczak won the Design to Win top prize of $5,000; the $1,000 second prize was won by third-year nanotechnology engineering student Angela Krone.

They were among 75 coders and designers from 12 campuses — from Conestoga College to the University of Alberta — and from faculties ranging from computer science to the humanities, who gathered at Communitech. One participant was 16; about a third were women.

They were drawn from 500 applicants who last fall tackled a preliminary challenge organized by Communitech using HackerRank software for the coders, while sponsors created the design challenges. The final competition was held at Communitech, with travel and accommodation subsidized for out-of-towners.

It’s a big commitment by Communitech and the event sponsors — TD Lab, Unitron, Atomic Co-Working Space, Canon Innovation Lab, Axonify, Carnegie Technologies, Magnet Forensics and Thalmic Labs — but pays big dividends in engagement with students, says Andrea Gilbrook, Communitech’s Talent Program Manager.

Waterloo Region’s tech firms “are scaling and building exciting products,” she said. “We estimate we have between 2,000 and 3,000 job opportunities open today, and we want to get the word out . . . We want to share that cool shit is happening here.”

Gilbrook says the students “have the opportunity to meet directly with hiring managers and future colleagues. They get an insider look at companies working on meaningful, challenging projects.”

For Simran Jamal, a second-year systems design engineering student at UW, this event challenged her to think on the spot. “This event lets me test my own design thinking, and meet similar people with the same background and same aspirations,” she says. “I want to be one of the best designers in the field, on this rocketship of tech development.”

For Jacob Denson, a fourth-year computing science student at the University of Alberta, the trip exposed him to the tech possibilities in Eastern Canada: “By going here, I can see a whole new industry that exists on the other side of Saskatchewan.”

That insider look began Friday at a TD Lab-hosted networking event. After the bubble tea and hors d’oeuvres, the students listened to each sponsor make a three-minute “pitch” about working for them, followed by casual discussion.

This is the second year of involvement for TD Lab, which supported the addition of Design to Win this year. Ian McDonald, Associate Vice-President of TD Lab, says Code/Design to Win “is about talent exposure. It’s an opportunity for students to show their passion for coding or design. We love to sponsor a program like this because it brings us into conversations with all those students. People don’t realize necessarily that TD has a large technology organization at the heart of the bank, so it’s an opportunity for us to highlight that.”

For Atomic Co-Working Space in Kitchener, it’s all about the talent. Taylor Soock, Atomic recruiter, said that Atomic reps visited five Ontario campuses for the preliminary challenge. It’s a different form of recruitment for Atomic, “and we’re grateful to Communitech for organizing this, because we don’t have the resources to do this on our own.”

That resonated with Chance Nguyen, digital marketer with Kitchener’s Unitron. He said Code/Design to Win exposed his firm to a more “diverse group of students. We know about the Waterloo community, but we don’t have the bandwidth to see so many prospects.”

During the event, the coders had two hours to solve five questions from HackerRank, with HackerRank software evaluating the results. The designers had to storyboard a solution to a sponsor-created challenge, with the judges considering the clarity and flow of the solution, and the participants’ understanding of the client and the client’s user experience. All the participants are winners, in that their solutions are their own intellectual property.

While the results were determined, students won T-shirts at the Carnegie Technologies-sponsored Lego Olympics, played oversized Jenga at Magnet Forensics, tested the Myo armbands at Thalmic Labs, ate cupcakes with potential employers or worked the keyboard of the Lowrey piano in the reception area (that was third-year McMaster software engineering student Hasan Siddiqui playing Chopin’s Etude Op. 10 No. 3).

For $5,000 coding winner Yi Kuan Li, it was a chance to be exposed to tech companies “I might not have otherwise seen. Some of them were really interesting. I got some valuable insights into the day-to-day workings of the companies, and what my future might be like.”

For $5,000 design winner Filip Jadczak, “it was a really good opportunity to think on my feet. For the future, it’s good practice to go through this ideation and quick thinking . . . I had a chance to talk with a lot of other students, even the coders, and see their perspective on the challenge. I find it interesting that there are ways to combine those approaches.”

Head over to Facebook for more photos from Code/Design to Win.