Photo (from left):  Wuyue Xu,Western;  Siwei Zhao, University of Waterloo; and Andrei Purcarus, McGill University.

Two words can make any student groan: “group work.”

Communitech’s Code to Win, which brought 50 students from seven post-secondary schools to the Hub over the weekend, removed the group aspect often associated with tech challenges.

“We wanted to take a step back and look at individual challenges as opposed to group challenges, because at the end of the day, the individual is the person being hired,” said Andrea Gilbrook, Talent Program Manager at Communitech.

More than 250 students sat Code to Win’s entrance exam in October, and 50 finalists were chosen from as far afield as McGill University in Montreal, the University of Western Ontario in London and McMaster University in Hamilton, the University of Guelph, and from Waterloo Region’s three schools: the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College.

Saturday morning began with students writing the coding challenge, which took more than two hours.

Three students took home cash prizes at the end of the event: Siwei Zhao, University of Waterloo, $5,000; Wuyue Xu, Western, $2,000; and Andrei Purcarus, McGill University, $1,000.

When asked how he would spend the $5,000, Zhao said, “I didn’t even know about it . . . I only found out about the cash last night and I wasn’t really expecting it.”

After the test, students had interviews with local tech companies and some of Communitech’s corporate innovation partners.

“I think it’s great for me, because this is my first year at school and I don’t really know any companies at all,” said Zhao, “and to have an opportunity to meet with Shopify, to get to know how Shopify really works and how they do things within the teams, I really enjoyed it.”

Between interviews, students took advantage of the Tannery Event Centre, which had been converted into a gaming lounge, using the large Christie Digital screens for playing video games.

Similar to hackathons, students had the opportunity to network and mingle Friday night at a dinner at Waterloo’s Proof Restaurant and Lounge.

“I really enjoyed networking with the top students from all of those universities,” Zhao said.

Communitech was able to cast its net as wide as McGill thanks to its recently launched Campus Ambassador program, in which students serve as champions for Waterloo Region’s tech community.

“We had a really keen student that just fell in love with this area and really wanted to go back (to McGill) and be a Campus Ambassador,” said Gilbrook, referring to a student who had the opportunity to work in the region.

Although Montreal is 600 kilometres from Waterloo Region, “We know great students go there and those students are interested in what we have to offer,” Gilbrook said.

With talent being the number 1 need for Waterloo Region-based tech companies, this is only the beginning for Gilbrook and team over the coming year.

“We have seen more and more companies starting here and coming here to look for talent,” she said. “We really want students to recognize that they don’t necessarily need to go somewhere else for employment.”

Gilbrook wants students to consider Waterloo Region, which is home to more than 1,000 tech companies, for co-op and full-time employment.

“It’s all about getting exposure for this region and the exciting job opportunities, and [communicating] that the challenges that need to be solved are interesting.”

For more photos from the event check out our Facebook album.