This Spring, more than 150 dedicated, tech-savvy students from five Texas universities gathered in the UH Student Center Ballroom to collaboratively solve a set of carefully crafted, brain-teasing computing and networking problems at cloudathon@UH.
The students put their world-class educations, experience, teamwork and problem-solving skills to the test. They competed not only for more than $8,000 of prizes and scholarships and first-place bragging rights, but for the priceless possibility of making a lasting impression on the industry professionals in attendance.
cloudathon@UH is an annual team-based competitive opportunity for students from around the nation to showcase and apply their architecture, application and development (A&D), configuration, and operations-related cloud-based skills as they work to solve a hypothetical industry-level Amazon Web Services problem.
It combines hard-skills coding experience with the creativity of open-ended problem solving, which makes it perfectly suited for collaborative teamwork. At the end of the competition, each team's work and final submissions are evaluated and ranked by a team of AWS professionals.
For a photo gallery from this year's event, click here!
José C. Martínez, Instructional Assistant Professor for Computer Information Systems in the Cullen College of Engineering's Technology Division, spends the year planning out every detail to ensure that each cloudathon@UH competition is bigger and better than the last. This year was no exception.
"I continue to say, every year is the best cloudathon@UH ever," Martinez said.
Although it is still a competition, Martínez is careful to counsel that winning doesn't necessarily mark the finish line for cloudathon@UH participants.
"Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, you know?” he said. “The way I see it is what matters is that you were there. What matters is that you were there, and you can talk about this stuff now, and you showed off and you chose to be brave - to go there and participate and show your skills."
Although students from any major are welcome to compete, most of the participants come from the Computer Science and Computer Information Systems programs. Many of these students are non-traditional students as well. They may work long hours at one or more jobs outside of classes, be the first in their family to obtain a degree, provide financial support to family members in another country, or have children and families of their own here in Houston.
That is one of the primary reasons that Martínez believes it is so important to continue offering opportunities like cloudathon@UH, and improving upon them.
"The idea is for the industry to come here and hire our students, but our students are not just students,” he said. “We have students that have families, they have kids, they are single parents, they need to send money to their families in other countries. They need to work only at night because they have two jobs. I just want to help them. I just want them to show their skills, so they're prepared to go out there and find their job and make their dreams. In the end, the whole idea is for these students to find jobs. That's the whole point of this whole thing."
Martínez plans for cloudathon@UH to one day be the biggest competition at the University of Houston, and the biggest of its kind in our area, if not the nation.
"This is what I have observed in general. We don't have enough competitions,” he said. “We don't have enough opportunities for the students to show their skills, no matter what college [they] are [in]. So, when I go and I show people what we are doing, people get excited and people want to help. This is a good cause."
This year's cloudathon@uh featured 30 participating universities and 150 registered students. Martinez noted that even as that number grows in the future, UH students will always come first.
"Now, at some point, we'll [reach] our maximum capacity for that room, and we will have to say [to outside applicants], 'No, sorry. We already have the quota. You cannot come this year,” he said. “Every single University of Houston student who wants to compete will be able to compete, and we will say no to the other universities. This is for our students now, and we are being kind enough to invite other universities, but they're visitors."
In the meantime, Martínez and the cloudathon@UH planning team remain hard at work to find ways to implement the lessons they learned from this year's event, as well as brainstorm new ways to reach their goal of making cloudathon@UH "the best [college-level] competition in the country for cloud computing."
"This is what I want to do," Martínez said.