Photo courtesy of CompFest7's Photography and Cinematography team.

On Making the Biggest IT Event in Indonesia

A bunch of college students are trying to make the biggest one-stop IT event in Indonesia. Here’s our story.

A few days ago, while chatting with a high school friend of mine, she suddenly asked me regarding the event I’m currently working on, called CompFest 8: “how’s it going?”

I struggled to find an answer that would only consist of a few lines, yet still manages to answer the question properly. There are just too many things. We may have only launched our event to the public through social medias recently, but the journey has begun many, many months ago.

And we still have ten months to go.

Getting to Know It

CompFest is the biggest one-stop IT event in Indonesia held by students. It is now in its eighth year (hence CompFest 8), and yours truly here is currently serving as the Vice Project Officer. And oh boy, do I have a lot to tell.

But before I get into the fun parts, let’s first break it down word-by-word, just like I did when I first got into this nine months ago:

The biggest one-stop IT event. It depends from which perspective you’re seeing it, but I can say that the word “biggest” is well-deserved.

Is this a college hackathon? One may ask. We do have a hackathon, but it’s not only a hackathon. In fact, aside of a hackathon, we have four other competitions: Business-IT Case, Capture the Flag, Competitive Programming Contest, and Indie Game Ignite. Our Capture the Flag competition is the newest among others, while Hackathon is a development of our previous application development competition. Our Business-IT Case and Competitive Programming Contest competitions are well-known and among the most prestigious of their kind. And our competitions attract students not only from Jakarta, but from all over Indonesia.

Is that all? Not really. We also have a three-day startup bootcamp called Startup Academy, and a one-month bootcamp on building Internet of Things stuff straight from your ideas.

We’re not on our own, either: in the past, we’ve worked with many other parties ranging from the government to various Indonesian startups. They gave contributions in one form or another, such as sending judges to our competitions to speakers in our bootcamps.

On top of all those, we also have a series of seminars. Previous seminars have invited speakers from one of the co-founders of Indonesia’s Sequoia-backed Tokopedia, until a Software Engineer in Machine Intelligent Group at Google Mountain View, California. Last year, the seminars attracted 4596 registrants in total.

To close the entire series of the events, there will be a two-day IT exhibition attended by Indonesia’s hottest startups (in fact, we had one from neighboring country Singapore last year!) with a gamification concept. The exhibition is open for public, so you don’t have to be a tech whiz to get in (we saw a lot of families having fun last year, which was really heartwarming). You register yourself, finish your missions in the exhibitors’ stands, earn yourself some points, and exchange them with cool swags from attending startups. There will also be entertainment with performances from our guest stars.

How do we manage those different competitions and events? Long story short, we have our own team for each “event”, led by a Person in Charge. We also have our own Creative team (consisting of Visual Design, Decoration, and Photography and Cinematography divisions), Public Relations (consisting of Media Partner, Online Marketing, Offline Marketing, Press, and Sponsorship divisions), and Operational (consisting of Equipment and Security, Food and Beverages, and Transportation and Venue divisions) team. And of course we have our own Finance team and Secretary. We even have our own Human Resources Department! In total, we are expecting to have around 220 awesome beings working together in this.

Have I mentioned this? All of the events (except for Startup Academy and Business-IT Case competition) are free. You don’t have to pay for anything. Zero. Zilch. Nada. We don’t take profits — even the money you’re paying for Startup Academy and Business-IT Case will 100% go to your lunch, hotel, and operational costs. We’re doing this purely because we want to.

Lining up to get some cool swags from various companies and startups. Photo courtesy of CompFest7's Photography and Cinematography team.

I’ve never really realized it, but now having written it down this way, the coin has just dropped: this is actually kind of crazy. There are a lot of things going on up there, and time speaks for itself: the entire event will run for almost an entire year, with the event ending by the end of September (more like November actually, after we’re done dealing with the paperwork from sponsors and media partners). Even for some of us, the process has actually begun since a few months ago. For the Project Officer and me myself, this is our ninth month.

I’m still thinking that this is crazy, but after second thoughts, this is why I signed up for this after all. I like crazy, I like challenges. Bring it on!

… by students. We are a bunch of students on their first-year and second-year of Faculty of Computer Science, Universitas Indonesia. We are full-time college students. Some even have activities outside of college and this. But amid all that craziness — labs, worksheets, projects, and whatnot — we’re still trying to find the time to squeeze weekly meetings and fun team building activities into our schedule. I’ve skipped a few (well, actually many) classes so I could go to networking events and meet people. I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last time.

There is the necessary addition of “… by students” because arguably, there are a few other events which others may consider to be bigger, in terms of the number of people they attract, since there are bigger prizes, official recognition by the government, and so on. Most of them only consist of competitions though, funded and organized by the government or other parties such as companies or startups.

But of course, we’d really like to get rid of the “… by students” term. It’s one of our dreams (yes, we do have a lot of dreams! We usually end our meetings with a moonshot thinking session) this year: turning it into the biggest one-stop IT event in Indonesia.

What Am I Doing Here and Why?

So, what am I trying to do here? Putting it simply, I’ve decided that I’m going to record my experience throughout the entire journey. I’m going to write about it, be it good news or bad news. Be it motivating or depressing to some extent.

Why? It’s simple: I’ve learned a great deal in the past few months. I believe others in my team have too. And guess what? The real thing hasn’t even started yet. At the moment I’m writing this, we’re in the middle of recruiting more people. We already have around 50 people in our team. We need 200+ people to get things up and running, so we’re still looking for 150+ more, which poses a great challenge on its own.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve learned a great deal. I learned how important it is to have a clear direction of whatever you’re working on — be it a project, an event, or a product. I learned how crucial data is when it comes to decision making process. I learned how unpleasant it is to make difficult decisions that won’t please everyone. I’m going to run out of my second notebook (reserved exclusively for this project) soon. There are scribbles all over it, from random words such as “Data!!!”, “Facts facts facts”, “How?”, “Evaluate!!”, “Research number figures” to badly drawn graphs and flowcharts. My memory is even better when it comes to recording experiences: I remember staying up until 2am in some cafe inspecting the many financial spreadsheets we have on our shared drive. And behind all of those scribbled words and all those late nights, there was always a story to tell and lessons to learn.

These stories and lessons are what I want to share with you here.

And as I’ve said in the beginning, we still have ten months to go. Imagine all the kinds of challenges that we might encounter in the span of ten months, all the funny stories we will laugh at, all the right steps we will take, and all the mistakes we will make. Imagine all the lessons we will learn.

Deciding to start recording this here where everyone can see it, no less, wasn’t that easy. One consequence that comes to mind is that I really can’t hide anything unpleasant (unless I choose to), which is not really an option I’m going to pick.

Good news and victories don’t necessarily make better learning resources than bad news and failures.

I remember it was inching closer towards midnight. My team and I were still in our campus. It was the day my Project Officer and I were presenting what we’re going to do to basically everyone in our faculty — upperclassmen, juniors, the previous committee. It didn’t go very well. There were a lot of questions and (constructive) criticisms, which I’m very grateful of.

One of the upperclassman asked me if there’s anything I want to say to my team, who was still there even though it was 11pm already.

I told them this: this is not going to be an easy journey. But then again, nothing worth having comes easy. Which means that the more challenging something gets, the more I’m assured that it is going to be very, very worth it.